June 01, 1998 12:00 PM

Various Artists (The Smithsonian Collection of Recordings)

This five-CD, 104-track boxed set is a godsend for fans of pop music in general and jazz in particular. Even if you argue with the lineup of singers, there’s plenty of enjoyment to be had from selections by stars like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Williams. It’s also great to hear such relatively obscure vocalists as Julia Lee, Ivie Anderson and Hot Lips Page. (One quibble: Why include Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye and Mahalia Jackson, whose connection to jazz is tangential, when Frank Sinatra, Nina Simone and Mildred Bailey appear only once, and Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee and Bobby Short don’t appear at all?) The collection also includes strong performances by the sidemen who backed up the singers: trumpeter Bunny Berigan, pianist Teddy Wilson, saxophonist Lester Young and others. Whether you listen to the splendid voices on the surface or the musicians playing behind them, this set is a tribute to the best of popular music.

Bottom Line: Fine collection that will leave you humming

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