Classic Jazz DVD Bonanza Hits The Market

The DVD has become an enormously popular and cost efficient way to get music films into consumer homes over the past few years. Music Video Distributors, based out of Oaks, PA, has released an extraordinary collection of classic jazz on this format over the past few months. Most are pretty bare-boned no fat booklets. Most have nothing in the box but a disc, but this is definitely offset by a very affordable price. These are generally lumped under the Jazz Legends and Swing Era series. Among the most recent releases are:

Jazz Legends

Roy Ayers - Quantum Leap Vibraphonist Ayers is joined by Rex Rideout, Zachary Beaux, Dennis Davis and Donald Nicks in this excellent 70 minute 1992 set at the Brewhouse Theatre. Ayers plays the CAT, a vibes-like electronic instrument that replicates various sounds, including vibraphone. A lot of stretching by all involved, though drummer nearly steals the show with his scatting. "A Night In Tunisia" and the opening "Mystic Voyage" are the standouts, as is the funky booty shaking closer, "Hot." Grade: A-

Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers - Quantum Leap Recorded live at the Village Vanguard, this all too brief footage recorded in 1982 features the ebullient drumming master with the young Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Charles Fambrough and Billy Pierce. There are only three songs here: The opening "Fuller Love," played over opening credits, "My Ship," played over closing credits and the astounding showcase from musical director Wynton Marsalis on "Miz. B.C." What is not listed on the box is the second set from Johnny Griffin’s quartet, featuring Ronnie Matthews and Kenny Washington. The muscular tenor saxophone giant is in fine form throughout, as is Matthews. 60 minutes. Grade: A

Bill Cobham - Quantum Leap Recorded live at Cannes in 1989, this superb program features the drummer with an international cast from Germany (Wolfgang Schmidt on bass and Peter Wolpi on guitar), Italy (pianist Rita Marcotulli), the Netherlands (Japanese percussionist Nippy Noya) and the U.S. (brother Wayne Cobham on programming and flugelhorn). There’s no doubt this is the drummer’s program, as he dominates most selections, but he gives plenty stretching room to everyone on the stage. From fusion fervor to delicate and sublime moments, this captures Cobham and crew in their precise and musically jaw-dropping glory. From the opening duo percussion between Cobham and Noya it’s apparent that this will be an exciting program and it never lets up. The closing takes on "Stratos" and "Red Baron" are major smile inducers. Grade: A

Chuck Mangione - Quantum Leap Recorded at Cannes in 1989, Mangione was a decade beyond the popularity of the "Chase The Clouds Away" era. Regardless of your take on the pop jazz territory that he mined, he remained always an impressive technician, if not particularly an emotional or impassioned player. The sextet he fielded here had been together three years at the time and knew the material well. "Land of Make Believe," "Chase the Clouds Away," "Feels So Good" and four other songs make up the program. Grade: B

Arturo Sandoval - Quantum Leap Cuban trumpeter Sandoval first floored me as a member of the largely overlooked Irakere. His solo trajectory has been phenomenal. This 50 minute recording captures him early at the Brewhouse in 1992 with a superb sextet that is never clearly identified. "Tunisia Blues" is a blues numbers that features the trumpeter and a killer electric guitarist in an impressive interplay. This is a man clearly wholly immersed in music. On his "Blues For Dizzy," he opens with an ultra-fast muted trumpet line that is as technically brilliant as it is infused with fiery passion. He adds some Dizzy-like scatting that seems to be beyond the staid looking audience. "Night in Tunisia," which features fine alto work, sees Sandoval beating up the timbales, allows the pianist and guitarist ample solo space, as well. "I Remember Clifford," on which he plays some brilliant piano," and the closing "Rene’s Tune" are both just beautiful pieces. Grade: A

Ben Sidran - Quantum Leap Ben Sidran says of himself at the beginning of this 1989 Cannes performance tape that he is "quirky" and is a "piano player who sings." That’s a pretty good self-description. With a style very similar to Mose Allison’s, Sidran is clever, musically brilliant and not very full of surprises. If you like his music, you’ll love this live performance. If not, this won’t change anything. My favorite pieces are the short "Be Nice" ("Be nice to the people on the way up/You’re gonna see them on the way back down") and "Song For A Sucker," though there are highlights aplenty. "Piano player," with its litany of name, shows off this piano player's chops quite nicely. "Broad Daylight," with opening quote from "Cheek to Cheek" has a superb Bob Rockwell sax solo, and the closing "Riffing With Biff" features some extraordinary playing all around, particularly by that nice young man at the piano. Sidran has worked with everyone from the Rolling Stones and Steve Miller to Van Morrison and Richie Cole. You don’t come to those kind of experiences without some pretty gargantuan chops. They’re here. Grade: A-

Swing Era

Cab Calloway - Idem Here’s the full length 1947 feature film "Hi De Ho" and 14 soundies in a package that just astounds from beginning to end. The feature, featuring an all-African American cast, is the story of gangster club owners trying to steal Cab’s band away, with the help of the devious Minnie. Loaded with Calloway’s phenomenal showmanship in front of that always exciting big band, along with show dancing, tap dancing and the Peters Sisters, it ends with Cab marrying Nettie (Ida James) at movie’s end. The movie is a blast and is loaded with Calloway hits. The soundies, 15 of them, cover great tunes like "We The Cats Shall Hep Ya," "I Can’t Give You Anything But Love," with Jonah Jones on vocals and trumpet, "St. James Infirmary," ""Blowtop Blues" and, of course, "Minnie the Moocher." Grade: A+

Nat ’King’ Cole - Soundies and Transcriptions - Idem This 72-minute collection is a gem. Shot for theatre and nascent TV consumption, these 1950s film clips are musically exquisite and almost all clearly filmed. Liker early video pieces, each song clip is classic and most of the filming is well done (just a drop out here and there). The early trio work with Oscar Moore and Johnny Miller is simply jaw-dropping. Moore was Cole’s equal as a musician, and his replacement Irving Ashby was one of the best of the era, as well. There are lush string pieces (such as "Mona Lisa") woven in, but the trio work is the treat. Some slicked up Cole shares space with the hepcat trio work. Bongo player Jack Costanzo is on about half the cuts, and as distracting as I find bongos, isn’t too much in the way. "Route 66," "Little Girl," "The Trouble With Me Is You," "Too Young" and "Got A Penny Benny" are among the 27 clips. Grade: A+

Duke Ellington/Lionel Hampton - Idem This one is pure magic. Opening with a close up of Harry Carney on bass clarinet, soling on "Sophisticated Lady," these soundies, mostly from 1952, just get better with each successive performance. Juan Tizol plays valve trombone on his "Caravan, accompanied by the genius Ray Nance on violin and a propulsive Louis Bellson. "V.I.P.’s Boogie" features Willie Cook (trumpet), Paul Gonzalves (tenor), Britt Woodman (trombone), Russell Procope (alto), Cat Anderson (trumpet), Quentin Jackson (trombone) and Willie Smith (trumpet) taking impressive solos. "Solitude" has a fine vocal from Jimmie Grissom that draws from the Red Prysock and Billy Eckstine tradition, and "The Hawk Talks" is a feature for young drumming sensation Louis Bellson. The next five numbers feature the band from the late ‘40s. "I Got It Bad" showcases popular vocalist Ivie Anderson , "Flamingo" has an uncredited vocalist who reminds of Eckstine and the final "C Jam Blues" has spotlight solos by Rex Stewart, Ben Webster, Joe Nanton, Barney Bigard and Sonny Greer. As I said, magic. The version of "Hot Chocolate," aka "Cottontail" has some of the hippest jitterbug dancing of all time on the clip. That’s just half the program. Hampton gets half the program though small print on the cover. The Hampton material, recorded in 1950 and ’51 is just as impressive in its own way.

Louis Jordan - Idem The music on this 90-minute collection is fantastic, naturally. The film quality is less than stellar. The alto saxophonist/vocalist is man who some say helped spawn R&B and, thereby, rock and roll, was part cut-up, part genius. The 35 numbers portrayed here point to Jordan’s genius. Unfortunately two-thirds of them have tracking problems, so that the soundtrack is conspicuously out of synch. I just stopped watching his lips when he sings. The sets are in a classroom, in a recording studio, on sound stages and on a cowboy set. As unlikely as the last is that’s where the best tracking happens. The bands dresses in uniform for "G.I. Jive" and in clown outfits for "Tillie." It’s the music that sends, though. "How Long Must I Wait For You," "Beware," "Let The Good Times Roll," "Jack You’re Dead," "Caledonia" and "Five Guys Names Moe" are all here, and the blowing especially on "Caledonia" and "For the Love of Lil" is spectacular. There is that pesky tracking problem, though, so Grade: C

Peggy Lee - Idem Like the Sarah Vaughan, this is loaded with surprises. Peggy Lee’s six songs are all first rate and offer a glimpse into the young artist. She has a sassy grin throughout and looks like she’s having a great time with husband Dave Barbour’s quartet. The guitarist is a superb foil to Lee and on "Why Don’t You Do Right" and "I May Be Wrong," in particular, the sparks are conspicuous. June Christy is also on hand for four tunes on which she is accompanied by the Ernie Filice Quartet. The cool vocalist, best known for a long tenure in the Stan Kenton Orchestra had as much vocal quality and presence as Lee, though with less of a self-conscious hip factor. Her take on "He’s Funny That Way" is beautifully rendered, as is the medium tempo take on "Taking A Chance on Love." The rest of the disc is comprised of women bands from the 1940s and ‘50s. Ina Ray Hutton and her Melodears are well represented with a six song set of mostly originals, Lorraine Page and her Orchestra do an interesting version of "Sweet Sue" that features the Six Hits and a Miss vocal group, and Rita Rio and her Mistresses of Rhythm turn in the final four numbers. 68 minutes long, it rates Grade: B

Sara Vaughan - Idem Don’t come to this one looking for much Sarah. There are a few numbers here by Sassy, but only the first two are much worth the trouble. The others have a mismatched soundtrack that only leads to frustration. The rest of the DVD, however, is loaded with gems that make this one a real find. Here are the Bessie Smith short, "St. Louis Blues," in it’s 15-20 minute entirety, a superb piece by Lena Horne and two of the most important boogie woogie pianists of them all, Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson in a fantasy piece that also includes Teddy Wilson and his big band, and here you will find 9 outstanding performances by the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the all-woman big band that was every bit the equivalent of any big band on the scene. Throw in clips from Ethel Waters (with Count Basie’s big band), Mamie Smith and Ida Cox and you’ve got an amazing collection of female vocalists that can’t be beat. 80 minutes. Grade: A

The Fabulous Dorseys - Quantum Leap The 1947 83-minute full-length feature movie features Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey as themselves. As actors they make great musicians, but the music holds interest enough to make the acting palatable. Cameos from Art Tatum, Charlie Barnet, Bob Eberle, Ziggy Elman, Helen O’Connell and Paul Whiteman add to the interest factor. This one retails at about ten bucks. Grade: C

More information on these and other DVDs can be found at the distributor’s website at

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