Saturday, September 4, 2010

Quincy Jones: Talkin' Verve (2001)

Growing up in the '80s you couldn't help but be aware of Quincy Jones. Between Michael Jackson and USA for Africa, you'd definitely heard of him; but chances are you never had much idea of why. Okay, sure, he was a producer - but why was he getting interviewed when other producers weren't? And why was he credited for "Just Once" and "One Hundred Ways" when it was James Ingram singing? Later, of course, I learned more and started to understand what it meant to be a producer, and came to appreciate the value of professionalism in the music industry, and to see that what I'd been aware of as "Quincy Jones" growing up in the '80s was only the tail end of a much longer career in American music, one that (and this is something that's impossible to appreciate when you're young) transcended momentary fads in pop.

This album helps get that across - a little bit. I think Jones's kind of accomplishment is the thing that doesn't really translate well to records, because it's more a matter of organization. Even this disc, which draws from a bunch of records he did under his own name, mostly conducting and arranging himself, includes work that he evidently didn't have much to do with besides sponsoring. And as nice as some of this music is, I think it would be forgotten today if "Soul Bossa Nova" hadn't been used in the Austin Powers movies - and there it was used, like everything else, as a goof.

This collection tries to make the case for Jones as an important bandleader and arranger in the same way as the Lalo Schifrin disc in the same series. I don't think it works as well. I don't think it's because Schifrin's roots in jazz were any deeper than Jones's - they both, interestingly, passed through Dizzy Gillespie's band. But the records Schifrin did under his own name (if the disc I have is representative - and it may not be) do seem to aspire to jazz seriousness in a way that Jones's didn't (again, if this disc is a fair sample).

That's a convoluted way of arriving at the conclusion that these tracks sound gimmicky, like big-band novelty tunes. Some of them are pretty enjoyable even so: "Comin' Home Baby" is a fine walk down the dirty side of jazz pop, with great work from Jim Hall on guitar and Roland Kirk on flute. The two movie themes, "Funny Farm" and "Rack 'Em Up," are priceless slivers of multifaceted film jazz, combining ultra-atmospheric touches (ominous noirish background murmurs on the first, "ch-ch-ch-ch-cha" noises on the second) with funky keyboards. As with Schifrin, bits and pieces of some of these numbers were sampled by club jazzers in the '90s.

But the 2001 release date on this disc probably contributes to what drags it down, which is the focus on easy-listening style covers of improbably chosen contemporary pop songs - "Hard Day's Night," "Hang On, Sloopy," "Okie From Muskogee." Here the groovy ornamentation is utterly misapplied; I think the only way to appreciate these records now is as camp, which is how the lounge boomlet heard them, and that's who the Verve suits were aiming at by 2001.

Which means, I guess, that I'm pretty particular about my jazz-revival overtones. Japanese and European-style acid-jazz skinny-tie-and-horn-rims vinyl-rummaging rare-groove obsessing Blue Note Records-worshiping serious irony: yes. American-style lounge Vegassy martini-swizzling tiki-bar send-up irony, as unfocused as a Mike Meyers movie: not so much.

Hamlet at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

The other thing we saw at OSF was Hamlet, and this was splendid, more than enough to wash away the bad taste of Throne of Blood. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for you, O Reader), I don't know if I have anything much to say about it. Certainly not as much as I had to say about Throne of Blood. I mean, this Hamlet was awesome. Just amazing. But I'm a babe in the woods when it comes to Hamlet. I saw it on Boston Common a few years ago, and I've seen Kenneth Branagh's film (twice!), and of course I've read the play a number of times...but I wouldn't dream of saying I know anything about it.

This series of posts on Bardolatry talks about some of the distinctive aspects of this production: I particularly want to second what Murphy says about the decision to make Hamlet's father deaf, even at the expense of some of the Bard's verbiage:
...having Hamlet and the Ghost communicating in sign language—one might describe it almost as their “private” language—also served to produce the (in my experience, unique) effect of putting the father-and-son pair in a sort of psycho-spiritual bubble, contra mundum; a bubble that excluded all others and highlighted Hamlet’s isolation. The relationship between father and son portrayed in most productions comes across as distant, severe and (on Hamlet’s part) rather worshipful, even awestruck. In this production the father/son relationship is portrayed as having been loving and paternally intimate, which makes Hamlet’s reaction to his father’s tale of murder all the more harrowing.


Finally, in the OSF production’s captivating use of sign language—for me it put the icing on the cake, as it were—there were several very nice bits of stage business when we see, in a couple of key scenes, Gertrude and even Claudius breaking briefly into sign language when speaking of the late King Hamlet. These fleeting moments from the ancien regime seemed to signal, as it were, breakings-in of conscience and former ties of familial love into the toxic little Gertrude/Claudius bubble—that “rotten” thing poisoning Denmark.
This really captures something excellent about this production: it got the feeling of the relationships between the characters absolutely right. The brother-sister feeling between Laertes and Ophelia, the father-children feeling between both of them and Polonius, and of course Hamlet and his father and mother, and even uncle. I think what Murphy's suggesting - and I saw this - is that when Gertrude and Hamlet and Claudius break into sign language when speaking of the late King, it's force of habit: these are people who are used to speaking simultaneously in sign and by voice, for the benefit of the King as well as each other, and it's entirely natural that they'd slip back into that old habit at moments of high nostalgia and/or emotion. Natural, and more important for the play, affecting: touching.

This was a very emotional Hamlet. (It's here that I think the best aspects of OSF come through: I called Throne of Blood pandering; the flip side of that is the emotional intensity and accessibility of this Hamlet, populism of the best kind.) The philosophical aspects of the play are there for all to appreciate - you can't escape them, and this production does its best to highlight them too (I like the idea of having the rest of the action onstage stop like a freeze-frame when Hamlet steps out to do a soliloquy). But mostly what we get is a production in which everybody's emotions and the actions that spring from them make visceral sense. We feel Hamlet's turmoil, his grief, his frustration, his anger. His despair.

The wordless play-before-the-play that they've added is important here. (If you go, get there when the doors open so you can see the whole thing.) I'd love to somehow return to a state of innocence where I knew nothing about the play, so that I could learn about Hamlet's character the way the first viewers presumably did - so that I could let Shakespeare introduce him to me cold, and see what effect that would have on me. That's impossible, of course, for almost anybody coming to the play today: by the time Hamlet is first mention, much less appears onstage, we all know what's eating him. The play-before-the-play acknowledges that, and makes our first entry into the play through Hamlet, rather than through the watchmen: for a full half hour we see Hamlet utterly motionless in front of his father's coffin after the funeral, while the mortuary personnel mill around putting away chairs and jawboning in the back of the chapel. We learn everything about Hamlet here: not only that he's young and handsome in his mod suit and sunglasses, but that he's both much more upset by his father's death than anybody else (he's the last one in the chapel) and that he's capable of incredibly concentration (he sits motionless, lost in thought, for thirty minutes). In short we see the ingredients of his obsession, his madness, right here. We can identify (and it helps that Hamlet is dressed and played as a recognizable neurotic hipster, so that the ironic pirouettes of the soliloquys feel like the manic word-riffage of someone raised on rap); we can feel him. It's not strictly Shakespeare, but it quite effectively works with Shakespeare to lead us into the play.

Throne of Blood at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival

We went down to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland a couple of days ago. For those who don't know, despite the name this isn't a summer event sort of thing: it's a nearly year-round repertory organization that basically dominates this little town in Southern Oregon. Several plays running concurrently in three major venues, including a mock-up of the Globe. They do Shakespeare, yes, but also other works of classic and contemporary theater, and they do, on the whole, a fantastic job. We went down last summer and saw a couple (I seem to have neglected to write anything about them: if I can remember enough maybe I'll try to rectify that), and I have to say that with the sort of self-deprecating attitude with which Oregonians seem to view most things about their state, I wasn't expecting much. I came away incredibly impressed by the seriousness and professionalism of what I saw. So now we're trying to make an annual tradition out of going down for a night and seeing a couple of plays. Someday we want to stay a week and see everything...

The main attraction for us this year was Throne of Blood. This is OSF guest director Ping Chong's adaptation of Kurosawa's adaptation of Macbeth. Now, it so happens that this is one of my favorite Kurosawa films: I've lost count of how many times I've seen it. In fact, I've taught it twice, meaning I've gone through it taking scene-by-scene notes: I know it as well as I know any film. The idea of seeing a stage adaptation of it in English, at a festival where the Shakespearean aspects of it would doubtless be emphasized, was really intriguing. I wouldn't have missed this.

I was very disappointed.

Kurosawa's film transposes Shakespeare's story to warring-states-era Japan, turning Macbeth into a typical Sengoku warrior. Much has been made over the fact that Kurosawa gives us a Macbeth without any of Shakespeare's words - not too difficult, perhaps, given that he's making the film in Japanese, but in fact all the more amazing for that reason - he manages to bring the story to life with the same primal power of Shakespeare's version, without the benefit of the poetry.

It's also, I think, a definitively modern reading of Shakespeare, despite the medieval trappings, but that's a subject for another post. Here what's worth emphasizing is that Kurosawa only slightly modernizes the setting - we're still in an era of swords and battles and pikes and feudal loyalties. And Kurosawa adopts a quasi-premodern dramaturgy, as well, famously bringing in elements of Noh. The music (shrill flutes and drums) is the most obvious for a Western audience, but more important is the blocking: in several scenes, Washizu (Macbeth) and Asaji (Lady Macbeth) move just like Noh actors on a stage. My favorite example is Asaji's strange pacing while Washizu is killing his lord: it's virtually a kusemai, and it perfectly expresses her anxiety.

Between Shakespeare and the Noh, then, Kurosawa's film would seem to be a natural for translation to the stage. Certainly the transition would have posed problems as well: not just supplying the lack of Kurosawa's inimitable visuals, but coming up with a script. I was eager to see what they'd do in this regard: would they simply use Donald Richie's subtitles (or Linda Hoaglund's)? Would they come up with a new, complete translation of Kurosawa's script? Would they - and this was a tantalizing idea - adopt Shakespeare's lines whenever they could?

In short, I imagined all sorts of possibilities for bringing the profound seriousness of Kurosawa's vision to the stage, and maybe even combining it with the Shakespearean heritage that would have been more remote to him, but more accessible to the OSF's audience.

Instead what we got was, in a word, pandering. The script was a mishmash of untranslated Japanese phrases badly mouthed by actors who can't speak Japanese, inelegant dialogue modified (it seemed) from the subtitles, and overwrought pseudopoetic fill-ins both for things the subtitles didn't translate and for scenes that the director felt needed to be added. All of this was delivered in a staging that emphasized stereotypically Japanese elements without being true to a Noh vision, or any other; a staging that for most of the time used film projected on a strip of screen above the stage, in a move that seemed at first like a bold appropriation of cinematic elements but ended up feeling like a cop-out, as any difficult-to-stage elements were simply presented on film.

Lemme unpack that rant a bit. The overall tone of the production was Orientalist in the extreme. They made the decision to have the actors, who were with one key exception native speakers of English, deliver several of their lines in Japanese. Without subtitles (which they could have offered, using the ubiquitous screen - they in fact did subtitle the prerecorded chant that opened and closed the play), and often without precisely translating them in ensuing English dialogue. Of course they seldom did this so that you'd actually miss anything if you didn't speak Japanese - so the net effect was of a mild kind of alienation, so that the audience would feel something like they were watching a foreign film.

This in and of itself might not be a disastrous idea. I think I disagree fundamentally with the idea of foreignizing Throne of Blood rather than making it feel more intimate to the audience, of emphasizing the idea that this is something exotic rather than a valid and comprehensible modern take on universal ideas, but never mind that. If they'd been more consistent and persistent about providing the illusion that one was watching Kurosawa's film come to life, it might indeed have been interesting. Maybe dress all the actors and sets in black and white, maybe deliver even more of the lines in Japanese with subtitles, maybe... Lots could have been done.

But they didn't follow through. The Japanese phrases in the dialogue were left hanging there like little paper lanterns, just creating atmosphere; the set designs, while clearly meant to recall Kurosawa's, were neither barren enough to truly suggest Noh (or a black-and-white film) nor lively enough to really make the most of the chance to present this in color. Take the blood-stained walls of the sealed room, such a key setting in the early part of Kurosawa's film. In black and white, the blood stains is just another shade of gray on a gray wall - part of the effect was in showing us this rough-textured wooden wall and forcing us to imagine that part of this texture was blood. Very effective in black-and-white, and of course it could have been tremendously effective in color on a stage, too, giving us a huge crimson spatter for example. Instead this wall is represented by a mildly grubby standing screen. Neither fish nor fowl.

And the Noh elements - well, there were certainly nods toward the distinctive movements of the main characters in the film. But in the play these were mixed in with, and the Noh elements thoroughly drowned out by, random bits of kabuki, chanbara, and Takarazuka. Instead of the quiet intensity and unbearable tension of Noh-via-Kurosawa, we got a hodgepodge of colorful Japaneseness.

I have to mention the one Japanese cast member, the Takarazuka alumna Ako as Asaji. She was certainly the most fun to watch, with her melodramatic, heavily-accented delivery and her exaggerated movements. But the Takarazuka influence overwhelmed whatever delicacy might have remained in the adaptation: her high-camp approach, in fact, seemed to set the tone for the rest of the production, which included in-joke references to the titles of other Kurosawa movies, and the kind of clown repartee that Shakespeare's tragedies wisely include but which Kurosawa had carefully eliminated.

I almost wish they had done the whole thing as camp. Then it might have been something. What it was instead was pandering: they put gaijin actors in Japanese costume, then had them act "Japanese." They put a Japanese actress on and had her act super-Japanese. They gave themselves the safety-net of the screen, so that things like the march of the forest at the end could simply be projected - forget about using stage ingenuity to solve that problem. They filled in things that Kurosawa had chosen to leave blank: the whole bit about Macbeth hiring Murderers is left out, so that we don't know if Washizu has ordered the killing of Miki until after Washizu has seen Miki's ghost. But this version adds a clumsy scene before the banquet just to remove any doubt. Lame.

Just to make it clear: I'm not saying Shakespeare was lame to include such a scene. I'm saying that Shakespeare was a great artist who knew what he wanted to do and did it to great success. And so was Kurosawa. This play was neither, to its infinite detriment.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Roman Polanski's Bitter Moon (1992)

Four Weddings and a Funeral is one of my favorite romantic comedies, but I always find the ending a bummer. I think Hugh Grant should've wised up and chosen Kristin Scott Thomas, not the lame American. When Bitter Moon started rolling we had a good laugh, because there were Hugh Grant and Kristin Scott Thomas, married. I wonder if Mike Newell's casting was a wink at this film, which had come out two years earlier. Thomas's character is even named Fiona in both films.

The cast was basically the only thing that I really liked about Bitter Moon. Grant is never better than when he's looking uncomfortable, and he looks plenty uncomfortable here. Kristin Scott Thomas is quite effective as his wife. Peter Coyote is something of a revelation: I'd only known him as a counterculture figure (he pops up in everything I read about early Dead and Airplane) and a narrator of PBS documentaries, but he's got a great sick charisma here. Even the minor roles are well cast: Victor Banerjee's gentlemanly Mr. Singh has a touch of the sinister enigma about him, and Stockard Channing's cameo as Oscar's agent is key.

As for the movie itself? I found two zealous, almost convincing defenses of it here and here. I'm willing to concede that most of the ideas those essayists discuss are in the movie (incidentally, I find it interesting that those essayists seem to disagree on the nature of the ending: is Fiona and Mimi's tryst part of Oscar's ambush of Nigel, or is it Mimi's final revenge on Oscar?).

I just wish the ideas had been presented in a more persuasive movie. ...But now that I try to set down what I thought were flaws in the film, its presentation, its characters, whatever, I find I'm deleting everything I write, because most of what I thought was a flaw was actually explained by the kind of story Polanski was trying to tell, and the almost cruel detachment with which the story had to be told. Hmm. So what is it I want to say about this movie? I think I got it (not as eloquently as the two essays I linked to above, to be sure), intellectually, but I didn't particularly enjoy it.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Lalo Schifrin: Talkin' Verve (1999), and partial list of Verve anthologies

The first surprise was "Old Laces," a beret-and-goatee style take on a theme by Telemann: finger-snapping bass, cool flute, transposing baroque order into '60s swing. Jethro Tull's "Bourée," it turns out, is a complete rip-off of Schifrin's idea here. Not that it makes Tull's record (which has just that much more pop savvy) any less effective - but you'd think Ian Anderson could have acknowledged the debt in an interview or two...

The second and more pleasant surprise was that Lalo Schifrin, who I knew basically by rumor and by his theme for "Mission Impossible," was jazz. Really. No doubt his primary métier was the kind of Latin-inflected big band show-tuney pop that dominates our recreations of non-counterculture '60s pop culture. That is, Lalo Schifrin as a composer and arranger made groovy lounge music. Nothing wrong with that in and of itself, and Lalo did it with a lot more class than some others I've heard: "The Wave," from 1962, is one of the best of it's kind that I've heard. (Not to mention its basic piano riff is familiar from showing up in a UFO track - "The Planet Plan," from 3rd Perspective.)

But he's not just schlock: Lalo comes to this territory with the chops and sensibilities of a real jazzer. What else would you call his three-and-a-half-minute-long virtuoso piano solo on "Samba Para Dos" (1963)? It takes off from Latin syncopation to encompass Monkish lurches and Brubeckian timeplay, balls-to-the-wall blues and groovy abstraction. It's simply killer.

And what else would you call his stint with Dizzy Gillespie? He composed an album-length suite for the man, and recorded it with his big band: 1962's "The New Continent," three movements of which are included here.

This disc is out of print, but it's well worth tracking down. It's part of a series of artist comps (plus a few themed multiartist sets) that Verve released around the turn of the decade to cash in on the acid jazz/club jazz craze: Talkin' Verve. I have three or four of these, and so far they're pretty satisfying: as I've said, I really dug the club jazz thing when it was around, and these discs cater to exactly me. Plus, dig those irresistible late-'90s graphics!

Has anybody been as gonzo with the anthologies as Verve? They were a major jazz label: not as important to the evolution of the music as Blue Note or Impulse, say, but important enough. But ever since the dawn of the CD era they've been flooding the market with series of anthologies of their artists. The amazing thing is, these all seem to be unique collections, with only partial overlap. Most of them are out of print, but available cheap used: good for the casual collector like me.

For most of them I've been unable to find a master list on-line, and Amazon doesn't always index its discs by series title. So here's what I've been able to find. Needless to say, I only have a bare smattering of these titles; I offer this only as reference.

One last note: you may find, as I do, that this gets pretty comical after a while. It's utterly silly for them to keep rehashing the same catalog so many different ways (not that you can't find some gems in each of these series that aren't available elsewhere). But I wish more jazz labels (or their modern corporate dungeoners) were half as aggressive at making their best stuff available in attractive packages.

Standards: Great Songs/Great Performances (Great American Songbook; these are really short discs, mainly aimed not at CD buyers but at the mp3 market; 2010):
Oscar Peterson
Quincy Jones
Billie Holiday
Lester Young
Kenny Burrell
Stan Getz
Carmen McRae
Dinah Washington
Ella Fitzgerald
Louis Armstrong
Fred Astaire

Plays The Hits: Great Songs/Great Performances (part of the abovementioned, but instead of Great American Songbook these are covers of contemporary pop tunes: think Wes Montgomery playing Beatles songs; 2010):
Jimmy Smith
Wes Montgomery
Grover Washington, Jr.
Sergio Mendes and Brasil '66
Ramsey Lewis Plays The Beatles Songbook

Jazz Club (Verve is one of the main participants, with Polygram and some other labels, in this European series focusing, again, on club-oriented jazz and lounge; 2009):
Electric Jazz Lounge (V.A.)
Jazz Samba (V.A.)
Jazz For Broken Hearts (V.A.)
Smooth Jazz Christmas (V.A.)
Let's Dance Jazz! (V.A.)
Great Vibes (V.A.)
Electric Bossa (V.A.)
Do It Again (V.A.)
Jazz Goes Hollywood (V.A.)
Talkin' Jazz (V.A.)
Organized! (V.A.)
Summer In The City (V.A.)
Blues Masters (V.A.)
Bar Jazz (V.A.)
Cocktail Jazz (V.A.)
Jazz For The Road (V.A.)
Jazz Remixed (V.A.)
Disco Jazz (V.A.)
Sampled! (V.A.)
Christmas In Cuba (V.A.)
Beatles Vs. Stones (V.A.)
Latin Jazz (V.A.)
Jazz For Lovers (V.A.)
Saxophone Ballads (V.A.)
The Sound Of Dixieland (V.A.)
Jazz Rock (V.A.)
Bossa Nova (V.A.)
Spaced Out Jazz (V.A.)
Thriller Jazz (V.A.)
Swingin' Big Bands (V.A.)
Jazz Swings Motown (V.A.)
Chill-Out Jazz (V.A.)
Bossa Nova Guitar (V.A.)
Swinging Jazz Piano (V.A.)
Coffee Time Jazz (V.A.)
Exotic Jazz (V.A.)
Psychedelic Jazz (V.A.)
Bossa Nova Singers (V.A.)
Soul Jazz (V.A.)
Henry Mancini Songbook (V.A.)
Cole Porter Songbook (V.A.)
Cool Jazz (V.A.)
Black Power (V.A.)
The Coolest Rhythm & Blues (V.A.)
Mambo Fever (V.A.)
Norway Nights (V.A.)
Movie Themes Go Disco (V.A.)
The Soul Of Jazz (V.A.)
Swinging Evergreens (V.A.)
The Best Of Talkin' Loud (V.A.)
Kurt Edelhagen - Up Up And Away
Eugen Cicero - Classics In Rhythm
Chick Corea - Electric Chick
George Duke - Keyboard Giant
Astrud Gilberto - Non-Stop To Brazil
Shirley Horn - Swingin'
Horst Jankowski - Walk In The Black Forest
Jimmy Smith - Plays Red Hot Blues
The Swingle Singers - Swinging The Classics
Kai Warner - Fantastic Sound Of
Quincy Jones - Swinging The Big Band
Stephane Grappeli - Tribute To Django Reinhardt
Nat King Cole Trio - Honeysuckle Rose
Horst Jankowski - For Night People Only
Oscar Peterson - Fly Me To The Moon
Antonio Carlos Jobim - One Note Samba
Connie Francis - Cocktail Connie
Lalo Schifrin - Mission Impossible And Other Thrilling Themes
Kai Winding – Jazz For Playboys
Max Greger – Greger’s Groove Party
Max Greger – Hallo Kleines Fraulein
Walter Wanderley – Hammond Bossa From Brazil
George Shearing - Swinging In The Latin Mood
Ingfried Hoffman - Hammond Bond
Old Merry Tale Jazzband - Am Sonntag Will Mein Süsser...
Stan Getz - Body And Soul
Ella Fitzgerald - Lady Be Good
Don Ellis - Soaring
Ella Fitzgerald - Live In San Francisco
Dizzy Gillespie - Live In Berlin
Nina Simone - My Baby Just Cares
Charlie Parker - Now's The Time

Pure Bossa Nova (originally by Universal Music Ltda. Brazil, released in the US by Verve; there's another series out there by the same title with some of the same artists, but the Verve one can be identified by its cool graphics and by the subtitle "A View On The Music Of..."; I have all of these, and they're excellent, if short; 2008)
Antonio Carlos Jobim
Lúcio Alves
Vinicius de Moraes
Sylvia Telles
Walter Wanderley
Tamba Trio
Os Cariocas
Roberto Menescal
Nara Leão
Carlos Lyra

Diva Series (female vocalists, each volume called Diva Series; mid-2000s):
Ultimate Diva Collection (V.A.)
Ella Fitzgerald
Anita O’Day
Dinah Washington
Sarah Vaughan
Nina Simone
Carmen McRae
Billie Holiday
Astrud Gilberto
Blossom Dearie

For Lovers (romantic ballads; mid '00s):
Paris (V.A.)
New York (V.A.)
Rio (V.A.)
Around The World (V.A.)
Christmas (V.A.)
Johnny Hartman
Astrud Gilberto
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
Stan Getz
More Stan Getz
Antonio Carlos Jobim
Louis Armstrong
John Coltrane
More John Coltrane
Ben Webster
Nina Simone
Bill Evans
Chet Baker
Ella Fitzgerald
Charlie Parker
Oscar Peterson
Dinah Washington
Carmen McRae
Billie Holiday

Verve Unmixed (no individual artist comps, but it's worth mentioning anyway: this is a series of four numbered discs plus a Christmas disc that was released to go with a corresponding set called Verve Remixed, with contemporary mixers turned loose on the Verve catalogue; early '00s)

Talkin' Verve (aimed at acid jazzers; late '90s-early '00s):
Roots of Acid Jazz (V.A.)
Swingin’ (V.A.)
With A Twist (V.A.)
Mambo-Mania (V.A.)
Groovy (V.A.)
Cool (V.A.)
Roland Kirk
Quincy Jones
Cal Tjader
Buddy Greco
Les McCann
Walter Wanderley
Dizzy Gillespie
Astrud Gilberto
Jimmy Smith
Wes Montgomery
George Benson
Willie Bobo
Shirley Scott
Lalo Schifrin

Finest Hour (broad cross-section of Verve artists; early '00s)
Anita O’Day
Antonio Carlos Jobim
Art Tatum
Astrud Gilberto
Ben Webster
Benny Carter
Bill Evans
Cannonball Adderley
Carmen McRae
Charles Mingus
Chuck Mangione
Clifford Brown
Count Basie
Dinah Washington
Duke Ellington
Erroll Garner
Fred Astaire
Gato Barbieri
Jimmy Smith
Joe Williams
Mel Torme
Nina Simone
Oscar Peterson
Quincy Jones
Ramsey Lewis
Roland Kirk
Sarah Vaughan
Sonny Rollins
Stan Getz
Tal Farlow
Wes Montgomery
Willie Bobo
Woody Herman

Definitive (this is kind of confusing: it's a series of cross-licensed discs by Verve and Blue Note, and "Definitive" is such a generic title that it's hard to figure out exactly how many there were; early '00s):
Cannonball Adderley
Chet Baker
Clifford Brown
Nat “King” Cole
Stan Getz
Joe Henderson
Bud Powell
George Shearing
Jimmy Smith
Art Tatum
McCoy Tyner
Sarah Vaughan
Dinah Washington
Joe Williams

Ultimate (the gimmick here was to have a famous musician pick the tracks - an idea better suited to a magazine article than an actual CD; 1999 or so):
Charlie Parker
Jimmy Smith
Art Tatum
Shirley Horn
Tony Williams
Oscar Peterson
Sarah Vaughan
Stan Getz
Nina Simone
Ray Brown
Wes Montgomery
Ella Fitzgerald
Billie Holiday
Dinah Washington
Bill Evans
Dizzy Gillespie
Cannonball Adderley
Anita O'Day
Clifford Brown
Bud Powell
Coleman Hawkins
Ben Webster
Joe Williams
Cal Tjader
Lester Young

The Best Of The Verve Years (the title is a rare acknowledgment that many Verve artists only came to the label after having done more important work elsewhere; all of these had titles and graphics that varied by artist, but I believe it's all one series; early '90s):
Joe Williams - Every Day
Stan Getz - The Artistry Of (2 vols.)
Billie Holiday - The Lady In Autumn
Roy Eldridge - Little Jazz
Jimmy Smith - Walk On The Wild Side
Louis Armstrong - Let's Do It
James Cotton (no subtitle)
Illinois Jacquet - Flying Home
Slim Gaillard - Laughing In Rhythm
Dizzy Gillespie - Dizzy's Diamonds
Flip Phillips - Flip Wails

Verve Jazz Masters (even broader cross-section, numbered volumes; early to mid '90s):
1. Louis Armstrong
2. Count Basie
3. Chick Corea
4. Duke Ellington
5. Bill Evans
6. Ella Fitzgerald
7. Erroll Garner
8. Stan Getz
9. Astrud Gilberto
10. Dizzy Gillespie
11. Stephane Grappeli
12. Billie Holiday
13. Antonio Carlos Jobim
14. Wes Montgomery
15. Charlie Parker
16. Oscar Peterson
17. Nina Simone
18. Sarah Vaughan
19. Dinah Washington
20. Introducing Jazz Masters
21. George Benson
22. Billy Eckstine
23. Gil Evans
24. Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
25. Stan Getz & Dizzy Gillespie
26. Lionel Hampton & Oscar Peterson
27. Roland Kirk
28. Charlie Parker Plays Standards
29. Jimmy Smith
30. Lester Young
31. Cannonball Adderley
32. Chet Baker
33. Benny Goodman
34. Coleman Hawkins
35. Johnny Hodges
36. Gerry Mulligan
37. Oscar Peterson Plays Broadway
38. Django Reinhardt
39. Cal Tjader
40. Dinah Washington Sings Standards
41. Tal Farlow
42. Sarah Vaughan: The Jazz Sides
43. Ben Webster
44. Clifford Brown & Max Roach
45. Kenny Burrell
46. Ella Fitzgerald: The Jazz Sides
47. Billie Holiday Sings Standards
48. Oliver Nelson
49. Anita O’Day
50. Sonny Stitt
51. Blossom Dearie
52. Maynard Ferguson
53. Stan Getz Bossa Nova
54. Woody Herman
55. Harry James
56. Herbie Mann
57. George Shearing
58. Nina Simone Sings Nina
59. Toots Thielemans
60. The Collection

Compact Jazz (amazingly broad collection, mid to late '80s, seems to contain lots of acts that aren't strictly Verve, since it was the early days of CDs and labels seem to have been a bit more willing to cross-license):
Count Basie
Chick Corea
Bill Evans
Ella Fitzgerald
Erroll Garner
Stan Getz
Astrud Gilberto
Stephane Grappelli
Billie Holiday
Chuck Mangione
Wes Montgomery
Gerry Mulligan
Oscar Peterson
The Singers Unlimited
Jimmy Smith
The Swingle Singers
Sarah Vaughan
Dinah Washington
Best Of Dixieland
Nina Simone
Ella Fitzgerald/Louis Armstrong
Charlie Parker
Antonio Carlos Jobim
Count Basie Plays The Blues
Best Of Bossa Nova
Dizzy Gillespie
George Benson
Miles Davis
Best Of Latin Jazz
Count Basie & Joe Williams
Chet Baker
Count Basie: The Standards
Arthur Prysock
Duke Ellington & Friends
Buddy Rich
Mel Torme
Harry James
Ella & Duke
Gene Krupa & Buddy Rich
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
Billy Eckstine
Benny Goodman
Ben Webster
Sonny Stitt
Jean-Luc Ponty & Stephane Grappelli
Anita O’Day
Clifford Brown
Best Of The Jazz Vocalists
Modern Jazz Quartet Plus
Chick Corea In The Seventies
George Shearing
Lionel Hampton
Gene Krupa
Dizzy Gillespie Big Band
Oscar Peterson & Friends
Toots Thielemans
Oscar Peterson Plays Jazz Standards
John McLaughlin
Gerry Mulligan and the Concert Jazz Band
Charlie Parker Plays The Blues
Coleman Hawkins & Ben Webster
Quincy Jones
Dinah Washington Sings The Blues
Jimmy Smith Plays The Blues
Michel Legrand
Betty Carter
Sidney Bechet & Friends
Sarah Vaughan Live
Lester Young & The Piano Giants
Bud Powell
Woody Herman
Stan Getz & Friends
Art Blakey
Cannonball Adderley
Django Reinhardt In Brussels
Cal Tjader
Best Of Blues
Best Of The Big Bands
Helen Merrill
Sonny Rollins & Friends
Johnny Hodges
Maynard Ferguson
Stan Getz With Strings