With cooperation from the Verve and Columbia Legacy catalogs, the Ken Burns Jazz series on CD individually spotlights the musical excellence of 22 jazz originators whose careers and influence are explored in Burns' PBS documentary Jazz. The selections representing Count Basie open with an early-1932 recording from Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra immediately after Basie joined them (eventually taking the helm from Moten). The set jumps ahead five years to the summer of 1937, highlighting several Decca sides including the classic Basie lineup with tenor saxophonist Lester Young on "One O'Clock Jump," "Jumpin' at the Woodside," "Doggin' Around," and "Cherokee," the two parts of the latter assembled together. The '40s are represented by only two tracks, the 1941-vintage "Goin' to Chicago" and "9:20 Special," both from the Columbia/OKeh library. The second half of the '40s were lean times for the band, which ended the decade temporarily paired down due to economics and a change in musical taste, and it wasn't until the early to mid-'50s that the orchestra gained momentum again, particularly in the wake of 1955's April in Paris on Verve and the Atomic Mr. Basie album on Roulette. Five sides from that decade finish out this set, culminating with "Lil' Darlin'" from Atomic Mr. Basie.
It's impossible to sum up the history of Basie on a single disc -- after all, the man recorded for more than 50 years (starting when Rudy Vallee was the new popular music heartthrob) and was still working amid the ascendancy of MTV and acts like Culture Club. Still, some of Basie's highlights represented on Ken Burns Jazz should help novice listeners interested enough to continue searching out more material. There is nothing here for the aficionado, although the fresh remastering represents a sonic upgrade over the sound of earlier Basie compilations. It will come as no surprise to veteran listeners, however, that "Goin' to Chicago" from the Columbia/OKeh archive is the noisiest track here; whatever Columbia did with some of those masters, they didn't preserve them properly.