Barry Cleveland: Jazz, The Smithsonian Anthology Box Set

June 15, 2011

We receive a lot of great recordings here at GP, including the occasional box set, but this one is truly outstanding, and I've been spending lots of quality time with the music and the accompanying book.

That would be six CDs worth of music—containing 111 tracks covering the period 1917 to 2003—and a 200-page hardcover book loaded with 129 photos and song notes and essays written by 35 contributing writers. The project stemmed from a desire to update the long-out-of-print Smithsonian Collection of Jazz Classics, itself a classic among educators and jazz aficionados.

Choosing which material to cover and then assembling the package took seven years. A list of 2,500 artists and tracks was circulated among more than 50 jazz experts, educators, authors, broadcasters, and artists, all of whom commented and sometimes added even more options. After several more steps in the selection process (detailed in the Producer's Note in the front of the book), the results were distilled down into the highly concentrated essence presented in the final product.

Each track is painstakingly documented both in prose and in terms of personnel, label, release date, etc., and every effort was made to assure that the accompanying photographs were of the specific lineups featured on the particular track (no mean feat, particularly with the older recordings).

I recommend reading John Edward Hasse and Bob Blumenthal's extraordinarily concise and clear Introduction before doing any listening, as it presents the perfect road map for exploration. Then start at the beginning and read about each song as you listen. It will be slow going, but you'll gain an understanding about the music that you simply won't get any other way.

To check out short samples of every track in the set click here. Have fun!


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