The Norton JAZZ Recordings Sony Special Products A742914 – A742917: four CDs 79 tracks – US$60.00.
The breakdown of the Norton collection CDs is: #I; 24 tracks @ 72 min: #II; 24 tracks @ 72 min: #III; 16 tracks @ 72 min: #IV; 15 tracks @ 60 min.
As I have previously indicated the worlds of publishing and recording have had to take a major leap into the use of modern technologies in the 21st Century. While many publishers and record companies have seemingly reluctantly joined the modern age, this will be the “new way” that they will go. Many current music books today come with a CD attached to it’s inside cover. I have mentioned such things in my earlier review of the Smithsonian anthology that came out in April of 2011. This particular CD collection is linked to the publisher’s internet site (wwnorton.com/studyspace) that expands and amplifies on the musical contents and heightens the enjoyment of the CDs*. Norton have done a wonderful job with this book/CD/internet connection and used the technology in interesting ways that I will get to at the end of my piece.
This package follows a rough “accepted chronological wisdom” arc from “go” to “now?” (1916-2001) and it ties in very tidily with the Giddins/DeVeaux book JAZZ I reviewed positively in these pages – see Vol. 43, No 3; Sep 2010, pp. 80–82 for that review. There are musicians dealt with here that are to be expected in the grand timeline as well as some who made a splash at one time or another but were often minimally obvious influences on that which came later. I leave it to the curious to delve into the book’s web site to get the full line-ups and song listings for these CDs: to do so here would probably drive the review editor mad and once again fill up at least half an issue with nothing but listings! Artists get one entry, with a notable few with more: Louis (4), Duke (3), Miles (3), Monk (2), Bird (2), Bix (2), Morton (2), Hawk (2), Cecil Taylor (2), Jason Moran (2). The Norton collection’s choices of material rest solely on the shoulders of two people: authors Gary Giddins and Scott DeVeaux – I cannot fault any of their choices. As I mentioned in my book review, I worked with Gary while he taught at Penn in the 70s. These selections and the interactive listening guide on the ’net site complement each other and deal with each selection as he did/does in his university courses… not that there’s anything wrong with that!
All materials have been legally cleared through the actual owners (ergo, the list price). There is probably little to criticize in the gatherings for this set until it advances nearer to the present – it will be the more recent selections that might produce some controversy and/or disagreement, but that is to be expected. It is difficult to pick out “classics” when they are so near to hand temporally to material: one can only get good examples of points being made. One’s 20:20 hindsight is most clear looking back in time from a distance, but such is life!**
The whole kicks off with a selection of Ghanaian drumming and singing from a field recording. While I disagree with the overly simplistic concept that jazz and blues came from West Africa, the piece is well used to demonstrate a number of performance characteristics for the beginner to hear. The piece as heard/seen on the net site takes one by the hand through all the changes involved in the performance. Then eight other jazz or blues pieces are played to demonstrate other aspects of jazz/African American performance styles, leading into a recording of a John Phillip Sousa piece. Jazz as we know it then begins with a Wilber Sweatman recording of his “Down Home Rag”. The time line approach then continues with the O.D.J.B. and on. The usual suspects are rounded up and it all comes to a halt with Jason Moran (2002), preceded by Wynton Marsalis (1994) and Ronald Shannon Jackson (1995).
It’s all a great listen and having the book in one’s lap while immersed is a good idea. Further, the stuff on their web-site also dovetails with CDs and book in a very meaningful way as the authors examine each piece in some detail. Do not fear staff notation, for they have also another way of breaking it down – stopping and starting, going back and forth are recommended. This is how the ’net should be used, folks, to amplify and explain the many points made in the text. Highly recommended companion to a highly recommended book… over to you, folks!
* [Only Allen Lowe’s book THAT DEVILIN’ TUNE: A Jazz History, 1900-1950 that dove-tailed with four boxes containing nine CDs of examples (Music and Arts Program of America  Berkeley, CA) has attempted such a multi-valent broad-brush approach.]
** There are only ten sides duplicated between the Smithsonian and Norton sets. They are: “West End Blues” – Hot Five
“Weather Bird” – Louis/Hines
“Singin’ the Blues” – Bix &Tram
“You’ve Got to Be Modernistic” – Jas P.
“Black & Tan Fantasy” – Duke
“One O’Clock Jump” – Basie
“Manteca” – Diz
“So What” – Miles
“The Preacher” – H. Silver
“Watermelon Man” – H. Hancock
PETER B. LOWRY
Published: IAJRC Journal: Vol 45, No 2 – June 2012, pp 69/70.