Jazz Legends Live!

By Briggs, Ray | Notes, March 2006 | Go to article overview

Jazz Legends Live!


Briggs, Ray, Notes


Jazz Legends Live! 13 vols. DVD. Produced by Kim Lyon & Gary Peet. Oaks, PA: Quantum Leap Productions, 2004-2005. Available from Music Video Distributors, Inc. DJ-878 through DJ-891. $9.95 each.

The Jazz Legends series is comprised of thirteen volumes that present a rather eclectic sampling of jazz artists performing in motion pictures, club dates, and jazz festivals around the world. The professional footage used in the collection offers an interesting glimpse of some the biggest names in jazz such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, as well as the lesser-known fusion-oriented groups of the 1980s. In this work, the executive producers of the series have assumed the daunting task of synthesizing such a wide range of artists and styles into a coherent and accessible format for the viewing audience. Moreover, it is precisely in this area that the series may be viewed either as maverick in assembling such a collage of material or careless in the disregard for the compatibility of those included.

Jazz historians, enthusiasts, and musicians often indulge in the never-ending debate on whether real jazz is exclusively an acoustic music or inclusive of the use of electric instruments. The producers of Jazz Legends obviously rest in accordance with the latter stance. In a single volume one might view a performance of the great swing style tenor saxophonist, Arnett Cobb, followed by a fusion band like Steps Ahead. I was frequently challenged to find the common thread that unifies such disparate artists and at times was unsuccessful in doing so. While this may not be so problematic for some viewers who insist that jazz exists in various styles and instrumentation choices, the inclusion of the Memphis Soul group from Stax Records, Booker T and the MGs, stretches even the broadest definitions of jazz.

In my mind, the most pressing issue goes beyond definitions of what is or isn't jazz or personal preferences for acoustic or fusion styles. Most disturbing is the uneven presentation of notable artists alongside those of questionable significance that are placed in the series. Icons like Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, McCoy Tyner, and Carmen McRae have become pillars of the music, while pianist/vocalist Ben Sidran (who teams up with rock guitarist Steve Miller for a few tunes) can hardly be included among ihem. …

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