Allen Lowe is a guitarist, tenor player, composer and musicologist. He is also a sound restoration specialist, and it is evident in the clean quality of these recordings. Lowe is the writer/producer of Minstrel to Mojo: An Audio History of American Popular Song, 1893~1946
. Gary Giddins described that nine-CD set as "unprecedentedly ambitious." What will he say about Lowe's new survey of jazz? That Devilin' Tune - A Jazz History (1895 to 1950)
, based on his 2003 book of the same name. was released during 2006 in four
boxed sets of nine CDs each that wil take you from Bix in 1927 to Ben Webster and Johnny Otis in 1951.
I have only seen Volume 2 - 1927 to 1934. It is typical of the four sets with 215 selections - over 11 hours of music - and a 104-page booklet. Well over half of the booklet is made up of appropriate chapters, "In the Beginning: The Jazz Age" to "Out of the Cool and Into The Swing (By Way of the Country),taken from the book. They show Lowe to be a writer with strong opinions on the music and the work of other critics. There is a brief biography of Lowe and chronological track lists for each of the four boxed sets (artist, title, date and playing time).
Anthologies are often restricted to influential releases by the masters of jazz, complete with discography details. Lowe casts a much wider net and explains why. In his critique of Richard Sudhalter's "The Lost Chord" he congratulates the author for having " the good sense to look for history in more than one place, in hidden corners and odd locations, in towns and cities that have hitherto been consigned to regional (or territorial) exile. " Lowe goes on to say: "Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington and Jelly Roll Morton occupy musical heights, but thousands of others have lived, musically speaking, in their shadows. A history that includes these others is not only a richer (and far more accurate) history, it also clarifies the accomplishments of those who (like Armstrong, Ellington, et al) created their works not in isolation but in a rich musical context."
So that is why there's room for both Bix and Williamson's Beale Street Frolic Orchestra, for Paul Whiteman and Reb Spikes. And that is why there is this beautifully-recorded collection of vintage recordings illustrating the early days of America's great art form. It's to enjoy. It's to encourage further exploration. Those four boxed sets belong in every American public library.