If I had to pick a single collection as an introduction to the glories of American jazz, I would have to go with Ken Burns’s Jazz collection, a remarkable greatest hits of jazz that functions as an Official History.
But an exemplary Alternative History, especially of the period from the ’50s through the ’70s, can be found in the series of ten samplers of the Fantasy group of labels recently released on Original Jazz Classics.
Let’s begin with the Fantasy label itself. The Fantasy label began in the ’40s as a San Francisco plastic molding business owned by the Weiss brothers, Max and Sol, that included a record pressing plant. One of their customers was Dave Brubeck, and on the strength of his local sales the plant evolved into a label named “Fantasy,” after a sci-fi rag.
Former sales manager Saul Zaentz took over in ’68 and ventured into rock ‘n’ roll with Creedence, R&B with the Blackbyrds, and soundtracks like Amadeus, but this sampler deals with the label’s jazz treasure trove of jazz classics from the ’50s-’70s.
It seems redundant to pick out the collection’s highlights since it IS a collection of highlights, but highlights of the highlights include pianist Vince Guaraldi’s ’62 trio standard “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” There is no mistaking the lightly dramatic chording and rolling bass lines that would become so familiar to a nation as it absorbed the Charlie Brown specials – especially the ’65 Christmas show – into its collective bloodstream.
Also among the abundance is the cool, confidant intrigue of trumpeter Chet Baker and saxman Gerry Mulligan dueting on “My Funny Valentine”;
the irresistable combination of swingy rhythm and the hallucinatory, phasey feel of Cal Tjader’s vibes on “Manuel’s Mambo”;
the agressive, ballsy trombone of BIll Harris;
Kenny Burrell’s contemplative collection of emblematic solo blues guitar riffs;
the powerful grace of Tony Bennet and pianist Bill Evans together in ’75, their life forces so unevenly distributed with Evans petering out young and Bennett still vibrant in his sixth decade of recording;
bright Latin vocal jazz-pop from Mongo Santamaria;
a witty, difficult behind the beat melody by Brubeck along with his quartet;
a classy solo effort from Brubeck Quartet sax great Paul Desmond; a charming vernacular conversation between Ellington sax stalwart Paul Gonsalves and Roy Eldridge on trumpet;
and Tjader and saxist Stan Getz on outrageous “Flight of the Bumblebee”-style workout, “Ginza Samba.”
Nine more samplers to follow – this one is a great place to start.