Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Touring American jazz musicians were treated like foreign dignitaries in Europe in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, when the nine terrific new DVDs packaged as ``Jazz Icons'' (TDK) were originally taped. None of the performances has been on the market before.
Jazz concerts were regularly aired in their entirety for their cultural value, even if they weren't that commercial, by government-run European TV stations. Not in the U.S. This treasure trove from European vaults features Louis Armstrong, Art Blakey, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Buddy Rich, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker, Thelonious Monk and Quincy Jones.
The nine DVDs are packaged as an elegant box in the U.S., but for the moment are only available individually in Europe. The re- mastered sound is better than good.
The premise of the project was that ``every featured artist needed to be a household name that had in some important way shaped the history of jazz,'' according to the producers David Peck and Phillip Galloway. ``It was also important to find the earliest concert footage available, featuring the artists as close to their prime as possible.''
Quincy Jones, the only headliner still alive, says he is honored to be a part of the project and that he is ``thrilled just to sit down and watch it with my grandkids.'' His DVD features his legendary 18-piece outfit that for a short while survived the failed big-budget stage musical ``Free and Easy'' in Europe.
Taped in Belgium and Switzerland in 1960, what Jones describes as ``my dream band'' included Phil Woods, Clark Terry, Jimmy Cleveland and Les Spann. They are more together than they have to be, and, like their famously sharp leader, they are all smartly uniformed in designer turtlenecks.
Peck and Galloway say their company Reelin' in the Years Productions has the rights to ``the largest music footage library in the world -- over 10,000 hours of performances from all genres of music covering the last 50 years.''
Previous releases include ``Muddy Waters Classic Concerts,'' and ``Marvin Gaye -- The Real Thing in Performance.'' Concert DVDs of Charles Mingus with Eric Dolphy, John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, all from the 1960s, are being prepared.
The Chet Baker disc illustrates how -- being white and having lived in Europe for so long -- he has been unjustly underestimated by the jazz establishment. On good nights, which admittedly were too few, he could play jazz on a trumpet about as well as anybody.
Watching the Baker and Louis Armstrong discs one after the other leads to the perception of a surprising parallel. Singing, both of them are, in fact just playing the trumpet by other means. In other words, they both remained musicians more than pop stars.
Dizzy Gets Busy
The trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie performs in 1958 with tenorman Sonny Stitt in Belgium. And, in Denmark in 1970, he leads that other legendary European-based big band, the Kenny Clarke-Francy Boland orchestra, which included such Euro-cat royalty as the English tenorman (and club owner) Ronnie Scott, the Swedish trombonist Ake Persson and the Yugoslav trumpeter Dusko Goykovich. You can compare the condition of Gillespie's chops.
In 1966, in Norway and Denmark, Thelonious Monk is wearing his elegant narrow-brim fedora and flashing a big pinky-ring as he crosses his hands on the keyboard to construct his other-worldly chords, somehow managing to detune a piano.
The producers had already cleared the rights with Belgian television for a 1965 Art Blakey Jazz Messengers concert, with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, when their engineer called from the studio to say that it was definitely not Hubbard.
Further investigation revealed that the tape was actually from 1958, during the glory years of the Jazz Messengers, with Lee Morgan on trumpet. It had been misfiled and forgotten, and had never even been broadcast.
Big-band drummers working are fun to look at. Slick Sonny Payne juggling his sticks, flirting shamelessly, driving the Count Basie band in Sweden in 1962. Buddy Rich, businesslike, intense, driven, with Killer Force -- ``the best band I ever had'' -- in the Netherlands in 1978, from a tape that had been forgotten in some elapsed storage facility.
While you have to have been something in the first place in order to be forgotten, being found again is even better.