Will Friedwald has excelled himself.

In the wake of his monumental “A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers”, a further classic bursts forth, in which he considers their albums. From Ella to Sinatra, Crosby to Nat “King” Cole, he has personally selected benchmark recordings of the musical greats, attaching not merely an elegant critique, but the fascinating background to each.

He also singles out the great unknowns. Take Billy Eckstine’s “Billy’s Best” from 1958: “Never was an album more appropriately named, and, alas, never was such an excellent album so little known”. Or your correspondent’s fave, Bobby Short, from his memorable visits to The Carlyle: “Bobby Short played a key role in the development of the Great American Songbook. No classic songs would be written expressly for him, but he had an enormous influence on the way the great songs of Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, etc. would be heard.”

This is a splendid book for aficionados and novices alike. Warm, humorous and descriptive, it is one to dabble in and savour, rather than swallow at a gulp – and all the better for that.


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