To commemorate the end of the century, Sony Music assembled the gargantuan 26-disc box set Sony Music 100 Years: Soundtrack for a Century. The title was imposing, as was the idea behind it -- to chronicle the life of the oldest record label in the music industry. To be clear, Sony Music has not existed for 100 years, but the heart of its catalog, Columbia Records, was founded early in the 20th century. Sony acquired Columbia and its various subsidiaries in the late '80s, purchasing one of the richest catalogs in pop history, as the box set proves again and again. Sony realized that most consumers wouldn't invest in a 26-disc box, no matter how impressive it was, so they simultaneously released a series of 12 genre-specific double-disc sets that culled highlights from the box. That left two discs exclusive to the box, which was appropriate, since anyone who spends over $300 on an album deserves a little bonus. As it turns out, the double-disc sets are every bit as impressive as the big box -- perhaps more so, because they're easily digestible. Even so, the scope of the 33-track Jazz: The Definitive Performances is impressive. Columbia had always been a major player in jazz, and nowhere is that more evident than in this set, which opens with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and closes with Wynton Marsalis. Between those two artists are a number of seminal musicians who touched on many of the major styles in jazz in the 20th century -- Bessie Smith, King Oliver, Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong, Art Tatum, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, Gene Krupa, Woody Herman, Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Erroll Garner, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Ornette Coleman, Weather Report, Dexter Gordon, Branford Marsalis, and Tony Bennett. Not everything, but enough to tell a viable, accurate narrative that's tremendously entertaining. No other major label could assemble a jazz collection of such breadth and depth, which is a testament to Columbia, Epic, and all the other labels now underneath the Sony banner.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2