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Roger Levesque
Edmonton Journal, December 2010


Naxos Canada also continues to market the most far-reaching jazz performance video series ever, Jazz Icons. More than 30 separate DVDs (collected in four box sets) plumb rare, often superb concert footage from many of the jazz greats and their best bands.

Jay Trachtenberg
The Austin Chronicle, December 2010

Naxos’ latest Jazz Icons series has arrived with another terrific batch of live club and concert performances filmed in glorious black and white for European TV between 1962 and 1970. The hour-long Paris set by drummer Art Blakey and his unrecorded New Jazzmen is noteworthy for the brilliant playing of young Freddie Hubbard, who really stretches out on several amazing trumpet flights. It’s a real treat watching the Father of Jazz Saxophone, Coleman Hawkins, display his mastery on two different sets, the second of which features ex-Basie-ites trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison and drummer “Papa” Jo Jones. The biggest surprise here may be the frenetic performance by bandleader Woody Herman & His Swinging Herd. Not the most soulful of big bands, they swing furiously nonetheless. Anita O’Day is a sheer delight, demonstrating an innate feel for the music that made her one of the best jazz singers ever. Jimmy Smith created the template for B-3 organists, and he simply tears it up on a swingin’, soulful trio date from Paris. Masters of American Music is a uniformly excellent documentary series profiling immortal jazz figures Count Basie, John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Parker. Originally broadcast in the 1980s and 1990s, these fascinating and absorbing docs offer priceless stills and video footage, plus insightful interviews with scores of musicians. The music, given cultural and historical context, speaks for itself. The Coltrane set in particular features a very rare live outdoor performance that glimpses ‘Trane in full, majestic flight. Enigmatic pianist/composer Andrew Hill is spotlighted in an intimate performance as part of the Solos: The Jazz Sessions series. The late, Chicago-born pianist’s spare, cerebral style is rapturous.

Charles Waring
Mojo Filter, April 2010

It must be embarassing being an American jazz historian trying to find footage of US jazz musicians from the ’50s and ’60s filmed in their native land, because theres’s precious little available. As Jazz Icons producer Dave Peck has discovered, the music that was born in New Orleans at the beginning of the 20th century was, 40 or so years ago, virtually ignored by US TV stations. America was grappling with racism and civil rights issues, and commercial TV companies, not wishing to upset their sponsors, seemed to have an aversion to broadcasting music made by black musicians.

Thankfully, that attitude didn’t prevail in Europe, where black American jazz musicians were revered like royalty and the music was treated with the respect it merited. As with the previous three volumes of Jazz Icons, this latest clutch of titles (seven in all) contain no US footage but plenty of film shot in Belgium, Sweden, Norway, France, and England.

Pick of the bunch is Live in ’65 by powerhouse Jazz Messengers’ drummer Art Blakey, who was captured in France leading a short-lived and little-documented interim combo, the New Jazzmen. The group’s key attraction was young trumpet lion Freddie Hubbard, whose solos - especially on the self-penned Crisis - reach an incandescent intensity.

Live in ’69, a stupendous 90-minute set from Hammond B3 organ maestro Jimmy Smith and his trio, was also filmed in Paris for French TV. Close-up shots of Smith’s hand movements reveal a jaw-dropping technique and infallible sense of timing. As well as swinging versions of his Organ Grinder’s Swing and Got My Mojo Working, Smith’s pièce de resistance is an incendiary 23-minute rendering of his Blue Note smash The Sermon.

Another legendary jazz keyboardist, self-taught pianist Erroll Garner, is featured on Live In ’63 & ’64, alongside his trio. Garner’s two performances - which showcase his mellifluous approach to the piano and include a lovely rendition of his classic tune Misty - are nothing short of magical. Garner’s set includes Fly Me To The Moon, a song that also features on Live In ’63 & ’70, a DVD of two Scandinavian concerts by jazz chanteuse Anita O’Day, whose mixture of swing and sensitivity proves charismatic.

In terms of picture clarity, the best DVDs here are sourced from ’60s BBC recordings. Coleman Hawkins’ superb Live In ’62 & ’64 pairs a Belgium concert by the tenor saxophonist with footage from a live BBC 2 broadcast filmed for TV show Jazz 625. A dynamic concert by carinettist Woody Herman and his big band - Live In ’64 - is from the same TV show, as is a terrific performance by flugelhorn maestro Art Farmer - also titled Live In ’64 - accompanied by a band featuring guitarist Jim Hall and drummer Pete La Roca.

Assemble Your Lifestyle, December 2009

This is the fourth in a series of must-have Jazz Icon collections focusing on the stars of the jazz world from the 1950s and 1960s. The music is extraordinary and the video quality is high and so it is well worth the expense for the whole box. We offer many levels of jazz history courses at CCNY and this series has been well utilized in all those courses. They feature complete performances of essential pieces in the jazz canon.

The latest box position in Naxos’ wonderful video jazz series maintains the superlative standard of the first three sets. Variety is once again the keynote, with many different eras, styles, moods and instrumentalists represented. Here’s a brief rundown of the individual discs:

JIMMY SMITH LIVE IN ‘69: The man who reinvented the Hammond organ as a jazz instrument is captured at the peak of his powers in this 90-minute concert filmed in Paris. If anything, his playing was even deeper and more expressive than ever as he, guitarist Eddie McFadden and drummer Charlie Crosby burn through their status list with soulful abandon. The highlights are too numerous to mention. Fair sit support and relish.

ART BLAKEY LIVE IN ‘65: This one-hour concert depicts the iconic drummer (and leader of the Jazz Messengers) with a temporary band establish together for a short European tour. But what a band: Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Nathan Davis on tenor, Jaki Byard on piano and Reggie Workman on bass. Although they existed as a unit only for the dozen or so concerts on this tour, they sound as tight as if they’d been together for years. The band stretches out on three numbers, two of them written by Hubbard, who demonstrates his unbelievable fluency and lyricism, while Davis tears through chorus after chorus with inspired intensity. This is a rare and historic recognize at an overlooked edition of the Messengers.

ANITA O’DAY LIVE IN ‘63 & ‘70: O’Day was one of the four or five greatest female jazz singers of all time, and her live performances were, if anything, even more electrifying than her recordings, as these extraordinary concerts ably document. O’Day’s new sense of time and her ability to divulge a narrative through song is matched by her ability to swing with the facility of a horn player. I literally got goose bumps watching this. For my money, this is the best disc in the location.

WOODY HERMAN LIVE IN ‘64: The virtuoso clarinetist (and saxophonist, singer and band leader) steers a grand ensemble through some volcanic versions of conventional and contemporary tunes, including Horace Silver’s soul-jazz classic “Sister Sadie.” Herman gives an appreciative audience the chunky measure of his improvisational genius, while graciously sharing the spotlight with such stellar soloists as saxophonist Sal Nistico, trumpeter Bill Swagger and the fantastic trombonist Phil Wilson. Immense arrangements and performances, and the energy level is off the charts.

ERROLL GARNER LIVE IN ‘63 & ‘64: Two gigantic shows spotlight this underappreciated pianist, who never fit into a particular classification yet channeled the entire history of jazz in his playing. As a soloist, Garner possessed a masterful sense of dynamics, playing soft and beautiful one moment, and with percussive intensity the next. Particularly appealing is the unspoken yet palpable connection Garner established with a live audience, effortlessly communicating his infectious joy in performance.

ART FARMER LIVE IN ‘64: In incompatibility to the sound and fury of the other performances, Farmer is glorious laid befriend in this concert for BBC television. Keeping company with guitarist Jim Hall, bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Pete La Roca, Farmer applies his burnished, buttery tone to a site of ballads and mid-tempo numbers, achieving an almost chamber music-like intimacy. Simply aesthetic.

COLEMAN HAWKINS LIVE IN ‘62 & ‘64: The father of the tenor saxophone, and one of the seminal influences on bebop, proved he unexcited had plenty to say on his horn in these late-era concerts. Ably supported by like-minded musicians, Hawkins exhibits his trademark harmonic complexity in his solos, especially in his magisterial interpretations of familiar ballads.

BONUS DISC: And as if all that weren’t enough, there’s an extra DVD with more performances by Smith, Garner and Hawkins. This is primary stuff for anyone who’s even remotely enthusiastic in America’s greatest indigenous art design. Go git you some!

Bret Saunders
Denver Post, November 2009

Seeing jazz greats on film opens up a whole new world

In the early ’80s, when I was a socially awkward teenage jazz geek, it wasn’t easy to find filmed footage of departed musicians.

Sure, the audio recordings could be uncovered—the vinyl cutout bins could provide cheap miracles if you knew where to look—but to actually see the musicians play on screen occurred only when an exhibitor would bring movies of Duke Ellington and Louis Jordan for a presentation at a local university.

To watch the greats ponder, laugh and musically challenge one another is to appreciate the artistry in a different way, and that’s why the Naxos “Jazz Icons” DVD series is such a marvel. The fourth edition presents full-length titles of ’60s performances from bona fide innovators (Coleman Hawkins, Woody Herman, Jimmy Smith) and genuinely warm entertainers (like Anita O’Day, Erroll Garner and Art Farmer).

The footage is taken from European telecasts (what did they know at the time that we didn’t?) and was filmed in black-and- white. The picture quality is occasionally grainy but the sound on all of the DVDs is excellent—any of these performances could have been issued on audio CDs. But then we would miss out on the visual aspect of this time-locked magic.

The seven discs in the latest edition are available as a box set; spring for the whole thing and you’ll be treated to a bonus disc with sets from Hawkins, Smith and Garner, whose own discs are the most valuable additions to the overall collection.

Hawkins’ “Live in ’62 and ’64” displays the tenor saxophonist slightly past his prime but playing in his typically magisterial fashion. He gently jousts with trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison in England, and while it’s apparent these guys have played “What is This Thing Called Love” and “Caravan” at least a thousand times, they find beautiful nuances in this music.

For those of us who only had the opportunity to see and hear organist Jimmy Smith later in his life, it’s nice to experience “Live in ’69” when he was more fleet-fingered. Actually, his rapid-fire delivery is a bit intimidating on this French date. There’s a long, intense version of his signature tune, “The Sermon,” and a take on the ’60s favorite “Alfie” that really pours on the cheese.

With the Grant Green-ish guitarist Eddie McFadden taking bluesy solo turns and drummer Charlie Crosby pushing everything forward, this is an apt portrait of an eternally touring trio that could have been cranking ’em out at the kind of neighborhood venue that no longer exists.

The most rewarding disc in this edition comes from two mesmerizing Erroll Garner performances, “Live in ’63 and ’64.”

Shot in front of appreciative Belgian and Swedish audiences, Garner, a pianist with perhaps the happiest touch in jazz history, displays an ecstatic array of facial gestures and enchanted movements—it’s almost as if he’s dancing with the instrument. The music flows effortlessly through his hands on “Fly Me to the Moon” and his best-known tune, “Misty.”

Garner is rarely mentioned by journalists anymore but his music is unique and fulfilling. It’s time to rediscover his skillful body of work.

Peter Hum
Ottawa Citizen, November 2009

Should you feel the urge to splurge

The 2009 Jazz Icons DVD box set. Now in its fourth year, this series can be counted upon to deliver exceptional and rare jazz video pleasures from the 1960s, most often in the form of well-preserved and restored black-and-white European TV footage. This year’s collection includes one-disc concerts by organist Jimmy Smith, an Art Blakey band with Nathan Davis, Freddie Hubbard, Jaki Byard and Reggie Workman, Coleman Hawkins, Anita O’Day, Art Farmer and Erroll Garner. They are each available individually. If you buy all them, then a bonus disc is included in the box. 

I’ve spent a bit of quality time with the Farmer DVD—I was really struck to see the young Jim Hall and Steve Swallow (on acoustic bass), and of course to hear Farmer.

Don Heckman
The International Review of Music, November 2009

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 production 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 the inimitable 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.

Barry Bassis
Town & Village, November 2009

Jazz lovers will rejoice at the release of the seven-disc Naxos Jazz Icons Series 4 Box Sets. Each DVD—there are seven in all, one of which is a bonus disc—features a different artist filmed performing for European television between 1962 and 1970.

The new series features performances by Coleman Hawkins, Jimmy Smith, Woody Herman, Art Farmer, Erroll Garner, Anita O’Day, and Art Blakey. So far, I have watched the Hawkins, O’Day and Blakey. All are in black and white but well photographed with fine sound. Hawkins (1904-1969) was the first great saxophonist in jazz and this was filmed at two concerts during 1962 and 1964. Though it was near the end of his life, he still swung hard on the upbeat tunes (like the opening “Disorder at the Border”) and was a romantic on ballads (such as “Autumn Leaves”). The first concert has a modernist French pianist Georges Arvanitas. On the 1964 concert at Wembley Hall in London, Hawkins was joined by “Sir” Charles Thompson on piano, Harry “Sweets” Edison on trumpet, Jimmy Woode on bass and Jo Jones on drums. Edison and Jones were stars of the Count Basie band of the 1930s and you can hear Edison’s trumpet on many Frank Sinatra recordings of the 1950s and 1960s. anita O’Day was one of the finest jazz vocalists and performed and performed almost to the time she died at the age of 87, quite an accomplishment, especially since she was a drug addict for many years.

Here, she performs with European musicians, including the ubiquitous pianist Georges Arvanitas. The concerts were in Stockholm and Oslo and O’Day is clearly improvising and directing the musicians. Her “Tea for two” is taken at such a furious clip that some of the jazzmen have to struggle to keep up with her. She inventively mixes the Beatles’ “Yesterday” with Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays.”

The Blakey DVD “Live in ‘65” presents of the hardest swinging bands with an array of talent, including the phenomenal trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, pianist Jaki Byard, bassist Reggie Workman and the lesser-known but quite striking saxophonist Nathan Davis. They play Hubbard’s “The Hub” for 17 minutes and his “Crisis” for 24 minutes. Blakey had outstanding bands before and after this one but this DVD presents Blakey in strong company, whom he clearly inspired with his distinctive drumming.

Andy Kroll
Mother Jones, November 2009

Music Monday: Coltrane and Marsalis Have Nothing on These Guys

Here’s an experiment: Ask someone of my generation (I’m 23) to name a few jazz artists they like. If they’re not fans, ask them to name any jazz artist at all—good or bad, older or more recent, doesn’t matter the instrument. Expect to hear responses like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, possibly Wynton Marsalis, maybe Louis Armstrong or Thelonious Monk, and—well, that’s about it.

Mention the names Art Farmer or Jimmy Smith or Art Blakey, or any of the other stars on the latest installment in the Jazz Icons DVD series, and you’ll cue up shrugs and blank stares. But rather than bemoan the fact, let’s instead stress the importance of the latest Jazz Icons set—fourth in this series—which preserves a collection of timeless, masterful 1960s concerts featuring some of the best damn playing (on drums, piano, hollow-body guitar, flugelhorn, you name it) audiences had ever heard.

Take Jimmy Smith. In the liner notes, blues DJ Bob Porter calls Smith “one of the four or five greatest jazz musicians of the last 50 years.” Today, his is a name mentioned almost exclusively in jazz circles and on jazz radio stations, yet he was a pioneer on the Hammond B3 jazz piano. Filmed in Paris in 1969, Smith’s concert treats you to not only a rich audio recording but crisp visuals of Smith’s prowess on the Hammond. In “The Sermon”, one of his biggest hits, you watch one hand anchor the melody on the lower manual (the bottom keyboard) while the other dances and improvises in a blur of soloing on the upper keys. The show’s 1969 date is important, too: You can hear early traces of funk slipping into Smith’s playing, a style especially suited to the jazz piano that you wouldn’t have necessarily have heard six years earlier.

Take, for instance, Erroll Garner’s 1963 show from Jazz Icons 4, a virtuoso display of jazz piano that’s brighter and snappier and much more of one-man show. With his hair seemingly lacquered to his head, Gardner could pull off just about anything on a grand piano—and does in this Belgium concert. When you watch his hands fly over the keys on Cole Porter’s “I Get a Kick Out of You,” it’s easy to forget Garner has a backing band at all.

In Art Farmer’s 1964 BBC show, the opposite is true: Farmer’s band arguably shines brighter than the headliner. Renowned guitarist Jim Hall, who played with Sonny Rollins, at times steals the show from Farmer and his flugelhorn, and the pair’s interplay makes for a mesmerizing hour-long performance.

Beyond any single artist, though, Jazz Icons 4 is invaluable for the way it captures not just the music, but the experience of being there. The video quality—though in a black-and-white that can feel like a Rod Serling production—is superb. So is the camera work, trading between tight shots of Blakey’s drumming, say, and pans of the whole band (not to mention audience members in their browline glasses and bouffant hairdos).

For those not old enough to have witnessed an Art Farmer or Jimmy Smith in their heyday, Jazz Icons 4 may be the best way to relive their live performances. The set may also be the best hope of introducing young listeners to jazz legends of the past half-century who, without this series, would undoubtedly slip by.

Blair Jackson
Mix, November 2009

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.”

John Henry
Audiophile Audition, November 2009

This eighth disc in the Jazz Icons IV series—which is unavailable separately—provides most worthwhile viewing of performances by three of the top artists represented on others of the seven DVDs in the fourth set [It is the Bonus DVD in the Boxed Set 2.108003]. The first of the three was probably left out of the Coleman Hawkins DVD [2.119020] because it was already 140 minutes—one of the longest in the series—and because it also featured legendary saxist/composer/bandleader Benny Carter on alto sax in some of the four selections. Also in the quintet were Teddy Wilson on piano, Louis Bellson on drums and Bob Cranshaw on doublebass. The opening Blue Lou is a terrific two-sax vehicle for Hawkins and Carter, and the video shots are very good. On their last number Louis Bellson does a gangbusters drum solo that even got my interest, and I dislike drum solos. I would say that this segment is one of the highlights of the entire fourth series!

The three Erroll Garner trio selections were bypassed for Garner’s DVD in the set [2.119021] due to the video quality being rather washed out, without much grey tones. However, it’s not unviewable and the audio is fine. All three tunes provide more of the uniquely swinging Garner keyboard approach, with the pianist seeming to have more fun doing it than anyone. The five Jimmy Smith selections, totalling 28 minutes, come from the archive of American jazz performances filmed in Denmark—a result of many jazz legends living there at the time or spending much time there, where they were really appreciated. His bassist is Nathan Page, with Charles Crosby on drums. The trio was on tour in Denmark and what makes this session different from the ones on Smith’s separate DVD [2.119018] is that it was done in a TV studio without an audience present. He reduces the often huge dynamic range of his playing, probably with an ear to the limitations of video audio at the time and these tracks don’t suffer from the distortion heard on the separate DVD. However, when Jimmy does his vocal on Got My Mojo Working, is voice is quite distorted. The trio is set up in a semicircle and the visual coverage is fine, if not especially creative.

Jeff Tamarkin
JazzTimes, November 2009

The ongoing Jazz Icons collaboration between Reelin’ in the Years Productions and Naxos has, since its launch just three years ago, matured into an invaluable DVD library of vintage live performances, with not a misfire among them. The newest release of seven titles—featuring European gigs headlined by Art Blakey, Anita O’Day, Jimmy Smith, Erroll Garner, Art Farmer, Coleman Hawkins and Woody Herman—brings the series to 30 and maintains its stellar record. Now drawing from the BBC’s archives and France’s INA in addition to the sources previously scoured for material, it appears that Jazz Icons is far from wrapping things up.

Each of these full-length sets, taped in black and white, dates from the ’60s (save for the second half of the O’Day set, from 1970), which means that the quality of the video itself is inherently far from today’s high-def standards. But the series’ producers have taken care to ensure that all are quite watchable, and the audio fidelity is crisp and dean. Most importantly, the performances ate stellar, and any aficionado of these artists should welcome his or her respective title.

Although it’s difficult to play favorites, the 1965 Parisian set by An Blakey and his group du jour (here called the New Jazzmen, rather than the usual Jazz Messengers) is particularly incendiary. Blakey has been featured in Jazz Icons before—a 1958 set was included in the first series—but his secret weapon here is a young Freddie Hubbard, who simply dominates the performance. Although Jaki Byard and the underrated Nathan Davis shine, respectively, on piano and saxophone, and the rhythm section of Reggie Workman (bass) and drummer Blakey is at the top of its game, the trumpeter establishes his take-charge ability early on the 16-plus-minutc “The Hub” and never relinquishes it.

Another standout is the Jimmy Smith entry, also recorded in France, this time in 1969. Anyone looking for the essence of soul-jazz would be well advised to observe the organ master and his trio (Eddie McFadden, guitar; Charlie Crosby, drums) in action here. “The Sermon” is a tour-de-force performance, but the set truly comes to life in a back-to-back blues segment of the Muddy Waters staple “Got My Mojo Working” (with Smith vocalizing) and the traditional “See See Rider.”

Art Farmer’s 1964 British set, part of the BBC arrangement, suffers slightly from minor sound distortion, but not enough to distract from the tight integration of the leader’s flugelhorn, Jim Hall’s guitar, Steve Swallow’s bass and Pete LaRoca’s drums. Opening with an easygoing “Sometime Ago” that showcases Farmer and Hall in exquisite solos, the band hits its stride four songs in with “Valse Hot,” spotlighting the drummer. Hall gets a good section of “So in Love” to himself and the set wraps with a swinging “Bags’ Groove” that assigns ample solo space to all but LaRoca.

Anita O’Day’s disc is split into sets seven years apart, and it’s most instructive to note the differences—or lack thereof – between her takes on the same song. Both the 1963 and ’70 versions of “Let’s Fall in Love” find O’Day extending the word “let’s” into a multi-syllabic scat (“le-keh-keh-keh-ket’s”)and “Tea for Two,” taken at breakneck speed on both occasions, proves that few could tame a lyric as assuredly as O’Day.

Erroll Garner, in separate sets from 1963 and ’64, on one hand provides fuel for critics who’ve always felt the pianist played it too safe, aiming more for mass popularity than adventure. But there’s no denying the skill at work here, even if some of the tracks are more befitting of a hotel lounge than a concert hall. During the first half, from Belgium, the camera focuses often (too often, actually) on Garner’s fingers, so it’s not till the latter segment, from Sweden, that we can really see just how expressive a player Garner is.

Both Woody Herman and Coleman Hawkins were past their prime when their sets were filmed, but both are enjoyable here. Herman, in England in 1964 with his Swinging Herd big band, is still quite proficient on his clarinet, but he wisely chooses to grant much time to soloists such as saxophonist Sal Nistico and pianist Nat Pierce. And Jake Hanna on drums keeps the Swinging Herd swinging.

Hawkins, in two sets from ’62 and ’64, wastes no time, immediately displaying his chops in the opening “Disorder at the Border” to prove he’s still got it. But the highlight arrives at the very end of the British segment, with Papa Jo Jones’ obligatory but no less dynamic drum solo on the setclosing “Caravan.”

Purchasers of the boxed set (the DVDs can also be bought individually) will also take home a bonus disc featuring additional footage of Hawkins, Garner and Smith. It’s well worth the investment for anyone trying to decide between the entire package or most of it. Hawkins, taped in London in 1966, fronts an ensemble that includes saxophonist Benny Carter and drummer Louie Bellson, who tears it up as usual. And the Smith set, although recorded a year before his main entry, achieves a higher level of funkin as than the longer show.

James Hale
DownBeat Magazine, November 2009

The fourth series of Jazz Icons’ DVD releases of vintage television broadcasts may lack some of the star power of earlier releases, but it resurrects some journeyman performances from the pre-fusion era.

From a George Wein-produced European tour that finds Art Blakey leading a band other than the Jazz Messengers (his quintet is billed as Art Blakey & His New Jazzmen) Art Blakey: Live In ’65 (Jazz Icons 119017; 51:05) 3.5 stars provides a rare glimpse of under-sung, Paris-based tenor player Nathan Davis and square-peg pianist Jaki Byard, whom Blakey had admonished at an earlier gig for playing too far outside. Little matter, since the focus is primarily on a muscular 27-year-old Freddie Hubbard, who is at the top of his game.

Art Farmer: Live In ’64 (Jazz Icons 119019; 64:05) 4 stars captures an exceptional quartet—with Jim Hall, Steve Swallow and Pete LaRoca—at the end of a six-month run of work, and the intimate BBC presentation is ideal. It’s no problem that the band members look as charismatic as young bankers; this is a session for close listening, particularly to the inventive lines of Farmer and Hall. The arrangements are tight, despite knotty compositions like “So In Love” and “The Bilbao Song.”

Recorded at shows a month apart in Belgium and Sweden, Erroll Garner: Live In ’63 & ’64 (Jazz Icons 119021; 62:58) 4 stars provides a well-rounded picture of why Garner is often cited as an influential bridge between the pre- and postwar eras. He balances the rhythmic elements of stride with the flourishes of bop, and does it all with effortless showmanship. Accompanied by his longtime trio mates—bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin—he floats through a diverse selection of songs that shows his versatility, humor and winning idiosyncrasies.

Harmonic invention never goes out of style, so Coleman Hawkins was anything but an anachronism in the early ’60s, although his power was beginning to dim. Coleman Hawkins: Live In ’62 & ’64 (Jazz Icons 119020; 137:12) 3.5 stars illustrates his slow decline. While his energy is high and creativity flowing at a Belgian festival in 1962, two years later he seems incapable of tying his ideas together into seamless solos. Drummer Kansas Fields gooses the energy on the first program while Jo Jones glides like a greyhound on the later show. Bassist Jimmy Woode is solid on both, although the superior sound of his instrument on the ’64 BBC broadcast is a highlight. The contributions of Harry “Sweets” Edison balance out Hawkins’ challenges on the later show.

Brawny and blustering, the 16-piece Herd is almost too much for the BBC’s microphones on Woody Herman: Live In ’64 (Jazz Icons 119016; 57:22) 4 stars. Tenor saxophonist Sal Nistico is consistently excellent, as is drummer Jake Hanna, in a program that emphasizes soulful pieces like Mingus’ “Better Git Hit In Your Soul” and Oscar Peterson’s “Hallelujah Time.” Herman fans who believe this mid-’60s unit is underrated have no shortage of proof here. The camerawork is energetic and the director is right on top of the action.

Always an engaging performer, in spite of whatever personal issues confronted her, Anita O’Day faced the challenge that many vocalists did as the era of the singer-songwriters dawned. Anita O’Day: Live In ’63 & ’70 (Jazz Icons 119015; 53:45) 2.5 stars finds the vocalist at two Scandinavian concerts seven years apart performing more or less the same show. In November ’63—with a jittery pickup trio behind her—her bop material strikes the right, edgy note, and the cameras capture her vivacious nature. By 1970—with “Yesterday” the only song from the ’60s in her repertoire—the band is more confident, but the performance lacks flair.

Two sets from Paris’ Salle Pleyel make up Jimmy Smith: Live In ’69 (Jazz Icons 119018; 85:39) 3 stars and while the ’70s are just a month away, the organist’s trio makes no concessions to the decade just past. Guitarist Eddie McFadden plays in a restrained, bluesy style with a biting tone and drummer Charles Crosby is unobtrusively propulsive. Smith’s highly varied fingering, active bass accompaniment and effective use of dynamics illustrate why few players could touch him on the B3.

Ken Dryden
All About Jazz, November 2009

The fourth volume of the Jazz Icons DVD series, available individually or in a boxed set,compiles live videos by seven jazz greats never issued commercially, all with detailed liner notes and a bumper crop of period photographs. The performances are in black and white with excellent audio and the long camera shots are a refreshing change from MTV-like darting images,the only downside being the occasional announcer talking over the introduction to a piece.

Erroll Garner’s contributions have long been overlooked. His unpredictable free form introductions to each piece, orchestral approach to the piano (in spite of never learning to read music) and expressive joy on his face as he plays all contributed to his popularity. The two sets (from 1963 and 1964) feature him leading a trio that strictly serves a supporting role. He plays his hit composition “Misty” with abandon while his takes on standards (a glistening “My Funny Valentine”) and then-current hits (a humorous, quirky “One Note Samba”) also have his personal stamp.

The Art Farmer Quartet with Jim Hall only produced two LPs before the guitarist’s departure, so the discovery of this 1964 BBC-TV broadcast is very special. Joined by bassist Steve Swallow and arrangement of “Sometime Ago” and intricate scoring of “So in Love” make one wish the band had been more frequently recorded.

Another of the treasures is Art Blakey’s set featuring an otherwise undocumented band with Jaki Byard, Freddie Hubbard, Nathan Davis and Reggie Workman. Byard is the wild card, as he reins himself in during the ensembles and backing of other soloists, though his solos are as eclectic as usual. Davis, who spent much of his career working in Europe, proves to be a capable tenor saxophonist, while Hubbard shines as well.

Legendary tenor Coleman Hawkins was still going strong in the early ‘60s. His first set finds him with the under-appreciated pianist George Arvanitas, bassist Jimmy Woode and drummer Kansas Fields and includes the leader’s snappy blues riff “Disorder at the Border” and a breezy setting of “Lover, Come Back to Me”. A later show with Harry “Sweets” Edison, Sir Charles Thompson, Jimmy Woode and Jo Jones is even better, with a spirited “What is This Thing Called Love” and a tense treatment of “Caravan” that focuses on Jones’ amusing, yet phenomenal solo. Woody Herman’s 1964 big band included promising young men like the fiery trumpeter Bill Chase, trombonist Phil Wilson and tenor saxophonist Sal Nistico, along with veterans like drummer Jake Hanna and pianist Nat Pierce. The program is a mix of originals and jazz standards, with the only weak point being Herman’s brief wordless vocal in an otherwise blistering takes of Mingus’ “Better Git It in Your Soul”.

Jimmy Smith is at the top of his game in a 1969 Paris concert with his trio. His mad dash through “Sonnymoon for Two” sizzles with energy while his bluesy “The Sermon” and a lush take of the standard “My Romance” are also highlights. The many close-ups reveal his phenomenal technique. Anita O’Day appears in two sets. The 1963 program is buoyed by her familiar playful setting of “Sweet Georgia Brown” and a campy “Honeysuckle Rose” that showcases Roman Dylag’s walking bass.

In the 1970 show she scats up a storm in “Four Brothers” and adds a creative medley of “Yesterday” and “Yesterdays”. If you need an incentive to pick up the set over individual titles, consider the bonus disc with an hour-plus of music by Hawkins, Garner and Smith.

Michael Giltz
The Huffington Post, October 2009

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.

Tad Hendrickson
Spinner, October 2009


O’DAY, Anita: Live in ’63 and ’70 (NTSC) 2.119015

HERMAN, Woody: Live in ’64 (NTSC) 2.119016

BLAKEY, Art: Live in ’65 (NTSC) 2.119017

SMITH, Jimmy: Live in ’69 (NTSC) 2.119018

FARMER, Art: Live in ’64 (NTSC) 2.119019

HAWKINS, Coleman: Live in ’62 and ’64 (NTSC) 2.119020

GARNER, Erroll: Live in ’63 and ’64 (NTSC) 2.119021

The Jazz Icons method, which is done by the Reelin’ in the Years Productions team and released by Naxos, is to dig through the vaults of universities and television stations looking for gold. Often this happens in Europe, where then (like now) people have deep respect to the musicians and seem to make a bigger deal out of these guys. Because the gigs were good and the tours tight, there are some impressive lineups on these discs, some of which feature performances that haven’t been seen since original broadcast or have never been aired.

The latest is the fourth series (each comes in a box that contains eight or nine discs, depending on the series), which features seven artists performing in Europe between 1962 and 1970 and one disc of extras. These are multicamera, studio-quality shoots, and the sound is pretty exceptional…Highlights include a smoking 1965 set in Paris by the underdocumented Art Blakey and the New Jazzmen with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard at the height of his dazzling technical powers. Also on board were bassist Reggie Workman, pianist Jackie Byard (this classic Mingus sideman is the sort of a strange choice for the emphatically straight-ahead Blakey) and lesser-known saxophonist Nathan Davis, who eventually went into teaching. The band comes out of the gate at a full sprint for a stunning version of Hubbard’s ‘The Hub’ and slows down very little from there.

The Jimmy Smith trio recording from Paris in 1969 [2.119018] portrays the organist as his usual tenacious self. Here he mows through a version of the ‘The Sermon’ that is more streamlined than the classic studio version but nonetheless sublime. One gets the sense that it was just another night for this regular working band (Eddie McFadden on guitar and Charlie Crosby on drums), but that in itself is cool because they certainly had it going on.

No doubt that Errol Garner fans will be thrilled to see and hear him run through many of his classics in two sets (on one DVD) from Belgium in 1963 and Sweden in 1964 [2.119021], although it’s kind of weird that the cameramen were a little too in love with watching Errol’s fingers dance across the keys without much acknowledgment for his regular bassist Eddie Calhoun and drummer Kelly Martin. Fans of Woody Herman will get a jolt of big-band electricity that Herman’s hard-working herd always delivered [2.119016]. You can also see that Anita O’Day [2.119015] runs her band like a drill sergeant and dressed onstage in 1970 like ‘The Partridge Family’-era Shirley Jones (love that ruffled shirt!). The series is rounded out with a set by Art Farmer’s quartet, which had Jim Hall on guitar [2.119019], and two sets (again on one DVD) from Coleman Hawkins [2.119020].

If there is one area where there seems to be growth area of hard product music sales (as opposed to digital downloads), it is DVDs. I’m no expert on the technical demands of video versus audio downloads, but I do know that one way current-day artists are adding value to their new CDs is to add an additional DVD component to the package, either a live show or videos or whatever else. So it seems that the folks Reelin’ in the Years/Naxos are both in step and on to something with this impressive series of DVDs.

They do it right by providing authoritative notes to complement the videos. They also sell them separately, which is nice for those who can’t afford the cost of the boxed set…More than anything, these are old home movies of when jazz giants still roamed the Earth in great numbers. While the fourth one doesn’t have the iconic heft of the first two (which have Monk, Ella, Satchmo, Diz, Chet, Duke, Trane, Mingus and others [See JAZZ ICONS SERIES 1 BOX SET (NTSC) DVWW-JIBOX, JAZZ ICONS SERIES 2 BOX SET (NTSC) 2.108001 & JAZZ ICONS SERIES 3 BOX SET (NTSC) 2.108002], as the producers dig deeper they’ll hopefully find stuff that is a little less obvious or not so obviously bebop. Maybe even pair these with obvious holes—Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker have yet to make an appearance in the series. I don’t doubt there’s plenty more where these came from and I am waiting.

Lee Mergner
JazzTimes, October 2009

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.

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.

Gapplegate Music Review, October 2009

Naxos has been releasing a series of rare jazz performances on a series of DVDs called “Jazz Icons.” Each grouping of releases is available singly or as a box set. The fourth installment will be out on October 27th and I have been sampling three volumes in the batch: to wit, DVDs of Erroll Garner [2.119021], Art Farmer [2.119019] and Coleman Hawkins [2.119020].

First of all, the prices. These are quite a bargain.

The good price does not come through a sacrifice in quality. Nicely packaged with an illuminating 20-page booklet, each volume has been carefully transferred from the original source videos/films and come across with good audio and sharp visuals.

The three I’ve been enjoying each have their own merits. Coleman Hawkins’ disk [2.119020] gives you a solid 140 minutes of the Bean in two settings. The first from a 1962 appearance in Belgium finds Coleman’s tenor in very good form, perhaps inspired by the company of sympathetic sideman—the nearly forgotten pianist Georges Avanitas, veteran drummer Kansas Fields, the solid bassist Jimmy Woode. They do a fairly long set that swings well and has plenty of great tenor characteristic of Hawkin’s later period. The second segment hails from a 1964 BBC show and teams Coleman with the great “Sweets” Edison on trumpet, the laconically profound Sir Charles Thompson on piano, Jimmy Woode again and the pioneering Jo Jones on drums. As the booklet admits, Hawkins takes a few numbers to find his groove on this second appearance but he is never uninteresting. The addition of Edison and Thompson gives the group two more very game soloists. And to hear and watch Jo Jones in action is a real treat. By 1964 he was an elder statesman of the music but he sounds as youthful as his early days with the Count. And there’s a solo spot for him on “Caravan” that has as much visual as aural interest. There aren’t that many people left who were lucky enough to have caught Coleman Hawkins in person. As the father of the modern tenor his authority is undisputed today. Watch this video and you’ll understand why.

The Erroll Garner disk  [2.119021] brings his trio out front with two appearances dating from 1963 and 1964, respectively. Erroll was such a magnificently full pianist that his accompanying trio were mostly foreshadowed by his musical enormity. But here as ever they give a good accounting of the art of accompanying. It’s the inimitable pianistic attack of Garner that is the main attraction. He is in fine form for both dates. Seeing him visually in the throes of a solo can help you understand his rhythmic thrust. He often nods his head in a two against three pattern to the four square swing flow and it underscores through gesture the polyrhythmic swinging he mastered so fully. This is joyous pianism. Fine sound and clear visuals bring the Garner live experience home in bold relief.

Art Farmer’s disk [2.119019] features his subtly burning, undersung quartet. There’s Farmer’s cooly passionate fluegelhorn, Jim Hall’s suave and creative guitar, the innovative Steve Swallow on bass, and the hot yet very intelligent drumming of Pete LaRoca. If you need reminding, this 1966 date from England tells the story of Art in all his greatness, as musician and bandleader. He had affinities with Miles Davis of course, but he built up his own citadel of musical illumination and the concert represented here shows you how solid that was. He and the band are absolutely phenomenal on this day.

So that’s my take on these three volumes. This is part of the fourth set and they all look interesting.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group