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War: A Ken Burns Film [Deluxe Edition]

The War: A Ken Burns Film [Deluxe Edition]

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Focusing on the lives of people in four small towns during World War II, Ken Burns's seven-hour epic The War brings the reality of war home on a personal, intensely human level in way no other filmmaker has done since the multiple-Oscar-winning 1946 classic, The Best Years of Our Lives. This is not war romanticized; it's war up close, brutal, bloody, and


Focusing on the lives of people in four small towns during World War II, Ken Burns's seven-hour epic The War brings the reality of war home on a personal, intensely human level in way no other filmmaker has done since the multiple-Oscar-winning 1946 classic, The Best Years of Our Lives. This is not war romanticized; it's war up close, brutal, bloody, and horrific, and the memories of how it was remain searing and vivid to the veterans and their loved ones. The music Burns has chosen for The War thus reflects both the hopes and the melancholy of those years, sometimes all in the course of one song, as on Norah Jones's somber piano-and-vocal reading of the film's theme song "American Anthem." Comparable in effect to the poignant "Ashokan Farewell" theme of Burns's Civil War project, it is repeated at the end of the soundtrack as a haunting instrumental for piano and cello by Bill Charlap and Amanda Forsyth, respectively, who render it with touching sensitivity to the nuanced tenor of Jones's vocal and to the series' overall mood. The War soundtrack album is a concise, 17-song sampler of the music heard over the course of seven hours of film, including original performances by contemporary artists such as Jones, Forsyth and Charlap, classical violin virtuoso Joshua Bell, and Wynton Marsalis, who contributed some original compositions, including the introspective piano-and-cello instrumental "America My Home" (featuring Forsyth and Charlap in another star turn). These recordings complement the indelible hits from the war years, which here include Kay Starr's buoyant "If I Could Be with You," the King Cole Trio's smooth workout on a V-disc recording of "If You Can't Smile and Say Yes," and tracks from Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman. Bolstering the effect of all this timeless pop are classical performances by Yo-Yo Ma and by Leonard Slatkin conducting the London Philharmonic in William Walton's brooding "The Death of Falstaff."

In addition to the soundtrack, the box set boasts three "inspired-by" discs, which include some of the music found in the film and are thematic in nature. Sentimental Journey: Hits from the Second World War is an orchestra-heavy compilation of vocals and instrumentals that pretty much touches all the right bases -- Benny Goodman with a swinging treatment of "We'll Meet Again," Artie Shaw's luscious take on "Dancing in the Dark," plus Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Coleman Hawkins, Duke, Cab Calloway, Satchmo (his enduring, bluesy treatment of "Memories of You," featuring one of Louis's most seductive vocals), and others. In addition to Armstrong's, vocal highlights include the young Frank Sinatra's sensitive, romantic reading of "Let's Get Lost" and his masterful, dramatic rendition of "Long Ago and Far Away" (which is preceded by Sinatra's spoken introduction identifying himself as "the hoodlum from Hoboken") and the Mills Brothers' sweetly swinging blues-tinged pop classic "Paper Doll." The one legitimate flaw is the virtual absence of the great female vocalists of the era, who certainly left their mark on our boys overseas but, apart from Kay Starr, are unrepresented here.

There's no subtlety about I'm Beginning to See the Light: Dance Hits from the Second World War. It's about getting bodies in motion and is a sheer delight from the get-go. Opening with Duke Ellington & His Famous Orchestra's shuffling "C Jam Blues" (which features a most unexpected outburst of country fiddle less than a minute in), the disc goes on to chronicle an astonishing variety of music that fell under the rubric of Big Band -- from the jubilant "In the Mood" courtesy Glenn Miller & Hs Orchestra; to the country swing of Al Dexter's signature tune, "Pistol Packin' Mama" to the loping grace of Erskine Hawkins's "Tuxedo Junction." Artie Shaw's great orchestra of the time is understandably represented twice, with the lush, jittery arrangement of "Frenesi" that features terrific clarinet soloing from Shaw over a lovely string arrangement, and a lighter-than-air string passage buttressing Shaw's keening clarinet soloing on "I'm Confessin'." And it's heartening to see Jimmie Lunceford and Charlie Barnett and their orchestras included, as they boasted two of the hottest lineups of the day but usually lose out to the household names when these sort of retrospectives are assembled.

It's no surprise that Songs Without Words: Classical Music from the War is the most ruminative of the four discs in the box set. In the documentary, these works tend to be heard at the most heart-wrenching or reflective moments: Yo-Yo Ma has such moments himself in his anguished soloing in Dvorak's "Cello Concerto in B Minor," the fevered pulse of his bowing mirroring the soul-deadening onscreen horror. Suitably, that most American of composers, Aaron Copland, is here twice: His first appearance is with Benny Goodman and the Columbia Symphony Orchestra on a solemn original composition, "Concerto for Clarinet, Strings, Harp and Piano," a 16-minute-plus work that opens up into a stirring, soaring celebration of hope after its dour theme-setting stanza, then returns to a more ominous mood. It's a roller-coaster ride of emotions, from abject fear to unbridled optimism and back, and a more appropriate musical evocation of the war years could hardly be summoned. His other composition here, "Grovers Corners" from Our Town, with the New Philharmonic Orchestra, comes in at a slight 3:12 and sounds like the first tentative breaking of a new day, full of hope in a strings-and-woodwinds passage of exquisite, fragile beauty. Works by Ligeti, Fauré, Liszt, and Messiaen ("Quartet for the End of Time") sound a doom-laden note, but the Mendelssohn composition that gives this disc its title, "Songs Without Words," is a marvelous, nuanced duet performed by Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Emanuel Ax that balances light and dark emotions. Like the other three discs in the box set, this one works well as a self-contained entity, free of any context but that of the music itself, but those who see Burns's film will never hear these works in quite the same way again -- just as those who see The War may come away with a whole new perspective on the human toll these conflicts take. Even in the "good war," it's an awful price to pay.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Richie Unterberger
The War, directed by Ken Burns, was a seven-part documentary series broadcast on PBS television in 2007, focusing on the experiences of American soldiers in World War II. Much popular music of the period was heard on the soundtrack, as was some music specifically composed and recorded for use in the film. This four-CD set, with the full title The War: A Ken Burns Film: Deluxe Edition: Soundtrack and Music from the Second World War, devotes one disc each to a certain thematic strain. Disc one -- the only one in this package that is also available separately, as a stand-alone release -- focuses on music actually heard on the soundtrack, mixing compositions/performances by Wynton Marsalis; vintage recordings from the time by Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, and Kay Starr; and some other material, including one track, "American Anthem," recorded by Norah Jones on piano and vocal specifically for the series (and previously unreleased prior to its appearance here). Disc two, "Sentimental Journey: Hits from the Second World War," has some of the smoother and more romantic jazz-pop hits of the era by the likes of Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, the Mills Brothers, Cab Calloway, Harry James, and Tommy Dorsey. Disc three, "I'm Beginning to See the Light: Dance Hits from the Second World War," has swing jazz that repeats some names from earlier in the box (Goodman, Basie, Miller, Artie Shaw) and adds selections from some others like Gene Krupa and Jimmie Lunceford, and is the CD most likely to be enjoyed by general music fans. The fourth and final disc, "Songs Without Words: Classical Music from The War," has ten classical pieces recorded between 1963 and 2006 of a subdued and mournful nature, two of which noted cellist Yo-Yo Ma plays on, and one (Aaron Copland's "Concerto for Clarinet, Strings, Harp and Piano") on which Benny Goodman plays clarinet. This is primarily recommended to those viewers deeply impressed by the series, rather than the general music listener, who might find the range of styles -- primarily mixing jazz and classical sides, but also with some non-jazz songs from then and now -- too wide to sustain interest. An illustrated booklet from Ken Burns explains the conception and intention of the documentary series, with a smaller one explaining the reasoning behind the music selected for the soundtrack.

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Album Credits

Performance Credits

Aaron Copland   Conductor
Sam Bush   Mandolin
Edgar Meyer   Bass
Richard Stoltzman   Clarinet
Bing Crosby   Vocals
Doris Day   Vocals
Peggy Lee   Vocals
Frank Sinatra   Vocals
Paul   Guitar
Buster Bailey   Clarinet
Count Basie   Piano,Leader
Cab Calloway   Vocals
Charlie Christian   Electric Guitar
Buck Clayton   Trumpet
Bill Coleman   Trumpet
Billy Eckstine   Vocals
Harry Edison   Trumpet
Benny Goodman   Clarinet
Freddie Green   Guitar
Lionel Hampton   Vibes
Earl Hines   Piano
Johnny Hodges   Clarinet,Alto Saxophone,Soprano Saxophone
Harry James   Trumpet
Jo Jones   Drums
Jonah Jones   Trumpet
John Kirby   Bass
Billy May   Trumpet
Mel Powell   Piano
Max Roach   Drums
Artie Shaw   Clarinet
Tab Smith   Alto Saxophone,Soprano Saxophone
Buddy Tate   Tenor Saxophone
Ben Webster   Tenor Saxophone
Teddy Wilson   Piano
Cootie Williams   Trumpet
Cozy Cole   Drums
Johnny Guarnieri   Piano
Herb Jeffries   Vocals
Jack Jenney   Trombone
Klink   Tenor Saxophone
Lou McGarity   Trombone
Johnny Mince   Clarinet
Oscar Moore   Guitar
Vido Musso   Tenor Saxophone
Gene Rodgers   Piano
Yo-Yo Ma   Cello,Soloist
Dick Haymes   Vocals
Modernaires   Vocals
Coleman Hawkins   Tenor Saxophone
Kitty Kallen   Vocals
John Mills   Vocals
Dexter   Vocals
Anita O'Day   Vocals
Trummy Young   Vocals
Wellman Braud   Bass
Sonny Greer   Drums
Walter Page   Bass
Joshua Bell   Violin
Leonard Slatkin   Conductor
Louis Armstrong   Trumpet,Vocals
Georgie Auld   Tenor Saxophone
Tex Beneke   Tenor Saxophone,Vocals
Benny Carter   Alto Saxophone
Artie Bernstein   Bass
Barney Bigard   Clarinet,Tenor Saxophone
Billie Holiday   Vocals
Don Byas   Tenor Saxophone
Harry Carney   Clarinet,Alto Saxophone,Baritone Saxophone
Bill Charlap   Piano
Nat King Cole   Piano,Vocals
Ralph Collier   Drums
Ed Cuffee   Trombone
Tommy Dorsey   Trombone
Duke Ellington   Piano,Leader
Nick Fatool   Drums
Jackie Fields   Alto Saxophone
Victor Goines   Saxophone
Fred Guy   Guitar
Joe Guy   Trumpet
Earl Hardy   Trombone
Arthur Herbert   Drums
Ida Kavafian   Violin
Killian   Trumpet
London Philharmonic Orchestra   Track Performer
Wynton Marsalis   Trumpet
Mike Marshall   Guitar
Glenn Miller   Trombone
Johnny Miller   Bass
Donald Mills   Vocals
Harry Mills   Vocals
Herbert Mills   Vocals
Eustis Moore   Alto Saxophone
Tommy Morgan   Electric Guitar
Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton   Trombone
Allan Reuss   Guitar
Eli Robinson   Trombone
Fred Sherry   Cello
Axel Stordahl   Conductor
Juan Tizol   Valve Trombone
Jack Washington   Baritone Saxophone
Sid Weiss   Bass
Arthur Whetsol   Trumpet
Edward Aaron   Cello
Dale McMickle   Trumpet
Peter Serkin   Piano
Billy Taylor   Bass
Tommy Lindsay   Trumpet
Todd Reynolds   Violin
Mark OConner   Violin
Ed Lewis   Trumpet
Otto Hardwick   Clarinet,Alto Saxophone,Bass Saxophone
Kurt Masur   Conductor
Laura Newell   Harp
Kayhan Kalhor   Kamanche
William Oscar Smith   Guitar
Emanuel Ax   Piano
Abba Bogin   Piano
Colin Jacobsen   Violin
Carlos Henríquez   Bass
Leo Suzuki   Viola
Barry Douglas   Piano
Norah Jones   Piano,Vocals
Amanda Forsyth   Cello
Siamak Aghaei   Santur
Nick Cords   Viola
Sandeep Das   Tabla
Doug Wamble   Guitar
Ali Muhammed Jackson   Drums
Lawrence D. Brown   Trombone
Chief Justice Earl Warren   Alto Saxophone
Steven Isserlis   Cello
Ken Starr   Vocals
Robert Bruce Scott   Trombone
Pascal Devoyon   Piano
Saschko Gawriloff   Violin
Kalle Randalu   Piano
Marie-Luise Neunecker   French Horn
Siamak Jahangiry   Ney

Technical Credits

Aaron Copland   Composer
Edward Elgar   Composer
Franz Liszt   Composer
William Walton   Composer
Olivier Messiaen   Composer
Louis Prima   Composer
Yusuf (Cat Stevens)   Composer
Steven Berkowitz   Producer
Ken Burns   Producer,Liner Notes
Bill Finegan   Arranger
Jerry Gray   Arranger
Wynton Marsalis   Arranger,Composer
Delfeayo Marsalis   Producer
J.P. Johnson   Composer
David Foil   Producer
Howard Fritzson   Art Direction
Tom Schick   Engineer
Lynn Novick   Producer
Duncan Allardyce   Producer
Lee Alexander   Producer
Sarah Bolstein   Producer
Sam Hynes   Author
James P. Nichols   Engineer

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