Here is an early, highly collectible, often commendable attempt to sum up the history of jazz up until 1957 on three long-playing LPs. Written and compiled by two pianists, Steve Allen (then riding high on television) and Leonard Feather, the set leans heavily and understandably toward the history of the jazz piano, even managing to score a coup by grabbing an interview with Willie "the Lion" Smith, circa Dec. 1956, on the topic of ragtime. Allen makes a very credible narrator -- knowledgeable, intellectual yet informal, not without an occasional welcome whiff of humor. The set is obviously hampered by being limited to the material in the archives of Decca (including early Brunswicks), which pretty much slept through most of the developments in bebop, hard bop, cool, and other progressive jazz styles after World War II. Sometimes Allen and Feather made do by offering a brief slice of an important artist as a sideman -- e.g. Teddy Wilson with the Bob Howard band, Lester Young with Count Basie, and a most unrepresentative early solo of Charlie Parker with Jay McShann. Perhaps the greatest treat for today's collectors, should they come upon this set, will be hearing the historical jazz tracks in virtually pristine, ungimmicked sound, without reverb, NoNoise or other modern "cleanup" atrocities.
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