Icons Among Us: An Epic Jazz Documentary, Part 2

Nick Catalano By

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Part 1 | Part 2

This seminal documentary continues on the second CD with a scene straight out of a typical Gotham jazz collaboration: singer Gretchen Parlato and pianist Aaron Parks are together in a NYC apartment working out a vocal arrangement. Gretchen is heard commenting on the vagaries of jazz singing and the associated career moves that she continues to work at. In the background the camera pans areas of the New York skyline while a delightful musical score entertains us. It is the combination of all of these production elements that keeps the show humming along. Despite the protracted commentary from the performers, tedium never sets in because the directors know how television works. This has rarely happened when jazz and TV have been paired.

Professor Robin Kelly's remarks are particularly prescient. He notes that our culture is still far too preoccupied with money and materialism. "What's at the bottom here [the U.S.A.]?" he says and then answers "not art." The camera flashes to Spike Wilner who operates Small's, a wonderful jazz room in New York at the forefront of the movement to support jazz by charging customers very little to see the show. 'Twixt these commentators we see the venerable Wayne Shorter and newcomers Marco Benevento and Anat Cohen performing and opining about the state of the art in jazz. Later in staccato fashion we see and hear writer Ashley Kahn and then younger musicians Miguel Zenon, John Medeski, Matthew Shipp, Vijay Iyer and Amy Denio join in the dialogue with veterans Dianne Reeves and Ravi Coltrane.

Throughout the show the theme remains clear: the search for new approaches to create art music. All of the age-old struggles associated with this aesthetic commitment are noted but the dynamic of the production brings a freshness to this ancient topic.

Later, Danilo Perez discusses the value of "community" in the jazz performing world as he is joined by Brian Blade at a jazz concert in Newport.

In the fourth episode of "jazz in the present tense" (the subtitle of the show) we are taken to the Louis Armstrong memorial at the site of what used to be Congo Square in New Orleans. It is a fitting place to end matters and the last part of the commentary (Donald Harrison is prominent here) takes us offshore with a look at all of the world musics presently employing the jazz form.

This program is a must for jazz educators, performers, writers and fans everywhere.

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