We music lovers live in exciting times. The establishment of the compact disc has been more than a technological revolution. From the standpoint of many jazz students it has become an incentive to start a serious, comprehensive library.
It's sad to reflect that most of today's jazz fans are too young ever to have heard in person the majority of giants created by this art form. To them, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Jack Teagarden, Art Tatum, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Charlie Parker are just names in a history book or on a record label.
But by the same token it is rewarding to know that jazz, more than any music that preceded it, has been preserved in large measure through the ever greater fidelity of phonograph records, and that the compact disc represents the disc medium in its most sophisticated state.
The jazz market has provided most major companies with an opportunity to repackage, usually with enhanced sound and often with additional, previously unissued tracks, some of the masterpieces of the last 60-plus years. Within a few years the LP will be well on its way to oblivion, while CDs will have become the dominant medium for listening to recorded music.
The list that follows is designed for (a) the neophyte whose interest in jazz may have coincided with the arrival of the CD, (b) collectors who may have a modest store of LPs but who would like to flesh out their library to include in the CD format most of the indispensable figures.
Because MCA Records has not yet transferred to CD its early masterpieces by Art Tatum, Basie, Nat King Cole and Benny Goodman, substitutions were made wherever possible. Inexplicably too, MCA and CBS have left on the shelf their classic works by Jimmie Lunceford (who led one of the three great bands of the Swing Era alongside Ellington's and Basie's). Nor has CBS made CDs of its exclusive store of works by the greatest of all blues singers, Bessie Smith.
These omissions aside, the list takes in all but a handful of the vitally important artists. It represents my own opinion rather than a reflection of mass popularity. In the case of the fusion and avant-garde selections, the term "classic" has been used loosely; after all, it takes decades to determine whether a work is really of classic stature.
Louis Armstrong--"Great Original Performances 1923-1931." BBC CD 597. Tracing Satchmo from his King Oliver days through the first crude attempts to lead a band, this set is mainly valuable for the Hot Five and Hot Seven cuts that established him as the role model for every trumpeter and singer of the day: "West End Blues," "Muggles," "St. James Infirmary " and "Knockin' a Jug," etc. With him are Earl Hines, Lil Armstrong, Jack Teagarden, Johnny Dodds and Lonnie Johnson.
"At the Jazz Band Ball--Chicago/New York/Dixieland." RCA Bluebird 6752-2RB. A fine cross section of dates by white musicians who took their jazz seriously in the 1930s. Of the 22 cuts, 16 are by Muggsy Spanier's Ragtime Band, with the rugged Irish-American cornetist surrounded by the likes of Joe Bushkin and George Brunies; four are by Bud Freeman's Summa Cum Laude Band, with the tenor sax pioneer slipping and sliding his sui generis way through "The Eel." There are two early Eddie Condon cuts with trombonist Jack Teagarden playing and singing his soul out.
"Jazz in the Thirties." Disques Swing CDSW 8457. This two-CD gold mine yields Jess Stacy playing two of Bix Beiderbecke's piano pieces; Gene Krupa in "Blues of Israel" with Israel Crosby on bass; numerous examples of Joe Venuti as catalytic jazz violinist and of Benny Goodman leading a small jam band; Bunny Berigan heading combos that include Edgar Sampson (composer of "Stomping at the Savoy") in a rare appearance as solo saxophonist; Adrian Rollini, a pioneer of the now all-but-defunct bass saxophone, leading a band that includes the Dorsey Brothers, and Joe Sullivan, a Hines-inspired pianist, in his own "Little Rock Getaway" and "Gin Mill Blues." Many of these names may be unfamiliar or dim memories, but the music is invaluable.
"Kansas City Jazz." Atlantic 7-81701-2. The rolling, driving sounds of Kansas City jazz were part of the 1930s Pendergast era, yet they are re-created with total fidelity in these 1950s and 1970s sessions. This is a jubilant and soulful collection, with "Confessin' the Blues" sung and played by pianist Jay McShann (using, of all people, John Scofield on guitar), with Big Joe Turner singing the blues about Piney Brown, and one Buster Smith, who allegedly was Charlie Parker's mentor, in a rare appearance on record, not to mention the instrumentals with Buck Clayton on trumpet and Vic Dickenson on trombone.