, October 2009
JAZZ ICONS SERIES 4 BOX SET (NTSC) 2.108003
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.