Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver once said the most valuable weapon in baseball is the three-run home run; a more perfect analogy couldn’t exist between Weavers' baseball intellect and Universal Music’s recent boxset offering Jazz Memories. The three runs figuratively crossing the plate are the packages’ astute track choices, the groundbreaking photography of the legendary Herman Leonard, and the short but poignant and insightful notes about the artist and each particular recording. Add to this the beautiful and attractive packaging and reasonable pricing and you have nothing short of a grand slam!
The two compact disc set draws from the exciting and inspiring recording period of the 1950s and early '60s. The mix of styles interspersed with instrumental and vocal recordings makes the disks play from beginning to end with the ease and flow of a Miles Davis solo. The blend of tunes works well as both a recording for background music and as a disk that commands your attention and keeps you both entertained and inspired.
Some of the aural highlights include Louis Armstrong’s reworking of his trumpet/piano piece “Dear Old Southland,” Art Blakey with Lee Morgan for their rendition of “Are you Real?”, the sultry and personable vocal stylings of Billie Holiday’s “My Man,” Dexter Gordon’s “Don’t Explain,” Lester Young’s romantic “All of Me” (which features Teddy Wilson), and a Duke Ellington solo piano piece entitled “Lotus Blossom” that closes out this collection appropriately. This encapsulation of track choices epitomizes the period’s vast wealth of styles and interpretations of this exciting era of recording, while seamlessly placing them together in an almost perfect track order.
The package also includes a 72-page book that features 35 8x10" photographs from Herman Leonard. Leonard helped in defining the eye catching black and white, stark and artistic photography similar to Francis Wolff’s photos for Blue Note, where the artist was captured in an intimate moment in the studio and usually had some white cigarette smoke billowing around the frame. My particular favorite photograph from his collection is the Dexter Gordon piece. It is a perfect composition of hip and sophisticated, relaxed and breath-taking. It features the signature plume of smoke in the composition and a gaze upon Gordon’s face that makes you wish you were there to join in on the resurgence this session.
On the opposite page of the Leonard photographs are brief but informative bits of information about the recording, artist, and session. Not detailed enough to lose the interest of neophyte jazz fans, but not brief enough to take away from any pertinent appearance of scholarly information. This will surely pique the interest of those who are not serious jazz fans yet and whet the appetite of those who are more familiar with the genre.
Jazz Memories sets itself up as an almost perfect entry-level release for anyone with a growing fancy to learn more about the music called jazz. It entices the mind, ears and soul in a wonderful blend of music, words, and photography.
1. Dear Old Southland - Louis Armstrong
2. The Song Is You - Charlie Parker
3. Joy Spring - Clifford Brown & Max Roach
4. Body And Soul - Stan Getz
5. Easy Living - Dinah Washington
6. Blue Monk - Thelonius Monk
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