(Yes, I am aware this is jazz/pop, and not pure Jazz).
First, the Citizen Steely Dan: 1972-1980 contains what may very well be the best Amazon review I have ever come across. The 4 CD box set itself is simply all of the Dan’s studio releases compiled on 4 discs. Simply stated, its one of the greatest catalogues in the annals of pop/jazz music history.
The review sums up the box set thusly:
"As should be expected, Steely Dan’s four-disc box set isn’t like all the other rectangular pop-music retrospectives/tombstones. Not for Messrs. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen the typically bloated, ego-jacking crate padded out with childhood recordings, suspect cassette demos, and broken-down session takes, annotated by candid snapshots purloined from some distant relative. Nope, this is simply Dan Mach 1′s complete oeuvre, from the craft-conscious pop of Can’t Buy a Thrill to the jazzy torpor of Gaucho, laid out chronologically and neatly compressed into four discs, with not even a handful of "bonus" cuts (a live recording of "Bodhisattva," a ’71 demo of "Everyone’s Gone to the Movies" with Flo and Eddie on the side, "Here at the Western World," a Royal Scam outtake, and their obligatory soundtrack cameo, "FM") to color outside the lines. The liner notes are suitably smart, even if they occasionally strain trying to stay astride of B&F’s patent sardonicism. For the aspiring Steely Dan completist, a fine place to start."
I can’t find anything in there I disagree with.
If you are somehow unfamiliar with the Dan, avoid the greatest hits discs. The way to check them out is a random album; I suggest either Countdown To Ecstasy or Katy Lied BEFORE you hit the pristine studio exercises like Aja or Gaucho. All of these are a mere $2 or $3 used. If you find you like them, then you must own the 4 CD box set.
Up second, this fascinating exposition about the studio wizardary of the Dan during the glory years:
UPDATE Februrary 24, 2007 7:53pm EST
I forgot to mention, I saw them this Summer at Jones Beach Theater, August 17, 2006. Awesome show! I threw the playlist up and a few camera phone snaps