I just read Ben Ratliff’s excellent critique of “Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology” at the New York Times. I have disagreed vehemently with Mr. Ratliff on these electronic pages before, but this time he really hit the nail on the head. I have heard rumblings and grumblings about this project from my professors at Rutgers and various jazz scholars who have passed through the Institute of Jazz Studies — the general consensus seemed to be that in an effort to please everyone, the anthology ended up pleasing no one. Just read the piece, though — he astutely enumerates the compilation’s limitations, so there’s no need to repeat his observations here.
I do have one mild quibble with Mr. Ratliff’s assessment, however, which I’ll get into after the jump:
In his review, Mr. Ratliff lists “Haig Haig” by Clark Terry and Bob Brookmeyer as one of the “solid to questionable wild-card choices” included in the anthology. This track is not at all questionable in my book! To give him some credit, he did list it first, implying that it was more “solid” and Cab Calloway’s “Hard Times” was more questionable. Even “solid,” though, doesn’t go nearly far enough to do justice to those two musicians’ work together in the 1960s. Terry and Brookmeyer’s collaborations are among the hardest-swinging acts of bad-assery that my ears have ever enjoyed. YouTube only boasts a small taste, which I’ve included below — I’d recommend the album “Power of Positive Swinging” if you’re looking for a little more (only $5.99 on Amazon!)
Of course, quibbling over which tracks were or weren’t included in the anthology merely serves to reify it; still, I couldn’t help myself but to geek out a little bit about a seriously under-appreciated bit of music that has blown my mind like few others have, now being shoehorned into this awkward (and, as Ratliff convincingly argues, increasingly futile) canon-formation exercise.