In association with PBS and Ken Burns, Verve has introduced twenty-two CDs featuring performers covered in the recent Jazz Series on the Public Broadcasting Service. I happened to purchase the Lester Young issue while visiting a bookstore on the weekend. Having watched the series on TV during January, I can't withhold my comments any longer.
This is, without a doubt, the most important jazz documentary ever. Filmmaker, Ken Burns, has been working on this project for six years and has done a superb job of answering many questions on the origin of jazz while not ignoring the influences of ragtime, blues and classical music.
I have never considered myself to be any sort of authority on jazz but have been in love with our music since the age of 12. I'm now 65 and have a considerable library of jazz publications, vinyl and 78s. In short, I felt I had the ability to find all the answers in my books and records. Painfully, the Ken Burns film humbled me with every episode of the ten part series. Virtually, every aspect of jazz is covered in wonderful detail from origins, styles, influences and the consequences of war and racial intolerance. The PBS series brought home the jazz story with more emotion than a hundred books. The late writer Bill Swanson, in his last book, defined jazz as "the most indefinable American music." Sadly, Bill passed away in 1997 and would have been pleased with Ken Burns and the hundreds of musicians, photographers, critics and discographers who made this series possible.
Happily, the series is available on DVD, CDs, a beautiful book and the special Verve artist series such as my newest purchase, the Definitive Lester Young. The Lester Young CD is great for a number of reasons. I loved the fact that Verve took the time to use mint copies of original 78s complete with the nostalgic whisper of spinning shellac. You'll hear Lester's music just as your Dad or Grandfather experienced it. Secondly, the producer has chosen truly important material from Lester's first record in 1936 through various changes in his career with Basie, Billie Holiday, The Kansas City Six and Seven plus Young's own trio and quartet.
You probably realize by now that I'm not reviewing a Lester Young release but hailing the spirit behind the entire concept of the Ken Burns film. I wish I could afford to buy the entire package but retirement has its drawbacks.
A thousand bright and shining stars to Ken Burns, Verve and PBS.