At The Vanguard Of Vinyl

The language may challenge comprehension, but the book has good detail on Ellington, Gillespie, Adderley and Mingus


Let me start my review of this book by quoting a sentence from the introduction: “Within the cultural economy of music, which places high value on the synchronicity between creative events and their reproductions, issues of informational flow and exchange quickly point to the socio-political complexities of these sonic media.”

So there you have it. Or perhaps you don’t. Fortunately the book has many sentences which don’t challenge the comprehension of the reader, but I think it’s much longer than it needed to be and yet fails to consider adequately two crucial elements. The advent of microgroove records brought a change in packaging and a challenge to artists and designers to put on the front of the sleeve something which would encourage purchase of the record and hopefully have some artistic value and relation to the music within.

If, like me, you came to know jazz through the medium of the LP, you may have hoped for covers you could cherish as much as the music. Yet we find here only a dozen, fairly unimpressive covers, disappointingly reproduced in black and white, with only a few pages of text about this enormously significant aspect of the LP phenomenon. And the significance of sleevenotes, which could be illuminating or absurd or somewhere in between, is hardly discussed at all, yet these added enormous potential for information, admiration and critical insight to the basic business of reproducing sounds.

What the author does provide is detailed consideration of early Prestige records, the obfuscation of the first issue of Ellington At Newport in 1956, the “ambassadorial” LPs of Dizzy Gillespie, the “live” recording of Cannonball Adderley in San Francisco and the bold attempts of Charles Mingus to take charge of his own recordings. These five chapters are not without interest, but I find it hard to recommend this book unless you’re the sort of person who happily soaks up the kind of sentence quoted in my first paragraph.


At The Vanguard Of Vinyl – A Cultural History Of The Long-Playing Record In Jazz by Darren Mueller. Duke University Press, pb, 279pp and 156pp notes, list of records, bibliography and index. ISBN 9781478030072