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Norman Granz Presents Improvisation

Eagle Eye
By JEFF TAMARKIN  |  January 14, 2008
4.0 4.0 Stars
There’s something ironic about the thought that the musicians in the five-song, previously lost 1950 film that provides the backbone of Improvisation are miming along with their own pre-recorded jamming, but it’s such a goldmine of jazz footage that you’d have to be crazy to mind. Even though it’s barely 15 minutes of black-and-white film shot in a studio, to witness Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins trading riffs along with Hank Jones, Ray Brown, and Buddy Rich (whose solo causes Bird to break out in a colossal grin), and Ella scatting as Lester Young, Harry “Sweets” Edison, and Flip Phillips blow, is no minor treat. Impresario Granz, possibly the most powerful non-player on the jazz scene through much of the post-war 20th century, put together the session as a follow-up to a 1944 predecessor (also included here in its entirety), and as always his instinct proved sharp. Working with photographer/director Gjon Mili, Granz captured the fire of the improvisational art during a peak period of jazz’s evolution from big band to bop. But the 1950 footage is only part of the story: the program is fleshed out with equally dazzling later performances. Count Basie’s three 1977 tracks from Montreux — live, not synched — with Benny Carter, Zoot Sims, Roy Eldridge, and more have even the band members complimenting one another. And another piece from the same festival, “Ali & Frazier,” is a riotous meeting of Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Oscar Peterson, and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. Also featured are Joe Pass, Duke Ellington, and a quarter-century older but still stellar Fitzgerald. A second disc of interview material, still photos, and other extras provides additional drawing power.
  Topics: New on DVD , Duke Ellington , Charlie Parker , Coleman Hawkins ,  More more >
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