Picks and Pans Review: Jazz Giants: a Visual Retrospective

updated 10/31/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 10/31/1988 AT 01:00 AM EST

Compiled by K. Abé

Uh one, uh two, uh one, two, three things distinguish this book of jazz photographs. It's got more pictures (359) than almost any other. It's got bigger pictures (thanks to a 10-inch-by-12 5/8-inch page size) that are discerningly selected. And, most important, it's got better reproduction. The coated stock and sharp printing make even the famous and familiar photographs seem new. You notice things you may have overlooked before: The necktie Dizzy Gillespie wears as he leads his big band in a classic 1948 Club Downbeat photo is emblazoned with the face of Duke Ellington. Observing the evolution of personal fashion statements is another incidental pleasure. Favorites include Lester Young's striped and geometric-patterned socks (1944); Dinah Washington's floppy crocheted cloche (1958); and the Duke's heart-shaped cuff links, the better to "love you madly" perhaps (1964). What is not incidental is the vitality of the images. Drawing from the work of the best-known jazz photographers (including the two estimable Williams, Claxton and Gottlieb), K. (for Katsuji) Abé, a Japanese graphic designer, photographer and jazz fan, has brought to life jazz's late-night exclusivity, its humor (Fats Waller sashaying with a pretty girl on a ship), its hurt (Billie Holiday verging on tears backstage at Carnegie Hall) and its do-or-die seriousness (Ben Webster and Gerry Mulligan under a mike, sax-to-sax and eye-to-eye). Lacking coverage only of the post-bebop avant-garde, Jazz Giants should remain definitive at least until the '70s and '80s take on their own retrospective classicalness. (Billboard, $60)

From Our Partners