A compilation of songs from its Beginner's Guide series, RCA Victor's Beginner's Guide to Jazz is a collection of some of the best big-band recordings ever made. The strongest complaint that can be made about the collection pertains to the title. The album is not so much an introduction to the world of jazz as it is a compilation of the greatest hits of the swing era. A beginner would surely need to hear the work of Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charlie Parker (to name just a few) to be properly guided through jazz history, but those artists are not found here. In fact, with only one exception, all the recordings are from 1936-1956, ignoring bop, cool jazz, fusion, and other important movements. The version of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" is from 1970, and includes a spoken introduction by Armstrong that attempts to apply the song's optimistic lyrics to a more modern, cynical audience. There are few other surprises on the disc, and jazz aficionados will probably find it unnecessary to add it to their collections, but for a novice trying to become familiar with the most popular songs from the genre's most popular era, this collection should be more than adequate.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Vanderhoff