JJ 03/94: The Jazz Guitar

Thirty years ago, before the web was awash with biography, Mark Gilbert welcomed the third edition of Summerfield's jazz-guitar encyclopaedia. First published in Jazz Journal March 1994


This new volume effects a wholesale revision of Summerfield’s valuable jazz guitar encyclopaedia, first published in 1978. It adds 125 new entries (presumably to the second edition, making a total of 236) and many new photographs, and features revised essays, biographies and expanded discographies and bibliographies.

Many of the new entries are sensibly in the contemporary sphere, and the treat­ment of this area is surprisingly good, with coverage for players such as Howard Alden and Chris Flory at one end of the stylistic spectrum to Frank Gambale and Bill Frisell at the other. There are also timely paragraphs on local lights like Dave Cliff, John Etheridge, Jim Mullen and Adrian Ingram and often forgotten but important educators like Williams Leavitt (Berklee) and Fowler (Downbeat).

The biographical work is pithy and generally informative, but the book could benefit from more stylistic analysis. Play­ers tend to be merely ‘jazz’, ‘contempo­rary’, ‘jazz-rock fusion’ or perhaps ‘avant garde’, without much shading in between. No attempt is made, for example to differ­entiate between Frank Gambale and Allan Holdsworth, two generically related gui­tarists with sharply contrasting tech­niques. There is also a suggestion in the rather simplistic family tree of jazz guitar that the author is not particularly conver­sant with post-1980 developments. There’s no account (in the tree, at any rate) of Hendrix as an influence on Frisell, or Clapton on Robben Ford, or B B King on John Scofield. The tree also implies lines of influence between players who are really contemporaries with common inspi­rations. It’s also a pity that the instruments chapter wasn’t overhauled to reflect the use of solid-bodied guitars and electronic sound processors by the many modem players featured in the biographical sec­tion. There are errors too – Wayne Krantz, for example, played with a drummer called D Sharpe, not a group called D Sharp, and attended Berklee in the mid-seventies, not 1982-85.

However, if the book’s authority is somewhat compromised by these faults, it remains a fascinating, even essential vol­ume for guitar scholars and enthusiasts. Most of the information seems accurate, and Summerfield’s unpretentious enthusi­asm for his subject, irrespective of genre or generation, makes for positive and engaging reading.

The Jazz Guitar – Its Evolution, Its Players and Personalities Since 1900, 3rd edition. By Maurice Summerfield. Ashley Mark Publishing, Bolsover House, 43 Sackville Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 5TA. Sb; 344pp; £25. ISBN 1 872639 05 4. Also in hardback at £45