A very eclectic assemblage of tunes makes up this anthology, a celebration of the career of pioneering producer Milt Gabler. Complete with extensive liner notes and a behind-the-scenes DVD that features the package's producer and Gabler's nephew, comedian Billy Crystal, The Milt Gabler Story
has something for everyone. From his depression days as owner of the historic NYC Commodore Record Shop on E. 42nd Street to Decca VP in the '50s and '60s, Gabler seems to always have had a great ear for a song, an infectious love of musicians and their music, and an admirable social conscience.
Jazz fans will delight in the five original Commodore sides that lead off 26 selections that include two Billie Holiday signature recordings, "Strange Fruit and "Fine and Mellow. On the DVD we learn that her powerful lyrical indictment of Southern lynchings would not have been waxed were it not for Gabler's agreement to record "Strange Fruit, after Columbia declined it as too controversial. Big names abound, with guitarist Eddie Condon and clarinetist Pee Wee Russell meeting on "Love is Around the Corner, as well as a 1938 version of "Them There Eyes with Buck Clayton on trumpet and a superbly clean clarinet solo by Lester Young.
Gabler's respect for musicians resulted in his recordings being the first to include the names of session players. That practice is happily duplicated here so we can enjoy the fact that it's bassist Ray Brown doing the honors on both Ella Fitzgerald's "How High the Moon and her duet with Satchmo, "Dream a Little Dream of Me. As we move through the Decca years, some of the heavily arranged and highly choral numbers may not appeal to all but they historically set the stage for Gabler's final all out assault on the musical tastes of mainstream America. For you see, the seeds of rock and roll lay in those rockin' Louis Jordan sides, like the included "Choo Choo Ch' Boogie, that Gabler produced years before he convinced Bill Haley to alter his sound for "Rock Around the Clock.