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Soundtrack for The War, Ken Burns’ Forthcoming Doc, Available Now

Ken Burns’ new landmark documentary, a 15-hour-long epic devoted to WWII entitled The War, will premiere on PBS Sept. 23. The largest-scale project Burns has completed since 2001’s JAZZ, The War features a jazz-heavy soundtrack with classic recordings from Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Nat “King” Cole, jazz-indebted period pop like Bing Crosby with Les Paul, new recordings from Norah Jones and Bill Charlap, and three compositions by trumpeter-composer Wynton Marsalis (pictured). The Burns-Marsalis partnership began with controversial results in JAZZ, for which Marsalis was artistic director and co-producer, and continued on Unforgivable Blackness, the biography of African-American boxing legend Jack Johnson that Marsalis scored in its entirety.

While Unforgivable found Marsalis educing the first 30 years of the 20th century with original moldy-fig-style compositions and covers of songs by Jelly Roll Morton, W.C. Handy and Artie Matthews, the JALC maestro’s music for The War ranges from expertly played WWII-era-sounding repertory (the gently swinging “Until I’m in Your Arms Again,” the only piece Marsalis plays trumpet on) to opaque, grimly emotive film music (“Movin’ Back,” featuring eerily vocal slide guitar by Doug Wamble). Performing under Marsalis’ direction on these sessions are Wamble, cellist Amanda Forsyth, violinist Mark O’Conner, drummer Ali Jackson, bassist Carlos Henriquez, and reedists Walter Blanding, Jr., and Victor Goines.

The soundtrack is bookended by versions of Gene Scheer’s heartrending “American Anthem,” one version sung and played by Norah Jones, and a closing instrumental rendition by cellist Forsyth and pianist Charlap. The vintage recordings are delivered in startlingly crisp audio, particularly the 1962 recording of “Copland: Concerto for Clarinet, Strings, Harp and Piano” by Aaron Copland & the Columbia Symphony with Benny Goodman.

The soundtrack is now available on CD from Legacy recordings.

Originally Published