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The War: A Ken Burns Film – The Soundtrack

United States
English
7-Part, 15-Hour Documentary On WW II, Premieres September 23rd On PBS

Soundtrack CD Features New Recordings By By Norah Jones And Wynton Marsalis

Inlcudes WW II-Era Music From Count Basie, Bing Crosby, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Kay Starr, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Aaron Copland, Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble, And More

The War, A Ken Burns Film – The Soundtrack arrives in stores September 11, 2007, on Legacy Recordings

“Time and again we found that footage and photographs, however graphic, and words, however eloquent, could not alone do justice to the magnitude of the war’s devastation, could not fully convey the barbarity, bravery, depravity, resilience, and generosity of spirit that the conflict evoked in the millions of human beings who were touched by it.”

–Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, from their liner notes to THE WAR soundtrack album

19 September 2007 - The most eagerly awaited television event of the fall season premieres September 23rd on PBS, when THE WAR, a Ken Burns film, begins its seven-part airing. In conjunction with the series, THE WAR soundtrack album will arrive in stores September 11th on Legacy Recordings, a division of SONY BMG MUSIC ENTERTAIN¬MENT.

THE WAR tells the story of the Second World War through the personal accounts of a handful of men and women from four quintessentially American towns. The series explores the most intimate human dimensions of the greatest cataclysm in history, and demonstrates that in extraordinary times, there are no ordinary lives.

Music is an integral element in the success of the award-winning documentary films produced and directed by Ken Burns, and three of his most recent projects have been accompanied by soundtrack albums released by Legacy Recordings: JAZZ (2001, certified multi-platinum), Mark Twain (2001), and Horatio’s Drive (2003).

Every musical track has been selected to underscore events or themes in the film. There is an eclectic mix of vintage era jazz (Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Nat ‘King’ Cole), popular singers (Kay Starr, Bing Crosby with guitarist Les Paul), classical works by composers Aaron Copland, Sir William Walton, and modernist Arvo Pärt, and evocative performances by Edgar Meyer (and friends) and Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble.

The album is also distinguished by three Wynton Marsalis compositions, and a previously unreleased performance by Norah Jones on vocal and piano, entitled “American Anthem.” As explained in the liner notes, “Gene Scheer’s ‘American Anthem’ became a touchstone that we returned to again and again, a reflection of the complex sentiments in our witnesses’ heartfelt testimonies. Norah Jones’ beautiful rendition of the song gave us the opportunity to hear Scheer’s affecting lyrics, which seemed to give voice to the sacrifice, selflessness, and bravery of those we have tried to honor, the men and women who fought and won that necessary war on our behalf.”

Six years in the making, the series is nothing less than “a new masterpiece,” declared TV Guide. “THE WAR promises to be an unforgettable experience and could well rival Burns’s breakthrough landmark The Civil War in its simple yet profound artistry and universal appeal,” referring to the landmark 1990 series that won four Emmy Awards and two Grammy Awards.

THE WAR story unfolds on the frontlines of the European and Pacific theatres of battle abroad, and on the homefront in four American towns: Mobile, Alabama; Sacramento, California; Waterbury, Connecticut; and Luverne, Minnesota. The viewer is compelled to bear witness, to step directly into the lives of those telling the story – the surviving soldiers from those towns, as well as those who lived at home through the war. The music complements the storyline; every title on the soundtrack album was chosen for reasons that are explained throughout the liner notes essay.

For example, “The incomparable Wynton Marsalis generously agreed to compose and help perform a number of pieces especially for us,” they write. “Thanks to him, the Americans in our film go to war accompanied by strains suffused with the music that best expresses our country’s grief and tragedy, joy and triumph – the blues.”

On the other hand, Sir William Walton’s funereal Passacaglia, the Death of Falstaff, “seems to signify both the enormity of the war’s tragedy, and the intimacy of the suffering borne by individuals around the globe.” Walton actually composed it during the Blitz of 1940-41, for the film Henry V, starring Laurence Olivier, which premiered in London at the height of the war, in November 1944. The plaintive melody of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s Variations for the Healing of Arinuska conveys the wartime anxiety he experienced as a child, as recorded by Estonian pianist Kalle Randalu in 1993.

Two other contemporary recordings are well-utilized by Burns. “Blue as the Turquoise Night of Neyshabur,” by Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble, “fuses the sounds of Western stringed instruments with tabla drums of India and lutes of the Middle East,” the notes explain. “The sense of foreboding and mystery that pervades this piece amplified and intensified some of the film’s darkest moments.” Another contemporary classical musician, bassist Edgar Meyer, is joined “In the Nick of Time” by Joshua Bell on violin, Sam Bush on mandolin, and guitarist Mike Marshall. Cut in 1998, the track “animated some of the film’s most significant action scenes, particularly the crossing of the English Channel on June 6, 1944 – D Day.”

The big band swingtime era selections – among them Benny Goodman’s “The Wang Wang Blues,” Count Basie’s “How Long Blues” and “Basie Boogie,” Kay Starr’s “If I Could Be With You,” Nat “King” Cole’s “If You Can’t Smile And Say Yes” (via Louis Jordan), as well as the more plaintive “Solitude” by Duke Ellington, and the Bing Crosby/Les Paul duet, “It’s Been A Long, Long Time” – embodied “the quintessentially American spirit of affirmation in the face of adversity.” Jazz provided a link between the soldiers who heard the music on Armed Forces Radio and the folks back home – as Louis Armstrong sang back in 1936, “Rhythm Saved the World.”

“The music we chose for the film,” Burns and Novick write, “and for this soundtrack, is an essential element in our attempt to tell the story of the war. Each composition, each recording, helped us breathe life into old photographs and archival footage, added resonance to the testimonies of our witnesses… Again and again, we found that music – freshly created for our film as well as true to the period and gleaned from sources all across the world – helped us immeasurably in trying to describe the indescribable and express the inexpressible.”

THE WAR, A KEN BURNS FILM - THE SOUNDTRACK (Legacy Recordings 88697 10203 2)

Title Artist(s) Recorded

  • 1. * American Anthem Norah Jones Dec. 2006
  • 2. # Walton: The Death Of Falstaff Leonard Slatkin & London Philharmonic Orchestra Aug. 1989
  • 3. The Wang Wang Blues Benny Goodman Sextet March 1942
  • 4. * Movin’ Back Wynton Marsalis June 2005
  • 5. How Long Blues Count Basie Nov. 1938
  • 6. In The Nick Of Time Joshua Bell, Edgar Meyer, Sam Bush, Mike Marshall Aug. 1998
  • 7. It’s Been A Long, Long Time Bing Crosby, with Les Paul ~ Oct. 1945
  • 8. * America My Home Wynton Marsalis June 2005
  • 9. If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight) Kay Starr, acc, by the Capitol International Jazzmen March 1945
  • 10. # Blue As The Turquoise Night Of Neyshabur Yo-Yo Ma & The Silk Road Ensemble Aug. 2001
  • 11. * Until I’m In Your Arms Again Wynton Marsalis Dec. 2005
  • 12. Pärt: Variations For The Healing Of Arinuska Kalle Randalu, piano 1993
  • 13. Basie Boogie Count Basie & His Orch. July 1941
  • 14. Solitude Duke Ellington & His Orch. Sept. 1934
  • 15. # Copland: Concerto For Clarinet, Strings, Harp And Piano Benny Goodman, Aaron Copland & Columbia Symph. Orch. Nov. 1950
  • 16. If You Can’t Smile And Say Yes The King Cole Trio Feb. 1945
  • 17. * American Anthem Amanda Forsyth & Bill Charlap


* indicates previously unreleased performance

# indicates edited performance

On the same date as the release of THE WAR soundtrack album, Legacy will also issue three companion collections:

  • • Sentimental Journey: Hits From The Second World War
  • • I’m Beginning To See The Light: Dance Hits From The Second World War
  • • Songs Without Words: Classical Music From The War


THE WAR soundtrack album and the three companion albums will be sold individually. They will also be packaged together in a special commemorative box set featuring a 24-page booklet essay by Ken Burns interspersed with 17 rare and moving images from the period, and a PBS Series Viewers Guide.

The War, A Ken Burns Film: www.pbs.org/thewar
Soundtrack Of The War, A Ken Burns Film Inspires Three Companion CDs And A Box Set:
Previous Entry
Soundtrack Of The War, A Ken Burns Film Inspires Three Companion CDs And A Box Set:

  • • Sentimental Journey: Hits From The Second World War
  • • I’m Beginning To See The Light: Dance Hits From The Second World War
  • • Songs Without Words: Classical Music From The War
Each disc sold separately or …

Soundtrack Of The War, A Ken Burns Film Inspires Three Companion CDs And A Box Set:
Next Entry
Soundtrack Of The War, A Ken Burns Film Inspires Three Companion CDs And A Box Set:

  • • Sentimental Journey: Hits From The Second World War
  • • I’m Beginning To See The Light: Dance Hits From The Second World War
  • • Songs Without Words: Classical Music From The War
Each disc sold separately or …

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