By the time you read this, Naxos of America, Inc. will be releasing Volume III of its Jazz Icons™ DVD boxed set series. While Volume III contains works by some of the finest modern jazz players in history, it is Volume I (which includes nine DVDs) that so far in this highly acclaimed project probably would be most appealing to Rag™ readers -- unless, of course, your breadth of taste crosses what I consider highly arbitrary boundaries between the various genres of jazz. (How many musical artists have declared, "There are only two kinds of music -- good and bad."?)
It has been my experience in interviewing jazz musicians of all genres over the years that it doesn't take much to get them to divulge their traditional influences. If they weren't born and reared in New Orleans and the other cities where trad flourishes, they visited NOLA and absorbed as much as they could. And, if they were born too late to hear the grand masters of trad, virtually all of those I have talked to over the years reported they had at the very least some trad and maybe ragtime "greatest hits" recordings in their collections and stated in no uncertain terms that without the pioneers of jazz, there would have been no foundation for those who followed to build on, no grand masters to learn from.
In a press release covering Volume I, the great Quincy Jones was quoted as saying, "The release of Jazz Icons is like the unearthing of a time capsule -- an audio-visual treasure trove of the music that changed the world. From big band and bebop to Dixieland and cool, it's all here and it all swings. These jazz legends, from Dizzy and Count to Louis and Ella, are the Bachs and Beethovens of our generation. From an education standpoint this series is a gift to our culture. I'm honored to be a featured part of it, but I'm more thrilled just to sit down and watch it with my grandkids."
No doubt today's grandkids will be saying the same to their grandkids some years from now, and with more Jazz Icons volumes to enjoy and learn from.
By way of backgrounding you on this project to date: Volume I, released in 2006, includes performances by Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald -- of special interest, I presume, to most RAG readers -- but also works by immortals such as Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers, Quincy Jones and Buddy Rich, all decidedly modern yet secure in their places in the pantheon of jazz which enshrines the best players regardless of style.
They were filmed in Europe 1957-1978, but the tapes somehow had gotten lost in the vaults of European TV studios for as long as 50 years before being discovered, re-transferred, re-mastered and incorporated into this series. None was ever "officially" released, and some never have been broadcast.
One of my all-time favorite jazz critics and grand master of the form of album liner-note writing, Ira Gitler, is quoted as saying of Volume I, "These nine historic DVDs are among the most important visual/aural documents to be discovered in the history of jazz. Now, they are available to the entire world."
Volume II, released in 2007, includes seven DVDs and features RAG reader icon Duke Ellington, plus Sarah Vaughan, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Wes Montgomery and Dexter Gordon.
And now, the 2008 release, Volume III, a seven-DVD boxed set and probably the most interesting to RAG readers, offers Lionel Hampton, plus Oscar Peterson with Clark Terry and Roy Eldridge, Sonny Rollins, Nina Simone, Cannonball Adderley and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Each Volume III DVD runs 60-100 minutes and each includes a 24-page booklet.
Those who cannot get over the stylistic hump will be pleased to know that they may purchase individually each of the seven DVDs of Volume III, although each boxed set includes a bonus disc. This brings the cumulative output to 23 DVDs (plus bonus discs) and some 30 hours of music.
For details on the recordings by artists in whom you are particularly interested, such as year, venue, band members, repertory plus purchase information, check the website at www.jazzicons.com.