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Jeff Krow
Audiophile Audition, October 2009

What jumps out immediately in viewing the Art Farmer DVD, Live in 1964, from the Jazz Icons 4th edition of DVD releases is the phenomenal quality of the black and white video. Whoever was the cinematographer for this 1964 session was certainly using top end video equipment, as you can see every blemish on Art Farmer’s face, very similar to what you find today while watching high definition television on a high end monitor. The difference today is that the make-up artists make sure that the newscasters are using high quality facial cosmetics to high any flaws on their face. This, of course, was not an issue, nor even thought of for a jazz performance back in 1964. The lighting for the Farmer Quartet on the BBC studio is quite professional as the background is a solid black and the lighting is shadowy and muted with the most light at floor level coming up. The band members are perched on riser platforms, and are at different levels, which make viewing a pleasure as while the camera focuses in on the soloist, you can see the other quartet members deep in concentration comping behind the soloist. The clarity of video is striking and adds to the pleasure of hearing these superb artists either hunched over their instruments (Swallow and Hall) or fully upright (Farmer and LaRocca) with their hands busy at work. I would have to say that the Farmer DVD has the best video of any of the DVDs I have viewed so far in the Jazz Icons series. Getting access to the BBC library of jazz performances was a major coup for David Peck of Reelin’ in the Years Productions.

The mono audio on this DVD is very good as well. Farmer’s solos on his flugelhorn are clear, warm, and a testament to the care and deliberation that Art brought to his flugelhorn. He takes his time, with each note telling a story, working as an oil painter mixing colors to set a mood. Next to Art on stage was Jim Hall, a study in intensity, either while comping behind Art, or weaving his magic on solos, which highlight virtuosity rather than flashiness. Hall had recently left the employment of Sonny Rollins, and on Rollins’ Valse Hot, Jim shows his mastery of Sony’s classic composition. On Bilbao Song, done up-tempo, the expressions on Hall’s face show how focused Jim was on the interplay between Swallow, himself, and Farmer.

The ballad Darn That Dream showcases Farmer’s lyrical side. Art sits out on I’m Getting Sentimental Over You, while Hall takes charge leading the trio. So in Love, is propelled by Pete LaRocca’s cymbal mastery, and there is great video of Pete trading choruses with Farmer. Hall gives a bossa nova treatment to Petite Belle, a Farmer composition, while Art is very selective picking his phrases to set a mood of reflection.

The liner notes by jazz educator and trumpeter, Don Sickler, are very comprehensive, both in their song analysis and knowledge of the quartet’s history. I would definitely place the Art Farmer Live in ’64 in the upper echelon of the over thirty-five DVDs of the Jazz Icons series so far. For fans of Farmer, or connoisseurs of older jazz video performances, the purchase of this DVD is an easy decision.

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.

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