Yesterday, my friends gave me for my birthday the much-acclaimed Cook & Morton penguin guide to jazz, with more than 1700 pages and insightful comments on thousands of artist and recordings. The amount of information it contains is massive, more or less like the amount of joy that it can give a jazz lover like me, and it is probably among the best presents I have received lately (thanks again, guys!)
I had already browsed through similar books (including previous editions of this same one), but never owned one myself. Somehow I thought it was not worth the price. But, as usual, I was wrong. Completely wrong.
As soon as I started reading it carefully, I instantly recognised the need of having such a book to understand jazz and not be overwhelmed by the baffling complexity of its history. Since yesterday night, I have done nothing but reading it, checking the information about my favourite artists and looking for new ones. And when I realize that I have read not more than 30 pages at all, and that there are still almost two thousand more waiting...what a wonderful sensation! :-)
Of course, the book is not perfect, and I disagree with some comments and ratings, specially those about guitar players. For example, according to the authors, none of George Benson's albums deserves more than 3 stars(!!!). And Kevin Eubanks does not have his own entry, but rather a one-line mention in his brother's one!!
Also, some ratings are rather biased, overrating (IMHO) avant-garde and free jazz players. For example, Albert Ayler, who is no doubt a key figure in jazz history, also recorded some (very)low-quality albums (to say it mildly), but even his weakest works like "Music is the healing force of the universe", get high ratings. And John Zorn and Charles Gayle get the highest rating (a crown), something that is surprising if we consider that Ella Fitzgerald does not get it for any of her outstanding recordings.
Anyway, one has to assume that such a book always includes its authors' own taste to a large extent... so all those "mistakes" can be overlooked.
So just one little advise: whether you want to get into jazz or you are already in, if you do not have it, get this book as soon as possible. You will not regret it.