Saturday, October 16, 2010

Who Played With Louis Armstrong On That Session?

For many years a jazz historian was only as good as his music and reference library. This meant that historians with access to large music libraries definitely had an advantage. I began to grow my jazz reference library from the time I started to listen to jazz. One reason was that books about the musicians always had partial discographies in the back of them and I could always plan on discovering new recordings that I previously didn't know about. My library grew with the addition of biographies, but at that point I didn't realize that what I really needed to add to my collection was a jazz discography. When I first discovered them in the University of Virginia's music library, I knew that was what I needed. They were chock full of sessions (and of many musicians of whom I had never heard) put together by devoted music fans who'd been listening to the music much longer than I.

The discographies grew out of biographies, any documentation left by the recording companies, interviews with jazz musicians and sometimes just the "good" ears of the discographer himself. Somehow many of the best discographers were British; therefore the books are published by British press. This did not make them easier to acquire.
 Overtime, with the growth of the world wide web, it became much easier to get my hands on these volumes.  I found a source but soon realized that these 2 volumes would be the most expensive books I would buy for my library. I bought my first set, a pair of twenty year old copies of Brian Rust's "Jazz Discography," for about $125 a piece and was in heaven. Now, they only covered recorded music from 1897 to 1942, but it was a start. A few years later I bought a new updated version that also included Ragtime music and covered the same years. It was nice to have a new version; I realized that the research was still going on as new musicians were identified in old sessions and old recordings were still being found. The problems were: you were restricted to the books appendix and couldn't do any search within the text; there were never any pictures of albums in these book as they just covered the musicians, their instruments, songs, places, recording matrices and dates; and, the stopping point for most printed jazz discographies is 1942, now close to 70 years ago.

 As the Internet has grown, the world of discographies has begun to come into its own. There's not one central free source that's offering a complete jazz discography which covers the entire history of jazz. One is available by subscription run by noted author Tom Lord and I only wish I made enough money writing about music to be able to get a yearly subscription and go to town searching and learning even more. My first search would be for a list of recordings made in New Orleans between 1930 and 1940. Why those years? That's another blog to come.

 What I have discovered is that over the past ten years common jazz enthusiasts have begun to fill the void with pages paying homage to their favorite jazz musicians. They are branching out to collect all of the information about every recording and put it out there for all to enjoy. Discographies blossom on Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis. You can find them listed by labels. You can even find them not only for jazz but all types of music (Allmusic Guide). The wonderful thing is that they're growing and covering those previous untouched years after World War II. So go explore and learn who recorded together, what songs were recorded, then buy a copy and enjoy.

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