Jazz, though continually referred to as the one true American art form, is woefully underrepresented in film. Legendary record producer Norman Granz sought to rectify that as far back as 1944, when he and photographer Gjon Mili made the Oscar-nominated short "Jammin' the Blues." Granz' attempts to continue filming jazz endured for the next several decades, though his efforts never paid off in another released film. This 2 DVD set seeks to change that, with several Granz produced sets from the 1950s through the 1970s, featuring such incredible talents as Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald.
The segments feature some amazing music, as might be expected. The settings are varied, some working better than others. The 1950 set with Parker, Coleman Hawkins, Ella, Lester Young, Hank Jones, Ray Brown and Buddy Rich was filmed in Mili's photography studio. Since it wasn't soundproofed, the music was pre-recorded, and the artists "lip-synched." There's a certain artificiality to it for that reason, but the sight and sound of Parker and Hawkins trading solos is worth the artifice.
Equally artificial on another level is Duke's set on the Cote D'Azur, featuring the sculpture of Jean Miro, and Miro himself. It's just kind of funny when Duke plays a nice riff reminiscent of a bluesy "So What" and the camera cuts to one of Miro's abstracts. This segment unfortunately shows both image and soundtrack damage, albeit slight.
The other late 70s segments, mostly from Granz' Pablo at Montreux concerts, include Count Basie, Joe Pass, more Ella and a fabulous wind-up with Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry and Eddie Lockjaw Davis. Interspersed with the segments are Granz' own recollections and comments on the players.
This is a great big treasure chest of a DVD set for any and all jazz aficianados. The shortcomings of some of the video presentation is more than made up for by the incredible musical artistry of these legendary figures.
The older elements show occasional scratches and other damage. Newer segments look fine. Granz evidently discovered a lot of 35mm film that had been tucked away for years, and it probably wasn't stored under ideal conditions.
Three great options are afforded here: a remastered Dolby 2 track, DTS and Dolby 5.1. The Dolby 2 was more than adequate to my ears, while the DTS and Dolby 5.1 seemed a bit overspacious and reverby for my tastes. Your mileage may vary.
Several fabulous extras here, including alternate angles on a lot of the footage, Nat Hentoff recollections, art galleries, interviews about the 1950 Mili sessions and reminiscences about Bird, and the complete short that started it all, 1944's "Jammin' the Blues."
Jazz lovers are simply going to sit back with a big smile on their faces and listen for hours to this fabulous collection. Even those without a jazz addiction will most likely be impressed by the brilliant inventiveness and incredible interplay between these giants of America's music.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet