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Truly Unplugged: The Sound of Jazz


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This TV production, in its failed attempt to be polished, really serves as the first generation of 'unplugged' jazz videos.
The Digital Video Disc (DVD) chronicle, The Sound of Jazz, should live forever as an example of why our reach should always exceed our grasp. Television is no replacement for the imagination.

Technically speaking, one would be hard pressed to find a rougher statement of black and white television production in December, 1957. This show starts when host John Crosby announces: “This will be an hour of jazz that will largely be improvised.”

So, it seems, was the production. Camera shots are too tight, too loose or just plain in the way of the shots that follow. The audio drops out in some places and, during the artist reflections on playing, is often inaudible. Microphones singe the foreground of many shots and, in general, the musicians appear somewhat violated by the need for considering their appearances while playing. However, we must remember the context in which this 56 minutes of television was produced.

The imperfections may serve as the saving grace of this DVD. Little did CBS Studio 58 realize that, in trying (and failing) to successfully package live jazz for television, it would produce what we now revere as “unplugged” music: reality television in its truest form.

We grasp now what they strived for.

The Sound of Jazz presents a pleasing range of jazz. From the ensemble work of Count Basie’s Orchestra and the solo based scores woven together with breaks and bridges, great jazz breaks beyond the barriers of the medium in which it is presented. On ”Dickie’s Dream,” we marvel at the world class rhythm section: Count Basie on piano, Eddie Jones on bass, Freddy Green on guitar and Jo Jones on drums. Kansas City jazz is finely tuned here. We’re treated to stellar playing from musicians like Roy Eldridge, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Ben Webster.

Billie Holiday shines visually and lays on the blues with the intensity of her own legacy: “Treat me right baby and I’ll stay home night and day. But you’re so mean to me baby, I know you’re gonna drive me away.”

Holiday’s soul turns bad television production into a mild aftertaste.

“The Train and the River,” performed by The Jimmy Giuffre Three, silences all critics with seductive innovation. Giuffre is joined in a trio by Jim Abbot on bass and a youthful Jim Hall on guitar. “Giuffre’s idea...was to have three linear instruments improvise collectively,” recalls Hall. “He believed it didn’t make any difference whether or not the group had bass or drums. He said the instruments should be able to keep time themselves. It was damn hard, yet it was one of the most enlarging experiences I’ve had.”

“I try to let the feeling or the flow of things get the last word over the mathematical idea,” says Giuffre.

The imagination used to inspire this music almost removes the many warts of the production that now brings it to our home theatres.

The Sound of Jazz is a nostalgic time capsule: great music poorly produced, but now perfectly preserved. Our DVD libraries are better that this Seven Lively Arts TV show was repackaged, in December 2002, and produced for laser technology. It proves today what show host John Crosby said then: jazz is best experienced.

Production Notes:

  • Studio: Music Video Distributors
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 (Full Frame)

DVD Extras:

  • Three Bonus Audio Tracks
  • Scene Menu

Web Sites:

Music Video Distributors Web site:

The Count Basie Orchestra Web Page:

New Orleans Jazz: Henry "Red" Allen Page:

The Official Web site of Billie Holiday:

Lester Young@Harlem.Org:

Coleman Hawkins Web Page:

Jimmy Giuffre – Biography and Discography:


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