Latest Volume in Jazz Icons Video Series Releases Oct. 27

Jimmy Smith image 0

Jimmy Smith

Now the folks at Reelin’ in the Years have done it again. Somehow they’ve found more incredible footage of jazz legends from 60s era television shows and turned that old footage into slick DVD products. Volume Four, the latest in their critically-acclaimed Jazz Icons series, includes DVDs from an eclectic but impressive group of jazz stars: Jimmy Smith, Anita O’Day, Art Blakey, Erroll Garner, Coleman Hawkins, Art Farmer and Woody Herman. Volume Four is officially released on October 27, 2009.

Tom Gulotta, art director and co-producer at Reelin’ in the Years, said that his company backed into this particular specialty, by going from middle-man to provider. “We’re the largest archive of music footage. We license all sorts of footage for commercial, documentaries, really anybody who wants special music footage.” Much of their most prized footage came from European television stations, which have a rich store of incredible performances by jazz, as well as rock and soul performers.

Gulotta explained that, “Because the European stations are government-owned, they didn’t have the commercial constraints of stations in the U.S. and therefore they were able to film and show a one-hour performance from a jazz artist. Plus, Europeans were crazy about jazz. And there was also the issue of race. Back in the ’60s you weren’t going to see artists like John Coltrane, Count Basie or Thelonious Monk on US television, certainly not for an hour at a time.”

But just because all this great music was out there, that didn’t make it easy to find, Gulotta said. “Most of those concerts aired on German, French or British television were shown once or twice and then put away. But unlike in America, where the master tapes of shows were often discarded or taped over, the European channels stored the material in its original master form. In America, the stations never felt there was any cultural context to it, so they would often just tape over it.” It helped that the Reelin’ folks had been actively combing the libraries of European channels and shows for material.

The availability of the original masters turns out to be the Rosetta Stone for the high quality of the Jazz Icons series. “When you see some footage from an old show and it looks and sounds bad, it’s probably because it’s a copy and maybe even a bootlegged one. In our case, because of our relationship with these channels, we’re able to go right from the masters and have them digitally transferred. We use Metropolis Studios in London for color and gray balance for the video and we have a great sound mastering guy in London.” But Gulotta said that what they had to work with was so much better than the usual footage from US shows, because the European studios were recording a lot of live music and therefore became adept at the process. “Yes, they used the best mikes and they knew how to record music. The great technical skill of Europeans with recording sound has been huge.”

One of the more prized shows that Gulotta’s company has gotten its digital hands on is Jazz 625 from the BBC. The 625 in the title refers to the lines of broadcast resolution, something that the channel was clearly proud of. When watching the shows, you do get a sense that the original producers cared about the presentation just as much as the subject itself.

With this latest volume in the series, they will have released 30 titles, but Gulotta made it clear that they are not running out of material. “There’s a lot still out there. Believe me. The stuff from the French network has amazing stuff. And we haven’t even gotten into the ’70s when you find a lot of fusion groups like Return to Forever, Weather Report, etc performing. We’re excited to continue.”

Gulotta said that the series is fairly costly to produce and not just because of the acquisition costs and post-production. One of the unique aspects of the Jazz Icons series is that the company makes considerable effort and expense to do the right thing by the artists themselves. “We not only pay for the footage, but also pay the artists and the publishing. We even pay the sidemen as well, though a contract with AFM.” Longtime JT readers of JT may remember the piece this author wrote about those sideman royalties in the June 2002 issue.

Money matters, whether you’re a jazz sideman or a video production company. Initially, the first Jazz Icons series was funded by TDK who eventually through changes in its structure and strategy got out of the DVD business. Reelin’ turned to its distributor Naxos who quickly jumped into the breech and have funded the series ever since. Gulotta has been most impressed with Naxos’ commitment to marketing the series to its target audience. “They appreciate that you need to advertise to reach your audience and that costs money.”

But who is the audience? Die-hard jazz fans or general music listeners? Gulotta said mostly the former. “The vast majority of the audience are older jazz fans who grew up on this music.” At least so far. But Gulotta is seeing a newer and younger audience enjoying the series, thanks in part to its use as an educational tool. “It’s now being used in schools all over the world. Look, whenever you see, and not just hear, these great jazz artists do what they do, that can teach more than a whole semester of lectures. And younger people are seeing this music and the musicians in their prime.” Indeed, watching the Jimmy Smith DVD one feels very much in the moment and taken back to 1969, when the organist appeared on December 1 at Paris’s famed Salle Pleyel, in a show produced by French jazz impresarios Frank Tenot and Daniel Filipacchi. (Print media trivia fact: The latter went on to found one of the world’s largest magazine groups – Hachette-Filipacchi.) The producer of that original broadcast in France was that country’s first black television producer, Gesip Legitimus. And the results are unlike anything seen on American television then or later.

See for yourself when this latest volume in the Jazz Icons series is released on October 27, 2009.