In conjunction with the release of Ken Burns' ten-part, 19-hour epic PBS documentary Jazz, Columbia issued 22 single-disc compilations devoted to jazz's most significant artists, as well as a five-disc historical summary. Since the individual compilations attempt to present balanced overviews of each artist's career, tracks from multiple labels have thankfully been licensed where appropriate. Hard bop stalwart Art Blakey was arguably the finest drummer in the style, not only gracing countless Blue Note recording sessions but also leading his own group, the Jazz Messengers, which gained a reputation as a training ground for high-quality young musicians. Surprisingly, Ken Burns Jazz neglects the late-'70s/early-'80s edition of the Messengers, which featured a just-out-of-high-school Wynton Marsalis; most of what's here comes from the '50s and '60s version of the band. Given the comprehensiveness of most of the Burns samplers, it's a little disappointing, but what is here is excellent nonetheless, and at least makes for a good introduction to Blakey's Blue Note prime.
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AllMusic Review by Steve Huey