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Music Video Distributors presents
The Sound of Jazz (1957)

"Jazz and live television have one thing in common: a quality known as immediacy."
- host John Crosby

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: March 05, 2003

Stars: Count Basie, Red Allen, Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Milt Hilton, Jimmy Giuffre
Other Stars: Rex Stewart, Milt Hinton, Thelonious Monk, Doc Cheatham, Roy Eldridge
Director: Jack Smight

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 00h:55m:46s
Release Date: January 14, 2003
UPC: 022891910893
Genre: jazz

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Live, from CBS Studio 58, comes this DVD chock full of jazz masters. Originally broadcast as part of a series called The Seven Lively Arts, produced by John Houseman, this hour-long show assembled some of the most notable jazz musicians working in late 1957, and the program emphasizes the improvisatory nature of their work. Basically, host John Crosby clutches a clipboard to be certain that he gets the names right, and then he lets them go to it. The results, as you could probably anticipate, are mixed, but there are some memorable highlights, and it's a show unlike anything we'll see again on network television.

Count Basie kicks it off with a winnowed-down assemblage of his big band—they sound pretty good, but don't seem to know quite what to do with the huge cameras craning down on them. Next Crosby and the camera crew move next door for Red Allen and his ensemble performing Wild Man Blues. (Some of the song titles are identified; some are not.) Their next number is Rosetta, and in another indication of how times have changed, cigarette smoke wafts all around the musicians; one trumpet player on a solo can even be seen cradling a butt between his fingers.

Basie is up again, with Jimmy Rushing on vocals, and then comes the very best part of the show: Billie Holiday, with an all-star backup group that includes Ben Webster, Gerry Mulligan and Roy Eldridge. Holiday is in pretty good form, but of course this is a good twenty years after her most important studio work. Brief voice-overs pre-recorded by the musicians about what jazz means to them might have been interesting, but they're so muffled that you can barely make out a word.

Things get a little more progressive with a trio led by Jimmy Giuffre, and the finale is a mix of the old and the new, with Giuffre's ensemble joined by a couple of Basie's players. The contrast between the generations isn't especially clear, though the younger guys seem a little cowed being in the company of giants. This unvarnished disc comes to us warts and all, even with the original commercials, featuring a promo for Tallulah Bankhead in tonight's installment of G. E. Theatre.

It's not groundbreaking stuff, musically—you get the sense that even for the performers, this is a throwaway event. But still, the level of talent that was in the studio that day was formidable, and these fine musicians sound terrific in their various configurations.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Picture quality is very poor—resolution is low, the image frequently looks fuzzy, and it's full of scratches, and it's often washed out to the point of making the musicians indistinguishable from one another. I know that this wasn't filmed for the ages, but even so, things here look pretty poor.

Image Transfer Grade: D


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The music is the main event, and while you'll be able to make most of it out, in the first half of the show especially there's a criminal amount of hissing. Little or no care was taken to do anything with the raw source material in the DVD transfer, and you can sure hear it.

Audio Transfer Grade: D


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. three bonus audio tracks
Extras Review: Three jazz tunes are on hand, playing over CD cover art—Coleman Hawkins does Dali (04m:33s), and then he's joined by Red Allen on South (06m:22s); finally, Sarah Vaughan sings East of the Sun (07m:36s) with Count Basie and his orchestra. Chapter headings in the menu lack numbers, and run vertically rather than horizontally, both of which make the disc tougher than necessary to negotiate.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Technically very weak, this disc still affords jazz fans the chance to see some of the best doing their thing, which is a whole lot better than most of what's on television these days.


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