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Jazz Icons DVDs: Buried Treasure

Eric, I’m gonna miss your ass over here.” It’s Charles Mingus talking to Eric Dolphy in 1964 as the Mingus sextet rehearses in Stockholm. Mingus looks fierce in wraparound shades. They’ve just gone through “So Long Eric,” a then-new tune composed as a farewell to Dolphy, who was planning to remain in Europe after the tour.

“How long you gonna stay?” asks Mingus.

“I don’t know. Not long,” Dolphy replies.

“What’s ‘not long’?” asks the leader, pushing. “What’s ‘not long,’ Eric? A year? A month?”

“Maybe a year. Not more than a year.”

Sandwiched between electrifying performances, it’s a fascinating piece of footage, showing the bandleader aggrieved at losing his close friend and star sideman. Dolphy, of course, would never make it home from Europe. A little more than two months later, the diabetic reedist would die in Berlin from insulin shock.

That fascinating snatch of conversation is part of Charles Mingus Live in ’64, one of seven new titles comprising the second installment of the Jazz Icons DVDs. “We promised that if the first series did well, there would be another,” says David Peck, who produced Jazz Icons along with his Reelin’ in the Years Productions partners Phil Galloway and Tom Gulotta. The first set was released last fall to excellent reviews. Not only were the performances-by artists including Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk and Buddy Rich-from peak creative years, but each disc included extensive liner notes by well-known jazz authorities, rare photos and superior sound and video restoration.

The new titles, available now, each contain more than an hour of classic jazz performances filmed in Europe between 1958 and 1966, most of which have been hidden away ever since in the vaults of European television stations. In addition to Mingus, there are concerts by Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Dexter Gordon, Wes Montgomery and Sarah Vaughan.

“We know where the treasure is buried,” says Galloway. “We’re the world’s largest music footage archive. We’ve been combing through the vaults for years.” Still, there were some spectacular surprises, including a long-lost set led by Coltrane from 1960, with guest spots from Stan Getz and Oscar Peterson.

“That was one of the ‘eureka’ moments,” says Galloway. “That show in Germany was rumored to exist for years. We were able to find the original: a six-song concert that had never been seen before that Coltrane fans are going to go crazy for. The master was in wonderful shape, very crisp and clear.”

Shot during Coltrane’s last European tour with Miles Davis, the gig was intended for the Davis quintet. But when the trumpeter refused to show, Coltrane took over, leading bandmates Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb through classics of the Davis repertoire. Two subsequent dates show the saxophonist at later, equally significant points in his artistic development.

“It’s a documentary without words,” adds Peck. “It opens when he was doing standards, what he was doing during the ’50s. Then you see him start to morph on the ’61 show with ‘My Favorite Things,’ still keeping some of the melodies. By ’65 he was at the Love Supreme period.” This last section, in particular, is invaluable as it is some of the only footage of the classic Coltrane quartet taking extended solos as they would on a club date.

Other standouts in the series include footage from ’64 and ’66 of the Dave Brubeck Quartet that Brubeck has called the best he’s ever seen of his classic lineup. Ellington fans will be enraptured by the ’58 concert, with crisp sound and solos by key sidemen like Clark Terry, Johnny Hodges, Quentin Jackson and Paul Gonsalves.

And then there is the Montgomery footage.

“This has never been seen before,” says Peck. “It has amazing over-the-shoulder angles. No matter how many times you hear Wes on CD, you’ll never figure out what’s happening with his thumb technique. This particular show is almost like a course in Wes Montgomery’s guitar technique.”

It makes you wonder what else is still out there.

“We’re looking at Rahsaan Roland Kirk,” reveals Peck. “And an amazing Lionel Hampton show from ’58. We’d love to do Sonny Rollins, Oscar Peterson, Cannonball Adderley … I’ll say it again: If this one goes well, there’ll be another one.”