Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis, Season One, Vol. One. DVD + CD. Chicago, IL: LRS Media, 2006. 090001. $24.98.
Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis, Season One, Vol. Two. DVD + CD. Chicago, IL: LRS Media, 2006. 090003. $24.98.
Legends of Jazz with Ramsey Lewis, Showcase. DVD + CD. Chicago, IL: LRS Media, 2006. 968701. $19.98.
The production of Legends of Jazz was trumpeted with great fanfare when it was announced. And when the completed product was ready to air on PBS, the media publicity machine was churned out to full crank with articles in all major media (jazz journals, major metropolitan newspapers). The end result is now with us. Under consideration are the first two volumes of the first season, eight episodes of the full run of thirteen plus a showcase collection that contains "highlight performances." Each package comes with a DVD of four individual episodes as well as an accompanying CD that excerpts the musical performances of those episodes. Was the hype worth it? On the basis of these DVDs, the answer is a regrettable no. The end result is unambitious, unadventurous, underwhelming, and, frankly, dull.
Each episode has a theme (alto saxes, Latin jazz, singers, etc.) and a schematic. It opens with a brief, superficial history of the particular theme in question. It usually takes less than a minute and covers only the surface aspects of the topic. It is also quite a slanted viewpoint of the genre. If one were to go by these histories, the only innovation to occur after the bebop revolution was fusion, which evolved into contemporary jazz, which happens to have its own episode. The inclusion of a contemporary jazz episode is questionable since most committed jazz fans find that music to be a significantly watered down version of the original. We will only mention that one of the producers of the show is Larry Rosen who was the "R" in GRP Records, one of the premier labels hawking contemporary jazz. The innovators of the '60s are barely mentioned. When talking of the evolution of the alto sax, the names of both Omette Coleman and Anthony Braxton are not even mentioned, despite the fact that both made major contributions to the alto sax vocabulary. I could list countless examples of this type of egregious omission but will spare the reader. While one could excuse the producers of the show for exhibiting a little bias toward their own product, it should not be at the expense of writing more significant contributors to the music out of the mix. …