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Film Review

Virtuosic Saxophones: Montreux Jazz Festival


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The White Foundation’s Digital Video Disc (DVD), Virtuosic Saxophones Sax Competition · Montreux Jazz Festival (2002) , ranks as lesson one to music educators, aspiring musicians and its producers. This 115 minute DVD showcases outstanding technical talent on stage, but not so much in the effective use of light, sound and cameras.

The 15 musicians showcased here display a uniform technical mastery of their instruments. From the dazzle of scaling movement to those wonderful moments when a musician consciously chooses not to play, these young artists display a sophistication and technical accomplishment that exceed their years (the finalists ranged in age between Walter Smith at 22 to Mark Small at 28).

“The ones that stand out will definitely be the most original ones...who have more of a musical personality,” says jurist Jean Toussaint. That is exactly what distinguished Great Britain’s altoist Soweto Kinch as the rightful winner: a mature sense of interplay between technical prowess, artistic expression and his place within the band of accompanying players. Kinch, a self taught musician, measured his technique for greater artistic effect. Kinch went on to be honored by BBC Radios 2 and 3 less than a month later at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall.

Upon receiving the first place award at Montreux, Soweto Kinch remarked: “In the end, it’s the start of a long journey.”

With that attitude, Kinch will delight us for many years.

Jazz lovers also benefit from inspired performances from the other three finalists: Jamie Oehlers, Mark Small and Walter Smith. Each of the finalists fed off the intuitive work of guest performer (TCB recording artist) Lynne Arriale on piano. In the environment of such stressed competition, however, the runners up strained a little more for technical impression than for art – a most understandable reaction on their parts.

The DVD did not capture the obvious enthusiasm of the performance as it was experienced inside the room.

Jazz producers have long believed, in error, that the vibe of a live audience and the subtleties of jazz performance can be technically captured by a bare minimum of electronics. This DVD demonstrates the need for more detailed scrutiny of the many aspects of video production. The audio mixes of the 15 competition soloists and the 25 minute documentary vary greatly. In future, the producers of this DVD need more cameras, a strenuous post production audio mix (much as it may cost) and a lighting set up that enhances video recording. This initial effort, in technical production terms, is 32 bars beyond amateur, but 32 bars short of credibly bearing the Montreux brand.

Lesson number one: opt for unsightly audio boards, more garish lighting and a post production audio headache. They may detract from the experience of the live patrons, but the exercise would produce a more visually stimulating DVD.

The awesome educational value of this project far outweighs its technical shortcomings, though. The White Foundation stuck to its mandate by keeping this event tightly focused on its educational value. Producer Jeremy White along with international jury members – Lee Konitz, Jean Toussaint, David Sanborn, Yvan Ischer, Alyn Shipton and Kirk Whalum – rendered assessments that reflect this event's scholastic nature. The fascinating 25 minute documentary reveals that commitment admirably. They should be commended for making the experience as much of a learning opportunity as possible.

Virtuosic Saxophones Sax Competition · Montreux Jazz Festival (2002) will endure as a fabulous recruitment tool for music educators around the world. The International Association of Jazz Education (IAJE) would be wise to sponsor and distribute this DVD in the future. The annual lessons of Montreux will spawn generations of more outstanding young jazz players.

Production Notes
Format: DVD Video, 16:9 Compatible, 4:3 Color

  • Studio: White Foundation

DVD Features

  • 80 minute concert
  • 25 minute documentary

Web Sites
Montreux Jazz Festival
White Foundation

Photo Courtesy of the Montreux Jazz Festival.

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