Jazz has always been a visual as well as an aural medium. From the intense levels of concentration and ultimately controlled abandon of musicians deep in the throes of improvisation, to the near-telepathic modes of communication between an ensemble that is truly locked in the moment, to the almost casual lilt and cool of the music’s practitioners, not to mention the sheer mystery of it all to those who don’t play; the live performance remains the quintessential way to experience this music. Even the fashion-forward among us can find fascination in certain jazz performances — at least when witnessing those artists who take meticulous care in their appearance (ah, the subject of past & future rants to be sure).
For those who unfortunately do not have access to regular live jazz performances, 21st century technology offers all manner of visual opportunities to experience the music on our home computers. From the seemingly infinite opportunities available on YouTube, to Lester Perkins’ daily Jazz On The Tube e-blasts of performance shorts, to Greg Thomas’ ‘net-based "Jazz it Up" show (www.jazzituptv.com), to Bret Primack’s exploits as The Jazz Video Guy (www.jazzvideoguy.com) and countless other visual jazz enterprises, even the jazz fan stuck in a weather station in the Arctic Circle can readily experience the music as a visual
medium. And we haven’t even scratched the surface when you consider how an increasing number of new release CD packages also include if not a complete accompanying video disc (ala Delmark’s excellent efforts), then some measure of visual opportunity through your computer.
Back in the 70s when some concerned jazz citizens got together to form the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society, as a means of fostering more live performances in the Cleveland area, the first major public performance we sponsored was an evening of the late David Chertok’s superb jazz-on-film programs. People were lined up around the corner from the Cleveland State venue to pack the audtorium for an evening of the greats on film. I vividly recall the curious phenomenon of the audience bursting into spontaneous applause at the end of solos — on film — as though they were experiencing a live performance!
Since that time jazz videos in the home-use marketplace have become commonplace. One of the real first-rate offerings in this marketplace has been the ongoing Jazz Icons series. Throughout this series the discs have featured many of the essential masters of the music in delightfully clean, clear video and crisp, impeccable sound. The fourth in this superb series of DVD concert performances brings Jimmy Smith (’69), Art Farmer (’64), Anita O’Day (’63 & ’70), Erroll Garner (’63 & ’64), Woody Herman (’64),and Art Blakey (’65) in rewarding performances at concerts across the globe.
There are numerous available video performances of Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, but how many boast the unusual lineup of not only such familiar Messengers as Freddie Hubbard and Reggie Workman, but also Jaki Byard on piano and Nathan Davis on saxophone? Jazz Icons has that lineup, including a strong performance of Hubbard’s kinetic piece "Crisis."
Also included in this series 4 is the jazz father of the tenor sax, Coleman Hawkins, in two relaxed-but-burning (a neat trick, but Hawkins achieves it!) European concert performances, including an apropos performance at the 1962 Adolphe Sax Festival in Belguim! The exceptional piano playing of Georges Arvanitas is a revelation throughout the six pieces. The 1964 performance in England boasts two stellar Basie-ites in its all-star assemblage, trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison and the trailblazing "Papa" Jo Jones smiling away on the drums.
The Jazz Icons series, which are available as individual packages or in box sets, each informatively annotated, are distributed by the Naxos label and can be accessed at www.jazzicons.com.