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Roger Levesque
Edmonton Journal, December 2010

MASTERS OF AMERICAN MUSIC: Bluesland – A Portrait in American Music (NTSC) 2057168
MASTERS OF AMERICAN MUSIC: The Story of Jazz (NTSC) 2057158
MASTERS OF AMERICAN MUSIC: Lady Day – The Many Faces of Billie Holiday (NTSC) 2057098
MASTERS OF AMERICAN MUSIC: Sarah Vaughan – The Divine One (NTSC) 2057128
MASTERS OF AMERICAN MUSIC: Celebrating Bird – The Triumph of Charlie Parker (NTSC) 2057078
MASTERS OF AMERICAN MUSIC: Thelonious Monk – American Composer (NTSC) 2057118
MASTERS OF AMERICAN MUSIC: Count Basie – Swingin’ the Blues (NTSC) 2057148
MASTERS OF AMERICAN MUSIC: The World According to John Coltrane (NTSC) 2057108

Thanks to the folks at EuroArts and Naxos Canada, eight fine jazz and blues documentaries made in the early 1990s have been remastered and issued in the DVD format, titled Masters Of American Music (all sold separately). The two introductory surveys Bluesland and The Story Of Jazz run about 90 minutes, bringing across the essence and evolution of the music using a mix of vintage clips and expert commentary. Six more titles take a specific hour-long focus on singers Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, and innovators Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Count Basie and John Coltrane, alternating between concert footage and interviews with their collaborators and contemporaries. The Monk and Parker films were especially memorable. © 2010 Edmonton Journal

Mark Burnell, February 2010

Gary Giddin’s Celebrating Bird – The Triumph of Charlie Parker takes a more traditional approach and saddles the bio with a narrative it probably doesn’t need, considering that the film brims with interesting interviews of Parker’s contemporaries and family. By not identifying these interviewees, Giddin often takes a slightly slapdash approach that can be annoying, but there are still both musical joys and fascinating stories aplenty. The lineup for Parker’s very first recording session, which included both Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, is ridiculous in its array of talent, and the details of Parker’s lifelong struggles with heroin addiction are very engrossing. Perhaps most intriguing of all is the fact that Parker only ever achieved cult status for most of his career, leaving it up to what were almost certainly the first ever bootleggers, who recorded Parker’s shows, to provide proof of his legacy. This unique biography is recommended despite its few flaws.

This originally aired as part of the PBS Masters of American Music series.

Chris Hicks
Deseret News, November 2009

These four no-frills documentaries are straight-ahead profiles of the named artists, and in the case of the fourth, a chronicle of the rise of jazz from its 19th-century roots in New Orleans. Each features interviews from a plethora of fellow musicians and a bevy of rousing performances. Highlights include Parker’s only surviving TV appearance and a portrait of Holiday that suggests she wasn’t just a sad victim.

Mark S. Tucker
Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange, November 2009

Charlie “Yardbird” Parker enjoys a mixed regard, as much for his drug problems as his revolutionary music, but one thing this documentary makes clear is that, come Hell of high water, he was dedicated to music and his horn, nothing else came even close. The drugs, the eternal indebtedness, the wandering life, all went to ensure that he could make music first, everything else second. Consider this: one of Parker's burning passions was to study under Edgar Varese.

Bird now dwells securely in the museum of the finest players, along with Miles, Louis Armstrong, Monk, Duke Ellington, Coltrane, and Holiday, but his prowess was just as much worshipped by the few, especially by fellow players, in his own day. Always ahead of the curve, artists knew what he was doing was extraordinary, and the saxophonist quickly became the most studied musician of the time…though the American public at large paid scant attention overall. That didn't much change even upon the advent of a couple of European tours, where Parker was hailed as a living treasure by vastly more sophisticated audiences. Not so here: save for Leonard Feather and a small devoted cult, he was pretty much ignored.

Being black, a creative, sensitive, and gifted in a white society well known for its cruelties to those not favored by bleached skin took its toll, and, when Charlie discovered heroin following a car accident that left him with cracked ribs and a broken spine, a form of heaven come to Earth and began its well-known “magic”, a sorcery that would spell his doom, even to the point of being barred from the NY club named for him, Birdland.

The story of Charlie Parker is one of the most tragic in American arts, but the man could, even in the throes of dependency, anger, and exasperation, play like both demon and angel. The survey here shows both sides, well remembered by past confreres and admirers as well as his two wives. As with the rest of the DVDs in this reissue series, the viewer is treated to snippets of songs, performances, and a wealth of photographs and such, gaining the resonating air of the time.

Bird's fall from whatever grace he was to enjoy in his day was fairly rapid, and he ended up playing tiny dives, passing away at the tender age of 34 in the apartment living room of a genuine European patroness of jazz. Even in death, he was tormented, his dead body was removed from a “proper” white funeral home, carted off to Kansas city, put in a cheap coffin with a cross (Bird was irreligious), and subjected to what Chan, his second wife, aptly called a travesty. Of the four reissue DVDs presented in this series, his is by far the saddest.

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6:34:13 AM, 9 October 2015
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