New York: A.S. Barnes for Perpetua Books, 1961-1963. Eleven octavo volumes, measuring 8 x 5.5 inches. Glossy color pictorial wrappers, illustrated with black-and-white photographs throughout text. Housed in publisher’s faded and tape-repaired slipcase.
Striking series of illustrated jazz biographies, originally published between 1959 and 1963. As Michael James writes in his volume on Miles Davis: “It is in the very nature of jazz that its essence cannot be caught on paper, and if it were not for the gramophone record the appeal of the music, though initially just as strong, would be far less widespread. . . . For collector and critic alike, however, records have drawbacks other than the obvious ones. Prominent among these is the ease with which they allow the listener to imagine the music existing in a void, detached from the manifold forces, interior and exterior, which went into its making.” This series attempts to fill that void, offering historical and musical background on eleven jazz masters, complete with discographies. The set includes Albert McCarthy on Louis Armstrong, Burnett James on Bix Beiderbecke, Max Harrison on Charlie Parker, Charles Fox on Fats Waller, Michael James on Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie, G.E. Lambert on Johnny Dodds and Duke Ellington, and Martin Williams on Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver. Paul Oliver also contributes a volume on Bessie Smith, a lone queen among the kings. A bright fine set, in a worn slipcase.