December 2007

Jazz Icons, Series Two
Reelin’ In the Years Productions/Naxos 2.108001
Format: DVD
Originally broadcast: 1958-1966
DVDs released: 2007

by Joseph Taylor

Musical Performance *****
Recording Quality ***
Image Quality ***
Overall Enjoyment ****

The first Jazz Icons DVD series, released last year by Reelin’ In the Years Productions and TDK, brought back into circulation excellent, lengthy television performances by jazz legends, including Art Blakey, Louis Armstrong, and Dizzy Gillespie. Those nine DVDs are now joined by seven additional releases, each featuring a jazz great in shows originally broadcast on European television. All seven DVDs, along with a bonus disc of performances not included on the other discs, have been released as a nicely packaged boxed set. The discs vary in length from a little over an hour (Sarah Vaughan, Dave Brubeck, and Dexter Gordon) to two hours (Charles Mingus). The remaining DVDs feature Duke Ellington, Wes Montgomery, and John Coltrane.

While many of us have heard these amazing musicians, few of us have had the chance to see them. The television footage contained in these discs dates from 1958 through 1966, and the quality varies, but even the worst of it is watchable and some of it is very good. Ellington’s performance for Dutch television in 1958 lets us see a formidable band filmed with taste and intelligence. Coltrane’s performances, from 1960, ’61, and ’65, chart his astonishing changes over that brief period. The Mingus disc is composed of three fiery performances from 1964 and features Eric Dolphy (who also appears on the Coltrane disc), Clifford Jordan, and Johnny Coles. Sarah Vaughan, elegant and swinging, shows such command and control of her voice that most current jazz singers should simply watch her three performances, from 1958 and 1964, to see how it’s done.

As might be expected from film derived from so many sources, the sound isn’t always up to the standards a CD or LP release might demand. Coltrane’s 1961 appearance for German television, to use one example, is a bit distorted. Still, the mono recordings on these discs don’t sound compressed, and good equipment will bring out the best in them. On some of the discs, such as the Ellington, the sonics are surprisingly strong, given their age.

I can’t imagine any jazz lover who wouldn’t be very pleased to receive this set as a holiday gift.