The one-hour program aired on Sunday, December 8, 1957, at 5 p.m. Eastern Time, live from CBS Studio 58, the Town Theater at 851 Ninth Avenue in New York City. The show was hosted by New York Herald-Tribune media critic John Crosby, directed by Jack Smight, and produced by Robert Herridge. Jazz writers Nat Hentoff and Whitney Balliett were the primary music consultants.
The Sound of Jazz brought together 32 leading musicians from the swing era including Count Basie, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Billie Holiday, Jo Jones and Coleman Hawkins; the Chicago style players of the same era, like Henry Red Allen, Vic Dickenson, and Pee Wee Russell; and younger 'modernist' musicians such as Gerry Mulligan, Thelonious Monk, and Jimmy Giuffre. These players played separately with their compatriots (see the song list below), but also joined to combine various styles in one group, such as Red Allen's group and the group backing Billie Holiday on Fine and Mellow .
The show's performance of Fine and Mellow reunited Billie Holiday with her estranged long-time friend Lester Young for the final time. Jazz critic Nat Hentoff, who was involved in the show, recalled that during rehearsals, they kept to opposite sides of the room. Young was very weak, and Hentoff told him to skip the big band section of the show and that he could sit while performing in the group with Holiday.
The Sound of Jazz was also released as a recording by CBS' then-subsidiary, Columbia Records, although the gramophone version is actually a rehearsal that preceded the telecast (recorded on December 4th at Columbia's 30th Street studios), and is not its soundtrack. The LP was released in 1958 as Columbia CL 1098, with liner notes by Eric Larrabee, and the cover photo by Tom Yee. It is the only LP of a Seven Lively Arts presentation. The recording does not include all of the performers on the TV show (Mulligan refused to participate because no additional payment was involved) and includes several who were not on the show. Bassist Walter Page rehearsed, and is featured on the LP, but collapsed on the way to the studio for the telecast. In the early 1980's Bob Hilbert's Pumpkin Records released the LP The Real Sound of Jazz which is the actual soundtrack to the television program.