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Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of America's Music

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Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of America's Music
If you set out to create a single anthology that charted all the twists and tributaries of that uniquely American river we call jazz, you couldn't do better than this companion set to the PBS series-94 tracks on 5 CDs licensed from virtually every important label in the history of the music. Includes The Pearls Jelly Roll Morton; Charleston James P. Johnson; West End Blues Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five; The Mooche Duke Ellington; Singin' the Blues Frankie Trumbauer & His Orchestra featuring Bix Beiderbecke; Moten Swing Benny Moten's Kansas City Orchestra; Strange Fruit Billie Holiday; Three Little Words Art Tatum; Body and Soul Coleman Hawkins; In the Mood Glenn Miller; Take Five Dave Brubeck; So What Miles Davis; Giant Steps John Coltrane; Desafinado Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd, and many more classics. This five-CD box set soundtrack to filmmaker Ken Burns's 10-part, 19-hour documentary Jazz spans nearly a century of jazz styles, from the martial rhythms of James Reese Europe to the soul-jazz of Grover Washington Jr. It includes time-tested classics like Benny Goodman's 1938 classic, "Sing, Sing, Sing"; John Coltrane's chanting 1965 immortal track, "A Love Supreme"; Billie Holiday's blue-ember ballad, "God Bless the Child"; and Ella Fitzgerald peeling off "A-Tisket A-Tasket." Bebop is represented by Charlie Parker's orchestral bop version of "Just Friends"; Thelonious Monk's nocturnal calling card, "'Round Midnight"; and Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts" and "Groovin' High."

The jazz-instrumentalist-as-singer comes to life on Coleman Hawkins's "Body and Soul" and Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers' "Doodlin'." Clifford Brown and Max Roach's "I Get a Kick out of You" epitomizes the hard-bop era, while Miles Davis's "So What" stands as the modal masterpiece. The cool school is in session with Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan dishing out "Walkin' Shoes," and the Modern Jazz Quartet's soulful elegy "Django" straddles all the above musical orbits. As for Django Reinhardt, he's featured on "Shine" with the justly famed Le Quartet du Hot Club de France.

Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues" and "Potato Head Blues" and Duke Ellington's rousing rendition of Billy Strayhorn's anthem, "Take the A Train," and his moody "Solitude" show why they are the Olympian masters of this art form--and the most frequently featured artists in the series. Although Ken Burns tries bringing the music up-to-date with Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, and two jazz-hip-hop-influenced tracks--Herbie Hancock's robotic "Rockit" and the French-language "Un Aige en Danger" by MC Solaar and bass legend Ron Carter--there are significant holes here. After Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman, the avant-garde period from the late 1960s to the 1980s is lacking. And aside from the bossa nova hit "Desafinado," Latin jazz is also missing. It's a tough task summarizing jazz in five CDs, and Burns has given us a vibrant and vivid multicolored aural portrait of the music. --Eugene Holley Jr.

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