In conjunction with documentary filmmaker Ken Burns' ten-part 2000 PBS special, Columbia/Legacy and Verve teamed up to issue a special series of reissues covering much of the history of 20th century jazz. The central release of this program was the five-CD box set Ken Burns Jazz: The Story of America's Music, which was augmented by no less than 22 single-artist anthologies. The Best of Ken Burns Jazz is the commercially available single-CD sampler, all of its 20 tracks taken from the five-CD box set. In this context, this could be taken as the equivalent of sitting down to a full Indian dinner, and not getting any further than the samosa appetizer. Still, it does fit a good amount of classic jazz onto one disc, including selections by Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Sarah Vaughan, Dave Brubeck, Horace Silver, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis. Perhaps this could be a good gift or purchase for the average Joe, your Uncle Norman for instance, who enjoyed the documentary episodes and would like a keepsake of the program, but is by no means a jazz buff or even record collector. Note, incidentally, that only one of the tracks postdates 1959, and even that song is a 1992 Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra version of "Take the 'A' Train." So this disc, like to a certain extent the documentary series that sparked its release, can be taken as a rough survey of the history of jazz leading up to 1960, but not one that adequately covers the music's growth in the last 40 years of the 20th century.
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AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger