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Various: The Complete Norman Granz Jam Sessions

AAJ Staff By

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Jazz impresario Norman Granz was one of the greatest benefactors of the "jam session concept in jazz history. His Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts (many of which were documented since the first in July 1944) offer a major slice of this music's history, starting off with the legends he invited to perform. This extraordinary five-CD box set, compiling Granz's individually released nine volumes of studio jam sessions from 1952-54, beckons to be absorbed in a single sitting and deserves multiple return visits. What's heard herein are the "Dream Teams of jazz, if there ever was such a thing.

The players include trumpeters Roy Eldridge, Harry "Sweets Edison, Charlie Shavers, and Dizzy Gillespie; altoists Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges, Charlie Parker, and Willie Smith; tenorists Stan Getz, Wardell Gray, Illinois Jacquet, Flip Phillips, and Ben Webster; guitarists Herb Ellis, Freddie Green, and Barney Kessel; vibraphonist Lionel Hampton; clarinetist Buddy DeFranco; and rhythm sections featuring the likes of Oscar Peterson and/or Count Basie; bassist Ray Brown; drummers Louie Bellson or Buddy Rich... well, you get the idea. We're talking about jazz giants, one and all. It simply doesn't get much better than this!

Part cutting contest, each of these sessions utilizes blues-based riffs, jazz standards, and ballad medleys to serve not only as jousting platforms between the era's top instrumentalists but also as spotlight features, yielding some of the most memorable, undiluted (all being first takes with no edits), and extended solos in many of these musicians' careers. You get to hear serious and immediately identifiable instrumental voices right next to one another, even back to back as distinguishing foils. The since classic thirteen-plus minute "Funky Blues (from Jam Session #2) is exemplary, featuring opening solos by three of the alto saxophone's prime architects: Hodges followed by Bird followed by Carter! Everyone got a chance to shine and improvise in a Granz jam, which represented the concept of democracy at its best. The superb packaging includes all the information you'd ever need, from the order of soloists (to help identification and differentiation for beginners) and musician bios to reproductions of the classic David Stone Martin cover art.

Granz left everything musical squarely up to the musicians, who didn't worry about time constraints and could stretch out to their heart's desire—thus the music and the musicians spoke for themselves. The final volume, Jam Session #9, is comprised of two tracks with over fifty minutes worth of absolute classic jazz done in Granz's grand recording fashion. This collection is a jazz history lesson, so be sure to listen closely and study it carefully.

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