Various Artists

The Jazz Wedding Album: First Dances

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Regrettably, straight-ahead jazz often suffers from an image problem in non-jazz circles; in many cases, those who aren't heavily into jazz tend to think of it as overly complex, unnecessarily abstract music that the "average listener" (whatever that is) cannot possibly comprehend. And the damn-the-masses attitude that elitist jazz snobs love to express only perpetuates that image problem. But truth be told, not all straight-ahead jazz is ultra-cerebral -- a fact that is illustrated by this compilation, which draws on the Verve, Decca, Chess, and Commodore catalogs and emphasizes the romantic side of vocal jazz. The oldest selection is Billie Holiday's 1944 recording of "As Time Goes By"; the most recent is Shirley Horn's subtle 1990 interpretation of "It Had to Be You." A few of the tracks aren't really jazz; Etta James' famous version of Harry Warren's "At Last," for example, is basically R&B. But jazz dominates this 43-minute CD, and anyone who believes that jazz cannot be pretty and sentimental should hear Sarah Vaughan on "Embraceable You," Louis Armstrong on "A Kiss to Build a Dream On," or Ella Fitzgerald on "All the Things You Are" -- it doesn't get much prettier. Some of jazz's elitists may take offense at the idea of jazz as wedding music, but such thinking is silly and wrong-headed -- especially in light of the fact that jazz was very much a part of popular culture during its pre-bebop era. The Jazz Wedding Album: First Dances has its shortcomings; recording dates are absent, and 43 minutes isn't terribly generous for a compilation. Nonetheless, Verve's choices are generally excellent on this enjoyable, if brief, celebration of jazz's romantic side.

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