The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire by Ted Gioia; Oxford University Press, 544 pages ($39.95). Truth to tell, a bigger book would have been better, a book that's more of an encyclopedia of jazz standards than a guide. In other words, a book that had made room for such jazz tunes as Thelonious Monk's "Ask Me Now" (his most beautiful, arguably, after "Round Midnight"), Django Reinhart's "Minor Swing" (Django's "Nuages" made the cutoff) and Charles Mingus' monstrous riff tune "Hora Decubitus" (no matter what title it had on the records of Mingus' "Jazz Workshop" including, quite memorably, "E's Flat, Ah's Flat Too.") But that book would have knocked on the door of 1,000 pages and that would have been an awful lot to ask of both jazz historian and musician Ted Gioia and the Oxford University Press.
What Gioia clearly valued as much as anything was familiarity. These are the tunes that show up most frequently on jazz records or are called most often by jamming jazz musicians. They comprise an amazing common language for jazz players –songs originally written for Broadway, Hollywood, Tin Pan Alley or God-knows-where sit alongside compositions by musicians themselves that other jazz musicians love to play. We're talking about tunes like Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" and "Evidence" (a bit of telegraphy based on the changes of "Just You, Just Me"), Paul Desmond's 5/4 beauty "Take Five," Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo" and John Coltrane's slightly fiendish, chord-gobbling "Giant Steps."
What makes this obviously valuable reference book as much fun to read as it is informative is its thoroughness – how, say, Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are," for instance, became such a challenging standard (at the end of his life, an 82-year-old Bud Shank told Gioia he'd never felt he'd exhausted its possibilities after 60 years of performance) despite its first appearance in a 1939 musical called "Very Warm for May" that was such a flop, only 20 people showed up for the second show after the reviews hit. A first-rate book of jazz basics that fills a longtime need.– Jeff Simon