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More Important than the Music: A History of Jazz Discography.

More Important than the Music: A History of Jazz Discography. By Bruce D. Epperson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. [xvi, 284 p. ISBN 9780226067537 (hardcover), $45; ISBN 9780226067674 (e-book), various.] Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.

Bruce Epperson's More Important than the Music may be read as a companion to Barry Kernfeld and Howard Rye's classic two-part article "Comprehensive Discographies of Jazz, Blues, and Gospel" (Notes 51, nos. 2-3 [1994-95]: 501-47; 865-91). Kernfeld and Rye first used as exemplars the jazz discographies by Brian Rust, Jorgen Jepsen, and Erik Raben; the blues discographies by Robert M. W. Dixon, John Godrich, Mike Leadbitter, and Neil Slaven; and the gospel music discography by Cedric J. Hayes and Robert Laughton. In their second part, they compared the competing jazz metadiscographies by Walter Bruyninckx and Tom Lord. For the most part, Kernfeld and Rye took analytical ahistorical views of the works they selected, although they did include as an immediate precedent The Directory of Recorded Jazz and Swing Music by David A. Carey, Albert J. McCarthy, and Ralph Venables ([Fordingbridge, Hampshire, Eng.; London: Delphic; Cassell, 1949-1957], 6 volumes, A-L only). Their "Comprehensive Discographies" article reaffirmed jazz discography's relevance to music librarianship, for which the Music Library Association (MLA) conferred its 1996 Richard S. Hill Award for the best article on music librarianship or article of a music-bibliographic nature. Epperson takes a complementary approach by looking at the careers of the leading discographers and how they developed their standards and practices. His resulting narrative is expansive, probing, and quite funny, too. He confirms some suspicions long held by veteran jazz record collectors and he also gives some much-needed historical background to younger music librarians.

In the first chapter, Epperson introduces as historical figures Rust, Bruyninckx, and Lord, whom he maintains as narrative characters throughout the rest of the book. He also discusses the concepts of discography (for individual artists, historical periods, and jazz styles) and meta-discography (for every jazz record ever made). The next three chapters relate the growth of jazz discography from collectors' checklists of records to the initial conceptions of a jazz meta-discography, as seen in the pioneering publications of Charles Delaunay (his editions of Hot Discography and New Hot Discography, 1936-1952), Orin Blackstone (Index to Jazz [Fairfax, VA: Record Changer; Gullickson, 1945-1948, 4 volumes]), and Brian Rust (various). In chapter 5, how a meta-discography has become a near (but not quite) attainable goal is described by means of a double-portrait of Bruyninckx and Lord (whose efforts I will discuss further below). Two chapters about specialized discographies, including those on individual musicians, and others about individual recording firms, broaden the presentation and sustain the history through the 2000s. An avid collector of discographies, Epperson mentions many compilers and works not included in the Kernfeld and Rye "Comprehensive Discographies" article. More than paying dues to the pioneers, Epperson may help today's librarians who are wondering whether to keep their copies of Delaunay and Blackstone. He explains to the jazz novice how Brian Rust's three major works, Jazz Records, 1897-1942 (five editions, 1961-1983), The Complete Entertainment Discography, from the Mid-1890s to 1942 (with Allen G. Debus [New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1973]), and The American Dance Band Discography 1917-1942 (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1975) are complementary to each other, and hence all three should be acquired and retained. He explains why one should not expect to see any more volumes of Erik Raben's accomplished but uncompleted Jazz Records 1942-1980 ([Copenhagen: Stainless/Wintermoon; JazzMedia, 1989-2007], 7 volumes and 1 CD-ROM, A-G only). By telling some well-researched tales behind the names and book titles, Epperson refreshes many works for the experienced jazz collector, and he leads the novice to dive into the lists of discographies and references in the back of the book.

His closing chapter about the present state of jazz discography may be a little difficult for some readers because of the technical descriptions of the computer programs used to prepare some discographies. The patient reader will be rewarded with a glimpse of the legal issues that may affect future compilations. I mentioned Bruyninckx and Lord previously, with regard to meta-discography, that is, bringing all of recorded jazz under discographical control. Each man's effort was begun not in a vacuum, but with the data collected by previous discographers back to Delaunay. Bruyninckx eventually began compiling his own data trove when he began including jazz albums issued after 1970. Lord, on the other hand, appeared to continue using (without permission) the data published by specialized discographers. As reported by Kernfeld and Rye in 1995 (Notes 51, no. 3 [March 1995]: 885) and mentioned by Epperson (p.123), Lord took some heat from critics for appropriating without acknowledgment the data from Jan Lohmann's The Sound of Miles Davis: The Discography: A Listing of Records and Tapes, 1945-1991 (Copenhagen: JazzMedia, 1993); in all fairness, Kernfeld and Rye add, so did Bruyninckx. Differences between the two projects extend to printed format and marketing. For many years, Bruyninickx self-published his editions in loose-leaf format as 50 Years of Recorded Jazz, 1917--1967 (ca. 1968-1971; updated editions were titled 60 Years ... [ca. 1977-1980] and 70 Years ... [late 1980s-early 1990s]) and sold them directly to purchasers, even though he lived in Belgium and most of his customers did not. Lord published in paperback such books as The Jazz Discography ([Redwood, NY; Vancouver, Canada: Cadence Jazz Books; Lord Music Reference, 1992-2002], 35 volumes). From the project's 1992 inception through 2000 at least. Lord sold his volumes through Cadence magazine's jazz record sales operation, from which many fans bought their records and compact discs through the 2000s. By using a computer in data handling and page preparation, Lord established a distinctive visual format in which he presented his recording session data. Epperson argues (p. 193) that by numbering each of the recording sessions within each artist entry, Lord thus produced "copyrightable units." So if another discographer inserts (unaltered) any of Lord's numbered session entries into their own project, Epperson says that "can be construed as copyright infringement." Lord's control of his data became stronger yet when he switched the format of his metadiscography from printed book to CDROM and subscription Web site. Yet his control remains at the session level, but not at the detailed sub-session levels of personnel names and song titles. Epperson sees additional alternatives to Lord in the online projects and e-commerce sites he describes as freely available to users of the Web.

As a closing note, I would like to add to one aspect of Epperson's fine book. He mentions Brian Rust's claim of "close listening" (p. 82) while determining the personnel on recordings for which there was no previous musician documentation. Epperson is right to doubt the reliability of such a claim from someone as musically untrained as Rust, who, at best may have recognized only tone. Oft-used motifs, licks, melodic formulas, and other characteristics that may be notated on paper can be helpful toward identifying performers. They may be more reliably used to distinguish one take from multiple other takes of the same piece by one ensemble. Epperson comments briefly but approvingly (p. 130) on the inclusion of notated transcriptions from records in the 1976 Storyville Publications book, Clarence Williams, by Tom Lord (a different person from the previously-discussed meta-discographer). I would like to build on that point by describing thematic discography for jazz. This idea was introduced by jazz historian James S. Patrick, who showed how thematic catalog formats could be adapted for jazz in his article "Discography as a Tool for Musical Research and Vice Versa" (Journal of Jazz Studies 1, no. 1 [1973]: 65-81). A little while later, Laurie Wright embedded incipits in his descriptive entries for several recordings in his book Mr. Jelly Lord (Chigwell, Essex, Eng.: Storyville Publications, 1980). Since the 1990s, when copyright terms for recorded music changed and the rights began to be enforced more often by the holders, some publishers have been cautious about including four-measure incipits. A recent published effort is my thematic discography for Mississippi bluesman Charley Patton in the 2001 Revenant reissue of the recording Screamin' and Hollenn' the Blues: The Worlds of Charley Patton (Revenant 212). Until the prevailing copyright codes have shorter time lengths, or until publishers have a sharper definition of fair use for notated music, I foresee thematic discographies continuing to be rare and "close listening" birds.


SUNY Potsdam
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Author:Komara, Edward
Article Type:Book review
Date:May 23, 2015
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