If someone made an important contribution to jazz, they were probably signed to Verve, a record house founded by Norman Granz in 1956 and still in operation.

Now there’s a new book by Richard Havers, “Verve: The Sound of America” (Thames & Hudson), which explores its rich heritage in vivid photographs and illustrations, including shots of performances and jacket art. There are short biographies of everyone from Ella Fitzgerald to Billie Holiday to Coleman Hawkins to Anita O’Day. And there are pithy quotes from leading artists. “I don’t have a definition of jazz,” said Thelonious Monk. “You’re just supposed to know it when you hear it.”


“If you’re not swinging, he’s going to make you swing,” said musician and guitar maker Les Paul of guitarist Herb Ellis. “Of the whole bunch of guys who play hollow-body guitar, I think Herb Ellis has got the most drive.” Frank Sinatra said of Lady Day, “With a few exceptions, every major pop singer in the U.S. during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius.” “Slice it any way you like, look at it upside down or standing on your head — Basie is still the man of swing,” said Granz.

Dizzy Gillespie is photographed standing under a lamppost on 42nd Street in 1947, Duke Ellington smokes a cigarette while reviewing sheet music at a recording session in 1956 and Blossom Dearie sits at the piano in a cover shot from a Fifties album. Singer Marie Bryant, bassist Red Callender, drummer “Big” Sid Catlett and pianist Marlowe Morris make the movie “Jammin’ the Blues” in 1944. Nat King Cole is at the piano, recording at the Capitol Recording Studios in 1963, while The Pres, Lester Young is playing the saxophone at his signature 45-degree angle in 1948, and Charlie Parker is rehearsing backstage at Carnegie Hall in 1947. The joy of music seems to emanate from every shot.

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