Magazine article Insight on the News

They're Playing Our Songs

Magazine article Insight on the News

They're Playing Our Songs

Article excerpt

Swing, big band and hot jazz were resurrected in 1998, while a musical was paying ragtime to rave reviews around the country. Whatever your taste, there is something on the list for everyone.

The American music scene remained healthy during 1998. Highlights included Ragtime, the 1990s' first great American musical, and a rebirth of previously unhip styles like swing, big band and hot jazz at the hands of musicians such as Brian Setzer and the Squirrel Nut Zippers. In a lesser year for rock, R.E.M and other old favorites would have made this list with their new albums, but their offerings simply were good. So-called "alternative" rock continued to take over the mainstream and to be homogenized as a style.

Miles Davis also released what may be the best jazz album of the 1990s, and Tom Varner established himself as a truly major jazz talent. James Horner, John Williams and others continued to turn out good classical music for film scores. Truly highbrow musical culture, however, remained a wasteland. Despite a few yeoman recordings of great classical masters, symphony orchestras continued to perform the atonal modern classical music that is difficult to play and sounds lousy.

Miles Davis, Kind of Blue (Sony, $11.97). A truly great album from one of the modern masters. A hopeful sign for the industry because very healthy sales show that consumers want jazz to remain accessible and fun, rather than descending into the inaccessible swamps that mire classical music.

Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), Ragtime: The Original Broadway Cast Recording (RCA/Victor, $26.97). Although it can't measure up to seeing this spectacular musical live, this soundtrack still provides the best songs from what probably is the best American musical since Into the Woods.

Jay McShann, My Baby With the Black Dress On (P&C Chiaroscuro/ SOS Inc. $15.97). When Kansas City was the nation's jazz capital, McShann was the best who stayed. Many far more famous jazzmen started with McShann, including Charlie "Bird" Parker. This album was cut by the best of the Kansas City jazzmen to survive, and hearing pianist McShann play and sing these authentic sounds makes one long for a night at the Playmore or the old Orchid Room. McShann is the best alive -- and worth a trip to Kansas City to snap in the new year in the great old way.

Natalie Imbruglia, Left of the Middle, RCA/BMG, $16.98). "Torn" admittedly a good song, has been played to death. What gets overlooked is that Imbruglia demonstrates significant musical range and turns in at least three or four other memorable songs. Who cares if she doesn't write her own music? …

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