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A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers [Hardcover]

Will Friedwald
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

2 Nov 2010

Will Friedwald’s illuminating, opinionated essays—provocative, funny, and personal—on the lives and careers of more than three hundred singers anatomize the work of the most important jazz and popular performers of the twentieth century. From giants like Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, and Judy Garland to lesser-known artists like Jeri Southern and Joe Mooney, they have created a body of work that continues to please and inspire. Here is the most extensive biographical and critical survey of these singers ever written, as well as an essential guide to the Great American Songbook and those who shaped the way it has been sung.
 
The music crosses from jazz to pop and back again, from the songs of Irving Berlin and W. C. Handy through Stephen Sondheim and beyond, bringing together straightforward jazz and pop singers (Billie Holiday, Perry Como); hybrid artists who moved among genres and combined them (Peggy Lee, Mel Tormé); the leading men and women of Broadway and Hollywood (Ethel Merman, Al Jolson); yesterday’s vaudeville and radio stars (Sophie Tucker, Eddie Cantor); and today’s cabaret artists and hit-makers (Diana Krall, Michael Bublé). Friedwald has also written extended pieces on the most representative artists of five significant genres that lie outside the songbook: Bessie Smith (blues), Mahalia Jackson (gospel), Hank Williams (country and western), Elvis Presley (rock ’n’ roll), and Bob Dylan (folk-rock).
 
Friedwald reconsiders the personal stories and professional successes and failures of all these artists, their songs, and their performances, appraising both the singers and their music by balancing his opinions with those of fellow musicians, listeners, and critics.
 
This magisterial reference book—ten years in the making—will delight and inform anyone with a passion for the iconic music of America, which continues to resonate throughout our popular culture.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 811 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon Books (2 Nov 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375421491
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375421495
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 18.1 x 4.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 449,678 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By Roochak
Format:Hardcover
Will Friedwald's gift as a critic is his ability to make anyone reevaluate their opinions about popular singers, including his own. It'll come as a surprise to readers of his 1990 book Jazz Singing: America's Great Voices from Bessie Smith to Bebop and beyond, in which he argued that rock & roll ushered in the Apocalypse for good music, that he now considers Elvis Presley to be one of the greatest of all popular singers, the first man to assimilate rhythm and blues, country, and mainstream pop into a seamless whole. Even in praising an artist, Friedwald's opinions are provocative, as when he avers that Dean Martin was a major influence on Elvis's singing; it sounds nutty, but careful listening will back it up.

What makes a jazz or pop singer "great"? Tricky question. The 811 double-columned pages of this book provide a series of contentious, informed, and highly entertaining answers in the form of extended essays on its two hundred or so performers. (The BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE, which Friedwald spent a decade writing, is modeled after David Thomson's BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF FILM, but with much longer, and better written, entries.) For Friedwald, great pop music is centered on the American songbook, and its finest singers were active during the LP era, the heyday of the concept album (1955 - 1985). What this means for his book is that he doesn't write about too many singers born after 1950, though Diana Krall, Kurt Elling, Michael Feinstein, Audra McDonald, and Dee Dee Bridgewater are among the boomers too interesting NOT to warrant an essay apiece.

Elsewhere, Friedwald is busy challenging our perceptions of the classic performers and throwing away critical gems on almost every page.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Informative and a rattling good read 8 Feb 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
No, this book is not exhaustive, so it may not contain your favourite song, album or even singer (needless to say the book is fortunately devoid of Susan Boyle, Paul Potts, Andrea Bocelli and their ilk; also, sadly, no Pat Boone or Jane Morgan). How could it? But apart from that, the book does contain a wealth of information on some 270 singers ranging from Al Jolson to Bob Dylan, from Al Bowlly to Michael Bublé, from Noel Coward to Robert Goulet, from Marlene Dietrich to Ella Fitzgerald. Like any writer who stands for something, Friedwald doesn't mince his words, which means that inherently good singers who fail to deliver the goods properly (Friedwald is not impressed by sales numbers) get a sound thrashing (e.g. Andy Williams or Perry Como), and other singers finally get the accolades they deserve (Doris Day, Buddy Clark, Johnny Desmond). There are also some strange advocacies which I would not necessarily agree with (Ray Eberle a more memorable singer than Bob?), but which made me think and listen again to music I had not listened to for a very long time. And Friedwald says what he wants to say with panache, drive and a lot of humour. In short, this is what great writing is all about: to offer different angles and insights, to provoke and to stimulate. A minor quiddity is that there are some errors that might have been prevented by more careful editing (or an editor with more than just passing knowledge of the subject). Just one example is that Glenn Miller's arranger Bill Finegan is referred to as Bill Flanagan, and there a few more of these glitches. Perhaps in a work of this scale and with so many details they are inevitable. Since prices have slid to under nine quid the real music lover no longer has an excuse not to have this book on his shelf.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another great Friedwald 15 Dec 2012
By Mr G
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I really love Will Friedwald's work: he's so passionate about the music, so well-informed and most importantly he gives a very personal view on his subjects. This book is particularly enjoyable - it's a veritable colossus of a guide to the great singers of the American songbook, written with great love and humour.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Book arrive in time 15 Aug 2012
By chris
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is a very large publication about popular singers and you wonder where the author finds all the time to listen to all this music. whether or not you agree with Mr Friedwald's views, there is no denying the work that he has put into this book. One small point: singers like Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck are not mentioned, despite having been popular for many years and despite having recorded (at times) songs by writers like Bart Howard and Cole Porter. But an informative book nevertheless.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  22 reviews
27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pop, jazz, & some R&B: Will Friedwald's musical America 3 Nov 2010
By Roochak - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Will Friedwald's gift as a critic is his ability to make anyone reevaluate their opinions about popular singers, including his own. It'll come as a surprise to readers of his 1990 book Jazz Singing: America's Great Voices From Bessie Smith To Bebop And Beyond, in which he argued that rock & roll ushered in the Apocalypse for good music, that he now considers Elvis Presley to be one of the greatest of all popular singers, the first man to assimilate rhythm and blues, country, and mainstream pop into a seamless whole. Even in praising an artist, Friedwald's opinions are provocative, as when he avers that Dean Martin was a major influence on Elvis's singing; it sounds nutty, but careful listening will back it up.

What makes a jazz or pop singer "great"? Tricky question. The 811 double-columned pages of this book provide a series of contentious, informed, and highly entertaining answers in the form of extended essays on its two hundred or so performers. (The BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE, which Friedwald spent a decade writing, is modeled after David Thomson's BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF FILM, but with much longer, and better written, entries.) For Friedwald, great pop music is centered on the American songbook, and its finest singers were active during the LP era, the heyday of the concept album (1955 - 1985). What this means for his book is that he doesn't write about too many singers born after 1950, though Diana Krall, Kurt Elling, Michael Feinstein, Audra McDonald, and Dee Dee Bridgewater are among the boomers too interesting NOT to warrant an essay apiece.

Elsewhere, Friedwald is busy challenging our perceptions of the classic performers and throwing away critical gems on almost every page. For example: "I can only imagine that both Sinatra and Dylan had moments when they felt like Dr. Frankenstein: They had created a monster and couldn't control the damage it caused." "Streisand...is incapable of easing up -- whether on a note, on the beat, on the band, on the words, on anything. [She] nearly always sounds as if she's attacking you with a song." "What will it take to convince Aretha Franklin that she is, in fact, a great artist, and not a fly-by-night hit maker? Why does she consistently act as if she's in the same league with Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston?" And then there are the deeper insights: "One thing [Ray Charles] has in common with Tony Bennett is the way he revels in the rapture of the sound of strain -- like an alto saxist struggling for a high F. And one thing he has in common with Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler, two bluesmen in a different kind of music, is that he challenges our notion of sound itself."

Chances are, several of your favorite contemporary singers, like several of mine, are going to be missing from this book, but there's more than enough interesting material here to make it an essential purchase anyway. You'll be reading and re-reading it for months.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Volume 5 Jan 2011
By David Keith - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
You might not agree with the author's favorite picks, but his knowledge on the subject of jazz/pop singers is monumental. Don't think there's a better qualified individual to write such a book. I grew up in the 70s, was a fan of punk, and later on alternative music. This wonderful book sure is helping me explore the jazz and pop singers from before my time. It's about all I care to listen to anymore! Julie London, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughn, Dean Martin, etc. They're all here. This book's a keeper. I'll be getting much use out of this book for years to come. It belongs in every music library!

I read a couple hundred books every year. If not more than that. This book is my favorite from 2010. It's a masterpiece.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a GREAT book 16 Dec 2010
By Charles Mymit - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a great book! The author is a special writer in as much as he knows his material.His insights and ideas about each of the singers he writes about makes for very interesting reading.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Monumental and Delightful Work 6 April 2011
By Robert Campus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Will Friedwald's Encyclopedia is beyond belief. This book is filled with facts and information on each of the singers, yet is humorous and insightful. I can't begin to grasp the hours Mr. Friedwald spent on research on the biographies of each subject, and the hours spent listening to the musical output of each subject. It is an Encyclopedia that can be read as one would a novel, full of humor and "inside" puns and jokes that will delight the jazz and pop music lover. (Full disclosure: I have never met Mr. Friedwald, but have seen him at many Jazz venues here in New York. It seems that he goes out as much for pleasure as he does for his business of writing).

I am reading this book with joy. I am only up to the D's, (Matt Dennis) and I just can't put it down. My leisure reading has been set aside as I devour this book. I delight in his humor, his turn of phrase, and the research in each biography. One would think in a work this comprehensive that he had countless contributors, but this work is filled with his personal feelings and personal opinions, all provocative.

I have read Mr.Friedwald's book on Frank Sinatra's music and recording, which is the best on the subject, as well as his many CD liner notes. His extensive liner notes on the Mosaic Records' reissue of Mildred Bailey's music is exemplary.

The book is over 800 pages in length, in small font. If the font was "normal" this would be a two volume work. All fans of the music must buy this book. If you do I know you will get as much pleasure as I have. (I recently bought it as a birthday gift for a friend and he loves it and raves about it as much as I have).

Buy This Book.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Friedwald's GUIDE Is A Must Have For Music Lovers 11 Nov 2010
By Cyrus Webb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As someone who still prefers to take a book off the shelf and enjoy learning about the past, Will Friedwald's book is just what all music lovers need to have. Instead of googling a singer that you want to learn more about about, he has put it all together for you in a way that makes you curious about some jazz and pop artists that maybe you have never heard of.

That is definitely one of the great things about a book. You can start the journey when you're ready, mark your place when you have to take a break and pick back up whenever you are ready.
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