1) Why have you chosen to focus on acquiring footage exclusively outside the U.S. for Jazz Icons?
It wasn’t a question of us choosing to go outside the United States, it was mainly due to the fact that there are virtually no complete performances filmed in America during the 1950s and 1960s. Since the 1930s, Europe has had a love affair with jazz; often treating the American jazz artists like foreign dignitaries when they would visit and tour. During the 1950s and 1960s most of the European TV stations were government-controlled, didn’t depend on ad revenue to sustain them, and therefore could allow an artist the luxury to perform concerts of an hour or more, expressing their music on a deeper level. In America (especially in the 1950s and early 1960s), the best TV exposure these jazz artists could hope for (with the exception of National Education TV/ PBS) would be a few numbers on a network variety show sandwiched between ads for cigarettes or laundry detergent.
Our company, Reelin’ In The Years Productions has been archiving and preserving music footage for many years and has amassed a library of over 10,000 hours of filmed performances from over 30 TV stations that we exclusively represent from Europe, Japan & Australia. In many cases the audio and visual quality is far superior to what was seen here in the states.
2) Why have you moved into classic jazz DVDs when you have established RITY so successfully in the blues, soul and R&B genres?
We don’t choose to release a DVD based on the genre of music, but rather on the quality and historical significance of the performances. The reason that we produced our American Folk Blues Festival 1962 – 1969 DVD series (which went on to receive a GRAMMY® nomination) was because of the legendary nature of the footage. In the case of the Jazz Icons DVD series, the concerts are not only phenomenal musically, but they also capture some of the most important musicians and composers in American history at the height of their art. We feel that these concerts deserved to be released for many reasons: not only because of the incredible performances, but also because of their value as historical artifacts and educational tools.
That said, to do a series of jazz DVDs correctly, you need to clear the artists, restore the footage (both sound and video) and present the DVDs in a way that is entertaining, informative and respectful of the artists and their body of work. Unfortunately, until TDK approached us with the idea for the series, most companies wanted to cut corners in one way or another. TDK understood our desire to do it right, and as a result the Jazz Icons DVDs have been re-mastered and include 16-page booklets with informative liner notes, never before seen photographs and moving forewords by the artists’ children.
3) How were you able to clear the footage for release? What did you do when the artists have passed on?
With all of our DVDs it’s very important for us to make sure that the artists’ clearances are done right. Since the only living featured artist on the nine Jazz Icons DVDs is Quincy Jones, we dealt with his office. In the case of the deceased artists, we either worked directly with their estates or with the attorneys who handled the artist’s trust. Although this rarely happens in DVD and CD releases, it was also important to us to clear each of the side-musicians (which can be very difficult since in some cases that can include as many as 20 band members), to achieve this, we negotiated a deal with the American Federation of Musicians. One of things we’re most proud about these releases is that everyone from the featured artists to every other musician on stage is getting paid!
4) How did you discover these incredibly rare concerts?
At Reelin’ In The Years Productions, part of our job (the part we enjoy the most) is to uncover the many classic music performance treasures long ago lost, mislabelled or forgotten in our clients’ vaults. It’s our job through research, investigation, exploration and sometimes dumb luck to find them and this can involve anything from viewing rows of unlabelled tapes to spending hours and hours in the libraries of the world. It can be tedious and frustrating looking for that rumoured lost “Holy Grail” of music footage, but when it pays off there is nothing like it.
All of the concerts in the Jazz Icons series had been lost for many years (some close to 50), but the Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers discovery is the most unique in the entire series. We had originally cleared an Art Blakey concert from 1965 that featured Freddie Hubbard on trumpet. As with all of our DVDs, we always go back to the original master for the best possible quality. We requested the master tape from Belgium, and it was sent directly to our editor, Steve Scoville. Steve, who is not only a great editor but also a Jazz trumpet player himself, called us to say that he was sent the wrong tape. He said, “That’s definitely not Freddie Hubbard on the screen.” After panicking, we viewed the tape and to our great surprise, we discovered a previously unknown and unaired 1958 show featuring Lee Morgan on trumpet, as well as Benny Golson, Bobby Timmons and Jymie Merritt, that had been lost for 48 years. This was the legendary version of Art Blakey and The Jazz messengers that only 30 days prior to this concert had recorded the classic Moanin’ album and was only together for six months. It was sent by “accident” due to the fact that there were two separate films mistakenly labelled as the 1965 show.
In the case of the Buddy Rich concert, we knew from our research that Buddy played Holland in 1978, and that one of our clients had videotaped the concert for television. Unfortunately, they had only broadcast a small portion of the concert and had no idea if the master elements for the entire concert still existed or where they were stored. During the preproduction for Jazz Icons our client phoned to let us know that a previously forgotten storage facility had been located in the middle of Holland, so we asked if the Buddy Rich tape might be there. They dispatched a technician from Amsterdam who drove all the way out to the warehouse only to find that there wasn’t a key to the premises. He then drove back to Amsterdam, found the lost key, drove back out to the facility, and towards the back of the warehouse found the amazing 74-minute Buddy Rich concert featuring members of Buddy’s “Killer Force” band. As a result, a lost tape in a forgotten storage facility is now the Jazz Icons: Buddy Rich DVD.
With the Quincy Jones DVD, it just took extra persistence to find the missing show. We already had 20 minutes of the 1960 concert from Switzerland in our archives, but because of the look and feel of the show, we suspected that additional footage existed at one time. We contacted our clients in Switzerland to search for more of the program and were told that no more footage existed. We asked them to search again and to dig deeper into the archive and they located a version of the performance that was nearly an hour long. As a result we now could offer a complete Quincy Jones big band concert featuring his “dream band” – some of the greatest jazz players in the world hand-picked by Q himself.
5) What great footage is out there that you know of and would like to release?
The Jazz Icons series was planned to be an ongoing entity, not just these first nine DVDs. If the first nine are successful, we have uncovered many more treasures to release in the next series. Of course, artist clearances are always a factor, but if possible some of the titles we would like to release include an incredible 60-minute concert from 1966 with Ella Fitzgerald & Duke Ellington, 90 minutes of live and in-studio concerts from 1964 with Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy (filmed a few months before Dolphy passed away) and various concerts of John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan & (Rahsaan) Roland Kirk all filmed in the early to mid 1960s.
The Reelin’ In The Years Productions archive is not limited to Jazz performances. There are numerous concerts in our vaults that we hope one day to secure all clearances to release including three phenomenal James Brown concerts from 1966, 1967 and 1971, two classic Bee Gees concerts (both with orchestras) from 1971 and 1974, a one-hour Black Sabbath concert from 1970 and a U2 concert filmed during their first tour of Europe in 1981.
For further information please visit www.jazzicons.com.
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