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6 of 6 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
This review is from: A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers (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.
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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
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JJA Kiefte "Joost Kiefte" (Tegelen, Nederland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers (Hardcover)
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 Bought this finally..., 16 May 2014
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C. FULLER (Brixham, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers (Hardcover)
I had looked at this volume many times and knew that it would answer many of my questions about jazz and classic vocalists. Now I have this huge volume of over 800 pages I have looked at it frequently and all of the people I wanted information on are included. I like the book because you get plenty of detail on all the biggest names and still enough on those whose names are not perhaps that most familiar. The asking price is now very very reasonable and the great thing is that the information does not really age so the book is just as valid as in 2010. A definite must own if you love music and have soul.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Another great Friedwald, 15 Dec 2012
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This review is from: A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers (Hardcover)
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
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This review is from: A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers (Hardcover)
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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A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers
A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers by Will Friedwald (Hardcover - 2 Nov 2010)
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