A friend of mine who works for a large record label once told me that jazz records count for only one-tenth of 1 percent of records sold in the United States. Tragically, he told me this about a week after I had finished my degree in jazz performance.
Of course I knew that jazz was not the cash cow of the music industry and was equally aware that playing jazz guitar was not the short track to the Forbes 100. It's just that none of those things seemed to matter. There was something intangible in the music that made it OK to spend half your life cooped up in a tiny practice room.
It's this indescribable magic that Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar expertly captures. The history of jazz music is one of the most important components of understanding jazz as an art form. The producers (one of whom is John Scofield, probably one of the greatest guitarists alive today) have done an outstanding job outlining this history and presenting the evolution of the guitar as a jazz instrument.
From the 1906 Edison cylinder recording of Vess Ossman's ragtime banjo to the ultramodern guitar of Bill Frisell, this four-CD set covers it all. One of the most telling aspects of any musical retrospective is its coverage of its subject's beginnings, and this is where Progressions really shines. For example, Django Reinhardt, generally presented as one of the founding fathers of jazz guitar, doesn't show up until halfway through the first CD.
There is a level of detail present in this collection that could only come from a true love and understanding of the art and the instrument. Where most "history of" compilations are just a dumping ground for old material, this collection really seems to be alive and pertinent, thanks in large part to the attention to fidelity on the older tracks. With the addition of guitar scholar Charles Alexander's insightful essays on each guitarist, this set should be required listening for anybody remotely interested in guitar, jazz or both.
(Brendan Moore is guitarist for Bloom.)