Jazz Icons DVD Reviews
“This is like the discovery of a bonanza of previously unknown manuscripts of plays by William Shakespeare.”
Wall Street Journal
This project demonstrates the quality that DVD reissues can achieve when they are produced with dedication, skill and the understanding that jazz listeners want not just music, but also information.
The first nine releases hold many delights — a magnificent Ella Fitzgerald, a crisp Quincy Jones big band — but none more thrilling than a concert by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in Brussels in 1958—one of the fiercest groups of the hard-bop era.
New York Times
More than mere DVDs, the newly released “Jazz Icons” are time machines - and a jazz fan’s fantasy come true.
A magnificent series that any self-respecting jazz fan shouldn’t be without.
The first nine DVDs in the Jazz Icons™ series are gems—each one in their own right.
The surfacing of this incredible set of videos from European concert and TV appearances is almost as exciting as last year’s discovery of the lost Monk/Coltrane tapes.
—Paul De Barros
Historic and vital.
All About Jazz
High quality visuals and exceptional sound with few flaws.
— Geoff Chapman
Jazz Icons, is an absolute gem...Quality-wise, the DVDs are tops—those of us who’ve known only color TV forget how crisp live black-and-white footage can be...The performances are mesmerizing.
— Kelly Davis
San Diego CityBeat
With incredible performances, remastered sound and video, and in-depth liner notes by top jazz writers, these films are already a significant addition to the jazz canon.
A landmark in jazz concert DVD presentation.
"The release of Jazz Icons is like the unearthing of a musical time capsule, an audio-visual treasure trove of the music that changed the world. From Big Band and Bebop to Dixieland and Cool, it’s all here and it all swings. These jazz legends from Dizzy and Count to Louis and Ella, to name a few, are the Bachs and Beethovens of our generation, and their music was adopted as the world’s Esperanto. It does my heart good to know these performances have been so carefully preserved and so lovingly presented in this series. Seeing these giants of twentieth century music, my heroes and my friends, performing full concerts in their prime gives me not only a new opportunity to appreciate their timeless artistry and a joyful feeling of nostalgia, but a deep spiritual hope. Now our children and their children can experience firsthand the genius of the original jazz masters, and have the opportunity to study and learn from the greats themselves. From an educational standpoint this series is a gift to our culture that cannot be fully appreciated. I’m honored to be a featured part of it, but I’m more thrilled just to sit down and watch it with my grandkids."
(Full Quote- August 2006)
Read the full articles by clicking on each link or scrolling down the page.
Jazz Concerts of the '50s to '70s,
Now Seen as Well as Heard
By NAT HENTOFF
November 30, 2006; Page D8
For years, jazz musicians coming back from Europe have told me of being part of concerts — televised live by state-owned stations in Europe — that have been among the most deeply satisfying of their musical lives. Uninterrupted by commercials and produced without concern for competitive audience ratings, these gigs freed the musicians from time constraints. I've long regretted not having been able to see any of these performances, but now the first nine "Jazz Icons" DVDs have resoundingly arrived — produced by Reelin' in the Years Productions on the international TDK label, distributed in North America by Naxos America.
Filmed in Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Holland, Denmark and Switzerland from the 1950s into the 1970s, "none of these performances" — say the ceaseless explorers of Reelin' in the Years, David Pack and Phillip Galloway — "has ever been officially released, and in many cases, the material was never originally broadcast."
To this jazz enthusiast, this is like the discovery of a bonanza of previously unknown manuscripts of plays by William Shakespeare. Among the international icons and their sidemen are Louis Armstrong; Dizzy Gillespie; Count Basie; Thelonious Monk; Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers; Buddy Rich; Quincy Jones; Ella Fitzgerald; and Chet Baker.
The nine DVDs are available in a boxed set, but each can be purchased individually.
My recommendations among them begin with the DVD of the 1960 Quincy Jones ensemble, which Mr. Jones understandably called his "dream band." In the brass section (whose élan reminded me of Duke Ellington's "Braggin' in Brass" tribute to his horn men) are trumpeters Clark Terry and Benny Bailey and trombonists Quentin Jackson and Melba Liston (the latter long ago having proved that jazzwomen do have "chops"). And always going for a home run, there is Phil Woods on alto saxophone.
Also of historic and present joy are the 1958 Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers with the thrilling (I mean the term denotatively) trumpet of Lee Morgan — with Mr. Blakey, as usual, on fire on drums. Also, the full presence of Thelonious Monk in a 1966 concert bears out what I tell listeners too young to have ever seen Monk — that he was almost as mesmerizing to watch as to hear.
On the Ella Fitzgerald DVD, there are two concerts (1957 and 1963) in which Ella, reveling in her incomparable mastery of jazz time and swiftly inventive wit, is backed on the earlier set by my choice of a "dream rhythm section": Jo Jones, Ray Brown and Oscar Peterson.
Dizzy Gillespie, too, was best seen as well as heard to get the full, flavorful impact of his delight in continually surprising himself during his 1958 and 1970 concerts.
Louis Armstrong, as Wynton Marsalis says of Satchmo's 1959 "Jazz Icon" concert, "is the most modern trumpet player we've ever heard and the most ancient at the same time...this DVD captures that intangible power and allows us to gaze upon it in wonder."
The Count Basie band of 1962 brings me back to that time when, going down the stairs into New York's Birdland, the swinging gusts from the bandstand below almost blew me against the wall. And Buddy Rich, who could have swung a military band, bursts into view with his 1978 big band, which he called, with manifest pride, the "Killer Force."
Also among these first nine "Icons," with more to come, are 1964 and 1979 performances by Chet Baker, whose trumpet playing and singing have, for me, been an acquired taste that I've not been able to master. But many have, and still do.
Not only are these performances previously unavailable — to most of us, unknown to have existed — and invaluable contributions to the history of the music, but they also serve as a much needed model of economic justice to jazz sidemen. Uniquely, in my experience, each sideman in these concerts, as producers Peck and Galloway note, is being paid directly via the American Federation of Musicians — or if they're dead — through the musicians' estates. The reason that so many jazz sidemen who have been sidelined — for reasons of health or changing fashions — are often hard put to pay their rent is that sidemen do not get royalty payments from sales of recordings, and relatively few of them ever become leaders of bands or combos.
Also part of the care Messrs. Peck and Galloway have taken with these DVD additions to the jazz heritage is the quality of the sound in the remastering and the knowledgeable liner notes, which include both the commentary of jazz critics and some of the reminiscences of colleagues and family members of the icons.
In the Thelonious Monk booklet, Don Sickler — long associated with Monk and his family, and himself a trumpet player and an arranger of Monk's music — has this illuminating passage, quoting drummer Ben Riley, who's on the DVD:
"Monk lets the music breathe. He doesn't clutter anything up. He leaves space for you to create. John Coltrane said that playing with Thelonious Monk was like opening a door and stepping into a room, and there was no floor. So now you have to figure how to stand up on your own." (Duke Ellington, a major influence on Monk, used to say to a sideman asking for instructions on how to solo on a wholly new piece of Duke's music: "Listen, sweetie, listen!")
Having opened doors to a pantheon of jazz creators with this first series of "Jazz Icons," Messrs. Peck and Galloway are trying to make arrangements to get artists' and other clearances to release "an incredible 60-minute concert from 1966 with Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington; various concerts of John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan and (Rahsaan) Roland Kirk; and 90 minutes of live and in-studio concerts from 1964 with Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy, filmed a few months before Dolphy passed away." I heard about that Dolphy concert from one of Mingus's sidemen, who told me knowing that I had had the privilege of recording the often astonishing Dolphy: "Eric that day went beyond anything he's ever done before!"
Reelin' in the Years Productions does not focus solely on jazz. Messrs. Peck and Galloway have a library of more than 10,000 filmed performances from, they note, "over 30 TV stations that we exclusively represent from Europe, Japan and Australia." Among their previous releases are "American Folk Blues Festival 1962-69" and three James Brown "soul" concerts from 1966 to 1971.
Who knows? Maybe somewhere there is a recording of the legendary New Orleans trumpet player Buddy Bolden, whose horn on the streets could be heard for 10 miles — or so I was told by musicians there remembering tales of their boyhoods. If such a recording exists, Messrs. Peck and Galloway will find it.
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DVD series of vintage 'Jazz Icons' takes Quincy Jones back to his roots
By CHARLES GANS
December 29, 2006
NEW YORK (AP) - The memories come flashing back when Quincy Jones watches the DVD of himself as a young man directing his "dream" jazz big band that barnstormed through Europe in 1960 after unrest in Paris forced the musical they were performing in to close.
Jones recalls that year as a turning point in his career before he went on to become an acclaimed Hollywood and TV composer, producer of pop megahits such as Michael Jackson's "Thriller," and entertainment industry mogul.
"Quincy Jones - Live in '60," is one of nine DVDs in the recently released "Jazz Icons" series featuring long-lost concert and studio film footage from the 1950s through the 1970s of such influential jazz artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Chet Baker. The film was uncovered in European TV vaults and nearly all of the material is being released officially for the first time.
The series' producers, San Diego-based Reelin' in the Years Productions, believe the DVD contains the only known film footage of Jones' 1959-61 big band. The DVD showcases Jones' tight ensemble arrangements and colourful orchestrations, including piccolo-flute duets on "Lester Leaps In," Julius Watkins' French horn solo on "Everybody's Blues," and fluegelhorn and muted trumpet backgrounds on the ballad "The Gypsy" featuring alto saxophonist Phil Woods.
"Quincy Jones is internationally acclaimed as one of the greatest arrangers in history," said "Jazz Icons" co-producer Phil Galloway. "But people don't remember him so much as a great big-band leader, and his 1960 big band is revered as one of the great all-time big bands."
Jones, the only one of the "Jazz Icons" headliners still alive, says that watching the two 1960 concerts filmed in Belgium and Switzerland evokes "a whole collage of emotions."
"That's 40 years ago, and it hits you hard. Number one, I'd kill for that waistline. I was 118 pounds then. Now I'm about 218," laughed the 73-year-old Jones, speaking by telephone from his Los Angeles home. "It reminds me of all the struggles we went through, the good times and the bad times."
In 1959, Jones, a trumpeter who had established a reputation as a composer-arranger for Count Basie, Duke Ellington and his old Seattle buddy Ray Charles, got his big break when producer John Hammond asked him to put together a big band for Harold Arlen's blues musical, "Free and Easy," which was to tour Europe before coming to Broadway.
"I had some of the best musicians in the world, starting with a man that taught me when I was 13 years old how to put the trumpet on my mouth, Clark Terry ... who was Miles Davis' influence too," Jones recalled. "Clark and (trombonist) Quentin Jackson left Duke Ellington to come with my band and that's the biggest honour I ever had in my life."
Despite rave reviews, the musical was forced to close in February 1960, a few weeks after its official Paris opening, when police and soldiers filled the streets to quell unrest over the government's Algeria policy.
The producers said "we're going home in two days, and I said, 'No, we're staying.' You had to be 26 to do something like that," said Jones. "I had 30 people I was responsible for, with dogs and wives and mothers. ... We were stranded in Europe for 10 months, and I was just totally idealistic, saying we will make it because of the music. We were like gypsies."
Without an agent, Jones patched together gigs as he went along. One promoter ran off with the band's advance money. Jones went deeply into debt to cover the band's expenses.
"At one point in Turku, Finland, I came that close to suicide," said Jones. "But I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world because it was an amazing experience. It will either kill you or it will make you stronger. ... I learned a lot."
After Jones returned to the U.S., Mercury Records president Irving Green helped him get back on his feet with a personal loan and a job as the label's music director.
"He said, 'Quincy, it's called the music business. You've dealt with the music, now I'm going to show you what the business is about because you can't make it without that.' "
In 1964, Jones opened new doors for blacks in the music industry when he became Mercury's vice-president and also wrote his first film score, for director Sidney Lumet's "The Pawnbroker," prompting him to move to Los Angeles.
Today, despite his pop-music success, Jones has never abandoned his first love - jazz - and regrets that young people get so little exposure to the music.
"One thing that's concerned me my whole life is that every country in the world has adopted the American jazz and blues as their Esperanto, and the people that know the least about it are in our country where it came from," Jones said.
That's why he's enthusiastically welcomed the "Jazz Icons" series, which he has shown to his grandchildren and endorsed as "a gift to our culture" in a publicity blurb.
Producers David Peck and Galloway began work on "Jazz Icons" two years ago after the TDK label offered to invest in a jazz series drawn from Reelin' in the Years' vast library of music film footage from some 30 TV stations outside the U.S.
The producers made it a point to obtain clearances and pay royalties to all the headliners and side-musicians or their estates. Some of the artists' children such as T.S. Monk wrote forewords and contributed rare family photographs for the booklets accompanying each DVD which feature detailed essays by leading jazz writers.
The producers wanted to present the most influential jazz artists in their prime by going back to the Golden Age of Jazz in the '50s and '60s, when many of the music's founding fathers were still active alongside the bebop pioneers and their successors.In the U.S., before the emergence of PBS and cable TV, U.S. television largely ignored jazz except for the occasional number by an Armstrong or Fitzgerald sandwiched between the ads, puppets and comedians on network variety programs like "The Ed Sullivan Show." But in Europe, where jazz had always been treated with more respect, the government-run stations allowed the musicians to showcase their repertoire in concerts of up to an hour.
Through persistent detective work, Peck and Galloway unearthed historic footage that had been gathering dust in European television archives. Their finds included the earliest known complete Fitzgerald performance on film, taped by Belgium's RTBF in 1957, and another Belgian TV production from 1959 that is one of the only complete concerts on film by Armstrong and his All-Stars from the 1950s. Some of the footage, including a 1978 concert in Holland featuring Buddy Rich's "Killer Force" big band, was never broadcast.
Peck says the series' "holy grail" is the Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers DVD. Originally, the producers thought they were getting a 1965 Blakey concert from Belgium featuring trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, but when they checked the master tape they discovered it had been mislabelled. By "accident" they had been sent a previously unknown and unaired tape of a 1958 Blakey concert - the only known footage of the drummer's legendary Messengers lineup with trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenor saxophonist Benny Golson and pianist Bobby Timmons filmed just a month after the group recorded the classic hard-bop "Moanin"' album.
The producers hope to release a second series of DVDs in 2007, pending clearances, by such jazz greats as Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and Cannonball Adderley.
"I just give them all the props in the world for creating the series because it helps us get a perspective ... about our roots," said Jones. "I tell the youngsters if you know where you're coming from it's going to be easier to get where you're going.
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Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers- Live In ’58
by Nate Chinen
New York Times- October 15, 2006
YouTube and Google Video have already made this a good year for scouting out jazz on film. Now there’s “Jazz Icons,” a DVD series produced by Reelin’ in the Years and culled from vintage European television broadcasts. The first nine releases hold many delights — a magnificent Ella Fitzgerald, a crisp Quincy Jones big band — but none more thrilling than a concert by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in Brussels in 1958. It is the only known film of the short-lived version of the band that was assembled by the tenor saxophonist Benny Golson and included Mr. Golson’s fellow Philadelphians Lee Morgan on trumpet, Bobby Timmons on piano and Jymie Merritt on bass. A month earlier, Blue Note Records had issued their landmark album, “Moanin’,” and Morgan, playing the title track in Belgium, begins and ends his solo with the same tart phrases he used on the recording. He looks and sounds brilliant, like everyone else in the band. From start to finish, though, this is Blakey’s show; somewhere in the climax of “A Night in Tunisia,” he plays emphatically enough to collapse one of his cymbal stands. There could hardly be a better capstone to the concert, which furthers the case for the 1958 Jazz Messengers as one of the fiercest groups of the hard-bop era.
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Mojo Magazine (UK)
The Grand Tour
A landmark in jazz concert DVD presentation spanning three decades. Fred Dellar is impressed.
Quincy Jones • Live in '60
Buddy Rich • Live in '78
Thelonious Monk • Live in '66
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers • Live in '58
“An unearthed musical time capsule—an audio-visual treasure trove of music that changed the world," Quincy Jones says on this frequently astounding series of jazz concerts, none of which have ever appeared on home video or DVD before. Jones's Live In '60 reveals that his sometimes sweater-clad band, which toured Europe that year, didn't just play— it virtually exploded on-stage. Opener "Birth Of A Band," with its torrid two-tenor battle, is rocket-fuel stuff, a stellar 18-piece band with two major female talents in pianist Patti Bown and trombonisit Melba Liston booting their way to glory. Later, Clark Terry steps forward for a fluent flugelhorn contribution to Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'" that, along with Phil Wood's cultured alto workout on "The Gypsy" and a final, blazing, "Big Red," confirms Q's belief that, "this is the best band I ever had."
Buddy Rich’s Killer Force band of the late ’70s could be equally ferocious. A youthful ensemble, in sax hero Steve Marcus they had a player able to shape solos that lived in the memory — as heard at a Dutch concert on his soprano work in John La Barbera's Best Coast jazz-waltz. But ultimately this band owed everything to its drummer-leader. And, indeed, the whole band plays percussion on a show-stopping version of Joe Zawinul's "Birdland," one of Killer Force’s most requested items.
All of which is a long way from drummer Ben Riley’s predicament on the Thelonious Monk quartet set. His kit didn’t make it on to the plane for the Norwegian gig that comprises half the Monk DVD, so he made do with a minimal, hastily assembled set of drums. Like many of the pianist's outings, it's a fascinating affair, with Monk employing his cross-hands technique to produce those trademark dissonant sounds on pieces like "Lulu's Back In Town" and "Blue Monk," before quitting the piano and going walkabout while Riley, bassist Larry Gales and tenor saxman Charlie Rouse handle the main business.
Art Blakey, represented in the series by a never-aired Belgium concert, was not merely a drummer but a catalyst whose Messengers acted as a proving ground for some of jazz’s best talents. The 1958 edition of the star-studded band featured Lee Morgan (trumpet), Benny Golson (tenor sax), Bobby Timmons (piano) and Jymie Merritt (bass). Morgan, then just 20, is fluid and totally inventive on "Just By Myself," a Golson composition, and Timmons offers an early taste of soul food with his self-penned "Moanin'".
The series also features titles by Chet Baker, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie, all come with booklets penned by some of the most informed writers in jazz. Indulge.
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Jazz Giants Fill The Small Screen
DVD Series Showcases Lost Vintage Concerts
By David French
Paste Magazine- February 2007
On screen, Chet Baker looks like a washed-up matinee idol. In moody black-and-white footage from 1964, his boyish face has hardened and—when the camera comes close for his lone vocal—It's obvious one of his top front teeth is missing. But when he shuts his eyes, tilts his head back and sings “Time After Time" in that tender ache of a voice, it's mesmerizing, a clear highlight of the new DVD featuring more than an hour of Baker's seductively cool, lyrical trumpet playing.
It's a great time to be a fan of classic jazz. In the past couple years,remarkable concert recordings by giants such as Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and Ray Charles have been discovered and released. At the same time, big jazz labels like Blue Note and Impulse and specialty outfits like Mosaic Records have produced a stream of remastered classics and previously forgotten historic material.
Now, a new series of DVDs called Jazz Icons makes available entire concerts filmed between 1957 and 1979—many never seen before—that were sitting in the vaults of European television stations for decades. In addition to Baker, the first nine titles feature Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Art Blakey, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, Thelonious Monk and Buddy Rich.
Almost certainly, the best of these is the 1958 concert by Blakey and his Jazz Messengers. Appearing on stage in sharp dark suits, white shirts and skinny ties, the quintet with Benny Golson and Bobby Timmons is one of the most renowned editions of the drummer’s hard-bop supergroup. However, it’s 20-year-old trumpeter Lee Morgan’s incandescent solos and cool charisma that dominate the 55-minute outing. There’s always been surprisingly little available footage of Morgan, who died at age 33, so it’s a revelation to see him here close up, burning through solos on then-new standards like “Moanin’” and “I Remember Clifford.”
Other standout moments from the series include Ella in 1957 nailing "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" with an all-star combo, and also a stunning take from 1966—each shot framed and lit like a modernist painting of Monk in a black pork-pie hat playing an angular, minimalist version of “Lulu’s Back In Town.”
Perhaps the only disappointment is the Louis Armstrong concert. The man who had almost single-handedly defined jazz in the 1920s and ’30s was still in great form as a player and singer in 1959. But compared to the other timeless performances in this series, the endless hijinks, mugging and razzle-dazzle high notes of Armstrong's stage show seem hammy and dated,
Jazz Icons is meant to be a continuing series—dependent upon the success of these first releases. Possible forthcoming features include Charles Mingus, John Coltrane and Sarah Vaughan. With incredible performances, remastered sound and video, and in-depth liner notes by top jazz writers, these films are already a significant addition to the jazz canon.
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Uncut Magazine (UK)- December 2006
by Adam Sweeting
American jazzers, dismally
under-appreciated in their
homeland, adored the
enthusiasm that greeted them
in Europe, and the Jazz Icons
series assembles rarely seen
Euro-footage of numerous
greats - Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy
Jones, Art B!akey, Dizzy
Gillespie, Chet Baker etal. The
superb Monk disc comprises
two TV performances by his
quartet in Oslo and
Copenhagen, and authentic
Essence of Bop oozes from the
grainy camerawork. Monk's
compositions and aggressively
jabbing piano technique seize
centre-stage, but the band are
magnificent, as is Monk's
choice of hats.
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Jazz Deities Captured On Film
Jazz Icons DVD Series
by Charles Waring
Record Collector Magazine (UK)- December 2006
Over the last couple of years, David Peck's Reelin' In The Years production company has done a splendid job in exhuming long lost concert footage from dusty film and TV library archives. His recent triumphs include critically-lauded Motown DVDs by Marvin Gaye and The Temptations, as well as a restored version of the Ghanaian concert movie, Soul to Soul. With this exemplary new nine-DVD series, the producer has turned his attention to some of jazz's most revered and influential performers, captured performing in Europe between 1957 and 1979.
Although each is commendable (they all come beautifully packaged and accompanied by a 16-page booklet packed with pertinent liner notes and photos), the real gems are rare performances by bands under the leadership of QUINCY JONES Live In ’60, COUNT BASIE Live In ’62 and ART BLAKEY & THE JAZZ MESSENGERS Live In ’58. Jones led an incredible, star-studded big band on a tour of Europe in 1960. Featuring the likes of Clark Terry and Phil Woods in its ranks, the band's TV shows in Belgium and Switzerland are reproduced here and reveal what a finely-honed unit 'Q' had under his baton. A Count Basie concert, televised in Sweden in 1962, is also richly rewarding and showcases both the power and the panache of the swing-meister's 18-member aggregation.
Aficionados of hard bop will rejoice at the discovery of a TV concert by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. Caught on camera in Belgium during 1958 is the incarnation of the group that cut the classic Moanin' album for Blue Note, featuring Bobby Timmons, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson and Jymie Merritt. With his wide, toothy grin, Blakey proves an affable, charismatic figure, stepping out from behind his kit after each number to announce the next one, and crack a few jokes as well ('I hope you buy the records—God knows we need the money!')
The DVD devoted to the hat-loving jazz iconoclast, THELONIOUS MONK Live In ’66, also sheds light on the man behind the myth. He's incredibly fascinating to watch. Just seeing him pick out single piano notes with flat, splayed fingers during a couple of Scandinavian concerts is mesmerising. So too, the strange dance he does around the piano while saxophonist Charlie Rouse takes a solo. Among the tunes featured are his signature tune, Blue Monk, and Epistrophy.
Fellow bebop architect, DIZZY GILLESPIE, is featured on two European TV concerts, Live In ’58 & ’70. The first, recorded in Belgium in 1958, features the 'puff-jawed wind demon' (as Stanley Crouch once dubbed him) leading a quintet including Sonny Stitt and Ray Brown. The second is a combustible big band gig from 1970, featuring Kenny Clarke.
Mandatory viewing for disciples of the 'cool' West Coast sound is CHET BAKER Live In ’64 & ’79, which features performances filmed in 1964 and 1979. Though Baker's trumpet tone is limpidly beautiful in both concerts, it's evident that the intervening years between the two performances had not been kind to his looks.
LOUIS ARMSTRONG Live In ’59, ELLA FITZGERALD Live In ’57 & ’63 and powerhouse drummer, BUDDY RICH Live In ’78, complete a magnificent series that any self-respecting jazz fan shouldn't be without.
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Down Beat Magazine- December 2006
by Kevin Whitehead
For those addicted to watching smeary
fourth-generation dubs of Ornette Coleman
and Eric Dolphy on YouTube, there's relief
for the eyes in the Jazz Icons series' crisp
transfers of (mostly) black-and-white concert and studio performances shot for
European television, always more jazz-friendly than U.S. networks. Here, five of
the first nine are assessed.
Sometimes the revelations are in the
details. Take Thelonious Monk Live In '66. The good (previously available) Oslo half-hour with
Monk's Charlie Rouse-Larry Gales-Ben
Riley quartet is paired with an even better
half shot for Danish TV nights later. The
backdrop's appropriately bare, and when
Monk solos, a camera planted at the keyboard's top end soaks up his technique
uninterrupted: fingers parallel or perpendicular to the keys; left hand often crossing the right; one left digit swooping in to
plug a gap in a right-hand run. Monk
minds the cameras, too: He gets in the
wide shots to do his little dances.
By comparison, the less rhythmically
edited, long-shot, grainy Louis Armstrong
Live In '59 —a short
hour in a Belgian theater—could be a '40s
newsreel. But then Pops' act was a throwback, too. Having read Larry Gushee's
laudable Pioneers Of Jazz, I now saw the
All-Stars—the standardized routines,
comic shtick and "Sleepy Time Down
South"—as heirs to the Creole Band working the 1910s vaudeville circuit, itself an
outgrowth of 19th-century minstrelsy. The
All-Stars are ever-problematic, but how
bad could a sextet with Armstrong and
Trummy Young be?
On the first, theater half of the 56-minute Ella Fitzgerald Live In '57 & '63, the singer displays a daring lack of stagecraft, barely schmoozing or moving. When she does a
Satchmo growl-and-hanky bit, the crowd's
momentarily thrown; it's so out of character. No need for gimmicks when you're
one of the greatest in full bloom, and your
rhythm section includes Ray Brown, Herb
Ellis and a visibly delighted Jo Jones. In
'63, on a Swedish soundstage with a
Tommy Flanagan-led quartet, she reaches
out more, working her arms and pushing
that magnificent voice toward a shout. But
the sublime opening verse of "Just One
Of Those Things" tops her '57 self.
For another top act in peak form see the
55-minute Art Blakey And The Jazz
Messengers Live In '58. This is the blended, bluesy,
swinging quintet that set the Messengers
template: Music director Benny Golson on
tenor is brilliant uptempo, Bobby
Timmons on piano breaks in his tune "Moanin"' and the amazing 20-year-old
trumpeter Lee Morgan, fully formed, is
seen in frequent full-horn close-up.
A great big band too little remembered
is vividly sketched in the 80 minutes of
Quincy Jones Live In '60. No room to describe the orchestra's fun-but-foolhardy meander across
Europe, but two broadcasts bring out its
different moods. On an art deco stairstep
set in Belgium in February, they're pin-neat and razor-sharp, highlighting crack
writing and ensemble work. (You can hear
Count Basie and Ray Charles in there.) In
Switzerland in May, the accent's more on
letting great soloists run. By then they'd
lost Clark Terry and Budd Johnson, but
still had Phil Woods, Jerome Richardson,
Butter Jackson, Melba Listen, Julius
Watkins, Les Spann (on guitar and flute—
check out his droopy-lip embouchure),
Patti Bown and more, having a ball.
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Legendary jazz wrapped up in classy collections
By Paul de Barros
Seattle Times jazz critic
Seattle Times- Nov. 26, 2006
The surfacing of this incredible set of videos from European concert and TV appearances is almost as exciting as last year's discovery of the lost Monk/Coltrane tapes. Back in the day, when American jazz musicians toured Europe, they were often invited to appear on TV or filmed in concert. Producers David Peck (no relation to the Seattle pianist), Phillip Galloway and series inspiration Mika Peck have packaged up nine discs of these archival films, most featuring two concerts each.
The DVDs are available as a set or on individual discs. Every Seattle jazz fan needs to own "Quincy Jones Live in '60," not just because it features one of the swingingest big bands that ever breathed, but because it features Jones conducting in his stylish-for-the-day V-neck sweater, plus Emerald City compadres Patti Bown (piano), Buddy Catlett (bass) and Floyd Standifer (trumpet).
On the second show of "Ella Fitzgerald Live in '57 & '63," the singer appears absolutely ready to jump out of her socks.
On the first, the rhythm section of Ray Brown (bass), Herb Ellis (guitar), Jo Jones (drums) and Don Abney (piano) — with great close-ups of a grinning-with-admiration Jones and sneering-with-concentration Brown — is peerless. Oscar Peterson even makes an appearance.
Other excellent choices include "Live in '58," by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, "Thelonious Monk Live in '66" and "Chet Baker Live in '64 & '79."
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Synthesis Magazine, Issue 9
10 out of 10
For lifelong fans of pop music, expanding their music appreciation into the realm of jazz can be a daunting undertaking. Where, exactly, does one start? With varying sub-genres and eras, household-name luminaries and countless essential sidemen, differences in style and practice, not to mention the groundbreaking music theory behind it all, a fledgling jazz head has a lot to catch up on. Luckily, Reelin' In The Years Productions is giving said neophytes, and certified heads alike, a good schooling with Jazz Icons. The first nine titles in the ongoing series—Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Chet Baker, Quincy Jones, Louis Armstrong, Buddy Rich, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers and Count Basie—include full concerts filmed for European broadcast at television studios and concert venues throughout Europe, and have been rendered with unbelievably pristine sound and video quality. Each disc comes complete with a 16-page booklet written by jazz historians and authorities, describing the significance of the presented material, the history of the artist, a personalized account of the artists' work as it pertains to the author, rare photographs and, perhaps most useful for those delving into the specifics of jazz, a complete rundown of the songs contained therein, describing the historical importance of the performance down to play-by-play details (at times phrase-by-phrase).
However, all of this is secondary to the music itself. Presenting otherwise unreleased performances in their entirety, these DVDs showcase the players at vital chapters of their respective careers, their body language communicating as much of the joy and anguish as their instruments themselves. With more titles on the way, the Jazz Icons series is one not to sleep on. If, after experiencing all that Jazz Icons has to offer, you still don't "get" jazz, there's one piece of advice that I'd love to impart: Listen to the notes they don't play, man.
Maurice Spencer Teilmann
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Blair's DVD Watch: Great Historic Jazz for the Holidays
By Blair Jackson
Mix Magazine, Dec. 4, 2006
Hello, again! Here’s the deal: I LOVE watching music DVDs! There are so many fantastic releases coming out every day, I could practically spend all my time watching them and doing nothing else—sounds like a good job to me. So I thought it would be fun to use this space in MixLine every two weeks to give a little virtual ink to some of the music DVDs that I’m diggin’. With the holiday season in full swing, there are lots to talk about, and plenty worth recommending. So let’s dive in…
The Jazz Icons Series
A couple of years ago in the pages of Mix, I enthusiastically reviewed the first pair of DVDs in the American Folk and Blues Festival 1962-1966 series, which presented never-before-released European performances by some of the greatest U.S. blues performers. Well, now the same company that put out those extraordinary DVDs—Reelin’ in the Years Productions and producers David Peck and Phillip Galloway—has put out a series of nine fantastic jazz concert releases, all drawn from European TV sources, and spanning from the late ’50s to the late ’70s. Like the blues releases, both the audio and video quality is extraordinary, the packaging and liner notes also top-notch. This is a truly a goldmine of great jazz: I can’t recommend them highly enough—all of them!
And what a collection of great names: Count Basie, Chet Baker, Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, Buddy Rich, Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy Jones, Dizzy Gillespie and Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers.
Here are my five favorites (so far):
• The incomparable Ella Fitzgerald, captured in small-group settings in Brussels in 1957 and Stockholm in 1963, with such notable sidemen as guitarist Herb Ellis, Ray Brown on bass, Papa Jo Jones on drums and Tommy Flanagan on piano. This is jazz singing at its absolute finest; it will make the hair on your arms stand up. (To see a clip, go to: www.jazzicons.com/vid_ella.html.)
• The spread between the two sets of performances by Chet Baker is more extreme—1964 and 1979—and it’s somewhat shocking to see Baker’s physical decline between the two, but his playing and singing is sublime in both: what an incredible balladeer he was! And there’s also an informative interview in between the two concert segments that further illuminates his genius. A sweet guy with a deep soul. (Clip: www.jazzicons.com/vid_chet.html.)
• It’s remarkable to be able to see a full, 13-song, one-hour concert by Louis Armstrong and a five-piece band from 1958, when he was still at the peak of his powers. (A month after this concert he would suffer a heart attack, the first of a series of ailments that slowed him down through the years.) His incredible charisma and his talent as both trumpeter and singer are on full display here, as he steers the tight group through a selection of tunes from the earliest days of jazz to the ’50s. Satchmo from any era is a treat, but this seems extra-special somehow. I love his pre-Darin take on “Mack the Knife,” and his spirited duet with trombonist Trummy Young, “Now You Has Jazz.” (Clip: www.jazzicons.com/vid_louis.html.)
• Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers were recorded in Belgium in 1958, a month to the day after they cut their most famous album, Moanin’, with Rudy Van Gelder. With a young Lee Morgan on trumpet and Benny Golson on sax, there’s tons of energy and great communication among the players throughout the seven-song set; it’s quite a revelation. (Clip: www.jazzicons.com/vid_blakey.html.)
• Generally speaking, I prefer smaller ensembles to big bands (the fine Dizzy Gillespie DVD features both kinds of groups, 12 years apart), but I’ve always had a soft spot for Count Basie big, powerful band—maybe it’s because he’s the only one of these artists I ever saw perform live (in New York in 1971). I thought he was the essence of cool that night, and he’s that and more on this concert from Sweden nine years earlier. He leads a big band through a nice collection of standards—ballads and swinging tunes alike—with characteristic grace and élan. (Clip: www.jazzicons.com/vid_count.html.)
I was so knocked out by the Jazz Icons series that I put in a call to associate producer and consultant Don Sickler—himself a trumpeter of considerable renown—to find out a little more about how it came about. Rumors had been circulating for years that there were dozens of jazz (and blues) concerts languishing in the vaults of various European television stations, and a number of bootlegs have surfaced, but mostly from Italy, rather than Belgium and Scandinavia, where these come from. Sickler noted that because so many countries in Europe had non-commercial, government-controlled TV stations, they were willing to devote air time to jazz (and blues), much as PBS in this country has traditionally been the primary outlet for jazz (though only sporadically).
“[David Peck and others] had found several of the programs through the years,” Sickler says, “but didn’t have a handle of how they could approach some of the big band projects they had, so I talked to the musicians unions and had them create a scale and then we were able to have a vehicle to pay all the musicians, because that’s something that’s very important to David—everybody had to get paid.” Alas, most of the musicians themselves are no longer living, but in those cases the money goes to their estates. Still, Sickler says, “there are also a number who are still alive—Quincy Jones, obviously—but also some of the players here and there. I got to take the Basie one up to [tenor player] Frank Wess’ apartment and sat right between Frank and [trombonist] Bennie Powell and played the whole show for them and we talked it about it after—they were blown away. So was I!”
In the case of that Basie show, at first, only 30 minutes of it was available, but Sickler could tell that there should be more (judging from the set list of what the band usually playede in that era) and sure enough, the Swedish television station dug deeper into their vault and found more. The Art Blakey DVD was another miraculous find: “We had actually ordered a different [later] Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers show from Belgium. In fact, it wasn’t even officially a Jazz Messengers show, though it featured Art Blakey. But for some reason, when they sent the film over from Belgium, they sent a different one. At first, David was all bent out of shape, calling me from the studio saying, ‘Man, the guy in the studio who’s seen the film is a trumpet player and he says he knows that isn’t Freddie Hubbard [who was supposed to be part of the band], so what is this?’ He played some of it over the phone to me and I thought I knew what it was, but I said, ‘That’s impossible, because the version of the band I’m hearing never did any film footage.’ Well, as we found out the next day when we looked at it, they did. It was Blakey’s group—with a 20-year-old Lee Morgan—a month after they’d recorded ‘Moanin’,’ which became his biggest hit and established his career with Blue Note. Before this we didn’t think there was a full set of that lineup on film. So that’s an important piece of history.”
I told Sickler I was so impressed by the audio quality on all the DVDs—though mono, there’s both clarity and separation. “That’s true,” he says. “We just got really lucky. They really took the care with both the audio and the video, doing the best they could with the equipment they had at that time. We’ve all heard horrendous broadcasts, where it seems like you’re always hearing the wrong instrument—It’s a big band and all you hear clearly is the piano, for instance. It’s so frustrating. But on these they took the care to mic the instruments or the rooms well and the balance is surprisingly good. On the Blakey one, you don’t hear enough bass at first, and then you actually see them up there adjusting the bass mic. It’s not [up to] the standards of what they did a month before at Van Gelder’s when they were recording there, but it’s still really good. And we’re fortunate that it is so good because frankly, there’s not much you can do with the sound on these shows now besides roll a little low end off or whatever.”
It’s sad, in a way, that so much of this country’s musical legacy has been better preserved by Europeans than by Americans. “That’s been true for many, many years. Europe has always loved and respected American musicians,” Sickler says. “A lot of the members of Quincy’s band and Dizzy’s band moved over to Europe and were living in Europe because they could play jazz and work in radio studio orchestras that played jazz. I agree it’s a sad commentary, but thank goodness that Europeans—and the Japanese, too—are very art-conscious and when American jazz musicians would come, they would film it. Thank goodness because we wouldn’t have hour-long shows of these artists. At best you might just have a little clip. There have been a few things in the United States, but not the volume that is in Europe.
The good news, too, is that the Jazz Icons series is just the tip of the iceberg. "The sky’s the limit,” Sickler says. “There’s a tremendous amount of stuff over there that hopefully will come out at some point. When David showed me these and we put together these nine, I said, ‘This is like a whole little history of jazz. You’ve got most of the bases covered.’ But if we can make a go of it, I know we’ll be able to talk him into putting out some of the other ones that are historically important but perhaps lesser-named people. There are still a lot of vaults to go through. We know there’s some amazing stuff still to be discovered.”
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'Jazz Icons' DVDs Feature Terrific Forgotten Shows
By Mike Zwerin
Nov. 6, 2006 (Bloomberg) — Touring American jazz musicians were treated like foreign dignitaries in Europe in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, when the nine terrific new DVDs packaged as "Jazz Icons'' (TDK) were originally taped. None of the performances has been on the market before.
Jazz concerts were regularly aired in their entirety for their cultural value, even if they weren't that commercial, by government-run European TV stations. Not in the U.S. This treasure trove from European vaults features Louis Armstrong, Art Blakey, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Thelonious Monk and Quincy Jones.
The nine DVDs are packaged as an elegant box in the U.S., but for the moment are only available individually in Europe. The re- mastered sound is better than good.
The premise of the project was that "every featured artist needed to be a household name that had in some important way shaped the history of jazz,'' according to the producers David Peck and Phillip Galloway. "It was also important to find the earliest concert footage available, featuring the artists as close to their prime as possible.''
Quincy Jones, the only headliner still alive, says he is honored to be a part of the project and that he is "thrilled just to sit down and watch it with my grandkids.'' His DVD features his legendary 18-piece outfit that for a short while survived the failed big-budget stage musical "Free and Easy'' in Europe.
Taped in Belgium and Switzerland in 1960, what Jones describes as "my dream band'' included Phil Woods, Clark Terry, Jimmy Cleveland and Les Spann. They are more together than they have to be, and, like their famously sharp leader, they are all smartly uniformed in designer turtlenecks.
Peck and Galloway say their company Reelin' in the Years Productions has the rights to "the largest music footage library in the world — over 10,000 hours of performances from all genres of music covering the last 50 years.'' Previous releases include "Muddy Waters Classic Concerts,'' and "Marvin Gaye — The Real Thing in Performance.''
The Chet Baker disc illustrates how — being white and having lived in Europe for so long — he has been unjustly underestimated by the jazz establishment. On good nights, which admittedly were too few, he could play jazz on a trumpet about as well as anybody. Watching the Baker and Louis Armstrong discs one after the other leads to the perception of a surprising parallel. Singing, both of them are, in fact just playing the trumpet by other means. In other words, they both remained musicians more than pop stars.
Dizzy Gets Busy
The trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie performs in 1958 with tenorman Sonny Stitt in Belgium. And, in Denmark in 1970, he leads that other legendary European-based big band, the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland orchestra, which included such Euro-cat royalty as the English tenorman (and club owner) Ronnie Scott, the Swedish trombonist Ake Persson and the Yugoslav trumpeter Dusko Goykovich. You can compare the condition of Gillespie's chops.
In 1966, in Norway and Denmark, Thelonious Monk is wearing his elegant narrow-brim fedora and flashing a big pinky-ring as he crosses his hands on the keyboard to construct his other-worldly chords, somehow managing to detune a piano.
The producers had already cleared the rights with Belgian television for a 1965 Art Blakey Jazz Messengers concert, with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, when their engineer called from the studio to say that it was definitely not Hubbard.
Further investigation revealed that the tape was actually from 1958, during the glory years of the Jazz Messengers, with Lee Morgan on trumpet. It had been misfiled and forgotten, and had never even been broadcast.
Big-band drummers working are fun to look at. Slick Sonny Payne juggling his sticks, flirting shamelessly, driving the Count Basie band in Sweden in 1962. Buddy Rich, businesslike, intense, driven, with Killer Force — "the best band I ever had'' — in the Netherlands in 1978, from a tape that had been forgotten in some elapsed storage facility.
While you have to have been something in the first place in order to be forgotten, being found again is even better.
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'The King Tut's tomb' of jazz
A new box set launches a treasure trove of recordings from Europe's earliest contact with the jazz masters, writes Doug Fischer.
Doug Fischer, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Saturday, December 23, 2006
When a scrape with the law cost jazz pianist Thelonious Monk his New York nightclub licence in the mid-'60s, he went to Europe to make a living.
It wasn't the first time, nor was Monk the only jazz musician to cross the Atlantic to escape troubles at home. Dexter Gordon, Bud Powell, Eric Dolphy, Chet Baker and dozens of other jazz greats sought refuge in Europe, some of them staying for good.
And for good reason. Since the earliest days of jazz in the 1920s, American musicians had been treated like foreign dignitaries when they toured Europe.
Away from the snobbery and racism that kept jazz out of the mainstream and under the thumb of white record producers and club owners in the United States, the music found a place to flourish.
"In Europe they seemed to understand from the beginning that jazz was not some novelty but the classical music of the 20th century," Duke Ellington wrote about his orchestra's first trip to London in the early '30s. "We were treated as artists, not vaudeville acts."
On radio, and later on television, jazz concerts were regularly aired in their entirety for their cultural significance by Europe's state-run broadcasters, even though they had little commercial potential.
It happened twice to Monk on his 1966 trip to Europe, and those concerts -- in Norway and Denmark -- have been packaged on a historic DVD that's part of a terrific new nine-DVD set being sold by Naxos in North America under the title Jazz Icons.
None of the performances has been available before, even as bootlegs. They are being sold as an economically priced boxed set for roughly $200, or as individual DVDs for about $25.
Performances by Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich, Chet Baker and Quincy Jones make up the rest of the riches plucked from the European vaults.
And they are just the first of dozens more vintage European jazz concerts to come, according to Phillip Galloway and David Peck, the producers behind the series. Concert DVDs of Charles Mingus with Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, all from the 1960s, are among those being prepared for release in 2007.
"It's hard to imagine how so much of this footage was forgotten for so long," says Galloway. "For the jazz fan it's like finding King Tut's tomb."
Through their company, Reelin' In The Years Productions, Galloway and Peck own the rights to the largest library of music footage in the world, about 10,000 hours of performances from all genres covering the last 50 years.
Most of the jazz footage, filmed live in TV studios and concert halls throughout Europe, has not been seen or heard since it was first broadcast, Galloway says, sometimes going back as far as the early '50s.
Some of it has not been viewed at all, including an exhilarating 1958 Blakey concert filmed for Belgian TV featuring a killer version of the Jazz Messengers -- with Lee Morgan, Benny Golson and Bobby Timmons -- that many fans consider the bebop drummer's greatest band.
"It's an unbelievable discovery," says Galloway. "That group was only together for about six months. Who knows why it was taped and then never shown."
Until now, Galloway and Peck have been best known for their vintage blues, folk and soul DVDs. Their American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1969 was nominated for a Grammy in 2004. Another much-praised DVD, Marvin Gaye: The Real Thing in Performance 1964-1981, was the first archival film anthology of a Motown artist.
Even so, the Jazz Icons series might end up being their most significant work. Most of the rare jazz concert footage they discovered was taped between 1957 and 1966, an especially fertile era for jazz and a period that captures many of the musicians at their peaks.
"It was crucial to us to find the earliest concert footage we could in order to feature the artists as close to their prime as possible," says Galloway. For these first nine releases, he adds, it was also important to feature musicians "who in some significant way shaped the history of jazz."
On both counts, they have mostly succeeded.
The Dizzy Gillespie DVD, for instance, features the trumpet trailblazer in two stellar performances -- at the helm of a small group with tenorman Sonny Stitt in 1958 in Belgium, and as the guest leader of the legendary Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Orchestra in Denmark in 1970. It's fascinating to observe his incomparable playing in two such different settings 12 years apart.
The series also features a pair of exceptional concerts from Fitzgerald, including her earliest known complete show on film (from Belgium in 1957) and an intimate TV studio appearance from Sweden taped with the brilliant pianist Tommy Flanagan in 1963.
Monk's performances, filmed three days apart in 1966, show the pianist at his quirky best, decked out in a narrow-brimmed fedora and displaying a gaudy pinky ring as his knobby hands bang out angular chords on the keyboard and he exhorts his sidemen to keep pace with his other-worldly ideas.
For those familiar only with his pop productions and movie scores, perhaps the most surprising DVD features Quincy Jones at the head of a hard-swinging 18-piece "dream band" (his words) that includes such jazz stalwarts as Phil Woods, Clark Terry, Jimmy Cleveland and Sahib Shihab. Exhibiting what passes for "hep" in 1960, the orchestra is smartly turned out in designer turtlenecks and blazers.
Chet Baker's DVD also offers a few surprises, including the kind of wonderfully lyrical trumpet playing and agonizingly tender singing the troubled jazzman provided too rarely during a career marred by drug and alcohol use.
Galloway says every concert in the Jazz Icons series was transferred and remastered from original tapes. Certainly the sound and video is first rate throughout.
But perhaps the biggest bonus was inadvertently created by the era's straight-forward film style, which places the music front and centre without the distractions of fancy technique.
Each DVD also comes with a booklet containing rare photos and an essay from a respected jazz writer, including Ira Gitler, Michael Cuscuna and Canadian Rob Bowman.
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Jazz Icons DVD set a treasure trove of classic concerts
By George Varga
POP MUSIC CRITIC • San Diego Union Tribune • October 22, 2006
After earning international acclaim and a 2004 Grammy Award nomination for its archival concert DVDs by various blues and soul pioneers, San Diego's Reelin' In The Years is getting into jazz in a big way.
This month saw the release of the 14-year-old company's Jazz Icons series. Available on nine DVDs that will be released in a boxed set at the end of October, the series features previously unreleased European performances by such legends as Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk.
Other artists showcased in the series include Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Chet Baker and Quincy Jones. In the liner notes to his 1960 big-band DVD, Jones describes Jazz Icons as “an audio-visual treasure trove,” adding: “From an educational standpoint, this series is a gift to our culture. I'm honored to be a part of it, but I'm more thrilled to just sit down and watch it with my grandkids.”
Jones was so pleased by the quality of the nine DVDs that he did more than just contribute liner notes. Last month, he invited Reelin' In The Years' honcho David Peck and two of Peck's colleagues – Phil Galloway and Tom Gulotta – up to Jones' Bel Air mansion. Perhaps best known to pop fans for producing Michael Jackson's “Thriller” album, Jones is the only Icon in the series who is still alive.
“Quincy talked to us about wanting to help get these DVDs into school curriculums,” Peck said. “It's one thing for kids to hear the name Thelonious Monk; it's another for them to see how exciting he was in concert.”
Excitement was also in the air Oct. 3, when Reelin' In The Years held a release party and screening in New York at Jazz at Lincoln Center's Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola.
The event featured a performance by drummer Ben Riley and his Monk Legacy Septet, which was joined on stage by former members of the Count Basie Orchestra, the Jazz Messengers and Jones and Rich's respective big bands. Also in attendance was Wynton Marsalis (who wrote the foreword for the Armstrong DVD), actress Angela Bassett and such luminaries as pianist/educator Billy Taylor, saxophonist Jimmy Heath, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Roy Haynes.
Peck, Galloway and Gulotta started work on the Jazz Icons series after being approached two years ago by TDK, one of the world's oldest and most respected electronics and technology companies. Reelin' In The Years put together Jazz Icons for TDK, which is releasing the series worldwide.
“Everyone laughed at us when we said that we wanted to pay all the musicians, sidemen included,” Peck said. “Everyone except TDK, which ponied up a lot more money than I ever expected. There are 80-plus musicians on the nine CDs, and we also dealt with the estates of each of the other featured icons, apart from Quincy.”
Most of the DVDs were filmed in the 1950s and '60s. The oldest footage is from a 1957 concert by Fitzgerald, the fabled Queen of Scat, in Belgium; the most recent is a 1978 concert in Holland by Rich. The footage was shot in European concert halls and TV studios, although some of it has never aired anywhere.
All nine DVDs are historically significant and a visceral treat. But the prize find is the DVD of Blakey and his Jazz Messengers, which had been stored and mislabeled as a 1965 concert featuring trumpeter Freddie Hubbard. In fact, the performance in question is from 1958 and features trumpeter Lee Morgan, saxophonist Benny Golson and the rest of the all-star lineup that only a month earlier had recorded “Moanin'.”
That album ranks among the finest by any incarnation of the Jazz Messengers, a band that went through countless lineup changes in its 36-year history. This particular edition of the band was together only six months, and this is the only known live footage of it.
“No jazz historians even knew it existed, and there was no record of it ever being shown,” Gulotta said. “It sat on the shelf all these years.”
Each DVD includes an accompanying booklet, and the liner notes are by such noted jazz authorities as Ira Gitler, Michael Cuscuna and Will Freidwald. Whenever possible, a close relative – such as Rich's daughter, Cathy and Blakey's son, Takashi – contributed a foreword and rare personal photos of their famous parents.
The suggested retail price for each Jazz Icons DVD is $19.19, while the box set will go for $159.99. They are available locally at Lou's Records in Encinitas, at Borders, and online at www.amazon.com. Sample footage can be viewed at www.jazzicons.com.
“These are not documentaries, they're concerts,” Peck stressed. “If these do well, TDK – which paid for us to do the whole series – wants to do a lot more. We've already got concerts by John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Sarah Vaughan and Dexter Gordon ready to get clearance for release.”
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Give a Little Jazz-Scene Jingle
by Geoff Chapman
Thursday, December 7th, 2006
Jazz experienced live is always the best. You'd think jazz heard and seen from the equivalent of a front-row seat would be next in line, but the genre's DVDs lag far behind classical and pop output. A recent series remedies that: nine DVDs in the TDK International Jazz Icons collection, concerts filmed between 1957 and 1978, of American jazzers in Europe and distributed here by Naxos. No performance was ever officially released and most music was never broadcast.
Although almost all material by pioneers who helped shape jazz is in mono and black & white, the excellent remastering has resulted in high quality visuals and exceptional sound with few flaws. Liner notes are detailed.
• Exhibit A is Dizzy Gillespie Live in '58 and '70, at 85 minutes. For the first concert in Belgium, the frog-cheeked, goatee-bearded trumpeter with signature instrument shape leads a quintet with Sonny Stitt on tenor sax, pianist Lou Levy, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Gus Johnson. It's prime bebop; quotes from other tunes and wacko vocals abound. The music's exciting, the musicians excitable. "Blues Walk" and "Blues After Dark" are outstanding.
The second show is in Denmark, Diz leading Europe's brilliant Clarke-Boland Big Band. Brit Kenny Clare joins Kenny Clarke on drums and pianist Francy Boland handles charts. It's joyous, propulsive music with strong solos by bass Jimmy Woode, saxist Ronnie Scott and trombonist Ake Persson for example. You'll love "Manteca" all over again.
• Exhibit B is Thelonius Monk Live in '66, at 62 minutes. Concerts in Norway and Denmark filmed, in studio, for television feature tenor saxist Charlie Rouse, bass Larry Gates and drummer Ben Riley. Monk's unorthodox piano style — sometimes comping hard, sometimes silent — his ways of striking notes, edgy melodies and extraordinary counter-rhythms are fascinating. He sweats, he does jigs, he's totally focussed — it's marvellous.
• Exhibit C is Buddy Rich Live in '78 at 75 minutes. In colour (and black & white) at a Dutch festival, the drummer's `Killer force' band, which he rated his best ever, belts eight long tracks. Among the youthful, maned ensemble you might know saxmen Andy Fusco and Steve Marcus but it's the boss, face scrunched up, manically intense and superbly effective at blistering pace you'll remember.
Other series entries come from Quincy Jones, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Art Blakey and Chet Baker. More are expected.
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by Doug Ramsey
Dec. 5, 2006
Floyd Standifer was an essential member of the Seattle jazz scene in the 1950s when the city had dozens of superior players who banded together in a close-knit community. I hadn't seen him more than two or three times since those Northwest Jazz Workshop days, but recently I was pleased to encounter him twice. In late November, Standifer joined drummer Don Kinney's trio for a concert at The Seasons. A fine trumpeter from time he was a teenager, Floyd later took up the tenor saxophone and became an impressive singer. He has been a revered performer and teacher in the Pacific Northwest ever since he returned from Europe and New York in the early 1960s. He filled all three of his roles splendidly in the Kinney concert, captivating his audience, as he does on this CD.
A week or so earlier, I saw and heard Standifer as a member of the 1960 Quincy Jones band. The Jones outfit was so good, Floyd told me the other night, that after Quincy opened for Count Basie's band at the Olympia Theater in Paris, Basie said to him, "You're not planning to take this band back to the States, are you?"
On the Quincy Jones DVD in the new Jazz Icons series, Standifer solos in the trumpet section with Clark Terry, Benny Bailey and Lennie Johnson. When Jones formed the band, he hired Floyd along with two more of Quincy's Seattle pals, bassist Buddy Catlett and pianist Patti Bown.
Trombonist Melba Liston was the other woman in this ground-breaking band, which also boasted saxophonists Phil Woods, Porter Kilbert, Sahib Shihab, Budd Johnson and Jerome Richardson; trombonists Quentin Jackson, Ake Persson and Jimmy Cleveland; drummer Joe Harris; Les Spann on flute and guitar; and the incredible French horn player Julius Watkins. The DVD catches the band in a television concert in Belgium and another a couple of months later in Switzerland with Roger Guerin replacing Terry. Hearing the Jones band on records has been impressive enough over the years. Witnessing the visual dimension of the precision, musicality and camaraderie of this legendary group is a revelation.
Jones did take the band back to the States, but the European sojourn was a fiscal disaster for him and any threat to Basie was short-lived. By the mid-sixties Jones was recovering by broadening his efforts into the more lucrative areas of show business in which he has thrived. During the short life of his big band, he wrote an important paragraph in the history of jazz. If the economics of his situation had worked out differently, the paragraph might have grown into a chapter.
Because it is so revealing and powerful, the Jones DVD is first on my list of the nine Jazz Icons DVDs in the series' initial release by Reelin' In The Years Productions, but they are all impressive and valuable. Made from films and videotapes produced by noncommercial state television stations in Europe, even those from the late 1950s are of exceptional quality. We see Lee Morgan blaze into his famous trumpet solo on "Moanin'" with the classic 1958 edition of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers--Chet Baker in 1964 and again fifteen years later, playing beautifully on both occasions--Dizzy Gillespie in 1958 burning through the blues, with Sonny Stitt on tenor saxophone giving no quarter.
Buddy Rich's drum solo on "Channel One Suite" in Holland in 1978 is a prodigy of musicality and control, evidence for liner note writer Dean Pratt's argument that Rich was a genius. Ella Fitzgerald has an electrifying moment in a 1957 concert in Belgium when for one number Oscar Peterson sits in on piano and Roy Eldridge on trumpet. With guitarist Herb Ellis, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Jo Jones, it's Peterson's powerhouse trio augmented. Fitzgerald is inspired to a level of rhythmic intensity unusual even for her on "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing".
What else? Count Basie in 1962 with his New Testament band that included Thad Jones and the two Franks, Foster and Wess; Thelonious Monk in 1966, fascinating in his concentration and eccentricity, with his quartet featuring Charlie Rouse; and Louis Armstrong with his 1959 All-Stars in a typical performance...that is, exhilirating. If you want proof that in his late fifties Armstrong could make other trumpeters shake their heads in disbelief, you'll find it here.
This project demonstrates the quality that DVD reissues can achieve when they are produced with dedication, skill and the understanding that jazz listeners want not just music, but also information. Far too many DVDs provide auxiliary material only as extras on the disc. Each Jazz Icons box contains an illustrated booklet with carefully researched notes by experts of the caliber of Ira Gitler, Don Sickler, Chris Sheridan, Will Friedwald and Michael Cuscuna.
David Peck and Phillip Galloway, the Jazz Icons producers at Reelin' in The Years, plan further releases if there is demand. Possibilities include performances new to DVD by John Coltrane, Roland Kirk, Charles Mingus with Eric Dolphy and Duke Elllington with Ella Fitzgerald. I wonder what other treasures are resting in the vaults of those European TV stations.
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'Jazz Icons' Will Keep You Entertained
by Rob Vanstone
Regina (Saskatchewan) Leader-Post, December 2, 2006
One of the great joys of being a jazz fan is the discovery of a lost treasure. So imagine the arrival of nine such gems—on the same day.
All nine DVDs in the Jazz Icons series were contained in one box. Only a bow was missing.
The toughest decision: Which one do you watch first?
Jazz Icons consists of recorded concerts featuring legendary musicians from the 1950s through the 1970s. The honour roll consists of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Art Blakey, Quincy Jones, Thelonious Monk, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie and Chet Baker.
"These jazz legends, from Dizzy and Count to Louis and Ella, are the Bachs and Beethovens of our generation," Jones is quoted as saying in an insert which accompanies the liner notes.
Jones is not engaging in hyperbole by mentioning the aforementioned jazz luminaries in the same sentence as Bach and Beethoven. To anyone who appreciates jazz, the likes of Gillespie, Basie, Ella and Satchmo are royalty.
Rest assured that these DVDs will keep you royally entertained.
This reviewer began with the Fitzgerald DVD because: (a) You cannot miss with Ella's singing and swinging; and, (b) She is accompanied in separate concerts by my two favourite pianists, Oscar Peterson and Tommy Flanagan.
The first Ella concert, filmed in 1957 in Brussels, features her in typically fine form alongside Ray Brown (bass), Herb Ellis (guitar), Jo Jones (drums) and Don Abney (piano). Peterson replaces Abney for the final piece, a rollicking rendition of "It Don't Mean A Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)." The group is also augmented by trumpeter Roy Eldridge for the closing selection.
After the group takes a bow, it is tempting to replay the 1957 portion of the DVD before proceeding to a 1963 date which showcases Ella and a trio led by Flanagan.
On-stage in Brussels, Ella absolutely nails "Lullaby Of Birdland," "Love For Sale" and, especially, "April In Paris." The latter track concludes with a snippet of "Jingle Bells." The crowd lapped it up.
In 1963, Fitzgerald appeared in a Stockholm TV studio alongside Flanagan & Co. Thanks to the advent of videotape and the remastering process, the audio and video from the latter half of the Fitzgerald DVD are something to appreciate. Flanagan's nuanced, cerebral accompaniment is every bit as impressive as the iconic vocalist.
Sweden was also the base for the Basie concert, from 1962. The 44-year-old recording is amazingly clear.
It quickly becomes clear that the Count is at the top of his game. Basie's big band opens with "Easin' It" and keeps purring for an hour.
In this case, the vocals — provided by an unremarkable Irene Reid for three tracks — are an interruption. The Basie DVD is highlighted by instrumentals from an orchestra which was appropriately labelled "atomic."
The description is most applicable to drummer Sonny Payne. His showmanship and musicianship are simply jaw-dropping. He routinely juggles the drumsticks while performing intricate solos. His propulsive playing drives the group the rest of the time.
Payne's talents are particularly evident during the penultimate number, "Old Man River," which is played at a dizzying pace. Early in the song, the group leaves the stage and cedes the spotlight to the inexhaustible Payne, whose extended solo is electrifying. As much as I am enamoured of Basie's music, the Payne solo is the highlight of this DVD.
And if you think that is awe-inspiring, check out the Buddy Rich concert — followed by Satchmo, Dizzy, Monk...
Really, where do you start? And how do you stop?
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Whole lotta cool
Jazz Icons Box Set
San Diego CityBeat
Holiday Gift Guide
December 29, 2006
by Kelly Davis
San Diego-based Reelin’ in the Years’ just-released DVD box set, Jazz Icons, is an absolute gem—nine DVDs featuring live performances, most from the late 1950s and early ’60s, by jazz greats like Dizzy, Louie, Monk and Ella. Quality-wise, the DVDs are tops—those of us who’ve known only color TV forget how crisp live black-and-white footage can be. These are straight-up live shows (no commentary or breaks in footage)—the performances are mesmerizing and much of this footage was previously stuck in storage archives. The entire box set retails for around $160. For those on a tight budget, all nine DVDs are available individually for around $20. Both are available locally at Lou’s Records in Encinitas and at Borders Books & Music.
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Gotta Love It
Jazz Icons DVD Series
Boston Herald- October 13, 2006
More than mere DVDs, the newly released "Jazz Icons" are time machines - and a jazz fan's fantasy come true. Go back to 1966 and catch the Thelonious Monk Quartet in concert. Marvel as the young Chet Baker blows sweet trumpet in '64, and sings so pretty (despite a missing front tooth) you'll want to cry; then dig a soulful '79 set that showcases the second act of Baker's career. Or how about a front-row seat at a gig by Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers featuring the late, great Lee Morgan on trumpet? The thrills just keep coming with performances, unseen since they were filmed for European TV, by Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy Jones, Louis Armstrong and Buddy Rich. Absolutely fabulous.
©Boston Herald Library Oct 13, 2006
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Jazz Sidemen To Receive Payments
by Thomas Lee, President- AFM
American Federation of Musicians
Thanks to the efforts of the AFM Electronic Media Services Division (EMSD) and Local 802 (New York City), accompanying musicians who traveled with jazz stars from the ‘50s to the early ‘80s, will receive payment from newly released DVDs created from European jazz tour films.
Many musicians went overseas to England and Europe in those years to accompany jazz greats such as Dizzie Gillespie, Quincy Jones of Local 47, Buddy Rich, Count Basie, Chet Baker, Art Blakey, Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, and Ella Fitzgerald. They performed at jazz festivals, on TV specials, and in concert all over Europe, according to Carol Sato, director of the EMSD.
A few months ago, Reelin’ in the Years, LLC, obtained the rights to release these jazz performances on DVD. A series called Jazz Icons (www.jazzicons.com) was released at the beginning of October 2006, but not before thought was given to the musicians involved in the original performances.
David Peck, president of Reelin’ In the Years Productions, decided that he needed to do what was right. He set out on a mission to contact each and every one of the accompanying musicians in his Jazz Icons series in order to pay them the royalties and pension contributions they deserved “A lot of companies don’t want to spend the money to do it right,” says Peck.
The project was a massive one, however, so he enlisted the AFM’s help, and the DVD series was only released after this had all been completed. It wasn’t easy contacting the artists. Some of the musicians live abroad, and some have since passed away, making it necessary to contact relatives instead.
Sato and Jay Schaffner, recording supervisor for Local 802 (New York City), worked with the production company in tracking down musicians and estates and negotiating additional payments. The musicians have already received some payments, and more are on the way. “We can hold our heads up high,” says Peck. “Thanks to the Federation, we got it done.”
According to Don Sickler, Reelin’ in the Years associate producer and jazz consultant, more than 87 jazz artists will be paid. “Peck was very blunt and to the point. He said our number one priority was seeing that the musicians got paid,” he says. “After all, they put love and care into the music.”
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DVD Review: Thelonious Monk - Live In '66
Paul J. Youngman • October, 2006
Monk Live in ’66 is a classic DVD, your chance to see up close and personal how a jazz master works his magic. Classic tunes like “Blue Monk,” “Round Midnight” and “Epistrophy” are performed live and you are a witness to the performance and improvisational process. Monk is shown at his creative best, improvising and comping with his band mates. A Quincy Jones quote in the liner notes is so appropriate, “An audio-visual treasure trove of the music that changed the world.”
There are numerous wonderful points to be made for this DVD and this Jazz Icons DVD series. The Monk DVD comes with a twenty-page booklet that is quite enlightening. The booklet features a forward by Monk’ son T.S. The liner notes are by Don Stickler, arranger and trumpet player with Ben Riley’s Monk Legacy Septet. The booklet features some great photos of Monk as well as a montage of magazine articles, cover shots, posters and other such memorabilia of Monk during that period of time.
During my first viewing of the DVD, I did not reference the booklet, I made a few notes for my reference. My first note was in regards to Monks choice of hats for the Norway gig, very strange. My next note was to check out Ben Riley, I had no idea he was a basic two-piece kit drummer, I was really impressed. The note of most importance, where was the audience?
This was supposed to be a live gig, so where was that interaction from the audience? This is where reading the liner notes comes in handy. The liner notes indicate that these sessions were recorded before the audience arrived in the case of Norway and in a television studio in the case of Denmark. The notes enlighten you as to Monk’s choice of hats for the gig and they even clue you in as to Ben Riley’s drum kit selection. They add quite a bit of information and are educational and interesting.
The DVD is a musical delight, the sound is good, and the quality of the film is very good. The fact that there is no audience is disappointing as I believe an appreciative audience adds to a performance. There are a few areas where the film may have been spliced together, these are not really bad spots, they only disrupt the flow for one to two seconds and they are a minimal occurrence. The opportunity to go back in time and have the feeling of sitting in the studio audience for the performances is fantastic and negates any negatives as to technical quality. The camera work is excellent, with camera angles that really highlight Monk’ technique.
When I listen to my favorite Monk records, I always wondered what was happening on the keyboard. I envisioned a very serious and completely focused individual, a creative genius. How he created and the intensity of his performance was something I could only guess at. This recording provides an educational glimpse into the style, the group dynamic and the personality of the performers.
Tracks: Norway ’66 : Lulu’s Back In Town, Blue Monk, ‘Round Midnight -- Denmark ‘66 : Lulu’s Back In Town, Don’t Blame Me, Epistrophy
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Music DVD Review: Chet Baker Live In '64 & '79
Ray Ellis • October 17, 2006
Any mention of jazz legend Chet Baker almost invariably focuses as much on his tumultuous life as it does on his music. Thats a pity, really, because it takes nothing more than a casual listen of any of his recordings to realize that nobody epitomized West Coast Cool more than he did.
Fortunately, Chet Baker-Live in ‘64 & ’79 pays tribute to Baker’s talents. As part of the Jazz Icons DVD series, this disc serves up two performances by the late trumpet player, which together, provide an intimate overview of his evolution.
In the first set, recorded for Belgian television in 1964, Baker plays flugelhorn through the entire session. He’d become enamored of its warmer sound some months before, after a French musician loaned him one after he’d lost his trumpet. (The details of how that happened are recounted in the liner notes, but aren’t germane to this review. We’re focusing on Baker’s music here.
Augmented by Belgian saxophonist/flautist Jacques Pelzer, French pianist Rene Urtreger, and Italians Luigi Trussardi and Franco Manzecchi on bass and drums respectively, Baker’s 64 TV gig is a study in cool. Taped in black and white (this was 1964, after all) and extensively utilizing foreshortened lighting angles, this studio set presents the quintet in a casual setting bereft of any distractions, including a live audience. What we get instead is a living room setting where five guys are just having a good time grooving to each other’s riffs. The visuals are often amusingly quaint, whether it’s the close-ups of the musicians studiously bobbing in time to the music, or the cigarette smoke wafting aimlessly among the horns.
But it’s the music itself that draws us inexorably into Baker’s world. And in this thirty minute set, Baker and his band stop at various locales in that world. From the light and airy rendition of “Bye Bye Black Bird” to the crooning vocals of Sammy Cahn’s “Time After Time” to the cover of Miles Davis’ “So What” the Belgian segment is tight, and nuanced so flawlessly we’re smitten by the power of cool jazz.
The 1979 Norway segment presents a more weathered and more evolved Baker, a musician who not only stayed abreast of the changes the fifteen years since the Belgium performance, but helped to define them as well. Here, his trumpeting is backed up by musicians Wolfgang Lackerschmid on vibraphone, pianist Michel Graillier, and bassist Jean Louis Rassinfosse. Playing to a live audience, the drumerless quartet exemplifies the freeform experimentalism of the late seventies without completely abandoning Baker's West Coast Cool sound. The fifteen minute version of Cole Porter’s “Love For Sale” ties the entire DVD together, particularly in those final moments when Baker’s trumpet soars in a finale that speaks volumes about jazz. This is music borne of the soul.
Both performances are restored to pristine quality, as are all the titles in the Jazz Icons series. Also included is a glossy 16 page booklet featuring liner notes and a memorabilia collage. The Jazz Icon series is indispensable to anyone remotely interested in jazz, featuring as it does rare video performances from the greats. Except for a 90-second interview clip, Chet Baker Live in ‘64 ‘ &’ 79 lets the music speak for itself. But it’s the interview clip that may be most revealing about Chet Baker. When asked what kinds of music he likes, he replies, “All kinds. But not country. Not rock. And not pop” He proceeds to roll off a list of jazz musicians from Dizzy Gillespies to Miles Davis to Weather Report. He wasn’t being flippant -- to Baker, that was all different kinds of music. And for over forty years, he showed us what he meant.
Ray Ellis is a freelance writer who has been dissecting pop culture and its effect on how we view ourselves for over twenty years, ruffling feathers and dragging unsuspecting pedestrians along for the ride whenever possible.
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City- Rochester's Alternative Newsweekly
August 30, 2006
Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers-Live in ’58
A few years back, when I watched Ken Burns’ Jazz, I was frustrated by the short clips of great jazz performances. I told anyone who would listen that Burns should have added another segment, showcasing entire performances. My wish has been fulfilled not by Burns but by a new series of DVDs, Jazz Icons. Filmed in glorious black and white, the performances feature a host of jazz greats: Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy Jones, Thelonious Monk, and many others. Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers Live in ’58 was filmed in a Belgium theater. The elegant camera work is blissfully free of the fast-cut technique that now infects almost all concert footage. The camera lingers, allowing viewers to savor every wonderful moment. The sound is crystal clear and the excitement is tangible. When Art Blakey steps up to the microphone to introduce “Moanin’,” the then one-month-old Bobby Timmons tune, he knows he’s got something special. Timmons responds with an impossibly complicated but perfectly fitting piano solo. And every excursion by trumpeter Lee Morgan and saxophonist Benny Golson is a feast for the ear. Timmons wasn’t the only great composer in this band. Golson contributes two gorgeous ballads, “I Remember Clifford” and “Whisper Not.” Blakey is marvelous throughout, showing his powerhouse side on tunes like “It’s You, Or No One” and “A Night In Tunisia.” A vintage performance magnificently captured on film — what more could a jazz fan want?
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Basie DVD Captures Essence of the Big Band
By Dick Bogle • Oct. 26, 2006
"COUNT BASIE LIVE IN '62”
JAZZ ICONS DVD
The 1962 edition of the Count Basie Orchestra was loaded with star quality musicians who became synonymous with the best in big band swing.
This DVD, recorded at a Swedish concert, is first-class video, even if in black and white — there’s no fuzziness, and it is in perfect sync. The director knew his business by having the cameras zeroed in on the soloist or group performing.
“Easin’ It” is the first tune, with the rhythm section of Basie on piano; Freddie Green, guitar; Eddie Jones, bass; and drummer Sonny Payne laying down a finger poppin’ groove until Basie gives a signal for each horn section to come down front and musically introduce themselves. That serves as building blocks for what ensues — a hard-swinging tune with full band involvement.
Perhaps the gem of the DVD is next, when tenor saxophonist Eric Dixon, who is not as well known as Frank Wess, Frank Foster and Marshall Royal, plays “You are Too Beautiful.” Never has that tune ever been played any prettier.
For those who like an old-school blues shouter, Basie brings one of the best to the microphone, Irene Reid. She is solid with her delivery of “I Got Rhythm,” “Backwater Blues” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”
It’s vintage Basie on “I Need to Be Bee’d With,” as he plays his usual sparse style over the rhythm section at the start. Quentin Jackson’s plunger trombone solo is a highlight. Trumpeter Sonny Cohn is featured soloist on the ballad “Stella By Starlight.”
The driving force of this nearly one-hour effort is drummer Sonny Payne. When you add his drumstick juggling to his heavy rhythmic timekeeping, it becomes a show within a show.
For the Basie fan or jazz novice, this is an excellent examination of what big band jazz is all about.
Gillespie DVD Brings True Artist to Life
Dizzy Gillespie- Live in ’58 & ’70- Jazz Icons DVD
By Dick Bogle • TheSkanner.com • Oct. 12, 2006
This is absolutely the finest jazz video of a legendary jazz musician one could hope to view. Naturally it’s in living black and white, since it was filmed in 1958 and 1970. But, the video is crisp and the sound is fabulous — unlike many other videos of the same vintage — and it is all in sync.
Viewers are fortunate because Gillespie performs in two contexts. The first, set in 1958, takes place on a concert stage in Belgium with his quintet. But not just any quintet — he is joined on stage by saxophonist Sonny Stitt, who is heard on tenor and alto; pianist Lou Levy; bassist Ray Brown; and drummer Gus Johnson. Although it was recorded in 1958, the music is as fresh as tomorrow. Opening with “Blues After Dark,” Gillespie blows strenuously through a mute. Stitt follows with a strong hearing on tenor. Gillespie and Stitt exhibit their combined senses of humor with their vocal delivery of “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”
Stitt takes the solo stage on alto with “Loverman,” an intricate interpretation I wish could have gone on at least twice as long. Gillespie is alone on “Cocktails For Two,” with just a single magnificent chorus. “Blues Walk” closes out the set with Stitt back on tenor for a rousing end to a landmark performance.
Gillespie’s next stop is Denmark, where he fronts the Francy Boland-Kenny Clarke big band. They kick it off with Gillespie’s “Con Alma,” which is replete with cha-cha rhythms and tango elements. Two drummers add strength to the pulse — one, Kenny Clare, is pounding away on snare, bass and cymbal while co-leader Kenny Clarke is using a cow bell. “Manteca” gets an all too brief exposure, but multiple explosions occur when they move on to “Things are Here.” The 16 pieces become fully mobilized, and they attack the chart with power and brilliance reminiscent of Gillespie’s early 1940s bebop big bands. This is solid end to end.
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DVD of the Year
In 2006, DVDs sadly became a dumping grounds. Many releases were nothing more than repetitive live performances without any editing, followed by rambling commentary without any point. But not the Jazz Icons series from Reelin’ In The Years/TDK/Naxos. These nine DVDs featured both live and studio performances by the likes of Quincy Jones, Louis Armstrong, and Count Basie from some of their best years (1960, 1959 and 1962 respectively). There’s also Art Blakey (1958), Thelonious Monk (1966) and Chet Baker (from both 1964 & 1979). No telling what this continuing series has in mind for 2007, but if the trend continues, the packaging will be top-notch, with 16-page booklets and rare photography.
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One cannot be a true jazz archivist without having a healthy collection of historic jazz DVDs. There are treasures galore hidden away in the archives of European television stations, hour-long shows featuring touring American greats. The Jazz Icons series has recently released nine remarkable films featuring the likes of Chet Baker (1964 & 1979), Quincy Jones (his 1960 orchestra), the 1959 Louis Armstrong All-Stars, Dizzy Gillespie (1958 & 1970), Ella Fitzgerald (1957 & 1963), Thelonious Monk (1966), Count Basie (1962) and Buddy Rich (1978). If one can only acquire a single one, get Art Blakey’s Live In ’58. Imagine seeing Lee Morgan (at the age of 20), Benny Golson, Bobby Timmons, Jymie Merritt and Blakey playing “Moanin’” only a month after the original recording, not to mention five other lengthy numbers. On second thought, if you’re really an archivist, pick up all nine DVDs!
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Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers- Live In ’58
by John Bergstroms
PopMatters.com- October 2006
In contrast with today’s multimedia-fuelled record industry, and Ken Burns’ mammoth documentary notwithstanding, the golden age of jazz is much more heard than seen. Aside from iconic figures like Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane, jazz musicians from the form’s defining years exist visually in a vacuum of equally iconic Blue Note, Riverside, Columbia, and Impulse! packaging. The music sounds so timeless, has so gracefully weathered the testing of time, that we expect to turn on a visual document like Live in ‘58 and find stately, ponderous old men, as weathered and visceral as their music, as self-serious as we can be about it.
The greatest shock, then, to viewing Live in ‘58 is just how young the musicians are. Blakey put together countless versions of the Jazz Messengers over a 50-year period, but this short-lived lineup is often cited as one of the best. Blakey, a youthful 39, was the senior member of the group. The next oldest, bassist Jymie Merritt, was in his early 30s. Musical director / tenor saxophonist Benny Golson was 29; pianist Bobby Timmons was 22. Most striking is the rotund, clean-shaven face of trumpet player Lee Morgan: Already a veteran performer with half a dozen solo albums to his name, the 20-year-old prodigy looks for all the world like he’s just stepped off of a schoolyard.
The band, dressed in sharp suits, are professional and composed. But they are also nonchalant, doing their thing with a minimum of movement and interaction with each other or the crowd. But this decorum is probably less the result of arrogance than the surreal context of five young black men performing at a concert hall in Brussels, Belgium, in front of an entirely white audience—with cameras rolling. Though everyone looks the part—Golson with his thick, black horn-rimmed spectacles; Timmons with his angular profile and soul patch—these aren’t the stereotypical cool cats you might imagine.
They are very, very good musicians, and the material is top-notch, too. This was the first Jazz Messengers incarnation that featured, in Golson and Timmons, composers who were able to pen hits in their own rights. Of the six tracks performed (plus a bit of theme music at the end), half are Golson compositions that had originally been featured on Morgan’s solo albums. Two of these, the gentle ballad “I Remember Clifford” and midtempo groove “Whisper Not”, would soon become standards. Timmons’s “Moanin’”, however, is the best of the originals, its call-and-response melody and energetic bridge sounding instantly familiar. It is, simply put, one of the all-time classics of the era, and the Messengers’ performance, only a month after the original recording was issued, is definitive.
Everyone is on top form. Golson shows off his range and surprising intensity as a soloist, while Morgan’s seemingly effortless performance dazzles. Here we can sense how he would, with The Sidewinder five years on, solidify his legendary status. Timmons seems to be at one with his piano, investing both his rhythm and solo playing with genuine soul; during his solos he can be heard faintly scatting along.
However, this band—and this show—really belong to Blakey. He doesn’t take a solo until well into the third number. But he is clearly in control, looking down on his assembled sidemen with pride while leading them with his authoritative, inimitable drumming style. During the concert’s climax, a thundering performance of Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia”, which Blakey had already made his own, he takes off onto another level. With Merritt holding down the tempo, the other three players play percussion instruments, creating a syncopated backdrop against which Blakey solos with primal, near-tribal fury. His long face drawn, mouth agape, eyes gazing to the heavens, he is positively possessed by his talent and passion. Through it all, though, he retains a grace of form that makes him appear to be not so much playing drums as swimming while sitting down.
This uniquely gifted version of the Jazz Messengers makes Live in ‘58 essential for hard-bop fans and highly-recommended for those with more than a passing interest in jazz. That the black & white picture and sound quality are as well-restored as they are is a huge bonus. It seems fitting that the recording itself was never aired and had literally been lost in the Belgian archives for nearly fifty years. A hidden treasure, indeed.
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Some Mo' Satchmo
Louis Armstrong-Live In ’59
by Adam Williams
PopMatters.com- October 2006
With the never-ending deluge of music related CDs and DVDs glutting the marketplace, it is easy to miss a rare gem quietly hidden amongst the offerings … but the Louis Armstrong edition of the Jazz Icons series is just such a find. It is equal parts historical documentation and respectful tribute to a legendary performer, and affords viewers a front row glimpse of Armstrong and his backing All-Stars.
Live in ’59 captures the jazz master on stage in Belgium in 1959, and is noted to be one of the only complete Armstrong concerts from the ’50s known to exist. The black and white footage is expertly filmed, and is comprised of 13 tracks lasting roughly an hour in length. Armstrong’s signature “When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” opens the set, and the songs flow effortlessly from there. Alternating between playing and singing, Armstrong’s charisma is infectious, as he shares the spotlight with his supporting band. Though the All-Stars line-up shifted over the years, this roster provides a flawless complement to Armstrong; each member is in total command of his respective instrument, and all are given the opportunity to show off their skills with some slick soloing. An added treat is the appearance of Velma Middleton who, having toured with Armstrong extensively in the past, adds vocals and some impromptu dance steps.
The set list includes a Baker’s Dozen of uptempo tunes, all of which should be well-known to Armstrong enthusiasts. From “C’Est Si Bon” to “When the Saints Go Marching In”, there is not a single moment where the show hesitates. And though the material originates from different sources, each song is made Armstrong’s own with the help of some All-Star flair.
By this juncture of his career, Armstrong was considered by many to be the face of jazz, and the ’59 footage is ample proof of his technical expertise and onstage aplomb. Interestingly, Armstrong’s enthusiasm and gregarious on-stage persona juxtapose the other image of jazz, most associated with practitioners like Miles Davis. Where Davis’ intense (and cerebral) presentation served to intellectualize his craft, Armstrong remained the consummate entertainer, deftly balancing musical precision with humor and showmanship. Armstrong’s smiling countenance is the perfect foil for his remarkable technical skills; his interaction with both audience and band is wonderfully disarming, making the music even more accessible. In many respects, Armstrong’s jovial command of his art and his audience resembles that of BB King and Bobby Short. And like King and Short after him, Armstrong succeeded in broadening his specific genre into the realm of popular music.
Live in ’59 is interesting from a formatting perspective. The stage arrangement is sparse, lacking any theatrical accoutrements, thus the focus is entirely on the band. With live music becoming such a visual medium over the last quarter century, the DVD harkens back to a simpler, less cluttered time, when sharply dressed musicians and their instruments were enough to satisfy. Watching Armstrong ply his trade in such unfettered confines is as pure a viewing experience as there is. Also worth noting, Armstrong suffered a heart attack a month after this performance, as the band readied itself for a music festival. Despite recovering, Armstrong’s health over the next decade affected his performances to varying degrees, thus, Live in ’59 is essentially the last concert in which he is at his best.
Though lasting only 55 minutes, the Live in ’59 performance provides an accurate thumbnail sketch of Louis Armstrong’s expansive stage resume. For veteran jazz enthusiasts, the DVD will augment existing multi-media documents of Armstrong’s life in music with an invigorating performance. For those less familiar with Armstrong, Live in ’59 provides a near perfect introduction to one of popular music’s most important performers.
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Jazz Icons DVD Series
by Jamie Cosnowsky
Jazz Improv's New York Jazz Guide- October 2006
Producing award-winning DVDs is not something new to David Peck and Phillip Galloway of Reelin’ In The Years Productions. Their profoundly historic, three-volume American Folk Blues Festival 1962-1969 DVD series received critical acclaim and numerous industry awards, including a GRAMMY nomination in 2004. They approached their latest project, Jazz Icons™, in a similar fashion—with the utmost care and respect. The first nine in this series of never-before-seen concerts from artists who left their indelible imprint on the canvas of jazz are Louis Armstrong Live in ‘59, Chet Baker Live in ‘64 & ‘79, Count Basie Live in ‘62, Art Blakey Live in ‘58, Ella Fitzgerald Live in ‘57 & ‘63, Dizzy Gillespie Live in ‘58 & 70, Quincy Jones Live in ‘60, Thelonious Monk Live in ‘66 and Buddy Rich Live in ‘78. They understand the landmark importance of the gold they have in their hands and have done everything in their power, along with their colleague and Art Director, Tom Gulotta, to turn Jazz Icons™ into something that could be cherished for generations.
Reelin’ In The Years Productions was founded in 1992. They are the largest music footage library in the world, housing over 10,000 hours of performances from all genres of music spanning the last 50 years. The reason for that is that they exclusively represent the rights to all of the music footage from 30 television stations throughout Europe, Australia and Japan and are able to license that material to all forms of media. Needless to say they have some connections.
In late 2004, Peck was approached by TDK to release a jazz series on DVD. Peck reflected, “Most people assume that TDK is only a manufacturer of CD-Rs and tape but they have a division in Europe that produces primarily opera and classical music CDs and DVDs. At first I was skeptical because nobody really puts money into jazz, but they were very serious and were ready to put their money where their mouth was.”
Peck and his team set out to make the Jazz Icons™ series live up to the integrity of the historical footage they had in their hands and they did so with great success. While working on clearances in early 2005, they came across Don Sickler. “Because Don is the keeper of the flame for Thelonious Monk’s music and publishing,” said Peck, “we figured that we’d have him write some liner notes, but when we learned more about Don and how incredibly knowledgeable he is, we wanted him more a part of the entire project. He is our Associate Producer because we wanted this project to be done right and none of us are very knowledgeable about jazz. We appreciate it more than we did before and know more than we did before, but we still wanted everything to be done right.”
“When we approached the project,” shared Galloway, “it was based on a couple of things. First, we wanted the greatest of the greats – the foremost innovators. Given that, we had to look at what footage was available. We have over 10,000 hours of footage in jazz, blues, country music, rock and roll…all sorts of genres. Also, David [Peck] has become something of a world authority on music footage in the last twenty years, he came to know what’s out there and what’s available. We also wanted footage that was longer than just one song from this show and one song from another, because a concert is a whole other statement. If a musician can work over the course of 45-minutes or an hour, it’s a much deeper thing, so we wanted to look at whole concerts by the greatest names. Then we looked at what was available; what could be cleared given a certain amount of time to make the first run of DVDs.”
Each DVD follows a common format nicely designed and well thought out by Tom Gulotta. From the second you touch the case, you know you’re holding a quality product. The packaging has a retro design, but it’s very much new and clean. Said Peck, “We wanted to create something that will stand the test of time. We want people to pick up the package and say, ‘Wow! Somebody really cared when they put this together.’” It is very obvious that some TLC was put into the project.
Each cover has a great photo of the artist—some iconic, some unpublished—deep in the moment and lost in their art. The slight touches of colorization of an instrument or an object enhance the retro feel of the photo and shed light on the smallest attention to detail. When you open up the case, you immediately see the background splash card behind the translucent plastic case. Along with the center-fold of the booklet, the splash card, is a montage of memorabilia: posters, tickets, cover shots from Downbeat and other jazz magazines of the day. “The montage in the middle is a trademark of ours,” shared Gulotta, “because we are such music fans, we love memorabilia and we have it up all over the office. As soon as we know we’re going to do a DVD, we always try to collect as much memorabilia as possible. Since this project took a while, I was able to start collecting back last year. When we approach a DVD, we approach it as a music lover first, rather than producers. We start out saying, “Okay, what would we want in a DVD?” We try to think of what the die-hard fans would really want in a DVD package. We’re die-hard fans, so we know.”
Before you even get to the DVD itself, there’s the booklet that is at a minimum of sixteen pages. (Blakey, Monk and Rich are an impressive 20 pages, while the Quincy Jones booklet boasts 24 pages.). Each has the un-enhanced cover photo along with a magazine cover that the artist had graced. Here’s where history meets the heart. The forewords in most cases, were written by the children of the jazz icon, reminding us that although we may idolize these artists, to some they were mom and dad. Shared Galloway, “we always wanted to make sure that the musicians were brought forth in the best possible light, and it was a labor of love. We made sure all of the families were on board and we made sure that our DVDs are very educational as well as informative. If we can get a family member to write a foreword, that in itself is a very educational thing; to find out what it was like to live with such a great legend. They have a different perspective. For instance in the case of Ella Fitzgerald’s son, Ray Brown, Jr., we were choked up reading his foreword – it was so moving. They have this perspective of growing up and living with somebody for 30-40 years.” Joining Ray Brown, Jr. in reflection is Cathy Rich on Buddy, T.S. Monk on “Daddy,” Takashi Blakey on Art, and Paul Baker on Chet.
The booklets are treasures featuring essays by legendary jazz journalists like Ira Gitler, Will Friedwald, Rob Bowman, and Michael Cuscuna among others. Excerpts from vintage interviews are in some of the booklets like Downbeat’s feature of Mel Tormé interviewing Buddy Rich in 1978, and Quincy Jones’ self-penned article from Jazz Review in 1959.
Most notable are the never before seen photos that grace the booklets. Gulotta beamed when he spoke about the photographs. “I’m proud of the photographs we have in the booklets. We dug really deep to find photographs that would appeal to fans almost as much as the footage itself. Anyone who’s a fan of these artists might already have a box set or own a book and have seen all the photographs over and over. We were able to find a lot of unpublished photographs.” The Quincy Jones booklet is a treasure trove of a moment in time. “We found Susanne Schapowalow from Germany who toured with the group in 1960,” said Gulotta, “and she took a ton of photos. Many of the photos in the booklet are from the exact show that’s on the DVD. Another photographer, Elton Robinson, heard a rumor about this DVD and contacted us. He photographed the group in 1959 in New York and Brussels rehearsing for the Harold Arlen musical “Free and Easy,” which was actually the impetus for the tour. He had all these amazing photos of the rehearsals that had never been published before. The guy was a brilliant photographer. We found some other obscure guys like Raymond Ross and Jamie Hodgson, but we also used the legends like Herman Leonard, Lee Tanner, Francis Wolff, Paul Hoeffler and Chuck Stewart, among others.”
Anyone who has been around the music business—and in this case, the jazz world, in particular—is aware of the horror stories of some of the greatest artists being advantage of, unpaid, underpaid, or otherwise ripped off. In keeping with the meticulous nature of the creation of the first nine videos in the Jazz Icons™ series, Reelin’ In The Years Productions continues to set the standard in another way: in addition to properly licensing the master footage, obtaining the rights for the usage of the copyrighted songs that the various artists perform, and all other rights and permissions, they have done comprehensive research to identify all of the musicians who appear on all of the videos. “Every single musician on the DVDs has gotten paid. We negotiated directly with the estates of all the name artists, (and in Quincy’s case, with him directly) and we took care of every side musician through the union. That’s something that does not happen. So when you buy these DVDs, you’re supporting the artists,” says Peck. This is a model of integrity that sets the standard for all other record labels, video and DVD producers, and industry participants to follow. I am certain that those statements will garner the support of every musical artist who might have a say in his or her own success, and desire to be properly paid for their creations.
The first nine DVDs in the Jazz Icons™, series are gems—each one in their own right. A bargain at $19.95 retail, they will make great stocking stuffers for jazz fans of any age, but for the true fanatic all 9 are also available together in one beautiful package as a discounted boxed set.
“The footage itself cries out to be treated with this much care and respect,” says Galloway. “The footage should be shown in the Smithsonian every day. It is classic Americana; it is classic jazz in its strongest form. You can learn as much about jazz watching this footage as you can watching a documentary on jazz in so many ways. It’s an awesome responsibility to provide a ‘cradle’ for this type of footage.” For more information visit jazzicons.com. Check out video clips of the Jazz Icons™ on Jazz Improv TV at www.jazzimprov.tv or visit www.amazon.com to purchase the DVDs.
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by George Harris
All About Jazz Newspaper - September 2006
In many ways, this is the best of times for jazz fans. It is simply incredible how many great unknown performances of jazz immortals are being unearthed lately. Now comes the icing on the cake. Jazz Icons is a nine DVD series of historic performances of jazz icons at their creative peak. Culled from full-length concerts and studio performances, none of these sessions have been officially released on home video, and some have never even been broadcast before. Each DVD features a 16-page booklet with an enjoyable essay along with rare photos, many of which come from the artists' personal estates.
Obviously, all of this wouldn't matter if the music and performances weren't worthwhile. Rest assured; this stuff is up there with The Sound Of Jazz and Jazz On A Summer's Day- two jazz essentials.
Louis Armstrong- Live in ’59 is 55 minutes worth of Satchmo with the likes of Peanuts Hucko (clarinet), Trummy Young (trombone) and Billy Kyle (piano) performing an enjoyable set of classics like "Love Is Just Around The Corner" and "Basin Street Blues." Armstrong was in his renaissance here, playing in great form, to humorous delight.
Chet Baker- Live in ’64 & ’79 captures Baker in Belgium and Norway with two cool and crisp bands. Baker is in top form fronting a quintet with Jacques Pelzer on alto and flute on exquisite takes of the standard "Time After Time," and also surprises like "So What" and "Airegin." The ’79 footage features forward-thinking Wolfgang Lackerschmid on vibes for progressive takes of "Blue Train" and "Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise." This was a very under-appreciated period of Baker captured perfectly.
Count Basie- Live in ’62 features the bandleader with Frank Wess, Freddie Green and a rhythm section propelled by Sonny Payne on drums. This release is a dream come true for Basie fans. "Back To The Apple" and "Corner Pocket" are just a couple of the groovin' songs on this hour-long toe tapper.
Likewise, the Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers - Live in ’58 presents a great band during its peak. Filmed while promoting their classic Moanin' release, fresh and vibrant songs like "Moanin'" "Whisper Not" and "I Remember Clifford" are delivered by Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Bobby Timmons and Jymie Merritt. The incredible thing about this DVD is that so many jazz standards were composed by these musicians, and here they are presenting them for the first time to the world. Historic and vital.
In concert in Belgium and Sweden respectively, Ella Fitzgerald- Live In ’57 & ’63 captures vocal singing at its best. In the midst of her classic "songbook" period, Ella swings the daylights out of "Lullaby of Birdland," "Roll 'Em Pete" and the definitive "Mack The Knife." Pianists Oscar Peterson and Tommy Flanagan, along with Ray Brown, Jo Jones and Herb Ellis, create an incredible rhythm section that doesn't let up. How could music so good, look so easy?
The generous 85-minute Dizzy Gillespie- Live in ’58 & ’70 has Diz leading a hard driving bop quintet in Belgium that includes Sonny Stitt and Ray Brown. "Blues Walk" is particularly cooking, with Stitt almost stealing the show. The ’70 gig in Denmark brings Diz with the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland Big Band. Dizzy's horn is in great shape throughout the two sets.
One of the surprises of this set is just how good Quincy Jones- Live in ’60 is. How could you go wrong with a group that had Clark Terry, Phil Woods and Sahib Shihab? This DVD gives 80 minutes worth of regret that Jones didn't do more of this for the next 40 years.
Filmed in Norway and Denmark with his last great quartet, Thelonious Monk- Live in ’66 has Charlie Rouse, Larry Gales and Ben Riley snapping and bending with aplomb on "Lulu's Back In Town," "Blue Monk" and "Don't Blame Me." Rouse's tenor is in fine grizzly form and was predestined for these parts. Riley and Gales are the perfect mates for this joyously indiosyncratic music.
Buddy Rich- Live in ’78 has the world's fastest drummer maniacally overdriving through a caffeine-enriched set that includes "Birdland" and "Big Swing Face." Tenor saxophonist Steve Marcus cut his teeth with this band and is shown in a great light throughout this 75-minute adrenaline rush.
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Ella Fitzgerald Live in '57 and '63
Ella Fitzgerald - Published: September 28, 2006
All About Jazz Website
By Tom Pierce
Ella Fitzgerald—Live in ’57 and ‘63 is one of nine initial DVDs in record company Jazz Icons' series of previously unreleased concerts. All are primarily from the 1950s and '60s and feature, in addition to Fitzgerald, legends such as Louis Armstrong, Art Blakey, Count Basie, Quincy Jones, Thelonious Monk, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, and Chet Baker.
Overall, the two concerts chosen (Brussels, Belgium in 1957 and Stockholm, Sweden in 1963) present Fitzgerald in a very direct, music-focused approach (no contextual or historical visual material) that deals exclusively with the performances themselves.
The two stellar rhythm sections—Ray Brown and Herb Ellis with Don Abney (her regular accompanist), or Oscar Peterson (on one track) plus Jo Jones in 1957; and Tommy Flanagan's quartet in 1963—are consistently uplifting in their contributions to the featured artist's performance and innovative in their own right.
The black & white photography is very clear, with some striking and varied camera angles. Several of these shots frame Ms. Fitzgerald with bassist Ray Brown, a two-shot composition that some viewers may find interesting, given their 1947-53 marriage. One of her biographies attributes the marriage's failure partly to their being apart, due to Brown's insistence on touring with Oscar Peterson’s trio rather than with the rhythm section accompanying his wife. Their adopted son, Ray Brown, Jr., contributes a touching foreword in the 16-page booklet, which also includes substantive and informative liner notes by noted music critic Will Friedwald.
Unlike most vocalists who subscribe to the belief that audiences need to be “jump started” with an uptempo song, Fitzgerald begins the 1957 concert with her superbly moving ballad treatment of “Angel Eyes,” a tune she commonly used as an opener at this time. Her arresting performance of the Matt Dennis classic reminded this viewer of a personal pet peeve: writers who often let Fitzgerald's unparalleled rhythmic mastery and bright, happy tone on up-tempo tunes lead them to feel they must be critical of a lack of lyric sensitivity on the ballads, a narrow view this reviewer has never shared.
A less significant, but still very pleasant part of the viewing experience of this particular concert video is seeing a lighter, more agile Fitzgerald at 40, whose body language reminds one of her initial intention of entering the 1934 Apollo Amateur night as a dancer. Also, viewers familiar with more recent Fitzgerald performances will observe that she projects an even fresher, more natural image on these dates sans the wigs she later always used.
The 1963 performance presents some interesting contrasts from the ‘57 concert. In addition to having the different accompaniment (Tommy Flanagan’s fine quartet), the second concert was filmed in a TV studio, with even sharper photography than the earlier on-location date. Moreover, the TV director was able to include more close-ups, creating a greater sense of intimacy than was possible in the large, crowded Brussels theater in 1957. This Stockholm performance, which is somewhat more commercial in repertorial selections, includes a number of pop songs of the day—“Runnin’ Wild,” Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah, I Love Her So” & “Georgia on My Mind,” Jobim’s “Desafinado” and “Mack the Knife”—while the ’57 concert consists exclusively of classic Jazz & American Songbook standards.
Both segments are impressively edited, with pacing so tight one is surprised when the end is reached. Regardless of which concert one prefers, it can certainly be said that both programs very effectively showcase this uniquely gifted singer in performances that are representative of her enormous talent at an especially favorable, productive time in her career.
Tracks:Angel Eyes; Lullaby of Birdland; Love for Sale; Tenderly; April in Paris; Just One of Those Things; Roll ‘Em Pete; I Can’t Give You Anything But Love; It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got that Swing; No Moon at All; Just One of Those Things; Runnin’ Wild; Georgia on my Mind; Desafinado; Hallelujah, I Love Her So; Mack the Knife.
Personnel: Ella Fitzgerald, vocals; Roy Eldridge (9); Oscar Peterson, piano, (9); Don Abney, piano (1-8); Ray Brown, bass (1-9); Herb Ellis, guitar (1-9); Jo Jones, drums (1-9); Tommy Flanagan, piano (10-16); Les Spann, guitar (10-16); Jim Hughart, bass (10-16); Gus Johnson, drums (10-16).
Production Notes: 56 minutes. Filmed June 6, 1957, at Brussels, Belgium, June 6, 1957 and Stockholm, Sweden, April 3, 1963.
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Sunday, September 24, 2006
'Jazz' DVDs show icons
By Martin Z. Kasdan Jr.
Special to The Courier-Journal
Icon: "A sign or representation that stands for its object." -- The Random House College Dictionary, Revised Edition (1988).
Jazz: "If you have to ask what it is, you'll never know." -- Louis Armstrong.
"Jazz Icons": A new DVD series devoted to filmed concerts of pivotal jazz artists of the 20th century.
That's not just PR hype. The series of nine DVDs that will be released Tuesday features Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie and Count Basie, among others -- artists who transcend the sometimes narrow confines of the jazz world and are familiar to fans of virtually all forms of music.
A recent telephone interview with series producer David Peck quickly metamorphosed into a spirited conversation with his co-producer Phil Galloway and the art director for the series, Tom Gulotta. Asked why the series was called "Jazz Icons" rather than "Jazz Masters," "Geniuses of Jazz" or something else, there was collective laughter: " 'Jazz Icons' wasn't taken yet!"
More seriously, though, they said they were looking for vintage footage of artists who go beyond the genre."We think these artists are to jazz what the Beatles and the Stones are to rock, or Hank Williams or Johnny Cash are to country," they said.
In addition to the artists mentioned above, the series features Thelonious Monk, Quincy Jones, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Buddy Rich and Chet Baker. The series has a unified look, thanks to Gulotta's work to give it a "classic jazz look, but not an aged, vintage look; very clean, very elegant." Each DVD comes with a 16- to 20-page booklet featuring essays by some of today's best jazz writers and many photographs of the artists. Each has a centerfold collage with images of concert posters, magazine covers and so forth.
"We love memorabilia and only have a limited number of pages to work with; the collages give people something to look at over and over and find something new," Gulotta said.
But what about the actual performances here? With the exception of the 1978 Buddy Rich show and the 1979 segment of the Chet Baker DVD, all the concerts were filmed in black and white, and all feature monaural sound. The engineering is superb throughout, and the crispness of the reproduced music is frequently astonishing, given that these performances range from 1957 to 1970 (except for Rich and the second portion of the Baker DVD).
Jazz aficionados will no doubt begin with their personal favorites, but for those seeking an introduction to this music, Ella Fitzgerald's performances from 1957 and 1963 may be the best place to start. Those new to jazz sometimes complain that when the solos begin, they lose track of the song. That will definitely not be the case here, as Fitzgerald delivers such classics as "Georgia on My Mind," "Mack the Knife" and "April in Paris" with verve and joy. Her scat singing can be compared to an instrumental break in a pop or rock song.
Thelonious Monk "broke through" in terms of current popularity with the release last year of "The Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane Live at Carnegie Hall." It sold remarkably well for a jazz album, and so the Monk entry in the "Jazz Icons" series may be an additional chapter in the resurgence of interest in this sometimes quirky yet always innovative pianist and composer. His performances both date from April 1966, in segments filmed in Norway and Denmark.
These feature a classic lineup of saxophonist Charlie Rouse, bassist Larry Gales and drummer Ben Riley. Monk tears through a program of originals, including his well-known ballad, " 'Round Midnight," and pop tunes, such as "Lulu's Back in Town." Watching Monk get up and dance during his performance and interact with his fellow musicians is nothing less than exciting.
Armstrong's performance, from 1959, demonstrates why he, perhaps more than anyone in this series, deserves to be called an icon. By 1959, the bebop revolution of the late 1940s and early 1950s had transformed jazz into primarily listening rather than dancing music, and from a type of entertainment to a "serious" concert experience. Armstrong's instrumental duel with trombonist Trummy Young on "Hold That Tiger" demonstrates that entertainment and virtuosity are not necessarily competing values.
Satchmo brings the house down with his rendition of "Mack the Knife," gives drummer Danny Barcelona a solo spot on the Swing Era classic "Stompin' at the Savoy" and performs the blues (W.C. Handy's immortal "St. Louis Blues," featuring vocalist Velma Middleton). In short, this 55-minute DVD alone could provide the answer to those who might have to ask what jazz is.
Blakey's 1958 performance captures a short-lived yet highly influential version of his Jazz Messengers, in concert in Belgium with Benny Golson on tenor sax, Lee Morgan on trumpet, Bobby Timmons on piano and Jymie Merritt on bass. Blakey was among the musicians to take the bop innovations and infuse them with a soulful, frequently gospel-derived sensibility, in a style which came to be known as hard bop. The jazz classic "Moanin'," composed by Timmons, is performed here exactly a month after the studio recording.
To see a youthful ensemble of such accomplished musicians swing so hard is truly an inspiration.
If this first series of "Jazz Icons" is successful, the producers hope to release a second set next year. For more information, visit www.jazzicons. com.
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Unearthed video recordings have strong Pittsburgh influence
By Bob Karlovits
TRIBUNE-REVIEW MUSIC WRITER
Sunday, September 10, 2006
An upcoming series of DVDs of jazz legends also offers a great look at some of Pittsburgh's biggest names in the music.
The first nine recordings of "Jazz Icons" will be released Sept. 26. It is the work of Reelin' in the Years Productions LLC, a San Diego film company with more than 10,000 hours of footage in a number of genres.
What makes these releases stand out is that they are not re-issues. They are not something you have had sitting around on VHS tapes for years.
No, they are new looks that emphasize why some classic stars never lose their gleam.
There is nothing quite so individual as the joy on Art Blakey's face as he leads the Jazz Messengers with Lee Morgan and Benny Golson in a concert in Holland in 1958. Then there is Buddy Rich, leading his big band in Holland in 1978 with a look that drives the band as much as his drums do.
Besides the DVD featuring Blakey and the Messengers, the collection also includes performances by stars with their roots here:
* A young Joe Harris is the drummer with the Quincy Jones Band in a recording from Holland in 1960.
* Bassist Ray Brown shows up with Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie.
* Kenny Clarke, a kingpin in bebop drumming, is co-leader of a big band behind Gillespie in a concert from 1970.
"Joe Harris is one of the important jazz drummers and is thought of more for his work with Diz in the '40s and '50s," says Don Sickler, a trumpeter/arranger who ended up an associate producer/consultant on the project. "When I saw him there with Quincy, I was floored."
Sickler is inviting Harris to a "Jazz Icons" press party at New York City's Jazz @ Lincoln Center on Oct. 3 and hopes to use the event to awaken the uninitiated to his work. Harris, who lives in the Manchester neighborhood of Pittsburgh, says he is excited about the get-together and plans to use the time to check up on a few musical friends from New York.
Besides Blakey, Rich and Jones, the "Jazz Icons" series also features Ella Fitzgerald in Belgium in 1957 and in a better recording in Sweden in 1963; Thelonious Monk in Norway and Denmark in 1966; Count Basie in Sweden in 1962; Dizzy Gillespie in Belguim in 1958 and Denmark in 1970; Chet Baker in Belgium in 1964 and in Norway in 1979; and Louis Armstrong in Belgium in 1959.
The Pittsburgh element makes these releases of strong interest for area jazz fans, but they have additional heft as well.
In some ways, these projects are like the release in 2005 of "The Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane Live at Carnegie Hall" and "Dizzy Gillespie-Charlie Parker: Town Hall, New York City, June 22, 1945."
Both were unissued recordings, and both took a look at players who shaped the music in periods when their genius was just starting to be observed.
These DVDs give people unaware of jazz the chance "to do more than just listen to the sounds," as Sickler says. And they could turn some people on to jazz the way they seem to have captured David Peck, owner of the archives.
Peck admits he has become much more enthusiastic since uncovering films he had heard about.
He says the European broadcasts provided "the best TV exposure these jazz artists could hope for."
There could be more on the way, Peck says. He knows of tapes of Duke Ellington concerts from 1956; some work by John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan and Rahsaan Roland Kirk from the early '60s; and a Charles Mingus-Eric Dolphy effort from 1964.
Who knows what Pittsburgh performers will show up in those outings?
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