Legends of Jazz: The Jazz Masters

Jim Santella By

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It's good to feel that glow returning to national television after a lapse of 40 years.
Ramsey Lewis
Public Broadcasting Service
June 16, 2005

The PBS television network introduces its jazz series next week with a one-hour special that features Ramsey Lewis in a panel discussion with several leaders of today's jazz world. The series will debut in the fall, with thirteen 30-minute episodes. Lewis, host of the nationally syndicated radio program Legends of Jazz, interviews each panelist and invites candid remarks about the state of the genre as well as its future.

Pictured (left to right): NEA Jazz Masters Paquito Dâ????Rivera (saxophone/clarinet), Jon Hendricks (vocal), James Moody (saxophone), Nancy Wilson (vocal) and George Wein (founder of the Newport Jazz Festival), teen jazz vocal sensation Renee Olstead and Grammy Award-winning pianist, broadcaster and educator Ramsey Lewis.

Nancy Wilson, James Moody, Jon Hendricks, Paquito D'Rivera, George Wein and newcomer Renee Olstead voice their opinions and share their views with Lewis and his television audience. It's refreshing to sit back and enjoy this discussion, as they reminisce about the way things have developed. But it's a casual affair among friends, and the purpose is to set the stage for what's to come later in the fall.

After mentioning her early influences from Little Jimmy Scott and Billie Holiday, Nancy Wilson sings "God Bless the Child" with accompaniment by Ramsey Lewis at the piano. As veterans, the two artists wend their way naturally through this classic standard and prove its lasting qualities. Unlike some television documentaries that have been severely criticized for allowing the music to "play second fiddle" to the conversation, Legends of Jazz: The Jazz Masters contains a clear separation between them. The music is properly revered and allowed to reach its fitting conclusion.

After discussing his early start and the development of bebop, James Moody performs "Woody 'n' You" on tenor with Billy Childs at the piano, Dave Carpenter on bass, and Roy McCurdy on drums. Jon Hendricks works with pianist Childs to perform "Rhythm-a-Ning" in an articulate demonstration of vocalese. In his candid comments, Hendricks reminds us that he started out at age 13, working with Art Tatum, who taught him the right stuff.

Paquito D'Rivera's father was a classical saxophonist. His early influences include both classical music and the jazz that bebop and swing artists brought to Cuba from further north. He demonstrates his love of both with a classical a cappella piece on clarinet, followed by a traditional jazz anthem that he shares with bass guitar accompaniment. George Wein tells of the exciting years he's had with the Newport Jazz Festival since founding it, and about his start in jazz, playing piano with Lester Young for a week.

Renee Olstead is best known for her role as an actress with the CBS-TV sitcom Still Standing. At 15, she represents new talent. After performing Vernon Duke's "Taking a Chance on Love" with the Billy Childs trio, and scat-singing the final chorus, she reminds us that it takes the efforts of everyone to keep the music alive and growing. Veterans open doors and it's up to the younger generation to appreciate what has been created. As everyone gets together for a jam session over the closing credits, you can feel this vital surge in jazz visibility coming on strong. This fall, each weekly episode will feature a guest star performing several numbers with Lewis and his trio. It's good to feel that glow returning to national television after a lapse of 40 years.

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