J.B. vs. PW
Normal people do not read Publisher’s Weekly, but you might recognize the name from snippets of their positive reviews reprinted on book covers. PW is the trade publication of the publishing industry. Its pre-publication capsule reviews do not normally sell books to consumers, but they can have an effect with bookstore and library buyers. Of course, they cannot review everything published. So how often do they review jazz books?
Of the 39 books reviewed here this year, and the one coming hopefully at the end of the week, PW reviewed nine. That’s nine out of forty. Out of that nine, two were graphic novels (comic books), Bluesman and Stagger Lee. Granted, I specialize, whereas they have to narrow the field of every book churned off a press. I will not fault them for ignoring David Brown’s Noise Orders, at times a thought-provoking book, but clearly not destined for great bookstore distribution. It is harder to get space for scholarly titles, illustrated books, reprints, and paperback originals. Still, there were some surprising omissions.
Stanley Crouch’s Considering Genius was eagerly anticipated for the debates it would ignite on jazz discussion boards. Crouch is a national figure, instantly recognizable from his appearances in Ken Burns documentaries and his column in the NY Daily News. Previous Crouch collections have been reviewed, but no love for Genius?
Pete Turner’s Color of Jazz will be the coveted jazz gift book of the season for everyone who loved CTI’s bestselling 1970’s LPs. Illustrated books are not as likely to be reviewed, but past Turner collections have been, yet no review this time.
Linda Dahl’s Haunted Heart, the tragic biography of Sussanah McCorkle, is a compelling read with what could be called Oprah appeal (abuse, mental health). Her Mary Lou Wiliams biography drew a mixed review from PW, but no ink for Heart?
Libraries rely on trade reviews more than anyone to shape their buys. Frankly, their patrons tend to be older, more likely to remember Dick Haymes. Ruth Prigozy’s Life of Dick Haymes could well have been of interest to them, but no notice in PW.
When PW does review jazz titles, they have generally been positive. Two of the nine titles we both reviewed, received starred reviews, denoting exceptional merit: Sancton’s Song for My Fathers and Kahn’s House That Trane Built (deservedly so). They also gave solidly positive reviews to most of the other nine, including D’Rivera’s My Sax Life and Burns’ Keeping the Beat on the Street.
PW is not able to review everything, so it will necessarily miss some jazz and blues titles. I seem to be able to fill a good part of that void, but I would welcome some competition. It would be good for the music to receive any kind of additional publicity, and good for bookstores too, as jazz listeners tend to be more affluent and better educated than the average person—in other words, good customers.
Bluesman: J.B. PW
Stagger Lee: J.B. PW
House That Trane Built: J.B. PW
My Sax Life: J.B. PW
Great Black Way: J.B. PW
Keeping the Beat on the Street: J.B. PW
Song for My Fathers: J.B. PW
One O'Clock Jump: J.B. PW
Harlem of the West: J.B. PW