Jazz Greats Return to Glory on DVD Capturing seven of America's greatest jazz musicians at the height of their powers in Europe, the DVD collection Jazz Icons offers a fresh perspective on the likes of Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan, Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck.

Jazz Greats Return to Glory on DVD

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(Soundbite of Duke Ellington Band's music)


Seven jazz legends are featured in a new DVD collection. It's part of the series Jazz Icons. Hear and see never before released television performances of John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Dexter Gordon and others performing in Europe in the 1950s and '60s.

What we're hearing is the Duke Ellington Band. Now, here's Ellington himself, leading the band for a Dutch audience in 1958.

Mr. DUKE ELLINGTON (Jazz Artist): You know, I've been very lucky as a songwriter and so now I like play two of those songs we've written that have become hits. Some have become standards and, of course, we hope that all of them are among your favorites.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: It is the second "Jazz Icons" DVD collection. MORNING EDITION contributor, journalist Ashley Kahn, joined us to talk about what's special about these performances. He wrote the liner notes for the disc on John Coltrane. Hello.

Mr. ASHLEY KAHN (Journalist; Author, "The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records"): Hi there.

MONTAGNE: So you know, Europe has long had a love affair with American jazz musicians dating back right after World War I. Is that why so many flocked to Europe after World War II?

Mr. KAHN: Absolutely. I mean, Europe basically had totally different viewpoint on American culture in general, and definitely jazz.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. KAHN: When the new format of television came out, jazz was presented with a little more respect, a little more recognition that was being done over here where jazz which is slotted in as the talent, you know, amongst the jugglers and the comediennes that you would see on a variety show.

MONTAGNE: And we're going to hear a few examples of those performances. Tell us what we are going to hear first.

Mr. KAHN: So we're going to hear special historic moment that could only have happened in the European TV studio and it's a rare meeting of three legends in 1960 in Germany - John Coltrane playing with Stan Getz and Oscar Peterson, and they're performing Thelonious Monk's "Hackensack." And you're going to hear Coltrane first, and his saxophone at that point, in 1960, was really like the vanguard of a new modern style and then Getz takes over. And you'll hear a much more classic representation of the saxophone.

First, you're going to hear Coltrane for about 10 seconds.

(Soundbite of Coltrane Getz performing Monk's "Hackensack")

Mr. KAHN: Yeah. There's this great moment just before they take up their solos where they sort of glanced with each other for a moment. It's like two boxers before they enter in the ring that you would only see on a taped performance like this.

MONTAGNE: Well, that's one of the nice things about this series, I mean, it's DVD, obviously, so you're not just hearing the music, you're seeing what goes on between the players while they play.

Mr. KAHN: Absolutely. It's very revealing of how they were performing their craft. There's another great moment where guitarist Wes Montgomery is in the studio with a Dutch band, and obviously, they've just met for the first time. There is one tune they get to where Wes has to sort of walk them through the structure of the tune. It's "The End of a Love Affair."

Unidentified Man: Which key?

Mr. WES MONTGOMERY (Guitarist): We'll start off F minor, start off B flat.

(Soundbite of song, "The End of a Love Affair")

Mr. MONTGOMERY: Whole step.

Mr. KAHN: So what we're hearing and what you're seeing on the screen is Wes Montgomery teaching this tune and even under the pressure of the studio clocks, he's taking it nice and simple and slow so that the band can catch up with the structure of the tune. And then, the piano player gets it and they kick into it.

Mr. MONTGOMERY: One, two, three…

(Soundbite of song, "The End of a Love Affair")

MONTAGNE: So this was actually on television. Of course, this is the '50s and the '60s and they did do things like this.

Mr. KAHN: Yeah. I mean, the other side of the coin, you know, where Wes Montgomery's personality was known for being very gracious and humble. Charles Mingus was more the tortured genius. And you actually witness him rehearsing a tune in Sweden in 1964 and he's kind of berating his own band.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CHARLES MINGUS (Bassist): Everybody should play it again. (Unintelligible) What is all this? Fellows, this is what we are going to do.

Mr. KAHN: So that's bassist Charles Mingus. You can hear him saying, you know, why don't you all listen and taking them into task for not getting it right.

MONTAGNE: On this DVD, there's also Sarah Vaughan in 1958. Why don't you tell us about that?

Mr. KAHN: Yeah. This is Sarah Vaughan at the height of her powers. But what's really incredible is that you get a feeling of the sort of innocence that you also had throughout her career that she always was this slightly nervous, slightly struck with stage fright-type of singer, even though she was one of the best jazz singers out there.

Ms. SARAH VAUGHAN (Jazz Singer): Thank you. And now for my next tune, I'd like to do one of my first recordings that I did with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. It was also recorded by Billie Holiday. So I hope you enjoy it by me, "Lover Man."

(Soundbite of song, "Lover Man")

Mr. KAHN: When you see it on the screen, you actually see that sort of nervousness because her eyes sort of flip between, I guess, the director and the TV cameras. She's not quite sure where she's supposed to look. But then the music starts and she kills it.

(Soundbite of song, "Lover Man")

Ms. VAUGHAN: (Singing) I've heard it said that the thrill of romance can be like a heavenly dream.

MONTAGNE: We started this conversation with Duke Ellington. Why don't we end with Duke Ellington? And if we do, what would you suggest?

Mr. KAHN: Yeah. This is great. What we have is Duke Ellington at the height of the revival of his career. And one of the things that was really typical of an Ellington performance was the way that he addressed the crowd with his hip sophistication, and you can't help but love it.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. ELLINGTON: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. You've been very wonderful, very sweet and very generous, very gracious and we do love you madly.

MONTAGNE: And I guess they loved that. And we do thank you, Ashley Kahn.

Mr. KAHN: Thank you, Renee.

MONTAGNE: We've been talking about the newest DVD in the series "Jazz Icons." Ashley Kahn is the author of "The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records."

(Soundbite of Duke Ellington's music)

MONTAGNE: You can see more unguarded moments of those jazz icons and discover more music at npr.org.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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