cover image Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers

Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers

Will Friedwald, Pantheon, $45 (832p) ISBN 978-0-375-42149-5

In this passionately opinionated encyclopedia of the old-school virtuosos of the American songbook, music writer Friedwald (Sinatra!) celebrates 200-odd performers of jazz and pop standards, from the mid-20th-century titans—Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra—to latter-day acolytes like Diana Krall and Harry Connick Jr., with a raft of unjustly obscure singers in between. (Forget the Andrews Sisters—get a load of the Boswell Sisters!) Friedwald is all about the music; he primly shies away from his subjects' scandal-prone personal lives, but accords each a substantial career retrospective, selected discography and wonderfully pithy interpretive essay. His tastes are wide-ranging and idiosyncratic: he plumbs the artistry of Jimmy Durante's and Shirley Temple's novelty voices, decries the bombastic narcissism of "sacred monster" Barbra Streisand—"I remain completely unconvinced that she's a person who needs people"—and considers perky Doris Day's pop gems "the most erotic vocalizing you'll ever hear." However unconventional, his judgments are usually spot-on, as in his compelling reassessment of Elvis as the last great Crosbyesque crooner. Friedwald's exuberant medley is that rarest of things: music criticism that actually makes you sit up and listen. (Nov. 2)