Gifts for others, gifts for ourselves. It's that time of year when we are looking for things to buy dear friends and family or rewarding ourselves for a year well-done. If books are your bag, here are a bunch of coffee-table favorites...
Verve: The Sound of America (Thames & Hudson). This 400-page cinder-block of a book by Richard Havers—a Universal Music Group consultant and producer—is loaded with images, album covers and profiles of artists, producers and album-cover illustrators. Every essay by Havers includes information you may not have known. For example, Sonny Stitt began by studying the piano; Lionel Hampton was discovered at the Cotton Club by Benny Goodman in 1936 when Goodman, Gene Krupa and Teddy Wilson jammed with the vibist through the night; producer Norman Granz added strings to a Charlie Parker recording session because Parker begged him relentlessly to do so. And so on. A ton of color, and all photos are dramatic and probably not familiar. Sold separately, a five-CD box with all of Verve's singles—Verve: The Sound Of America—The Singles Collection.
The Beatles: The BBC Archives (Harper Design). A 336-page hardcover book filled with rare photos and BBC interviews of the Fab Four between 1962-1972. There's also a folder with facsimiles of historical archival BBC documents as well as a photo print of the Beatles from the original BBC press files. The book comes in a box that looks like a giant reel-to-reel tape box. Organized by year, many of the photos depict the Beatles hard at work—unintentionally revealing the stress and strain they faced trying to live up to production goals and high standards while coping with the terror of Beatlemania.
The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions (Sterling Reprint). Originally published in 1988 by Mark Lewisohn, this 204-page hardcover makes for fascinating reading, particularly while listening to Beatles recordings. In some ways, it's like being in the kitchen of a great restaurant. Some of the stuff you'll want to know and some may come as a surprise. For example, in May 1966, we learn that U.S. Capitol didn't quite have enough songs for an new album of previously unreleased material. So U.S. Capitol, which was owned by British EMI, asked London for three more songs and London complied. As a result, we have Yesterday & Today. The book is jam-packed with bits of information that fill in the Beatles blanks.
The Chronicle of Jazz (Oxford). Published in the U.S. in 1998, this book by Mervyn Cooke, a professor of music at the University of Nottingham in the U.K., is an eye-friendly, 247-page hardcover history of jazz. Each decade is color-coded and a detailed timeline keeps you abreast of important dates along the way. While the timeline serves as the book's spine, pages are jammed with fascinating sidebars, like the rise of competing record companies in the 1920s racing to record jazz bands, American jazz orchestras in Europe in the 1930s and the history of overdubbing on jazz albums—such as Bill Evans' Conversations With Myself.
Bill Wyman's Scrapbook. If you love the Rolling Stones and want to see how one member grew up in poverty, learned to play the bass, joined the band at the start in late 1962 and left in 1993 to do other things, you'll find this mammoth book captivating. It's 17 inches tall and 12.5 wide and weighs quite a bit. Only 1,962 copies have been published and it comes in a sturdy box. I was blown away going through the book, in that there are so many great candid photos of Bill and the Stones. Bill is also a detailed and revealing writer, so you get a close, personal feeling about what makes him tick. The paper and reproduction quality are first rate. It looks like you can order Scrapbook directly through Bill's site here.