Jazz  Records: 1897-1942, 4th Revised and Enlarged Edition.  By Brian Rust.  New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House Publishers, 1978.  1,996 pages.

Reviewed by Tim Brooks

The name of Brian Rust turns up frequently in articles and discussions concerning the identification of early recordings, and for good reason. Rust is the world’s leading general discographer, and his work has both set the standard for other publications and increased the amount of information available on early recordings immeasurably.  (See APM Vol. IV No. 3 for a biographical sketch and outline of his works.)

Rust’s major work over the years has been Jazz Records: 1897-1942, and this has now reached a fourth edition in a new two-volume printing by Arlington House. That news alone will be enough to send jazz buffs scurrying to get their copy for Jazz Records is well established as the “bible” of jazz and swing record collecting. Just about anything you would want to know about when a record was recorded, where, by whom, with whom, and on what other labels it was released, is here. Unlike so many “reference books” currently on the market this one is comprehensive and accurate.

The new edition contains approximately 2,000 pages with listings for 10,000 performers, 16,000 titles and over 30,000 individual recordings. The main listing is alphabetical by artist. After each name is a complete listing of every known recording by that artist that could conceivably be of interest as jazz, arranged in order of recording dates. The name and instrument of everyone participating in a recording session is given (for an orchestra session this can be quite lengthy) along with the takes issued and all 78 rpm or cylinder catalog numbers.

In addition to the main listing there are two appendixes: a 90 page index of artists, which allows you to quickly locate any vocalist or instrumentalist, even if he doesn’t have a main entry of his own; and new with this edition, a 150 page index of every tune title in the book. The latter is particularly interesting as it allows the reader to trace all the recorded versions of a given song, from the single known recording of “If You Sheik on Your Mama, Mama’s Gonna Sheba on You” to the 135 versions of “St. Louis Blues.” If you’ve ever found an upbeat title you liked and wondered if there were any other versions of it, this index will be invaluable.

The general collector may wonder if this set has any value for him. Despite its title Jazz Records does contain a good deal of interest to the non-jazz collector, whether his field is ragtime or other early syncopated music, 1920s dance bands, vocalists, the hotter swing numbers of the 1930s and 1940s or simply recordings themselves (it’s amazing how much you can learn about recording companies, matrix numbering, connections between different labels, etc., from a detailed discography such as this). Rust has interpreted the term “jazz” in the broadest sense (to the dismay of some purists), and he includes thousands of records that many people might consider to be simply good, upbeat dance numbers, such as were turned out in profusion by Paul Whiteman, Ben Selvin, the California Ramblers, etc. Solo records by performers as diverse as Dan W. Quinn (1902) and Annette Hanshaw (1920s and 1930s) are included where the song or backing is of “jazz” interest. Ragtime material on disc and cylinder receives extensive coverage. The earliest entry in the book is for a pair of recordings of this type made by the Sousa Band for Berliner in August, 1897. Vess L. Ossman, “The Banjo King,” has four pages of listings, mostly from 1897-1908, and there are also detailed listings for such pioneer artists as Fred Van Eps, Prince’s Band and Pryor’s Band, covering that portion of their output that is of interest as precursors of jazz.

A great deal of work has been done in identifying pseudonyms and a glance at the listings will often tell you that you’re not listening to the name on the label of a favorite record. The Dixie Daisies have at least 30 different identities, depending on the particular record you’re listening to. Among other things the pseudonym identifications can help the collector locate other records of a similar nature by an artist he likes, under other names and on different labels. Using the artist index, a known performer, whether vocalist or instrumentalist, can also be traced to all his participation in other people’s recordings.

What if you have one of the earlier editions of Jazz Records, as many collectors do? If you have the first (1961) or second (1963) edition there is no comparison, for the new one outdates those completely in size and accuracy. However the third edition (1969) has about the same number of pages as the new one, and the collector who has that edition might wonder if he really needs this new set. To find out I picked a dozen pages at random and did a line-by-line comparison to determine how much difference there really was.

The results were striking. Every page checked had new or changed information, and some of the changes were substantial. Here’s the list. Page 109: new 78 rpm releases added, take number added; p.259: vocalists identified or changed since the previous edition; p.409: numerous changes in orchestra personnel, a rejected take now known to have been issued (label given), an entire block of newly discovered recordings added for one orchestra; p.559: new cross reference added, pseudonym identified; p.709: additional orchestra personnel identified; p.859: several musicians previously given as uncertain now identified, an artist who was listed in her own right now known to be a pseudonym (now cross referenced to the true artist); p.1009: previously unknown personnel identified, recording date now identified, additional recordings listed; p.1159: two rejected takes now identified by title, some unissued takes now different; p.1309: several pseudonyms incorrectly identified in the previous edition now deleted, others added, recording date changed; p.1459: recording date now known, personnel completely changed for one entry, recording added; p.1609: personnel changed; p.6: personnel changed, recording date changed.

Those twelve, it should be remembered, were picked purely at random. Mr. Rust has obviously been posting, updating and re-researching his entries extensively during the past nine years. He states that he has now had access to the files of ten major record companies. In addition it became apparent during the random check that subtle changes had been made in the format to make the book easier to read than its predecessors. For example many orchestra listings run for more than one page; the complete personnel is now repeated at the top of each page, incorporating all changes up to that time. Also the leader on each session, which often varied from recording to recording for studio orchestras, is now uniformly shown at the beginning of each entry. In short the changes in Jazz Record are mostly of detail, but they are considerable. They appear to affect practically every page of the book.

Jazz Records is expensive at a list price of $60 for the set, but then so is The Encyclopedia Britannica, of which this is the discographical equivalent. The collector who wants to save some money may find a copy for less from some sources, such as the publisher’s own Nostalgia Book Club, which is offering it for $28.89 (joining incurs an obligation to buy four books over two years, but since the club offers a great many other books and records at discount prices you may well come out ahead anyway).

Also available from Arlington House, and at discount from its book club, are Rust’s American Dance Band Discography and The Complete Entertainment Discography. The former covers popular dance bands and has only minor overlap with Jazz Records. The latter, though far from “complete,” is a first attempt at a general discography of personalities. Both are formatted in the same manner as Jazz Records and like it are highly recommended.


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