Photos, music unite to form masterpiece
Put simply, this is an aural and visual treat – a two-disc box set that combines the photographic excellence of brilliant cameraman Herman Leonard and the enormous talents of some of jazzdom’s brightest stars.
How does it all work? The book that accompanies the discs contains 35 full-page photos and insightful commentary about each of the musicians featured in the collection. The text is supplied by noted writer and longtime jazz fan Ross Firestone. He wrote the splendid “Swing, Swing, Swing: The Life and Times of Benny Goodman,” and rather than going for the obvious, Firestone gives you glimpses of the artists you probably haven’t seen before.
His commentary, coupled with Leonard’s extraordinary work with black-and-white film and the walloping good samples of jazz played by musicians involved deeply in their art, make for an appealing package that spans roughly 20 years of jazz, from the late ’40s through the late ’60s.
The job of overseeing the project fell to Alan Douglas, who along with the invaluable help of Steve Saporta had to match photos with music by the artist.
And that resulted in not just one, but a carload of music from different sources, i.e., record companies: RCA, Columbia, MCA, Verve, Capitol and others. So, the diversity of labels means we’re hearing prime-time performances from each of the jazz greats.
Some selections are predictable. A wonderful take of trumpeter Roy Eldridge’s “The Man I Love” and breathy tenor saxist Ben Webster’s reading of “Body and Soul” fit that mold. So do Ella Fitzgerald’s lilting “How Long Has This Been Going On?” and tenorman Sonny Rollins gutsy “St. Thomas.”
However, the collection also offers some items that are a tad out of the ordinary. Namely tenor saxist Lester Young’s performance of “All Of Me,” fairly late in his career rather than, say, the more familiar and earlier “Lester Leaps In.” And baritone saxist Gerry Mulligan is represented by a rousing sextet version of “Broadway” instead of the anticipated “Baubles Bangles and Beads” or “Line For Lyons.”
Each of the artists is a heavyweight, that’s for sure: Duke Ellington plays “Lotus Blossom.” Dizzy Gillespie is heard on “Perdido,” Charlie Parker on “The Song Is You,” Coleman Hawkins on the rarely heard “Me and Some Drums,” Sarah Vaughan on “Embraceable You,” and Thelonious Monk on “Blue Monk.”
And we’re barely touching the tip of the iceberg. There’s a whole lot of other jazz – cool, hot and in between – that’s just waiting to be heard and photography to be admired. It’s yours for the taking.
Cam Miller is a free-lance jazz critic in Lake Wildwood. You may write to him care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945.
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