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4.7 out of 5 stars
The Oxford Companion to Jazz (Oxford Companions)
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You've bought a bunch of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis recordings, and you've listened to them over and over. You've taken some classes on arranging and improvisation at the local community college. You've honed your chops in a local band or two, maybe even performing on a regular basis. Or maybe, you haven't done anything except become interested in jazz and now you're just naturally curious and inquisitive about it. Maybe you just feel that a broader knowledge of jazz music would help you enjoy it more, so you want to understand: how did jazz get from where it started to where it is today? What musicians played with what other musicians and how did their styles emerge and evolve? How did rags become swing, become be-bop, become post-bop, become free, become modern? What record producers signed which artists and what songs became "standards" and when? In other words, you want to understand jazz history, beginning to end. In that case, this is the book for you.

This book is around 800 pages divided into about 75 different chapters (essays). Each chapter is accompanied by a storied black-and-white photo of a piece of the subject matter, the photos by themself being intriguing and worthwhile. (1,000 words each?) The text covers the history of jazz, more or less chronologically, from its inception up to about the year 2000. It contains many of the stories and anecdotes that most jazz musicians will be familiar with from reading CD liner notes and Googling or Wiki-ing things they were curious about when they heard them, but it will also relate much more back story and lines of interconnectedness that may have been missed along the way. I was particularly fascinated by learning which musicians played with what other famous musicians in their formative years, and the collaborations and recordings that led to them becoming influential and important. The level of detail in this book is incredible, which for a devoted student of jazz such as myself is a godsend, but for more casual jazz fans might at times be daunting. For collectors of recordings, I don't think there is a more thorough resource listing of important recordings anywhere, with the possible exception of The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings: Ninth Edition. (The Penguin Guide being arguably more useful in its alphabetized listing by artist, the Oxford companion being more useful in its linear structure and the aforementioned detailing of artist relationships, information which is much more difficult to extract from the Penguin volume.) For identifying and filling gaps in one's personal discography, I think the Oxford companion is indispensable.

Each of the essays is written by a different jazz expert or critic, from Wall Street Journal writers and record company copy writers to ad men and self-taught music experts. With so many essays over such a broad spectrum going into such depth and detail, you would expect there to be a lot of repetition and rehashing of stories and information, but the editor, Bill Kirchner, has done an admirable and efficient job of putting these essays in an extremely readable order, with necessary edits (probably) throughout to limit redundancy. The way these essays are assembled has the added advantage that while there is much to be gained from reading them in order, it is not required that they be read in order at all. It is easy enough to skip to the subject matter and detail one wishes to explore and read that essay and related essays in any order desired, saving time and effort but still covering the jazz subjects one is interested in.

This is a book that I took the time to read carefully and completely, and I still feel like I need to go through it once or twice more to receive the full dose of knowledge contained here. Although I will be putting this book on my shelf, I will keep it handy when purchasing and listening to recordings as I continue my jazz education and journey. Go ahead and get started on your master's degree in jazz by buying and reading this five star book.
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on September 18, 2013
This text offers invaluable information on the history of jazz and its influence on music. I needed it for a college course, but this is one of the most intriguing academic readings I have had in my education. I would recommend that the reader be prepared with knowledge of music theory to fully appreciate all of what the articles offer, but it isn't too complicated for those that may not understand and there is a gold mine of historical facts. I would recommend this text to read for leisure even if you're mildly interested. The articles are very well written and the detail makes this text a perfect source for music historians.
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on November 24, 2013
I am in the Rutgers Newark Jazz History and Research M.A. program. This is an invaluable supplement to the texts and articles that are mandatory.
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on March 1, 2003
OK, I will be up front about this: Bill Kirchner is married to my sister. So, I am biased. He is a very nice guy and my sister is nice too. I wouldn't harm them.
Having said that, my sister (who is also a musician) may be married to the author but I know very little about jazz. I fall into the category of people who have heard about the major musicians but really do not understand improvisation; I can't read music. So, I bought this book as a family obligation and with some trepidation.
Wow! This, I can read! The articles are well written and even a jazz ignoramus like me can understand most of them. If you are a novice as I am, you will learn a lot and also be able to understand more of what you are hearing when you listen to the music. I know I want to buy more DVD's--including Bill Kirchner's, of course.
For those of you who know jazz, I am certain that some of the articles in this comprehensive book will tell you things that you never knew. Others will enhance what you already knew. This book should be in everyone's history library--and not just in the libraries of jazz fanatics--because jazz is the gift America has given to the music world and is synthesized from contributions by many of our immigrant groups.
Enjoy and listen up!
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on October 24, 2016
My boyfriend loved this shirt! It was such great quality and really fit to his body.
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on April 18, 2015
Bought one for my daughter as well. Great book and a must have if you love jazz.
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on October 29, 2015
Excellent book about jazz.
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on June 21, 2001
Somewhere on earth there is probably a jazz musician who does not know Bill Kirchner. But he or she must be in deep cover; Kirchner is known and esteemed by jazz people all over the U.S. and abroad. Oxford could not have chosen a better editor for this compact but wide-ranging volume than Kirchner: composer, arranger, saxophonist, historian, record and radio producer, educator, leader of the Bill Kirchner Nonet, and all around class act. The book begins with an astute pairing of historical essays -- Samuel A. Floyd Jr.'s "African Roots of Jazz" and William H. Youngren's "European Roots of Jazz" -- and with vigor and style takes it from there. This is not a mechanical or academic collection. Rather it reflects the savvy, open-mindedness, erudition, and general panache of its editor's musical intelligence. Like the finest of the big bands, the result is unique, quirky, highly flavored and accented -- and not to be missed!
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on April 16, 2002
This a fantastic resource. It lists in nice tight graphs everything you'd want to know about jazz, except it left out some major festivals like the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Not of detail for that see Our Heritage In The making, By Brian Federico. But this has it all and its a great book to have on your end table to read the little bits that may lead you to other bits from its cross referencing notes. Good Buy for the jazz expert.
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on September 22, 2005
This a valuable book. How could it not be with more than 800 pages and contributions from such exemplary jazz writers as Gunther Schuler and Dan Morgenstern? But how much better a guide it would be if it also included articles by our best jazz critic, Gary Giddins. I strongly recommend Giddins's Weather Bird and Duke Ellington as supplements to this volume.

Ben Sonnenberg, New York
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