Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of America's Music

In conjunction with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns' ten-part 2000 PBS special, Columbia/Legacy and Verve teamed up to issue a special series of reissues covering much of the history of 20th century jazz. The central release of this program is the five-CD box set Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of America's Music, its 94 selections covering the history of 20th century jazz, from 1917 to the mid-'90s. Chronologically, the set is very skewed toward the first 50 years of that time span; there is only just under a CD's worth of music dating from after the mid-'60s. What's here is a very good range of classic jazz from throughout the decades, touching upon performances, many acknowledged classics, from many of the music's giants: Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and up to Wynton Marsalis and Cassandra Wilson. There are just a few dubious inclusions (Grover Washington, Jr.'s "Mister Magic," for instance), and as music it's nearly wall-to-wall excellence. As far as core classics of the jazz repertoire, there are quite a few: Armstrong's "West End Blues," Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)," Count Basie's "Lester Leaps In," Holiday's "Strange Fruit," Ellington's "Take the 'A' Train," Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts," Monk's "Straight, No Chaser," Davis' "So What," Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," Coltrane's "Giant Steps," Weather Report's "Birdland," and Hancock's "Rockit." As education, if you didn't know much about jazz before hearing this box, you'll have been exposed to a good deal of its major touchstones after digesting it. Just don't be under the impression that it covers all of the main mileposts, or even that it gives you all of the key launching pads from which to explore further. ~ Richie Unterberger

Please enable Javascript to view this page competely.