[Dixielandjazz] Discographies

Anton Crouch a.crouch at unsw.edu.au
Sun Apr 20 18:49:08 PDT 2003

(Long post follows - delete if you are not interested in the dry science of

Hello all

Dan Augustine's question about discographical tools brings-up an
interesting subject. Some DJMLers may remember that there was a discussion
of the nature of "discography" itself in the IAJRC journal a couple of
years ago.

There are at least 3 general forms of "discography" and, as the IAJRC
material argued, only one is "true discography".

This "true" form is concerned only with the records themselves - ie the
physical object. Such a form is akin to palaeontology and involves a
description of those characteristics which can be seen during an inspection
of the record (eg, size, label type and design, catalogue number, matrix
number, stamper information, "scribbles" in the wax, name of composition,
composer and performer). Some researchers supplement these details with
company information such as release dates and advertising material. It
follows that this form of discography is dependent on the existence of the
records themselves. Jazz examples I have are Dan Mahony's Columbia
13/14000-D series (1973), Max Vreede's Paramount 12000/13000 series (1971)
and Laurie Wright's OKeh 8000 race series (2001).

Not too many jazz enthusiasts get excited about the above form. The form
that is generally consulted and discussed is the "performer" type. These
discographies  can be as broad or as narrow as the authors choose. The jazz
range is from the encyclopaedic (eg Tom Lord's Jazz Discography on CDROM,
2002) to the "bibles" of Brian Rust (Jazz and Ragtime Records, 2002) and
Dixon, Godrich & Rye (Blues and Gospel Records, 1997) to the geographic (eg
Jack Mitchell's Australian Jazz on Record, 1988) to the genre-specific (eg
Rainer Lotz's German Ragtime, 1985) to the label compilations (eg Brian
Rust's HMV Studio House Bands, 1976) to the individual (eg Laurie Wright's
Mr Jelly Lord, 1980). In all cases the listings include details of
performers (and often composers and arrangers), together with the standard
details of matrix number, location, date, title and catalogue numbers of
issues and re-issues.

The individual musician discographies are often bio-discographies and some
(like the above mentioned Mr Jelly Lord) are scholarly works of musicology.
A variants of the individual musician discography is the "solography",
which was so popular in the 1970s.

The "performer" discographies come with a built-in design flaw. They grow
and multiply by accretion. As Gerard Bielderman points out, it is
fundamental that the records described be listened-to but this is often a
physical impossibility. Errors in a "definitive" work are carried over into
a subsequent work; performers who's presence is described as "possible" in
one work become definite in another; performers who only play on some of
the sides are shown as playing on all sides made at a particular session;
famous names are found playing in the most amazing company (the "Bix
Beiderbecke" effect); and a famous name will always be preferred to a
lesser one.

A third form is the "compay files" discography which lists, in numerical
sequence, every recording made by a particular company over a specifeied
period. These discographies are often referred to as "master books" and are
an invaluable tool for discographers. The information given is usually no
more than that contained in the company files and includes matrix number,
number of takes, performer, instrumentation, title of work, date of
recording and/or shipping for processing, and catalogue number of first
issue. Greenwood Press specialises in this type of discography and jazz has
been very well served in this area. A lot of arguments (eg that concerning
the Columbia recordings made by the ODJB in 1917) can be settled by resort
to such discographies. The information is particularly valuable in
identifying un-issued performances and un-issued takes.

Sorry for having gone-on for so long.

All the best

PS: When will we get a Victor master book, volume 1 and an OKeh master book?

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