More Important Than the Music: A History of Jazz Discography

University of Chicago Press
Free sample

Today, jazz is considered high art, America’s national music, and the catalog of its recordings—its discography—is often taken for granted. But behind jazz discography is a fraught and highly colorful history of research, fanaticism, and the intense desire to know who played what, where, and when. This history gets its first full-length treatment in Bruce D. Epperson’s More Important Than the Music. Following the dedicated few who sought to keep jazz’s legacy organized, Epperson tells a fascinating story of archival pursuit in the face of negligence and deception, a tale that saw curses and threats regularly employed, with fisticuffs and lawsuits only slightly rarer.

Epperson examines the documentation of recorded jazz from its casual origins as a novelty in the 1920s and ’30s, through the overwhelming deluge of 12-inch vinyl records in the middle of the twentieth century, to the use of computers by today’s discographers. Though he focuses much of his attention on comprehensive discographies, he also examines the development of a variety of related listings, such as buyer’s guides and library catalogs, and he closes with a look toward discography’s future. From the little black book to the full-featured online database, More Important Than the Music offers a history not just of jazz discography but of the profoundly human desire to preserve history itself.
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About the author

Bruce D. Epperson is an attorney and independent scholar and member of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections. He is the author of Peddling Bicycles to America: The Rise of an Industry. He lives in Miami.
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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Oct 1, 2013
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Pages
304
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ISBN
9780226067674
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Language
English
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Genres
History / United States / 20th Century
Music / General
Music / Genres & Styles / Jazz
Music / History & Criticism
Technology & Engineering / History
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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In the illustrious and richly documented history of American jazz, no figure has been more controversial than the jazz critic. Jazz critics can be revered or reviled—often both—but they should not be ignored. And while the tradition of jazz has been covered from seemingly every angle, nobody has ever turned the pen back on itself to chronicle the many writers who have helped define how we listen to and how we understand jazz. That is, of course, until now.

In Blowin’ Hot and Cool, John Gennari provides a definitive history of jazz criticism from the 1920s to the present. The music itself is prominent in his account, as are the musicians—from Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington to Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Roscoe Mitchell, and beyond. But the work takes its shape from fascinating stories of the tradition’s key critics—Leonard Feather, Martin Williams, Whitney Balliett, Dan Morgenstern, Gary Giddins, and Stanley Crouch, among many others. Gennari is the first to show the many ways these critics have mediated the relationship between the musicians and the audience—not merely as writers, but in many cases as producers, broadcasters, concert organizers, and public intellectuals as well.

For Gennari, the jazz tradition is not so much a collection of recordings and performances as it is a rancorous debate—the dissonant noise clamoring in response to the sounds of jazz. Against the backdrop of racial strife, class and gender issues, war, and protest that has defined the past seventy-five years in America, Blowin’ Hot and Cool brings to the fore jazz’s most vital critics and the role they have played not only in defining the history of jazz but also in shaping jazz’s significance in American culture and life.
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