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The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums

Few music critics are as persuasive, knowledgeable and passionate as Will Friedwald. He's also supremely ambitious: after writing more than 200 biographies for his essential 2010 book, A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers, he has chosen another Herculean task. In The Great Jazz and Pop Vocal Albums, Friedwald showcases 53 of the best of the 20th century.

Friedwald offers fascinating stories about how each album was made. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong recorded all 11 tracks of Ella and Louis in one day. Doris Day and Robert Goulet never met while recording Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun--Day recorded her vocals in California and Goulet did his in New York. Friedwald succinctly appraises each album track by track. Readers also learn about the evolution of the long-playing record and the careers and lives of each artist.

Some artists earn recognition several times over. Louis Armstrong, Doris Day and Jo Stafford each have three albums on the list. Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan, Bing Crosby and Peggy Lee show up twice. Other artists include Chet Baker, June Christie, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Dinah Washington, Bobby Short and Tiny Tim, who receives a spirited defense. Friedwald is an irresistible mixture of enthusiastic fan and erudite historian. He describes Judy Garland's Judy at Carnegie Hall as "That rare moment in the cultural firmament when pop music became something like Henry V's victory on St. Crispin's Day." This outstanding reference guide will be a boon to music retailers: Friedwald's intoxicating descriptions will create new music fans and invigorate older ones. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant