Big Band Jazz bills itself as the definitive history of the golden age of jazz from the pioneering pre-swing groups to the polished bands of the '40's. It mentions more than 550 bands and features 400 wonderfully funky photographs. Despite the space justly given to the pictures, the text really delivers -- the large format allows for it. McCarthy covers a splendid amount of offbeat recorded material, and he has unerring taste. What's right with the great swing bands is carefully detailed but what was wrong is also shown -- poor Harry James, McCarthy rips into him with a clawhammer. The Bunny Berigan and other minor white bands receive their due, but the bulk of the book is devoted to hundreds of unknown black groups that really shine in McCarthy's spotlight, from the earliest syncopated bands in obscure territories to expatriates in Europe. The longest chapter assesses Duke Ellington's massive achievement and evolvement from ""jungle music"" to his current eclectic repertory. Never have so many sidemen been packed into one book, most with their flavor intact.