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The Contemporary Records Story (Contemporary)/Happy Birthday Newport! Fifty Swinging Years (Legacy)

Lester Koenig probably would've worked his way up in the movie business if he hadn't been blacklisted for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the early '50s. Instead, he started Contemporary Records and became an industry model. Koenig was honest, generous, supportive, and even altruistic, as his willingness to record iconoclasts like Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor demonstrated.

At the other end of the spectrum were commercially successful efforts, such as André Previn's jazz versions of the music from the Broadway smash My Fair Lady, a spur-of-the-moment notion that had the musicians learning the tunes off the record and taping them all in a matter of hours. This four-CD set shows what a great label Contemporary was, prominently featuring such West Coast favorites as Art Pepper, Shelly Manne, and Hampton Hawes, but also giving space to some very hard hard-bop.

Meanwhile, Columbia Legacy has coordinated with George Wein to celebrate Newport's golden anniversary, a festival launched by Wein back when, as he puts it, "jazz was a dirty word." The music on these three discs is for the most part extroverted (as is the rule on such occasions) and features great performances from masters of every style, from Willie Smith to Louis Armstrong to the Ellington and Basie bands to Dizzy, Monk, Miles, and Coltrane. But one track above all others will get the attention of jazz fans: Davis's previously unissued "Round About Midnight" performed with Thelonious Monk in 1955. Why this famous performance has never been released until now is anyone's guess, but it certainly is the icing on this 50th birthday cake.

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