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The Playboy Guide to Jazz Paperback – July 1, 1998
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Aside from its role in encouraging and chronicling the sexual revolution, Playboy has been in the vanguard of reviewing jazz. This guide, written by the magazine's Chicago-based jazz critic, Neil Tesser, is a complete, compact handbook for the general public that offers a well-written and informative look at the essential recordings of "America's classical music."
Putting a jazz guide together is an intricate balancing act: what--and whom--do you include or leave out? Tesser has done a great job of presenting the jazz canon of yesterday and today, but he also gives us a credible glimpse into what we'll be listening to in the future. Starting from 1917 and working up to the 1990s, Tesser lists some of the best jazz albums, including Duke Ellington's The Blanton-Webster Years, Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, Ornette Coleman's avant-garde stylings on Free Jazz, the fusion of Weather Report's Mysterious Traveller, and Wynton Marsalis's neoclassic J Mood. Although the book could have benefited from illustrations and lacks specific Latin jazz recommendations, Tesser's compilation is in the groove and up-to-date. --Eugene Holley Jr.
Top customer reviews
It takes a realistic approach to the subject of jazz history, not demanding one memorize dates, but rather that one should appreciate the continuities and discontinuities of the various streams that make up the history of jazz.
Good basic recommendations for albums, and good writeups of musicians.
I found this to be VERY helpful when I first wanted to learn about jazz.
If you are an expert on the subject, this would be too rudimentary.
But for someone getting into it and needing some guidance, this is the best thing I found.
Mr. Tesser eschews the usual encyclopedic format used by many music guides by dividing his book into sections that cover each jazz "era" in chronological order beginning with the 1920s to the present. He presents historical data concerning the trends and major players of an era, and then follows up with recordings he deems essential.
The tone of the book is very appealing. You never feel as though you are being lectured on "America's Classical Music". Instead, Tesser presents his information with clear, easy to understand language and much enthusiasm which makes this book an enjoyable read.
Finally, he makes use of a "hook" called the "Useful Lie" throughout the book that discusses some of the near truths of jazz history. Readers like myself who are somewhat familiar with jazz history but aren't scholars should find this enjoyable.
This is not an all-inclusive history of jazz in that some readers' favorite musicians or recordings may not be discussed. A project like that would obviously take more than one volume. But in under 300 pages, Mr. Tesser has produced a book that is an excellent starting point for the investigation of jazz history and its recordings.
Tesser's book sythesizes the best of both types. At once history AND a guide to building a record collection, The Playboy Guide is the perfect book for someone like my incipient-collector brother in-law (a real Ella Fitzgeral fan), who needs some guidance in getting his collection more complete and well rounded. At the same time, Tesser places key jazz figures and their recordings in a proper historical context, so you know the when and the how, as well as the why. All in less than 300 pages.
I'm sure that some jazz scholars will grimace at the survey nature of the book (though Tesser's intelligent perspectives, extensive knowledge of the genre, and clear writing may teach them a thing or two). And it's likely obsessive collectors will frown on its inevitable selectivity.
But if you want some expert guidance on what to buy, why you should buy it, and what it means in the historical continuum of jazz, get this book.