SMITHSONIAN – JAZZ

JAZZ – THE SMITHSONIAN ANTHOLOGY                                                     Smithsonian/Folkways SFWCO 40820: six CDs + book* (207 pp.)                                              111 tracks – US$100.00.

The breakdown for the Smithsonian Anthology on each CD is: #I; 25 tracks @ 72 min: #II; 24 tracks @ 78 min: #III; 18 tracks @ 72 min: #IV; 13 tracks @ 72 min: #V; 15 tracks @ 78 min: #VI; 16 tracks @ 78 min.

The worlds of publishing and record companies have had to take a major leap into the use of modern technologies in recent years and this package is indicative of their embrace. Albeit many outfits have joined the modern age kicking and screaming, this will be the “new way” that this will go – many published books about music today have a CD appended to it’s inside cover or refer the reader to an internet web sight for further stuff. This set effectively replaces 1973’s lauded “Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz” put together by the late Martin Williams and follows a rough “accepted chronological wisdom” arc from “go” to “not quite whoa”. It is not the product of one individual, as was its precursor, but is the product of multiple experts under the aegis of Richard James Burgess, John Edward Hasse, and Daniel Sheehy (executive committee of Hasse, Dave Baker, Jose Bowen, Dan Morgenstern, and Alyn Shipton). Each entry is properly cited as to which of the 35 individual writers is responsible: a few I was not aware of before this, and some (such as José Bowen) are names to be remembered.

There are artists here that are expected to be part of the grand promenade over time (the usual suspects), as well as some who idiosyncratically made a splash at one time or another but were often minimal immediate influences on that which came afterwards. I leave it to the curious to delve into the set’s web site to get the full line-ups and song listings: to do so here would drive the editor mad and fill up at least half an issue with listings! (Or check out the review in JAZZ JOURNAL; Vol. 64, #7 – July 2011: pp. 33/34.) Generally, an artist has only one entry, with a notable few with more than that: Louis (4), Bix (2), Duke (4), Miles (5), Basie (3), Bird (2), Trane (3), James P. (2), Diz (2), Ella (2), Mary Lou (2), Blakey (2). This Smithsonian package is the result of committee decisions and multiple experts, and while I cannot fault any of their choices, the selections feel like they’ve been put together in pieces – each individual commentary is fine, but it makes for a choppier sense of continuity as I read (which I always do first!) through the good looking accompanying book.

All published materials have been legally cleared through the actual owners of record (no pun intended), a process made easier by the fact that Sony now has the rights to Columbia-owned lines and the various RCA-Victor labels. Most pre-war stuff therefore could be licensed from one place! That is the one small benefit from all the corporate amalgamations that have occurred in recent years. There is probably little to criticize in the gatherings here until they reach nearer to the present – it will be the more recent times that could result in any controversy or disagreement, but that is to be expected in such matters.

The set begins with a relatively recent recording of Dick Hyman playing “Maple Leaf Rag” (a bit too fast for my liking), followed by Bunk’s Brass Band with “In Gloryland”. Then into the deep end chronologically (1917) with the ODJB (I hear some bass drum accents here, folks, contrary to past reports!), Oliver, Henderson, Morton, Bix – moving from polyphonic glory into the later solo-centric music we all love. They are followed by a Bessie/Jas P. interlude, then Duke, Whiteman (w. Bix), Louis (x2) in 1928; Condon (w. Teagarden), Lonnie Johnson/Eddie Lang, James P. Johnson (solo), Moten, the Boswells (w. Bunny) follow. In a repeat number, we get Bechet doing “Maple Leaf Rag”, then Fats, Louis again (w. big band), and Lux Lewis (from Victor) transitioning things. Billie (w. Pres), Lunceford, Basie, and Chick Webb bring things into the “swing era” of 1937. So, ragtime through polyphony and blues vocals to stride; Broadway to boogie woogie and on to the big bands. New Orleans though Chicago to New York with a stop in Kansas City, as the canon says. Thus, Disc One.

The second disc begins with a digression to the Quintette du Hot Club de France in ’37 (one of a few Europeans), but then gets stuck into the big bands and the swing era in a big way. Names like Andy Kirk, Hampton, Hawkins, Goodman, Ellington, Calloway, Chocolate Dandies, Shaw, Krupa, to Gillespie (’47). Then bebop and earlier small groups: Diz (w. Bird), Dex, Pres (w. Nat Cole, Buddy Rich), Bud, Bird (w. Miles), Monk (w. Bags), Dameron (w. Eager and Navarro), Tristano (w. Koenitz and marsh) in 1949 – sidebars to Machito, Mary Lou Williams (“Zodiac Suite”), George Shearing, and Art Tatum. Woody Herman’s “First Herd”, coupled with Diz’ big band demonstrated how the newer approach could be taken up by a big band. Basically, in two discs, the first three decades or more of the music are compacted – from that point, it gets complicated, fractionated, and messier! Accepted wisdom begins to diminish as styles proliferate, wax and wane rapidly.

Disc Three begins with so-called “Birth of the Cool’s ‘Boplicity’”, and pretty much leaves the big bands behind, save for Kenton, Sun Ra, and Gil & Miles (fr. “Porgy & Bess”). It’s all small groups on the disc: Basie w. an octet, Shorty Rogers, Mulligan/Baker, Clifford & Max, MJQ, Horace Silver, Chico Hamilton, Lucky Thompson, Rollins, and Getz/J.J. Pianistic addenda from Nat Cole, Errol Garner, Oscar Peterson, plus Ella & Louis’s “Stompin’ at the Savoy”, ending in 1959. Disc Four begins with Blakey, Miles, Trane, Brubeck, Ornette, Cannonball, Bill Evans, and George Russell, with sidetracks briefly to Basie’s “New Testament” band, Mingus, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella w. Duke in 1965, adding another decade and a half to the pot..

The fifth and sixth disc kick off with Blakey again, followed by Trane, Miles (x2), Clark Terry/Bob Brookmeyer, Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery, Duke, Gary Burton, Chick Corea, Mahavishnu Orch., Herbie Hancock, Toshiko/Tabackin band, Cecil Taylor, and Pat Metheny in 1975. Note that there are many fewer citations by single names! The final CD begins with Anthony Braxton & Muhal Richard Abrams playing “Maple Leaf Rag” (and bringing things somewhat full-circle from Disc One!). They are followed by Weather Report, Keith Jarrett, Irakere, AEC, WSQ, Steve Coleman, Abdullah Ibrahim, Michael Brecker, Titi Puente, Wynton Marsalis, Nguyên Lê, Masada, Medeski, Martin & Wood, closing with Martial Solal and Johnny Griffin, followed by Tomasz Stańko (2003). The final couple of decades for this collection.

There you are – jazz into the 21st century as seen through the eyes and ears of a committee of experts! While I cannot fault their choices, nobody could – there will always be sides that one thinks should have been included, but few that one would think should have been left out. As Sun Ra said, space is the place… and a determining factor! While this package may not be one for rank beginners to tackle (there is a certain degree of foreknowledge assumed in the writings), the material is a great listen and the sound quality is superb from the beginnings.

Going to www.folkways.si.edu/jazz gets one into their site. Found there are a reasonable jazz time-line, a very simplistic interactive map, a discussion board, plus an interactive mixer for three tunes recorded specifically for this package. They are nice, but a bit tame – the mixer was fidgety (a technical term I learned from my son) and did not always work as expected. They’re nice, but hardly necessary, and add little to the experience of the set: That experience is found in the writings and the musical selections. This is a serious replacement for Martin Williams’ efforts way back in the vinyl days of the 1970s. Recommended – a good listening experience and, for those so inclined, it may be useful in a jazz course as well – the stuff is there.

* the book includes a bibliography, contributors’ bios, credits, and an index.

Peter B. Lowry

published: IAJRC JOURNAL:Mar 2013; Vol 46, #1: pp. 69-70.

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