Picks and Pans Review: Swing—the Best of the Big Bands

updated 11/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/09/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

MTV fans can look upon this collection as Ur-videos, the primordial predecessors of today's overhyped music clips. Jazz fans can look upon it as a treasure trove, a set of four 50-minute tapes filled with '40s-vintage black-and-white film segments originally used as movie-theater short subjects. The only video "concept" musicians had in those days was to stand around and play the music, but in most of these cases, that was plenty. One of Count Basie's most exuberant bands appears, for instance, to do Red Bank Boogie, with Basie himself providing an expansive piano solo far beyond his usual plinking. Billie Holiday sings God Bless the Child, and being able to see her perform, in particular, adds an important dimension. Other highlights among the 75 songs on the four tapes: Duke Ellington's History of Jazz, the Nat King Cole quartet's Route 66 (with a nice ration of the piano playing that Cole all but forsook when he became a pop star), Stan Kenton's Artistry in Rhythm, the Ink Spots' If I Didn't Care, the Mills Brothers' Paper Doll, a Gene Krupa trio version of Stompin' at the Savoy. Things get frothy once in a while—Teresa Brewer's Old Man Mose or the Rosemary Clooney/Tony Pastor novelty Movie Tonight—but for the most part this is terrific music, reproduced (both aurally and visually) with amazing fidelity by a team headed by producer George Paige and creative consultant Jim Washburn, president of the National Academy of Jazz. (MCA, $24.95 apiece; $79.95 for the set)

From Our Partners