When the film version of Chicago became a hit in 2002 and won the Academy Award for Best Picture one year later, producer Michael Brooks -- who's won a few awards of his own -- conceived a compilation that would unite two of his passions: Chicago-based hot jazz from the late '20s and early '30s and the classic period of American musicals during the '30s and '40s. The result is Now That's Chicago!, a triumphant, successful collection of material by some of the finest performers of the era, and a set capable of attracting both trend-following fans and serious jazz buffs alike. Though he's probably more successful at impressing the latter, Brooks' collection is splendid throughout, mixing and matching rare, outré performances from the best of the early swing bands (Fletcher Henderson, Clarence Williams, Duke Ellington, Don Redman, Cab Calloway) with songs from an array of vaudeville, pop, and blues vocalists (Sophie Tucker, Ethel Waters, Cliff Edwards, Annette Hanshaw, Ruth Etting, Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon). Brooks' compilation abilities are shown at their best here. He selects great performances from excellent artists of material that lean toward the sensationalist -- but perfectly in keeping with the concept of this compilation. Especially good combinations of each are the It Girl's post-Depression lament, "I Got 'It' But It Don't Do Me No Good," by the criminally underrated Hanshaw; the studio group Hot-Air Men's (featuring Phil Napoleon) effervescent swing through "Red Hot Chicago"; the proto-feminist anthem "No Man's Mama" by Ethel Waters (her definitive "Ten Cents a Dance" would've been a good, though rather obvious choice); and the bubbly "That's My Weakness Now" by the lush yet cheery Edwards. Even the dated songs are dated in all the right ways, including "She Knows Her Onions" by the California Ramblers and "Fifteen Cents" by Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon, the singing-and-dancing female impersonator. For anyone wanting to go directly to the source of Kander & Ebb's Chicago, or for those who want to dig deeper than "Birmingham Breakdown" or "Brother Can You Spare a Dime," Now That's Chicago! will be a breath of fresh air.
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AllMusic Review by John Bush