Jazz Icons Series 3
Studio: Reelin’ in the Years Productions (Distr. by Naxos)
Video: 4:3 B&W
Audio: DD mono
Extras: 24-page illustrated booklet with liner notes by Doug Ramsey, forward by Kelly Peterson (his widow) and rare photographs
Length: 84 minutes
This is one of the best entries in the third series of award-winning Jazz Icons DVDs, coming mostly from the vaults of various European TV studios – mostly black & white and often kinescopes, though better quality kinescopes than one is used to seeing from the U.S. The sound is all mono, but of excellent quality in most cases. Some of this footage of jazz greats, who never elicited such video coverage in the U.S., was not even broadcast in Europe but sat in the vaults for in some cases up to 50 years priot to its present resuscitation. The sources for this third group of eight DVDs were filmed in Europe between 1958 and 1975. (There are seven individual artist DVDs in this series, and if you purchase all seven you get a box for them plus an eighth bonus DVD with additional footage of Sonny Rollins, Nina Simone and Roland Kirk.)
The never-before-seen Oscar Peterson footage shows the incredible late pianist (died last year) in three different countries from 1963 thru 1965: Sweden, Denmark and Finland. His bassist is the great Ray Brown and his drummer is Ed Thigpen. Trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Clark Terry are guests on a few of the 16 tunes. Peterson seemed to prefer working without a guitarist since Herb Ellis has left him in 1958, and he had long wanted to play with Ray Brown – who Gene Lees had observed had such close rapport with Peterson “that Ray’s notes sometimes sounded as if they were being produced by a sixth finger on Oscar’s left hand.”
The six selections filmed at a small Danish nightclub in 1964 show Peterson’s trio at an intense high point not often captured on his audio recordings. His set concludes with his own very moving Hymn to Freedom. The closing set – filmed at Helsinki’s Cultural House in 1965 – seems to be a bigger production all around. There are more distant shots of the stage from inside the audience, and the addition of master trumpeter-Fluglehornist-mumbler Clark Terry adds to the group’s onstage impact (although it seems to bar any more closeups of Peterson’s fantastic hands on the keyboard, as seen in the earlier two sections). In the instrumental version of Mack the Knife, we see in closeups exactly how Terry accomplished his circular breathing, which produced longer uninterrupted melodic lines. “Smedley” was Terry’s humorous name for producer Norman Granz and Blues for Smedley is one of the seldom-heard tunes in the video. In it he does a Roland Kirk-type trick of performing simultaneously (or nearly so) on both his trumpet and Flugelhorn. The final track brings out Terry’s hilarious alter-ego Mumbles, which started just as a joke at parties but grew into one of the trumpeter’s most-requested numbers. As Quincy Jones has observed, “From an educational standpoint this series is a gift to our culture,” — espcially true of these superb Oscar Peterson videos!
TrackList: SWEDEN = Reunion Blues, Satin Doll, But Not for Me, It Ain’t Necessarily So, Chicago; DENMARK = Soon, On Green Dolphin Street, Bags’ Groove, Tonight, C-Jam Blues, Hymn to Freedom; FINLAND = Yours is My Heart Alone, Mack the Knife, Blues for Smedley, Misty, Mumbles.
– John Henry