A Philosophy of Jazz Discography

By Michael Fitzgerald
June 7, 2003


As this new website (JazzDiscography.com) is being launched, I feel it is appropriate to set down some of my thoughts on the purpose and process of jazz discography as well as its current state.

Others have written of the history of this science (see this article: Magnificent Obsession by Jerry Atkins) and in the subsequent years we have seen the slow move toward computer-assisted discography. The electronic medium of the Internet is the ultimate and most appropriate, surpassing the printed forms used previously (bound books, periodicals, loose leaf installments). It is also superior to the CD-ROM, which although much improved over print still suffers from the limitation of being more difficult to update. Online discographies are ever malleable, readily accepting additions and corrections and immediately substituting the new version for the old.

Resources such as the works by Charles Delaunay, Brian Rust, Jorgen Grunnet Jepsen, Walter Bruyninckx, Michel Ruppli, Erik Raben, and Tom Lord, useful as they may be, are only starting points. In creating the BRIAN application, Steve Albin has wisely incorporated the ability to include additional information commonly not found in these works. Such details as composers, track timings, and issue release dates are of interest to fans, collectors, and researchers and give a more complete picture of the discographical subject. That BRIAN shows these as standard fields gives a gentle nudge to the discographer, encouraging the inclusion of such information.

In addition to these details, discographers should be concerned with accuracy and completeness in terms of standard details - musician names, composition and album titles, dates, locations (including studio or venue), matrix and master numbers, etc. It is important to confirm what has been previously published so as not to perpetuate errors. Since the beginning of discography, information has been borrowed. Sources should be documented, particularly when information is corrected from existing published discographies.

General discographies have never been able to address the detail that a specialist can offer. Itemized personnel attributions (instead of collective personnel listings) allow discography users the ability to see whether a musician plays flute, clarinet, or tenor saxophone or sits out on a particular performance. Existing discographies (and oftentimes the record sleeves/liner notes themselves) frequently do not make the distinction. Only by listening to the recordings, studying the liner notes, and/or interviewing the musicians can accurate information be gained. This information should be included in discographies and presented to the public.

Because of their immense scope, general discographies often eliminate recordings that would be of interest to the specialist. It is the duty of the specialized artist discographer to include such items so as to present as comprehensive a view of the artist's recorded career as possible. These may be recordings with "limited jazz content" or they may be private recordings that have not seen widespread issue.

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