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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

Matthew Seig’s Thelonious Monk: American Composer is a very interesting hour-long look at the life of the great pianist. Skillfully blending a selection of live clips, still photos and modern day interviews with people who knew and played with Monk, Seig successfully lets the music and the memories talk for themselves. Moving from charming recollections of how Monk’s band was banned from Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem after winning the competition for four nights in a row to memories of seven hour sets with a young John Coltrane at the Five Spot in downtown New York, this film is chock full of sparkling tales of the man and the legend. Naturally, there are some terrific musical clips that help illustrate Monk’s story. Of course, there are no full songs, but there’s certainly enough wonderful music to encourage the viewer to explore the talent of Monk more deeply, providing fantastic stuff for fans and neophytes alike.

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

Zan Stewart, November 2009

This intriguing DVD, part of the excellent Masters of American Music series, recounts Thelonious Monk’s journey from little-known pianist and composer to groundbreaking artist on the cover of Time magazine. Interviews with pianists Barry Harris, Billy Taylor and Randy Weston, Monk’s son Thelonious Monk, Jr. and others give detailed insights into who he was and the archival performance footage—of everything from “Blue Monk” to “Lulu’s Back in Town”—demonstrate his undeniable prowess and verve. Other initial releases: “Charlie Parker: Celebrating Bird,” about the maverick alto saxophonist and bebop innovator; “Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday,” about the superlative singer; and “The Story of Jazz,” with performances by John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, and many others.

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

Anthony Braxton said of Paul Desmond that you could practically hear him thinking way ahead of the music, and that’s certainly true, despite Desmond’s comparatively staid style. Given that, then, Thelonius Monk wasn’t just ahead of the curve, he looked down on the Earth from Mars, a gent so advanced that he remains enigmatic and paradigmatic even now…and will continue to occupy that enviable position for another two centuries at least.

Oddly enough, the explanation is simple: Thelonius never ever EVER compromised. To the average humanoid, beaten up every day at work, at home, and in the society, this is an incomprehensible situation, a way of life as difficult to make sense of as muons, gluons, and quark strangeness, which, appropriately, embody the fractal improv Monk used so fluently. The Naxos label, which earlier issued mindblowing box sets of rare TV broadcasts of jazz from decades past, has now commenced a reissue of the exceedingly humanizing Masters of American Music jazz series first sold in the 80s and 90s.

Doing away with critics, an overview by famed musicians (here: Ben Riley, Randy Weston, etc.) and others is given in lieu, an excellent move. But what’s crucial is seeing Monk not only play but also engaged in normal daytime activity, walking around with that self-possessed glow he had. Playing, the man was 10,001% completely wrapped up in aesthetics; away from the piano, he possessed supernatural calm underwritten by a leashed energy that emerged as soon as he got behind a keyboard.

More than one modern lion—Corea, Jarrett, and so on (even Bill Evans, if you listen to Monk’s balladic side)—reflects Thelonius’ gigantic influence brilliantly, but to see the master at work right before your eyes, this is a privilege beyond compare…not to mention the perfect vehicle for understanding his genius. One of the truest musical anarchists in America’s history, the composer-player’s enduring regard stems from the fact that he was a living, breathing, walking artistic statement…and, truth be told, a zen master.

As to the production itself: wonderful. The editing is letter perfect, the pace unhurried while wasting not a second, and the entire narrative and flow easy, informative, and warm.

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12:21:00 PM, 9 October 2015
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