Album Review

An updated lesson in jazz appreciation

(Marv Koner/Sony Legacy)
March 28, 2011

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“The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz’’ debuted in 1973, was revised by its creator, critic Martin Williams, as a five-CD set in 1987, and has long been the standard “text’’ for courses in jazz appreciation. Lately, though, it’s been out of print. So the release of its six-CD, 111-track successor, “Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology,’’ is big news and likely to start some professors rethinking their syllabi.

The new set includes a 200-page text featuring short essays on each track’s history, with accompanying photos and personnel listings. But the real draw is the music itself, which ranges in style from three versions of Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag’’ through Dixieland, stride, swing, bebop, free jazz, fusion, and beyond. Much of the fun for those familiar with the earlier collection will involve comparing (and arguing about) how the committee-chosen selections here stack up against those of Williams.

The extra disc, for instance, makes room for fusion, expanded international contributions, and recent-vintage heroes such as Wynton Marsalis, Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, and Medeski Martin & Wood. But genuine giants Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk all have their contributions significantly trimmed back. Miles Davis gets a track apiece as an exemplar of cool, modal, and fusion (plus two more as a leader besides, and another as a teenaged sideman to Parker). John Coltrane (above left, with Davis) is scaled up to two selections from one, Sonny Rollins reduced to one from two. And so on. The tunes chosen to represent the artists often change as well. But that’s jazz for you: like America’s great poet, it is large and contains multitudes. (Out tomorrow)


ESSENTIAL “Maple Leaf Rag’’ (the Anthony Braxton/Muhal Richard Abrams version)