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Great Jazz Deserves To Be Heard And Seen At It's Best

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Why I'm filing a mass take-down notice on YouTube

For several decades, my father committed himself to championing the popular emergence of jazz, and engendering proper respect for the musicians who devoted their careers and lives to the music that had long been dismissed to the sidelines of main stream American culture. Ralph J. Gleason is known by many as the long-running jazz critic of the San Francisco Chronicle, co-founder of Rolling Stone Magazine and the Monterey Jazz Festival, and producer of the seminal television series, "Jazz Casual" (1959—1970).

One thing that made "Jazz Casual" unique was that musicians weren't stuffed into artificial time blocks between commercial breaks. They could play what they wanted, at any length, and then participate in a knowing conversation about their music with an unapologetic and incisive host. It's one of the reasons that John Coltrane's only U.S. television appearance was on this program.

Another thing that distinguishes "Jazz Casual" was the focus on capturing the finest quality of recording possible in that early television age, plus the fact that the artists were properly paid for their work. Ask any musician working today and they'll probably agree that respect for their efforts in both adulation and compensation is still in short supply.

Since my father's passing in 1975, I've kept these exceptional recordings available at the finest quality while continuing to pay these great artists, sometimes up to fifty years after their performances were taped. There's not a lot of money to be made in jazz recordings distributed by an independent, but my family and I are proud that musicians still get paid from the first monies earned, and no compromises have been made to pass off cheap dubs or low-end copies for a quick buck.

Unfortunately, people with good intentions (and bad) have been generating low quality bootlegs, not paying the artists, not letting people know that decent copies are available, and ironically creating a situation where audiences are now losing the opportunity to discover or re-discover some of the finest jazz and jazz commentary ever recorded.

It's sad that distorted thumbnail videos with scratchy sound are being ripped from easily available high quality DVD releases and posted on YouTube, etc.—with claims of being "recently discovered" and of "unknown origin." Last week a company that sells blues piano lessons paid a PR service to disseminate an online story integrating third-generation clips ripped off from "Jazz Casual" to lure people into purchasing their product. The musicians certainly weren't paid by this business that appropriated their work, and if Vince Guaraldi were still alive he'd likely have an issue with being labeled a "blues pianist" in order to sell a questionable product.

The bottom line is that the continued availability of these classic recordings has now been compromised as distributors are no longer interested in putting their capital and resources behind recordings that have flooded the internet, especially since they are now getting the reputation of being low quality because of the poor copies. No one wins in this situation. Not the musicians, and certainly not the audience.

It's hard enough to get good material in front of the public. Last year the feature-length film The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi won five Best Documentary Awards, was featured in over 25 film festivals and introduced the National Jazz Month at the Library of Congress. It featured newly-restored high-definition footage of Guaraldi in the process of recording the landmark Jazz Impressions of Black Orpheus album, with his fellow band members and such luminaries as Dave Brubeck, John Handy, Jon Hendricks, Jerry Granelli, George Winston, Dick Gregory and others offering performances and intimate stories. I was very proud to produce this film with my partner Andrew Thomas, using our own money and sweat to pull it together.

It's very likely that this film will never be available as potential distributors have made it clear that the ongoing bootlegging cuts too deeply into their business—despite the attraction of a film scored from previously unreleased Guaraldi recordings, and that the "extras" on the DVD would include almost eight hours of never before seen bonus materials. (It's understandable that, not long ago, "All About Jazz" mistakenly lamented that there apparently was no film available of Vince Guaraldi. There's plenty, but not even Guaraldi's record distributor seems interested, considering this environment.)

These rare and important jazz moments are now being held hostage.

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