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Jazz Icons Series 4 Reviews


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Wall street Journal Logo

Garner's Serendipitous Hit

by Will Friedwald

... The overall disappointment in the lack of a definitive "Concert by the Sea" package is alleviated somewhat by the excellent new DVD of two subsequent concerts by Erroll Garner, from Belgium in 1963 and Sweden a year later. Both shows are replete with Garner's famous bait-and-switch trick with tempos: "It Might as Well Be Spring" and "When Your Lover Has Gone," both normally slow love songs, here become rollicking and strident, while "Fly Me to the Moon," usually heard as an uptempo swinger, shows Garner at his most tender and introspective. He plays "My Funny Valentine" with so much harmonic ingenuity and melodic originality, with cascading runs of notes that enhance rather than distract from the romantic mood, that you don't even mind hearing that overdone chestnut yet again.

The most irreverent performance here is also Garner's most classically inspired. In his treatment of "Thanks for the Memory," he goes comically overboard with classical references: "To a Wild Rose," "Voices of Spring," Liszt's "Lieberstraum" and Rachmaninoff's "Prelude in C-Sharp Minor." In a 1983 interview on a liner note for a French LP, the pianist Martial Solal praised this aspect of Garner's artistry, likening his use of quotes "to telling jokes," adding: "The independence of [Garner's] hands was very seductive. I even transcribed his solo on "The Man I Love" that was one of the only pieces I've ever written out. For about three months I tried to play like Garner."

The concert in Belgium also includes a stunning reading of Garner's most durable original composition, "Misty," which had already proved a pop hit both for himself and for several singers. Garner looks particularly happy to be playing it; throughout the tune, he sits there drenched in perspiration but with a beaming smile on his face and an irresistible expression of joy. He looks like someone who has just enjoyed the single most pleasurable experience a man can have at least while wearing a tuxedo.

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NPR logo

A Blog Supreme

The Old Media Dump: New Books And TV Programs

by Felix Contreras

Jazz Icons: From the printing press to the television tubes -- well, sort of. The latest set of Jazz Icons videos will hit the street Oct. 27 (many retailers are offering pre-orders). I talked to researcher Hal Miller here before, and series 4 does not disappoint. In a nutshell: researchers like Miller travel to Europe and comb various state-run media vaults for previously unearthed concerts of American jazz musicians. The series concentrates on the early '60s through the '70s; so far each block of releases has been stellar. This time out: Jimmy Smith, Coleman Hawkins, Art Farmer, Erroll Garner, Woody Herman, Art Blakey and Anita O'Day.

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Huffington Post



By Michael Giltz

JAZZ ICONS SERIES 4 ($119.99; Naxos) -- Whenever you see a documentary about some great artist like Anita O'Day or organist Jimmy Smith or Coleman Hawkins, they invariably show a clip from a red-hot TV or live concert appearance and you think, "Dang, I wish I could see that whole show." Now you can. In an ongoing series I've somehow missed til now, Naxos is releasing solid video and great sound on a string of DVDs, each one focusing on an entire set of a jazz legend. It began with Ella and Louis and Chet Baker on Series 1, then continued with the likes of Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and so on. From my feverish sampling (each set contains about eight or nine DVDs and they run to 40 in all, so far, with titles also available individually), the quality is very good. Clearly they're not just grabbing anything and slapping it onto DVD. These shows are substantial and presented with care. Some are invariably more compelling and just simply longer than others. But for fans who have never been able to see more than glimpses of their idols at work, this series is tremendous.

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jazz weekly


Latest Volume in Jazz Icons Video Series Releases Oct. 27

By Lee Mergner

Now the folks at Reelin’ in the Years have done it again. Somehow they’ve found more incredible footage of jazz legends from 60s era television shows and turned that old footage into slick DVD products. Volume Four, the latest in their critically-acclaimed Jazz Icons series, includes DVDs from an eclectic but impressive group of jazz stars: Jimmy Smith, Anita O’Day, Art Blakey, Erroll Garner, Coleman Hawkins, Art Farmer and Woody Herman. Volume Four is officially released on October 27, 2009.

Tom Gulotta, art director and co-producer at Reelin’ in the Years, said that his company backed into this particular specialty, by going from middle-man to provider. “We’re the largest archive of music footage. We license all sorts of footage for commercial, documentaries, really anybody who wants special music footage.” Much of their most prized footage came from European television stations, which have a rich store of incredible performances by jazz, as well as rock and soul performers.

Gulotta explained that, “Because the European stations are government-owned, they didn’t have the commercial constraints of stations in the U.S. and therefore they were able to film and show a one-hour performance from a jazz artist. Plus, Europeans were crazy about jazz. And there was also the issue of race. Back in the ‘60s you weren’t going to see artists like John Coltrane, Count Basie or Thelonious Monk on US television, certainly not for an hour at a time.”

But just because all this great music was out there, that didn’t make it easy to find, Gulotta said. “Most of those concerts aired on German, French or British television were shown once or twice and then put away. But unlike in America, where the master tapes of shows were often discarded or taped over, the European channels stored the material in its original master form. In America, the stations never felt there was any cultural context to it, so they would often just tape over it.” It helped that the Reelin’ folks had been actively combing the libraries of European channels and shows for material.

The availability of the original masters turns out to be the Rosetta Stone for the high quality of the Jazz Icons series. “When you see some footage from an old show and it looks and sounds bad, it’s probably because it’s a copy and maybe even a bootlegged one. In our case, because of our relationship with these channels, we’re able to go right from the masters and have them digitally transferred. We use Metropolis Studios in London for color and gray balance for the video and we have a great sound mastering guy in London.” But Gulotta said that what they had to work with was so much better than the usual footage from US shows, because the European studios were recording a lot of live music and therefore became adept at the process. “Yes, they used the best mikes and they knew how to record music. The great technical skill of Europeans with recording sound has been huge.”

One of the more prized shows that Gulotta’s company has gotten its digital hands on is Jazz 625 from the BBC. The 625 in the title refers to the lines of broadcast resolution, something that the channel was clearly proud of. When watching the shows, you do get a sense that the original producers cared about the presentation just as much as the subject itself.

With this latest volume in the series, they will have released 30 titles, but Gulotta made it clear that they are not running out of material. “There’s a lot still out there. Believe me. The stuff from the French network has amazing stuff. And we haven’t even gotten into the ‘70s when you find a lot of fusion groups like Return to Forever, Weather Report, etc performing. We’re excited to continue.”

Gulotta said that the series is fairly costly to produce and not just because of the acquisition costs and post-production. One of the unique aspects of the Jazz Icons series is that the company makes considerable effort and expense to do the right thing by the artists themselves. “We not only pay for the footage, but also pay the artists and the publishing. We even pay the sidemen as well, though a contract with AFM.” Longtime JT readers of JT may remember the piece this author wrote about those sideman royalties in the June 2002 issue.

Money matters, whether you’re a jazz sideman or a video production company. Initially, the first Jazz Icons series was funded by TDK who eventually through changes in its structure and strategy got out of the DVD business. Reelin’ turned to its distributor Naxos who quickly jumped into the breech and have funded the series ever since. Gulotta has been most impressed with Naxos’ commitment to marketing the series to its target audience. “They appreciate that you need to advertise to reach your audience and that costs money.”

But who is the audience? Die-hard jazz fans or general music listeners? Gulotta said mostly the former. “The vast majority of the audience are older jazz fans who grew up on this music.” At least so far. But Gulotta is seeing a newer and younger audience enjoying the series, thanks in part to its use as an educational tool. “It’s now being used in schools all over the world. Look, whenever you see, and not just hear, these great jazz artists do what they do, that can teach more than a whole semester of lectures. And younger people are seeing this music and the musicians in their prime.” Indeed, watching the Jimmy Smith DVD one feels very much in the moment and taken back to 1969, when the organist appeared on December 1 at Paris’s famed Salle Pleyel, in a show produced by French jazz impresarios Frank Tenot and Daniel Filipacchi. (Print media trivia fact: The latter went on to found one of the world’s largest magazine groups – Hachette-Filipacchi.) The producer of that original broadcast in France was that country’s first black television producer, Gesip Legitimus. And the results are unlike anything seen on American television then or later.

See for yourself when this latest volume in the Jazz Icons series is released on October 27, 2009.

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blog critics


Jazz Icons: Series 4 rescues nearly ten hours of priceless jazz performance footage from the vaults of television studios across Europe. The new eight-DVD box set easily lives up to the standard set by the previous three multi-disc releases.

These performances, by the true masters of the genre, were broadcast once and locked away for decades. In some cases, the tapes never saw the light of day at all. Presented in the best possible audio and video quality, and accompanied by booklets loaded with genuinely insightful analysis, the Jazz Icons series continues to assemble an invaluable library of jazz history.

While longtime jazz buffs will recognize the seven artists featured in Series 4, there aren't many household names to draw in the average neophyte. However that shouldn't be a deterrent, as each of these musicians deserves to be appreciated. Each of the individual artists' discs are available separately, with the eighth disc containing bonus performances only available as part of the box.

These concerts date back to the 1960s, when the visual style was far less frenetic than modern live video recordings. The great benefit of this no-frills presentation is that the viewer is allowed to focus on the visuals that really matter, with a minimum of intrusive audience cutaways and other distractions. We can drink in the expressive faces of these artists as they feel every note. Fingers relentlessly working an instrument are lingered on long enough to fully appreciate the dexterity necessary to produce this complex music.

A true innovator works wonders on the organ in Jimmy Smith: Live In '69, a ninety-minute performance shot in Paris. Bob Porter, who contributed a foreward to the disc's booklet, states emphatically, "Jimmy Smith is one of the four or five greatest jazz musicians of the last 50 years." High praise, to be sure, but not undeserved. Smith pioneered the Hammond organ as a solo instrument in jazz, focusing largely on blues and R&B-oriented material. He crafted a series of popular jazz albums featuring a trio that eliminated bass, containing only guitar, drums, and Smith's keys. His influential style found him playing bass lines with his left hand, while soloing with his right. Speaking of his solo style, Smith said, "I copped my solos from horn players...I can't get what I want from keyboard players."

Jimmy Smith: Live In '69 features Eddie McFadden on guitar and Charlie Crosby on drums. The program is split into two sets. The first is largely ballad-dominated while the second is steeped in blues. Smith's own "The Sermon" serves as the centerpiece of the first set, stretching out for some fifteen minutes. McFadden's laid-back, almost casual soloing provides a stark contrast to Smith's quicksilver runs. A favorite in the second set is a rough and tumble reading of Preston Foster's "Got My Mojo Working," with a gravel-throated lead vocal from Smith. This is the guy who wrote the book on jazz organ improvisation, and every minute commands the viewer's attention.

The lengthiest disc in the set is dedicated to one of the all-time tenor sax legends, Coleman Hawkins: Live In '62 & '64. At a generous 140 minutes, this disc is proof positive of the vital playing to come out of Hawkins' later years. The 1962 set was filmed in Belgium, the quartet consisting of Hawkins (tenor sax), Georges Arvanitas (piano), Jimmy Woode (bass), and Kansas Fields (drums). Though the video quality is a little fuzzy, the sound is crystal clear. "Lover Come Back To Me" is a highlight, taken at a blistering tempo, with great rhythmic support from Fields. In fact, the drums are repeatedly a standout throughout the performance. In the set closer, Dizzy Gillespie's "Ow!," Fields and Hawkins trade fours for several choruses, provoking each other to new heights of inspiration.

Much sharper video-wise, though hampered by an annoying voiceover announcer, is a 1964 concert from England. Hawkins is working with a mostly different band here, a quintet that adds includes Harry "Sweets" Edison (trumpet), "Sir" Charles Thompson (piano), and "Papa" Jo Jones (drums). Only Jimmy Woode on bass is retained from the Belgium show.

The highpoint of the set is a lovely trio of ballads, chosen by Charles Thompson, performed as a medley with each spotlighting a different member of the band. "Lover Man" finds Hawkins finessing a rich, melodious solo from his tenor. "Stella By Starlight" reduces the quintet to a trio, as Thompson's piano is backed only by bass and drums. Concluding the medley, "The Girl From Ipanema" is buoyed by Edison's trumpet. Coleman Hawkins: Live In '62 & '64 spotlights the man primarily responsible for putting forth the tenor sax as a solo voice, rather than a mere ensemble component, in the autumn of his career. His playing in this video is still beautiful and at times awe-inspiring.

Art Farmer: Live In '64 treats us to an hour of footage taped in England. Leading his quartet with his pure, crystalline flugelhorn tone, Farmer turns in a precise set of prime melodic jazz. The ensemble work here is brilliant, with Jim Hall's guitar deserving the majority of kudos. That said, the rhythm section of Steve Swallow on bass and Pete La Roca on drums provides ample support. Highlights includes an up-tempo run through Sonny Rollins' "Valse Hot" and a bluesy romp through Milt Jackson's "Bag's Groove." On the latter, Jim Hall works his guitar with intense concentration during his solo. The camera sits transfixed on on his fingers as they work magic along the fretboard.

Best of all are the dreamy, languid ballad "Sometime Ago," written by Sergio Mihanovich and Farmer's own "Petite Belle." "Sometime Ago" casts a trance-like atmosphere as Farmer chooses each of his solo notes carefully. "Petite Belle" is a bossa nova with an impossibly beautiful unaccompanied intro by Farmer. The liner notes, written by Grammy-winning producer/arranger/musician Don Sickler, deserve special notice. As great as the essays are for each disc, Sickler's commentary in Art Farmer: Live In '64 is particularly insightful and detailed.

Erroll Garner, I am ashamed to admit, is a musician I was unfamiliar with prior to delving into this set. Though as John Murph points out in his liner notes, there are likely more than a few students of jazz who have overlooked the piano skills of Mr. Garner. He was completely omitted from the Ken Burns documentary Jazz, raising the hackles of more than a few jazz scholars and musicians alike. Burns justified his choice by claiming Garner wasn't a true innovator and even with his nearly nineteen hour documentary, every great musician couldn't be featured.

I'm grateful to have discovered him as part of Jazz Icons: Series 4 with Erroll Garner: Live In '63 & '64, an hour's worth of footage from two concerts. These are thrilling performances, featuring brilliant piano playing by Garner, ably supported by Eddie Calhoun on bass and Kelly Martin on drums.
The first set was filmed in Belgium in 1963. One hallmark of Garner's playing were his elaborate improvised introductions that leave the listener, and on occasion even his bandmates, guessing as to which tune he will be playing. Standards such as "Fly Me To the Moon" and "It Might As Well Be Spring" are given fresh interpretations. Garner's biggest claim to fame (and the only reason I initially recognized his name) was having written one of the all-time great standards, "Misty." That evergreen is given a tremendous reading here as well. The 1964 set was filmed in Sweden. More tasty renditions of standards like "When Your Lover Has Gone" and "My Funny Valentine" are doled out. Erroll Garner: Live In '63 & '64 is the real sleeper of this set and demands to be seen.

Easily the most recognizable name in Series 4 is Woody Herman, whose Swinging Herd was filmed in England in 1964. The resulting hour-long program, Woody Herman: Live In '64, is an interesting deviation from the small combos featured in this series' other discs. A sixteen-piece big band presents a different kind of jazz, with much greater emphasis on intricate arrangements and much less on lengthy improvisation.

Herman is, of course, a legend of the swing era and his bandleading skills are a marvel to watch. His clarinet playing is nothing to scoff at either. Herman addresses the crowd frequently, which contrasts with the mostly silent musicians featured on the other discs. He introduces songs by title and name checks various featured soloists. It's a much more commercial approach to presenting this kind of music, with a greater focus on showmanship.
Even so, the musicianship is stellar as Herman's bands always included top-notch players. Nat Pierce was the band's piano player, and nowhere is his playing better featured than on his original, "That's Where It Is," a lightning fast blues tune. Jack Hanna anchors the Herd on drums, and his work is exemplary throughout the performance. Standouts amongs the horns include Sal Nistico on tenor sax, Paul Fontaine on trumpet, and Phil Wilson on trombone. Wilson gets a special feature on "It's a Lonesome Old Town." One of Herman's signature pieces, "Caldonia," closes the concert. Taken at a madly quick tempo and featuring, as usual for this number, Herman on lead vocal, it's an energetic finale to a fun show.

In a very rare case, an artist who has been previously featured by Jazz Icons makes a return appearance. Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers were part of Jazz Icons: Series 1. In the new series we find Art Blakey: Live In '65, backed by what the liner notes refer to as one of his few undocumented bands. With the Jazz Messengers dormant, drummer Blakey toured briefly with a band that included Freddie Hubbard (trumpet), Jaki Byard (piano), Nathan Davis (tenor sax), and Reggie Workman (bass).

Throughout this smoking hot concert, filmed in France, each member gets his chance to shine. Trumpet legend Hubbard gets plenty of space to stretch out on two originals, "The Hub" and "Crisis." The latter runs about twenty-four minutes and gives each player time in the spotlight. Special notice must be given to Nathan Davis on tenor, as his daring, inventive solos churn and boil throughout. In between those two tunes is a ballad, "Blue Moon." Hubbard is front and center, crafting a mesmerizing solo. With the closing "NY Theme" only a brief minute or so long, there are really only three numbers performed here. Three numbers are enough, however, to make Art Blakey: Live In '65 the most exciting disc in the series.

My personal vote for least essential disc in Series 4 is Anita O'Day: Live In '63 & '70. Like so many things, it all comes down to personal taste: I simply do not care for jazz vocalists in general. I have a strong bias towards instrumentalists, which makes me ill-prepared to discuss the merits of O'Day's skills.

Captured on tape in Sweden, 1963, O'Day runs through a set of standards including "Honeysuckle Rose" and "On Green Dolphin Street." She looks curiously ghoulish; a rough looking early-forties if I ever saw it. The superb liner notes by Doug Ramsey help fill in some details of her personal troubles that certainly contributed to her appearance. It bears repeating that the booklets for each DVD contain mini-history lessons and are well worth reading. With Ramsey's essay, I learned a great deal about another artist I was previously unfamiliar with.

The Norweigen concert from 1970 finds O'Day in somewhat diminished voice. There is some wear and tear seven years on from the previous show, but her interpretive skills seem intact. There is an interesting medley of the Beatles' "Yesterday" with Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays." The liner notes say that dozens of performers had melded these two numbers, but this was the first time I'd heard it. As a side note, Georges Avaritas is the pianist in this band. His first appearance in Series 4 was in Coleman Hawkins' 1962 set.

Finally we have a bonus disc that is only available as part of the Jazz Icons: Series 4 box set. Make no mistake about it, the "bonus" performances are every bit as valuable as the ones on the main discs. First up is a four song set from Coleman Hawkins, filmed in England in 1966. Benny Carter plays alto in this group, and is featured prominently on a tender reading of "I Can't Get Started." Hawkins delivers a throaty, coarse reading of "Body & Soul," a tune so thoroughly identified with him but one that didn't appear on his main disc. Erroll Garner turns up again for a set filmed in Holland, 1960. The three tunes were all featured on his main disc, but it's a worthy encore nonetheless. Lastly is a repeat appearance from Jimmy Smith, this time in Denmark, 1968. His five song set opens with a grooving take on Bobbie Gentry's "Ode To Billie Joe." Another great hour of music that wraps up the series.

Jazz Icons: Series 4 offers music fans yet another chance to peer into the past, watching the past masters at work. We're very fortunate to have these old broadcasts reissued on DVD before they succumb to the ravishes of time. It wouldn't have been surprising if the master tapes were forgotten forever, eventually deteriorating to the point of uselessness.

This isn't commercially friendly popular music. It takes patience and attention to really appreciate what these musicians created. But at the same time it is enjoyable, joyous, and ultimately accessible art that hopefully will gain a wider audience thanks to these releases. Hopefully we'll see another series in the near future.

—The Other Chad

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audiophile audition

Coleman Hawkins – Live in ’62 & ’64

Rare video of the Father of the Tenor Sax.

(Coleman Hawkins, tenor sax, backed on 1962 Belgium concert by George Arvanitas, piano; Jimmy Woode, bass; and Kansas Fields, drums – and on 10/64 BBC performance by: Harry “Sweets” Edison, trumpet; “Sir” Charles Thompson, piano; Jimmy Woode, bass; and “Papa” Jo Jones, drums)

The opportunity to see the “Father” of the tenor sax, Coleman Hawkins (1904-1969), on video is a rare one. During Hawkins’ prime - in the 30s to 50s - there is very little video archived of viewable quality, so it is a special treat to have 140 minutes of the master playing at the end of his career. Hawkins had begun to deteriorate rapidly at the end of his career beginning in 1967, when he largely stopped eating and began to drink even more heavily. He was a wisp of his formerly robust stature in 1969 when he passed away. The jazz world had changed, as free jazz had begun to creep onto the jazz scene, and although Hawkins had survived and even mastered the bop idiom of the late 40s and early 50s, he had a hard time accepting some of the directions that jazz was heading. The difference in his appearance, even just between 1962 and 1964, is apparent on this Jazz Icons DVD. Though still vibrant in 1964, Hawkins had already begun to lose weight and within three years his demise began.

The difference in video and audio quality between the 1962 Belgium concert and the 1964 BBC Wembley Hall show is also quite distinguishable. (In spite of considerable video restoration work having being done on the '62 video...Ed.) The June 4, 1962 concert in Brussels was recorded at the Adolphe Sax Festival de Belgique. Adolphe Sax is credited with inventing the saxophone and it was fitting that the Festival honored Hawkins as its guest star, since Coleman is credited with helping make the saxophone a premier solo instrument in jazz.

Hawkins' band played only one original, Disorder at the Border, at the Brussels show. The balance was standards - Autumn Leaves, Lover Come Back to Me, Moonlight in Vermont, All the Things You Are, and Ow. Of these, only Dizzy Gillespie’s Ow was a somewhat contemporary composition. Unlike the 1964 BBC concert, Hawkins alone was the sole attraction, with his backing band not well known. Arvanitas, the French pianist, twenty seven years younger than Bean (Hawkins’ nickname given to him as a pseudonym for “egghead” due to his mastery of music theory), was a modernist as a pianist - certainly compared to “Sir” Charles Thompson, the pianist from two years later. Arvanitas keeps things interesting as an accompanist for Hawkins, as does drummer Kansas Fields (who had played with Gillespie). Fields has several distinctive bop drum solos and at times seems to resent his being reeled in by Hawkins. Fields shows himself to be a master snare drum player and really shines on Disorder at the Border, just after Coleman has blown nineteen hot choruses building in intensity. The Brussels concert is a mix of ballads - Autumn Leaves and Moonlight in Vermont - with burners like Lover Come Back to Me and Ow. The video quality of the ’62 concert is only passable with the audio a bit better.

However, the 1964 Wembley BBC concert (like the Art Farmer Jazz Icons DVD) is a different matter. The video approaches the Farmer concert in quality - the lighting on the Farmer is more conducive to enjoyment - and the mono audio is quite decent. The ’64 BBC performance is much more a sharing of talents than the Brussels show was. Along with a reprise of Disorder at the Border, the all-star band has two ballad medley features - Lover Man/Stella by Starlight/Girl from Ipanema (an odd choice); and September Song/What’s New/ Willow Weep for Me - for which a particular soloist is featured as the primary musician. “Sweets” Edison shows his mastery on trumpet blues on Willow Weep for Me, and “Sir” Charles Thompson displays his elegant swing on Stella by Starlight. Coleman, of course, owns Lover Man and September Song as his ballad mastery is only approached on numbers like these by someone like Ben Webster.

Hawkins and Edison share honors on Edison’s Centerpiece. The Wembley performance ends on a high note with Caravan, where “Papa” Jo Jones, the great Basie drummer has a five-minute solo where he shows his understated yet complete mastery of the drum kit. Jones was a perfect fit for the Basie band, and he shows his esteemed band mates here that he can whip Caravan to new heights.

Coleman Hawkins’s daughter, Colette, wrote the foreword for the included 24-page booklet and jazz historian Scott Deveaux covers the life of Hawkins in a concise yet comprehensive style. There is no question that the Coleman Hawkins Jazz Icons DVD belongs in the collection of any jazz collector whose interest goes back to one of the founding fathers of jazz tenor saxophone, Coleman Hawkins.

- Jeff Krow

Art Farmer – Live in 1964 – (Jazz Icons IV Series)

Superb video quality on Art Farmer 1964 Jazz Icons DVD.

Rating: ****1/2

(Art Farmer, flugelhorn; Jim Hall, guitar; Steve Swallow, bass; Pete LaRocca, drums)

What jumps out immediately in viewing the Art Farmer DVD, Live in 1964, from the Jazz Icons 4th edition of DVD releases is the phenomenal quality of the black and white video. Whoever was the cinematographer for this 1964 session was certainly using top end video equipment, as you can see every blemish on Art Farmer’s face, very similar to what you find today while watching high definition television on a high end monitor. The difference today is that the make-up artists make sure that the newscasters are using high quality facial cosmetics to high any flaws on their face. This, of course, was not an issue, nor even thought of for a jazz performance back in 1964. The lighting for the Farmer Quartet on the BBC studio is quite professional as the background is a solid black and the lighting is shadowy and muted with the most light at floor level coming up. The band members are perched on riser platforms, and are at different levels, which make viewing a pleasure as while the camera focuses in on the soloist, you can see the other quartet members deep in concentration comping behind the soloist. The clarity of video is striking and adds to the pleasure of hearing these superb artists either hunched over their instruments (Swallow and Hall) or fully upright (Farmer and LaRocca) with their hands busy at work. I would have to say that the Farmer DVD has the best video of any of the DVDs I have viewed so far in the Jazz Icons series. Getting access to the BBC library of jazz performances was a major coup for David Peck of Reelin’ in the Years Productions.

The mono audio on this DVD is very good as well. Farmer’s solos on his flugelhorn are clear, warm, and a testament to the care and deliberation that Art brought to his flugelhorn. He takes his time, with each note telling a story, working as an oil painter mixing colors to set a mood. Next to Art on stage was Jim Hall, a study in intensity, either while comping behind Art, or weaving his magic on solos, which highlight virtuosity rather than flashiness. Hall had recently left the employment of Sonny Rollins, and on Rollins’ Valse Hot, Jim shows his mastery of Sony’s classic composition. On Bilbao Song, done up-tempo, the expressions on Hall’s face show how focused Jim was on the interplay between Swallow, himself, and Farmer.

The ballad Darn That Dream showcases Farmer’s lyrical side. Art sits out on I’m Getting Sentimental Over You, while Hall takes charge leading the trio. So in Love, is propelled by Pete LaRocca’s cymbal mastery, and there is great video of Pete trading choruses with Farmer. Hall gives a bossa nova treatment to Petite Belle, a Farmer composition, while Art is very selective picking his phrases to set a mood of reflection.

The liner notes by jazz educator and trumpeter, Don Sickler, are very comprehensive, both in their song analysis and knowledge of the quartet’s history. I would definitely place the Art Farmer Live in ’64 in the upper echelon of the over thirty-five DVDs of the Jazz Icons series so far. For fans of Farmer, or connoisseurs of older jazz video performances, the purchase of this DVD is an easy decision.

- Jeff Krow

Erroll Garner, Live in ’63 & ’64 (2009)

This is the first DVD we’re covering from the new fourth edition of the acclaimed Jazz Icons series.

Rating: *****

This is the first DVD we’re covering from the new fourth edition of the acclaimed Jazz Icons series. It is one of seven DVDs featuring performances filmed throughout Europe, in this package by Coleman Hawkins, Art Farmer, Art Blakey, Jimmy Smith, Woody Herman, and Anita O’Day. All seven are also being sold in a deluxe boxed set together with an eighth bonus DVD of more rare and never-before-seen performances by the same artists. As with the earlier three boxed sets, the sources for these DVDs come from one of the most creative periods in jazz history, when no television outlets in the U.S. (not even PBS) were doing much of anything about presenting these great jazz artists. On tours of Europe, TV stations were - although it must be admitted that many of these B&W films were never aired there either. They have resided in the vaults and only recently have been newly discovered, transferred and remastered to yield the best cleaned-up images and sound. The producers of the series worked with two new European TV archives for the first time on this fourth series: the BBC and the French INA libraries. Both have massive jazz holdings and will be sure to add more titles to this fine series. Some of the sources are lower-quality kinescopes but others look as good as the Hollywood big band shorts of the 1940s. The sound is only mono, but has been excellent on every DVD we’ve viewed. These performances have never been officially released before.

Distinctive jazz pianist Erroll Garner was discussed much when Ken Burn’s ten-part PBS documentary JAZZ: The Story of American Music came out. Namely because he was entirely omitted from the series. A number of jazz experts howled, including trumpeter Jon Faddis, the New Yorker’s jazz critic, and actor/pianist Dudley Moore. People may remember Garner as the guy who wrote Mistry, but today he is an underappreciated jazz figure. Reuben Jackson of the Smithsonian’s Duke Ellington Collection observed “...seldom has anyone wed so many aspects of the music’s development and history into such a daring yet accessible package.” Garner had a completely unique orchestral approach to jazz piano, bringing the entire keyboard into his interpretations. He was also known for his wild often atonal-classical-sounding improvisations with which he prefaced many of his tunes. He was able to draw a huge crowd of jazz newbies to his work without sacrificing any of his artistic integrity. His top Concert By the Sea LP of 1956 was on many shelves where no other jazz albums were in evidence. It was so well-known that one small label released an entire-album parody of it by a pianist named Morris Garner, which even included the sounds when during that live concert Garner accidently knocked his ashtray off the piano and burned himself.

These two filmed session with Garner’s trio in a rather small halls were filmed in Belgium in 1963 and in Sweden in January 1964. It’s not just his improvisational wizardry that attracts one, but also Garner’s obvious joy at what he’s about. He’s usually all smiles, demonstrating sheer ecstasy while he plays. He usually sits on his famous Manhattan phone directory, which often had to complement his piano stool due to his height of only 5 feet 2 inches, and the closeups show his black slicked-back hair appearing as if it is painted on. Garner followed the dictum of Willie The Lion Smith, who said piano players should know how to play with two hands. Many don’t, but Garner sure did. He could play around with the tempo while keeping it steady, using his left hand to create propulsion, moving the beat ahead, zapping it up. He was able to make slight retards or rubato between his left and right hands that moved his performances into a unique groove. He was one of those performers who couldn’t read music; maybe that was a good thing. He was never spoiled by the cut-and-dried, everything happening on the beat appearance of the notes on the staffs. In spite of not reading music, he composed the string arrangements for his album which was conducted by Mitch Miller. Those of us who are pianists will see in the many closeups of Garner’s hands on the keyboard in both films that he was certainly far different than your typical jazz pianist.

Garner didn’t ignore trends in jazz. He became respected by many bebop players even though he wasn’t one of them. He kept his individualism thru many different styles in music, and also showed an interest in European classical composers. He died at age 55 of emphysema, and was honored with a postage stamp - not in the U.S. but in Mali. He was truly a giant of jazz and this visual record of his classic performances is a gem.

- John Henry

Art Blakey in Paris, 1965 (Jazz Icons IV series)

Blakey called this group The New Jazzmen, and they were filmed during the fall of 1965 as they were touring Europe.

Rating: ****1/2

(Art Blakey, drums; Freddie Hubbard, trumpet; Nathan Davis, tenor sax; Jaki Byard, piano; Reggie Workman, bass)

Art Blakey was known to be an incubator of hard bop musicians. He led his own ever-changing roster of jazz musicians in his group, The Jazz Messengers, from the 1950s until 1990. A veritable who’s who of jazz stardom began their careers with tutelage from Blakey. Here is just a small sampling: Benny Golson, Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Curtis Fuller, Freddie Hubbard, Bobby Timmons, Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, and Cedar Walton.

Occasionally, Blakey would lead groups between periods in which he was reforming new editions of the Jazz Messengers. Such is the case with the group presented in one of the fourth edition of Jazz Icons DVDs being introduced this month. Blakey called this group The New Jazzmen. During the fall of 1965, Art was touring Europe with this new short-lived group, as part of a tour that included an all star grouping of Earl Hines, Gerry Mulligan, Roy Eldridge, Stuff Smith, Jimmy Woode, and Kenny Clarke.

What made this group unusual was the inclusion of Jaki Byard on piano. Byard was more of an avantgarde pianist than the usual swing and blues-based pianists that Blakey hired for the Jazz Messengers. The other major difference with this aggregation was the fact that the Jazzmen played more extended versions of compositions than Blakey’s Jazz Messengers were known for. Two tracks on this DVD (both Freddie Hubbard penned): The Hub, and Crisis, take up two-thirds of the hour concert.

The Paris concert turned out to be a showcase for Hubbard. Though the European based Nathan Davis, on tenor, has his strong solo moments, and the rhythm section is rock solid with Byard being especially restrained, Freddie is clearly the centerpiece here. He had begun his prolific Blue Note solo career five years earlier, and was primed for his Jazz Messenger period with a combination of brashness, and sheer power, combined with lyrical sweetness on ballads (Blue Moon). With the exception of Lee Morgan, Hubbard was at the top of the heap of hard bop trumpeters in 1965.

At the Paris concert, Nathan Davis blows hot on Crisis (at twenty four minutes, there is room for all to stretch out), but once Freddie digs in, he owns the stage. For fans of Mr. Hubbard, purchase of this Jazz Icons DVD is a must-have for the chance to experience Freddie “live” on video at his most virile. Both the black and white video and the acoustics are passable - but it’s the archival value that makes this DVD noteworthy.

The Hub, Blue Moon, Crisis, NY Theme
- Jeff Krow

Anita O’Day, Live in ’63 & ’70 (2009) (Jazz Icons IV series)

O’Day was a one-of-a-kind vocalist who was described by fellow musicians as “first of all a musician and then a singer.”

Rating: ****

I had put off getting to this DVD in the Fourth Jazz Icons package because I’m not that heavily into vocalists and thought I might find it less than exciting.  I was wrong. Had almost forgotten about Anita O’Day, who died in 2006, but Doug Ramsey’s essay in the note booklet reminded me of hearing her as the girl singer in front of the Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton bands as well as her appearance in the documentary on the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival “Jazz on a Summer’s Day.”

O’Day was a one-of-a-kind vocalist who was described by fellow musicians as “first of all a musician and then a singer.” She had a thoroughly hip and swinging style that stills stands up beautifully in these two videos. She also had a serious predilection for heroin that dogged her a good part of her career until she went cold turkey in the later 60s. Fellow non-junkie musicians said she never exhibited any addict behavior at all, but she end up serving time on a drug bust.

For these European appearances, O’Day recruited musicians on the continent - expect for her drummer John Poole on the Swedish concert (he was also her drug source).  Her pianist for this session was one of the finest young jazz pianists in Sweden, who was influenced by Bill Evans. Her bassist for this date said later he never felt in his career that any other singer was that much of a musician. For Norway O’Day used a tight French trio led by George Arvanitas at the keyboard.  He had played with Coleman Hawkins and Dizzy Gillespie among others. With the big bands, Anita had often sung one of the four horn parts in Four Brothers; here she scats the difficult part solo and is a good as any tenor sax.  Everything she does sounds fresh and swinging - even the three numbers that are repeated in the Norway concert from the Swedish one.  The video coverage and mono sound are fine. Interestingly, there are lots of long shots of the entire stage to balance the close ups of Anita.

 - John Henry

Copyright 2009 Audiophile Audition

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arts jourtnal


by Doug Ramsey, Oct. 23, 2009

DVD: Art Farmer
Art Farmer, Live in '64 (Jazz Icons). Farmer's quartet with guitarist Jim Hall was one of the greatest small groups in jazz history. For this television appearance, he featured pieces never released in the quartet's recordings. Among them are an exhilarating "Bilbao Song," Sonny Rollins's "Valse Hot" and Cole Porter's "So in Love." Steve Swallow is the bassist, Pete LaRoca the drummer. Deeply experienced together by this time, the four were breathtaking in their individual and collective performance. The BBC-TV video is crisp, the audio clear. This is a jewel in Jazz Icons' eagerly anticipated fourth release.

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iRoM’s Holiday Gift Guide: Jazz Icons Series 4

November 22, 2009

This is the first in a continuing series of iRoM holiday gift recommendations that will be adding new items until the end of 2009.

By Don Heckman

The latest entry in the Jazz Icons DVD series – Jazz Icons Series 4 – continues to provide extraordinary collections of live performances by some of the music’s most legendary figures. The featured artists in this group are Jimmy Smith, Coleman Hawkins, Art Farmer, Errol Garner, Woody Herman, Art Blakey and Anita O’Day. (The DVDs, produced by Reelin’ in the Years Productions and Naxos, are available in a boxed set as well as individually.)

Mostly filmed or taped in the ‘60s for European television, the productionhttp://irom.files.wordpress.com/2009/11/jazz-icons.jpg?w=240&h=240 is superb. Cameras linger on revelatory close-ups, and the flow of images is always at the service of the music. Unlike the unpleasant, herky-jerky, director-centric editing style that has become almost obligatory in music films of the post-MTV era, these videos create the convincing ambiance of a live performance.

The Jimmy Smith set, recorded in Paris in 1969, features his classic jazz organ trio format with guitarist Eddie McFadden and drummer Charlie Crosby. Loose and swinging, the selections range from “Satin Doll” and “Sonnymoon for Two” to “The Days of Wine and Roses” and Smith’s atmospheric vocal on “Got My Mojo Working,” As with each of the discs, there is a detailed liner note essay providing context and background, in this case by Ashley Kahn.

There are two performances in the Coleman Hawkins set, the first – recorded at the Adolphe Sax Festival in Belgium in 1962 – has never been seen before; the second dates from a 1964 BBC Televison show recorded at Wembley Town Hall in London. This is prime Hawkins, defining sensual balladry with tunes such as “Lover Come Back to Me,” “Moonlight in Vermont” and “Stella By Starlight” and spirited mainstream jazz in “Disorder at the Border” and “Centerpiece.” In the English segment, he’s joined by theinimitable trumpet of Harry “Sweets’ Edison. The liner essay is by Scott Deveaux.

Art Farmer concentrates on flugelhorn in his appearance, recorded for BBC Television in 1964. Always a lyrical player, he sounds even more engaging in the dark-toned instrument. But what makes the performance even more unique is his interaction with the extraordinarily empathic playing of guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Pete LaRoca. The liner essay is by trumpeter/arranger/composer Don Sickler.

Two performances by Erroll Garner – in Belgium in ’63 and Sweden in ’64 – are marvelously entertaining displays of this one-of-a-kind artist at work. His mobile, expressive face becomes an intimate part of his tempo-shifting, dynamically inventive progress through classics such as “Misty” and “Sweet and Lovely,” as well as the seemingly unlikely “One Note Samba” and “Thanks For The Memories.” In each case, he makes the tune his own, backed by steady, understanding support of bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin. John Murph provides the liner essay.

The set by Woody Herman’s Swinging Herd was recorded by the BBC in 1964. This installment of the Herman Herds hasn’t always received the attention or the credit it deserves. Driven by the rhythm section of Nat Pierce – who also wrote most of the charts and was the band’s straw boss – drummer Jake Hanna and bassist Chuck Andreus, it was an ensemble that swung as hard as most of the earlier Herman groups. The soloing by the fiery tenor saxophone team of Sal Nistico and Joe Romano, with trombonist Phil Wilson leaves no notes unturned, and the new versions of classics “Four Brothers” and an astonishingly fast “Caldonia” are matched in intensity by heated interpretations of Charles Mingus’ “Better Git It In Your Soul.” Horace Silver’s “Sister Sadie” and Oscar Peterson’s “Hallelujah Time.” The liner essay is by Steve Voce.

The Art Blakey Quintet was recorded in France in 1966 by one of the drummer/leader’s most transitory ensembles, assembled primarily for a relatively brief European tour. But it’s a compelling line-up, nonetheless, with trumpeter Freddy Hubbard, tenor saxophonist Nathan Davis, pianist Jackie Byard and bassist Reggie Workman. The result is a set of stretched-out richly improvisational performances, with Hubbard taking a stellar role. His piece “The Hub” runs 17 minutes, “Crisis” lasts 24 minutes, and Hubbard is also featured on “Blue Moon” which had been his showcase number during his stint with Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in the early ‘60s. But there are a lot of other things happening in this unusual set – among them the always imaginative playing of the still under-appreciated Byard. The liner essay is by Michael Cuscuna.

Anita O’Day was recorded in Sweden in ’63 and in Norway in ’70. She was, by almost any definition, at the top of her form in both sets – especially the Swedish performance. One engrossing performance follows another – two versions of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” scatting with the lyrics on “Tea For Two,” Lennon & McCartney’s “Yesterday” combined with Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays” – all of it presented in readings that sell the song and the lyrics, while simultaneously finding the most intriguing musical phrase. Bottom line: this is a video that should be required watching for every young jazz singer, as well as every fan of the jazz vocal art. The liner essay is by Doug Ramsey.

The bonus disc that comes with the boxed set includes additional performances by Coleman Hawkins, Errol Garner and Jimmy Smith. One of the many highlights is the pairing of Hawkins with alto saxophonist Benny Carter, including a gorgeous rendering of “I Can’t Get Started” by Carter and a revisit to “Body and Soul” by Hawkins.


DVD Review: Various Artists Jazz Icons Box, Series Four (Reelin’ in the Years/Naxos)

Nov 12, 2009 7:35 PM, By Blair Jackson

Still More Jazz Icons

Anyone who’s been reading this column regularly over the past few years knows that I’m a huge fan of Reelin’ in the Years Productions’ Jazz Icons series of DVDs, plucked from rare, unseen and forgotten European television broadcasts from the late ’50s to the very early ’70s. You see, in Europe, people actually revere American jazz—always have—and they treated it seriously by according them respect, paying musicians decent wages for gigs and also by airing concerts on television. Can you imagine such a thing? Okay, I’m a little bitter that the U.S. has never given jazz (or blues) its due. But Jazz Icons has proven to be an amazing treasure trove of great music, and this latest box set of eight discs covering seven different artists (plus a Bonus Disc compilation of other material by three of them) is certainly up to the very high standards established by the first three collections. Each DVD is also sold separately, too, except for the Bonus Disc, but serious collectors will definitely want to pick up the box. Visuals (all black and white this time) and audio are both excellent, by and large. Each disc also contains a meaty booklet packed with photos and informative essays that helpfully put the music in historical context. I’ve learned a ton just reading the booklets while I watch/listen.

Six of the seven artists are new to the Jazz Icons Series—the exception is Art Blakey, who was first captured in the 2006 series with a fine 1958 concert featuring the Jazz Messengers lineup with Benny Golson and Lee Morgan, but here he is in top form in 1965 leading a stellar quintet that includes the great Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Nathan Davis on sax and pianist Jaki Byard. Hubbard is the main attraction here, as he moves effortlessly from rich balladic playing, as on “Blue Moon,” to exciting post-bop reveries. His own tune “Crisis” is a real standout, sprawling to more than 20 minutes.

Another trumpeter who has been somewhat overlooked (and let’s face it, except for Miles, just about every trumpeter has been) is Art Farmer, captured here in England in 1964 playing flugelhorn in a quartet with guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Pete LaRoca on a diverse set of tunes, from the gorgeous “Sometime Ago” to a speedy version of Kurt Weill’s “Bilbao Song,” to the MJQ standard “Bags’ Groove.” Here’s a band that is definitely in sync. To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of jazz guitar (an exception is Charlie Christian), but I was really impressed by Hall on this disc.

The intimacy of that date is quite a contrast to the disc featuring Woody Herman and His Swinging Herd in England in 1964—a brassy, muscular band with five trumpets, four saxes, three trombones, piano, bass, drums and, best of all, Herman on clarinet. Though much of this has the character of the classic Big Bands of the ’40s, the repertoire is definitely updated, including tunes by Horace Silver and Charles Mingus. Generally speaking, I prefer the group’s quieter moments to the full-on assaults, but that’s just a personal prejudice; playing fast or slow these guys can definitely blow.

Coleman Hawkins was one of the most influential saxophonists of the pre-WWII era, as imaginative as he was technically adept, full of heart and passion. By the early ’60s, he had been eclipsed by a new generation of players in the eyes of some, but as evidenced by the more than two hours of music here from concerts in Belgium in 1962 and England in 1964, he was still in good form. Particularly sparkling on the ’62 date is Hawkins’ own “Disorder at the Border” and the supremely lyrical “Moonlight in Vermont.” George Arvanitas is his fine piano foil in the first grouping. Two years later, we find Hawkins sharing the front line with trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison (of Basie fame) and his presence necessarily changes the vibe of the date somewhat—but in a good way. “Disorder at the Border” gets another workout, but otherwise it’s a different set of tunes, including a couple of well-constructed medleys of standards. I particularly like the first, with “Lover Man” (a quartet featuring Hawkins but no Edison), “Stella By Starlight” (a trio led by pianist Charles Thompson) and “Girl from Ipanema” (a quartet with Edison and no Hawkins). And the closing tune, “Caravan,” is full of mystery and great playing; always great to hear that one.

The Jimmy Smith disc takes us to France in 1969 for a trio date with Smith on organ (of course), Eddie McFadden on guitar and Charles Crosby on drums. There’s lots of variety here—the tunes range from Sonny Rollins’ driving “Sonnymoon for Two,” to the oft-covered mid-’60s movie theme “Alfie,” two peppy readings of Ellington’s “Satin Doll” (this is actually two different TV programs presented here), and a pair of blues—Muddy Waters’ “Got My Mojo Working” (with Smith on croaky vocals) and “See See Rider,” which is preceded by Smith’s stirring solo fantasia. McFadden is particularly strong on that last tune.

Each of the three previous Jazz Icons Series has featured a disc by a female vocalist—Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone—and this time out it’s Anita O’Day, showcased in concerts seven years apart—Sweden in 1963 (when she was in her mid-40s) and Norway in 1970. The one-time chanteuse for Gene Krupa and others is in excellent voice in the first show as she leads a solid trio through a selection of standards (“Let’s Fall in Love,” “Fly Me to the Moon, a rather hyper “Tea for Two”). She doesn’t sound quite as good on the 1970 date, though her phrasing is as adventurous as ever. On both, her appealing stage presence adds some luster to the music.

Finally, there is pianist Erroll Garner, playing with bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin in 1963 and ’64. Frankly, I haven’t heard him much through the years, but this disc makes me want to investigate him more. His touch can feel a little heavy at times, he can be a tad florid, and some might be distracted by his little growls and hums (a less annoying precursor to Keith Jarrett, perhaps), but he has a magnificent melodic gift, tons of imagination and he exudes an infectious joie de vivre. Most of the 17 songs are standards, though he also does well on a pair of Latin-influenced songs—“Mambo Erroll” and “One Note Samba.”

You can find me at blair@blairjackson.com.



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