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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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THE STORY OF JAZZ

Medici Arts 2057158

 

 


When Ken Burns' series Jazz was shown on television in 2001, it was criticised by some reviewers for excluding certain musicians - for example, Erroll Garner. This illustrates the difficulty of covering the history of jazz in ten two-hour programmes. If that was difficult enough, how can you cram the development of jazz into less than 100 minutes? That is what The Story of Jazz attempts, with varying degrees of success.

On the plus side, the DVD includes interviews with numerous musicians and pundits, including Wynton Marsalis, Milt Hinton, Carmen McRae, Bud Freeman, Lester Bowie and Billy Taylor. It also traces the story of jazz from the transportation of slaves to the Caribbean, where their music came in contact with European styles. This is the first DVD I have seen about jazz that mentions the composer Louis Gottschalk, who was born in New Orleans and whose music was influenced by the singing and dancing he witnessed in Congo Square. Scott Joplin is often lauded as the progenitor of ragtime but Gottschalk's compositions might be said to have anticipated ragtime rhythms in such works as La Bamboula (sub-titled Danse des Nègres) from 1847 and Le Banjo from the mid-1850s.

The DVD then follows jazz as it developed through such legendary figures as Buddy Bolden and other New Orleans trumpeters that inspired Louis Armstrong, who Wynton Marsalis describes as "the father of the organised solo". We are reminded that New Orleans was a melting pot of different peoples and musical genres, as well as having the first opera company in America. As a drummer, I was fascinated to see film of a man playing a drum-set improvised from tin cans, with a wooden box as the bass drum (complete with homemade pedal) and a tin lid as a cymbal.

Of course, one problem with such historical programmes is the paucity of film of jazz musicians. The film clips on this DVD are not always accompanied by appropriate music - for example, clarinettist Jimmie Noone is backed by trumpet music. But there is some good footage of such people as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Billy Eckstine's ground-breaking band, although the tendency in those days was for musicians to mime on film. There is footage of Bud Powell that I hadn't seen before but the clip of Sarah Vaughan has out-of-synch sound.

There is no real explanation of what bebop was - except that musicians tended to play more notes. But the stimulating point is made that Dizzy Gillespie hiring conga drummer Chano Pozo was a return to the Afro-Caribbean roots of jazz. The DVD tends to skate over the last 30 or 40 years of jazz - perhaps because the film was made in the early 1990s, but it is still a fault that we learn little of what happened after John Coltrane and jazz-rock. Another problem with this type of DVD is that you may not want to watch it more than once. However, within these limitations it provides a valuable and intriguing survey of much jazz history. It was part of a series called "Masters of American Music" which also included documentaries about individual musicians like Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. Some of these programmes are being reissued on DVD and may help to fill out the story of jazz.

Tony Augarde



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