February 27-March 5, 2003
A few years ago a British historian named Simon Winchester earned a spot on bestseller lists for The Professor and the Madman (HarperCollins), which detailed the painstaking efforts that birthed the vaunted Oxford English Dictionary. What catapulted Winchester's tale beyond the realm of the bibliophile was its inherent drama: Much of the OED, after all, was cobbled together by an institutionalized murderer over the course of nearly 70 years. This should tell us something about the process of encyclopedic compilation.
In jazz, the most august reference guide in print is probably the New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (Grove's Dictionaries Inc.), a two-volume plinth originally edited by Barry Kernfeld and published in 1988. Its second printing, in 2001, spanned three volumes, some 3,000 pages and roughly 7,750 entries (mostly biographical). But with a price tag of $550, it's a serious commitment, even for those who make jazz their life's work. (Grove does offer subscriptions to their online database; a 24-hour free trial is available at www.grovemusic.com.)
For decades, another standard-bearer in the reference field was Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia of Jazz (Da Capo). In 1999 Ira Gitler published a sequel, The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz (Oxford), erected upon Feather's foundations. At a hefty yet compact 718 pages, Gitler's book serves as a handy resource: Its entries are concise and clear, conveying what appears to be a just-the-facts-ma'am objectivity. In the months following its issue, however, The Biographical Encyclopedia came under fire for scattered factual inaccuracies and glaring omissions. (How a purportedly comprehensive who's-who published in the late '90s can fail to list John Zorn is a confounding mystery at best.)
What has been mostly missing from the process, since Feather finished collecting musicians' forms in the mid-'50s, is the voice of players themselves. Who better to chronicle a life than the one who has lived it? With this in mind, it comes as good news that Lewis Porter, author of John Coltrane: His Life and Music (Univ. of Michigan) and a prominent jazz scholar at Rutgers, has been commissioned to edit a new jazz encyclopedia for Routledge. And until April 1, 2003, he's accepting submissions from, as he puts it, "ALL currently active jazz musicians, young and old, from the local players to the big names,' in every style and in EVERY country."
If you are, or know, a musician who should be included in this most recent survey, e-mail your entry to Porter at email@example.com. In your note, include the following: 1) a current bio (full birth name, exact date and place of birth, instrument, mentors, awards); 2) a brief family history; 3) documented performances (TV, CDs, radio, film); 4) a bibliography (articles, profiles, reviews); and 5) permanent contact information (for listing in the book). For more detailed specs, see Porter's website: www.altrisuoni.com/ artist.php?op=View&id=75.