This Thursday a new, slimmer successor will take over from The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings Ninth Edition, (Published 2008, 1646 pages, costing £35). Drum roll.
Welcome The Penguin Jazz Guide - The History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums, at just under half the length, and priced at £20.
I got Brian Morton to talk me through a bit of the history of the Penguin Guide. The First Edition was published in 1992, and aimed to be a guide, with caveats, he explained, to "everything available." By the Third Edition, that ambition was no longer realisible. "Two guys listening obsessively just couldn't get through it all." The two authors rejected the idea that the book might be written by a committee. So they limited the scope, made thebook more subjective in its choices. Nonetheless, it was still a major undertaking. The book was ever-increasingly testing the barriers both of paperback binding technology and of book-buyers' wallets.
Co-author Richard Cook sadly died of cancer in late summer 2007. Brian Morton wrote in his Introduction to the 9th edition: " What follows remains very much Richard's book, even though he was too unwell to contribute to this edition." Brian Morton explained to me that in retrospect he knows that in working on the 9th Edition he missed the collaborative process he had established with Cook, the double-check, all the fruitful dialogue which they had had during a decade and a half.
So, he says, for the tenth publication "something different was required." The new volume has more input from musicians and producers, and more anecdote. "Musicians have been helpful, very keen to contribute," Morton told me. There's an "awful lot of new stuff." The new book still has Richard Cook's name as co-author.
The new Guide does include recordings produced very recently. Morton defends this approach: "A great record is that when it's issued. It's not like malt whisky or wine." But Morton did nuance that with another interesting remark, welcoming the multiplicity of critical perspectives which the internet can now deliver. In a neatly turned sentence he told me he has "never regarded a review to be a final word, the final word, or even my final word."
Which sounds like an extremely sensible principle to me....
Here's the description of the new Penguin Guide on the Penguin website.