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Let's Give Thanks for the DVD

Jack Bowers By

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As there isn't much to report—well, nothing, actually—about big bands this month, I'll use the space to say a few words in praise of the DVD. Yes, I know there aren't a whole lot of jazz DVDs on the market, especially big band videos, but there are a few, and I'm grateful for every one of them, as they enable me to see as well as hear some of my favorite bands, past and present. Not that I have the time to do that, but they are there waiting in case I should ever set aside enough spare moments to relax and enjoy them.

Of all the marvelous bands that have come and gone through the years—Basie, Ellington, Kenton, Herman, Lunceford, Gillespie, Goodman, the Dorseys, Miller, James, Barnet, Krupa, Hampton, Thornhill, Florence, Ferguson, Jones / Lewis, Clarke / Boland, the Boss Brass, to name a few—and the many that remain active today (Holman, Clayton / Hamilton, Wilson, Akiyoshi / Tabackin, Kubis and others), the band that has always been closest to my heart is the one led by the greatest big-band drummer I've ever heard or ever hope to hear, the incomparable Buddy Rich. Luckily for those of us who cherish fond memories of Rich's formidable ensembles, the band was recorded on a number of occasions, and there are in my library half a dozen DVDs to serve as a reminder of how awesome those bands really were. There may be other recordings by Rich and his ensembles; the ones I have are Live at The Top (1973), The Lost Tapes, Channel One Suite, Live in '78, Live at the 1982 Montreal Jazz Festival and Up Close (1982). I also have two memorial albums, The Making of "Burning for Buddy" and The Buddy Rich Memorial Scholarship Concerts, each one featuring various drummers paying tribute to Rich. I wish there were videos of Rich's great band from the late 1960s on which two of my friends, trumpeter Bobby Shew and tenor saxophonist Jay Corre, played leading roles, but if any are available I've yet to find them.

Other celebrated bands on DVD include Toshiko Akiyoshi / Lew Tabackin (Strive for Jive), Count Basie (Live in '62), Louie Bellson (And His Big Band), Maynard Ferguson (Live at The Top, 1975), Dizzy Gillespie (Live in '58 and '70), Lionel Hampton (Live in '58), Woody Herman (Live in '64) and Quincy Jones (Live in 1960). Again, there may be others but those are the ones I have in hand, along with lesser-known groups such as the Robert Bachner Big Band (Live in Vienna), Tommy Igoe and the Birdland Big Band (Live from New York), the City Rhythm Orchestra with organist Joey DeFrancesco (Vibrant Tones), the NDR Big Band with vocalist Roberta Gambarini, the Steve Huffsteter Big Band (Gathered Around), the Las Vegas Jazz Connection (Remembering Russ Freeman), the Madison (WI) Mellophonium Jazz Orchestra (In Concert), the Frank Mantooth Jazz Orchestra from 1997, the Eric Miyashiro Big Band with Bobby Shew, the Resonance Big Band (A Tribute to Oscar Peterson), the Mike Treni Big Band (Turnaround) and the University of North Texas One O'Clock Lab Band (Lab 2007).

As is true of CDs (not so much now as in years past), sound quality varies from one DVD to the next, as do picture quality and production standards. There may be one camera or many, fixed or in motion, stable or spastic. There are times, however, when the music transcends every limitation, as on a DVD recorded by the Toledo Jazz Orchestra with guest artist, tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims. Sound and picture are dreadful, but the concert was taped in February 1985, less than a month before Sims passed away at age 59. It was perhaps the last performance he ever gave, and as such warrants a place of honor in any library, warts and all. And yes, Sims was playing as well as ever, with nary a hint of any illness. He was born swinging and went out the same way.

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