Jazz Icons

Jazz Icons (TM) Volume 4:
Art Blakey: Paris in 1965; Art Farmer: England 1964; Erroll Garner: Belgium 1963 and

Sweden 1964; Coleman Hawkins: Belgium 1962 and England 1964; Woody Herman: England 1964; Anita O'Day: Sweden 1963 and Norway 1970; Jimmy Smith: Paris 1969; Bonus Disc (available only with Box Set): Coleman Hawkins, Erroll Garner and Jimmy Smith

By Martin Kasdan Jr.

Since their initial set of releases in 2006, the producers of the DVD series Jazz Icons (TM) have established a well-deserved reputation for presenting live jazz performances from some of the best-known and well-loved jazz artists. The latest series continues the legacy. Space does not permit a detailed rundown of each disc. Full personnel listings and setlists are available at www.jazzicons.com.

Volume 4 follows the format of the prior sets. Each disc is in black and white, with crisply remastered monaural sound and (except for the bonus disc) contains a 24-page booklet with informative essays and many pictures. As before, there is one vocalist in the series, and the musical focus is on swing and straight-ahead bop; there are no entries in the new volume from the avant-garde, progressive or fusion schools.

There are any number of pleasant surprises in these performances. Woody Herman's 1964 edition of the Thundering Herd (featuring saxophonist Sal Nistico) not only swings righteously on such chestnuts as "Four Brothers" and "Caldonia," but successfully tackles Charles Mingus' neo-gospel "Better Get It in Your Soul." Art Blakey's 1965 ensemble is dubbed "the New Jazzmen," a rare break from the "Jazz Messengers" moniker. It features fiery trumpet work from Freddie Hubbard on lengthy versions of two of the trumpeter's originals, "The Hub" (16:42) and "Crisis" (24:32). An eight minute reading of "Blue Moon" demonstrates the ensemble's balladry.

Art Farmer's sensitive flugelhorn work is well-matched by the elegant guitar playing of Jim Hall. They open with the warm and mellow "Sometime Ago" and play brilliantly for the next hour, concluding with their swinging take on Milt Jackson's classic "Bags' Groove." Fans of jazz singing will delight in the two performances on Anita O'Day's offering. She is backed by two different piano trios. Two songs, "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Let's Fall in Love" are found in both the 1963 and 1970 concerts. A special treat is her 1970 medley of "Yesterday/Yesterdays."

Erroll Garner's trio displays a joyfulness that seems to stem from their long tenure playing together. Garner's best known composition, "Misty," is beautifully performed on the 1963 concert. "Fly Me to the Moon" is among the few songs repeated on the two dates, and Garner's variations are well worth comparing to one another. Coleman Hawkins, who virtually transformed the saxophone into a mainstay of the jazz arsenal, is in top form here. There is a feeling that these performances are part jam sessions (with Harry "Sweets" Edison on the 1964 date) and part concert presentations. Hawkins' blues "Disorder at the Border" is the only song on both dates, and allows him to soar and swoop with soul.

Jimmy Smith's 1969 concert is my personal favorite. It features the B-3 master with guitarist Eddie McFadden and drummer Charlie Crosby, stretching out to the delight of the audience at the Salle Pleyel. Smith opens with an uptempo romp on "Sonnymoon for Two." For the next 86 minutes, whether playing ballads such as "Alfie" or stretching out on his own "The Sermon," Smith and his colleagues show how categories such as blues, gospel, soul and bop all meld into what I will dub "the Jimmy Smith Experience." Organists will appreciate the closeups of Smith, as he displays the technique which led to his becoming a star outside of the pure jazz realm.

In short, Volume Four of Jazz Icons (TM) is a treasure trove for fans of jazz. Whether recorded in television studios, clubs or concert halls, all the DVDs show how the essence of jazz is to be found in live performance.