A subset of the five-CD package, Ken Burns’ single-CD volume wraps it all up in 75 minutes. This 20-song compilation serves to introduce jazz, from early vocal and trumpet work by Louis Armstrong to the Lincoln Center’s recent Ellington tributes. Every selection is a teaching point that serves to introduce significant milestones along the way. Sure, there are holes. It takes a lifetime to cover it all, and we’re happy to keep on trying on our own. Nevertheless, Ken Burns has done the public a great service through his latest project. Six years in the making, his documentary explores the early development of jazz.
The wordless vocals of Baby Cox with Duke Ellington on “The Mooche” represent a significant thread that runs through jazz. Sidney Bechet’s clarinet, Billie Holiday’s fragile voice, John Coltrane’s giant steps and Miles Davis’ unmistakably haunting trumpet serve as benchmarks. Missing is the second half of the Twentieth Century, with its diversity and worldwide growth. Established elements such as wah-wah trombone and growling trumpet lead to various phases of American jazz. The 1950s represents a culmination, and that’s that. With a beautiful arrangement of “Take the ‘A’ Train,” Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra return jazz to its roots.
Burns’ single-CD volume comes with an informative, well-written 15-page essay by the author that includes black and white photos. Burns makes a significant point when he reminds us that jazz is “not an inaccessible music best left to intellectuals, critics and experts.” No, as Burns makes clear, jazz swings for everyman, and his ten-part film documentary is designed to appeal to anyone who cares to pay attention.
Track and Artist Listing:Star Dust - Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra; Dead Man Blues - Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers; Dear Old Southland - Noble Sissle and His Orchestra featuring Sidney Bechet; Singin’ the Blues - Frankie Trumbauer and His Orchestra featuring Bix Beiderbecke; St. Louis Blues - Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra; The Mooche - Duke Ellington and His Orchestra; Hotter Than ‘ell - Fletcher Henderson and His Orchestra; King Porter Stomp - Benny Goodman and His Orchestra; Begin the Beguine - Artie Shaw and His Orchestra; Cotton Tail - Duke Ellington and His Orchestra; Jumpin’ at the Woodside - Count Basie and His Orchestra; Solitude - Billie Holiday with Eddie Heywood and His Orchestra; Groovin’ High - Dizzy Gillespie Sextet featuring Charlie Parker; Straight, No Chaser - Thelonious Monk; They Can’t Take That Away From Me - Sarah Vaughan and Her Trio; Take Five - The Dave Brubeck Quartet; Doodlin’ - Horace Silver and The Jazz Messengers; Giant Steps - John Coltrane Quartet; So What - Miles Davis Sextet; Take the ‘A’ Train - The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.
Track Listing: Star Dust; Dead Man Blues; Dear Old Southland; Singin
Personnel: Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra; Jelly Roll Morton
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already
I was first exposed to jazz circa 1973, when I met a fellow who ran Kappy's Record Store over near 10th Ave., on 42nd St. in NYC. We really clicked and when I told him I played piano and went to Music & Art HS, and had just started at City College of NY as a music major, he asked if I liked jazz...I said yes but I didn't know much about it, but that I did have sheet music for many popular 1920's through 1940's tunes by noted composers (Porter; Gershwins; Irving Berlin; Rodgers & Hammerstein/Hart; Jerome Kern; Lerner & Loewe; etc.) that my mother had sung beautifully starting in the 1940's including tons of famous show tunes, and I played many of those songs already. SOOOO... he started me off LP's by Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Errol Garner, Bill Evans, Monty Alexander, Charlie Byrd, and Dave Brubeck... does it get any better than that? ...No, it doesn't. I was hooked!!
I met and had a master class with the late music giant John Lewis, leader of the Modern Jazz Quartet! This was at CCNY in 1977. I was blessed! It was an incredible class... how could it have been anything else?!?!
The first jazz record I bought was...I bought numerous records from my friend at the record store, as mentioned above. He introduced me to nothing but music giants/legends! I think The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Greatest Hits, was actually the first one.
My advice to new listeners... study first--understand the rudiments--solfeggio, keys, scales, and basic chords. Read a book or take a class that includes the study of chord progressions, especially in jazz. It should ideally be a piano class so you can play multiple notes together. Have a good EAR or else it's not really worth it in my view...to become a musician, a good EAR for music is about as fundamental as breathing! Learn to read chord charts--i.e., lead sheets - wherein you play various voicings of the chords--major, minor, dominant 7th (alterations of these, you can learn over time - the basic chords are most important for starters), plus the melody, on the piano or keyboard. If you have to read the exact notes, then it's not the same as actually internalizing it & getting it all into your head. If you can do this, I think you're ready not only for listening to jazz, but understanding many concepts of it! Of course...anyone can listen to jazz... but I think it's so good to also have a grasp of it.