The Penguin Guide to Jazz is a reference work containing an encyclopedic directory of jazz recordings on CD which are currently available in Europe or the United States. The first nine editions were compiled by Richard Cook and Brian Morton, two well known chroniclers of jazz resident in the United Kingdom.
The first edition was published in Britain by Penguin Books in 1992. Every two years since then, through 2010, a new edition has been published with updated entries. The eighth and ninth editions, published in 2006 and 2008, respectively, each include 2,000 new CD listings.
The title has taken different forms over the lifetime of the work, as audio technology has changed. The seventh edition was known as The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD while subsequent editions are titled The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings. The earliest edition had the title The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, LP and Cassette.
Richard Cook died in 2007, prior to the completion of the 9th edition (2008). Penguin released The Penguin Jazz Guide: The History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums in December 2010, using fewer reviews and a different format from previous editions.
In the first nine editions, artists are listed alphabetically and the entries begin with short (usually one paragraph) biographies before a comprehensive listing of a musicians' available recordings. Each disc is given a rating of up to four stars and details of its label and catalogue number, musicians featured on the disc, month and year of the recording or the span of time in which the tracks were recorded and finally a review of varying length. Often a number of discs are reviewed together.
Two extra features, author's picks (crowns) and "core collections," have been added to succeeding editions. The first shows entries flagged as personal favorites while the latter are the "more essential" albums for a jazz CD collection. John Eyles comments in a review that "the implication is that the choices for crowns are subjective, while the Core Collection is somehow more objective," when in fact both lists are decided upon by the same two editors.
Bootlegs and "issues of dubious provenance" have usually been excluded, but as the major labels have merged and cut back their reissue programmes, the restriction on 'grey market' releases, usually in existence as a result of less stringent copyright laws in Europe, has gradually become more relaxed. Limited-edition Mosaic Records releases are also excluded. Various-artists compilations were reviewed in the first edition but have since been dropped.
Due to the increasing numbers of CDs on the market, space limitations and depth of coverage have increasingly become an issue: in the 7th edition, for instance, the index was dropped to save space, but it was restored in the 8th edition (but a number of entries were dropped or shortened to make room for it).
In the tenth edition, titled The Penguin Jazz Guide (2010), Morton revised his and Cook's entries from previous editions, and pared down the content to 1001 reviews of what Morton had selected as the best jazz recordings. Morton also presented the reviews in chronological order by recording dates, rather than alphabetically by artist, and included historical context for the recordings as well as biographical details. The tenth edition also dispensed with the starred rating system, the Core Collection, and Crown accolades.
Though the first nine editions did not "spring any great surprises," the book "has a tried and trusted formula that works". It is also praised as being "of equal value to both experienced jazz listeners and novices."
Alison Kerr, reviewing the 2010 Penguin Jazz Guide in The Herald, noted the lack of an index as a hindrance, but cited the chronological format as one of the book's strengths. Kerr also noted the subjective nature of Morton's selection of the best jazz albums.