The Centennial Collection

Gift guide

Reissues

The Centennial Collection

The primary reason for purchasing any of the six titles in Bluebird/BMG's Centennial Collection is the DVD half of these two-disc sets. That's not to say that the music by these half-dozen influential jazz and popular artists – three of whom have centennial birth dates this year – isn't enjoyable and/or important, it's simply that the vast majority of it has been routinely repackaged and reissued over the years. We often forget there was a time when jazz, in particular, swing, was the popular music of America and these individual sets are certainly worth an investment as excellent primers to our pre-rock-&-roll culture. Indeed, there are some musical jewels here – even for the cognoscenti. Most precious are two previously unreleased live 1941 radio broadcasts from the Blanton-Webster edition of Duke Ellington's Orchestra. There are also unreleased live tracks on the Glenn Miller set. The Fats Waller medley from an obscure 1938 NBC broadcast is a pure delight, and the Gene Krupa All-Stars on the Benny Goodman disc swing with a vengeance. Saxophone giant Coleman Hawkins is well-represented on a 1929-64 sampling of his canon bookended by two versions of his masterpiece, "Body and Soul." The real attraction is the virtually unseen DVD clips, which are endlessly fascinating for both their musical content and kitsch appeal. Most were culled from Hollywood-produced feature films and shorts, the latter being the equivalent of today's music videos. The Ellington segments are fabulous, featuring the orchestra's vivacious singer Ivey Anderson, twirling lindy-hoppers, and, in a cameo, the teenaged Billie Holiday. To actually see Fats Waller perform is to understand why he was so popular in his day. Benny Goodman is the best represented with clips spanning 1939 Hollywood to the televised 1963 Belgium Jazz Festival, while the Artie Shaw DVD has an interview from 2001. In terms of musical integrity, the three Coleman Hawkins videos are priceless. Taken from Fifties TV (two extremely rare, short-lived, Newark-produced TV programs and CBS' nationally televised The Sound of Jazz), the clips capture the smoky ambiance of an authentic jam session. Hawkins is a regal presence, clearly in his element, stretching out and blowing with his all-star colleagues, most memorably trading licks with prime competitor Lester Young. Unlike the more dazzling Hollywood sessions that are clearly for mass entertainment's sake, these videos put you uptown at a front table of Minton's.

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