Gift of jazz

Mosaic Records preserves icons of America’s art form in DVD series

Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk

Image courtesy of Mosaic Records

Jazz Icons (Series 5) six-DVD set available for $99.98 from Mosaic Records, at and

Since 1983 Mosaic Records has been reissuing limited editions of important jazz recordings, which they’ve leased from various major labels. This six-DVD boxed set—Jazz Icons (Series 5)—features performances that were recorded in France from 1959 to 1973, and is the latest in the label’s partnership with Reelin’ in the Years Productions that has included a galaxy of jazz giants across a total of 36 DVDs (check them out at www.jazzicons. com). Each of these DVDs comes with a 12-page booklet and authoritative liner notes.

This set begins with a 1959 Paris concert by drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, the first hard-bop group to come to prominence. During their 35 years of existence the Messengers were known as The University of Art Blakey since so many members (including Freddie Hubbard, also part of this collection) went on to even greater fame after “graduating.” The musicians in this edition include trumpeter Lee Morgan (just 21), tenorman Wayne Shorter and pianist Walter Davis Jr. The band was in terrific form that night, and Blakey gives a stunning series of 4-bar seminars when trading choruses with the horns. Great black-and-white photography.

John Coltrane’s Quartet with McCoy Tyner, piano; Jimmy Garrison, bass; and Elvin Jones, drums, was considered his “classic” unit (by this time they’d been together five years), and this 1965 Antibes Jazz Festival performance is definitely proof of that. The tuxedo-clad group plays only five tunes—one of them the only public performance of “A Love Supreme.” The others are “Naima,” “Ascension” and “Impressions.” The black-and-white photography has too many distracting montages for my taste, but for his fans this 52-minute video is a must-have.

Thelonious Monk’s 1969 video captures the iconoclastic pianist alone and, much like his three solo LPs, finds him meditating on a dozen tunes in this 65-minute color video. Two versions of “Monk’s Mood,” his classic “’Round Midnight,” a full version of “Epistrophy,” which he normally used to end sets at gigs, and interpretations of two standards—one a sprightly “Nice Work if You Can Get It”—give us a unique view of this unique musician. One element of his playing—his use of stride, as epitomized by James P. Johnson some four or five decades earlier, is much more evident in this solo performance as compared to the quartet settings.

Tenor saxophonist Johnny Griffin leads his casually clad quartets in this black-and-white 77-minute video of two 1971 performances that find the “Little Giant” in killer form. Known as one of the fastest sax men around, Griffin wastes no time getting up to speed on the first track, a scorching blues that he plays at both events, the second version a duet with the inestimable (and often overlooked) Art Taylor on drums. They also rip it up on two Charlie Parker tunes, one the Latin-themed “My Little Suede Shoes.” Dizzy Gillespie falls by for so-so renditions of “A Night in Tunisia” and “Hot House.”

Multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk is known mostly for his ability to play two (or even three) saxophones simultaneously, and this 77-minute color 1972 video shows him doing that … and more! He mostly plays tenor sax, and two other modified members of the sax family: the Manzello and Stritch, plus several items that he occasionally utilizes (e.g. recorder, duck call, whistle) taped to his sax harness. Using two saxes Kirk was able to play duets with himself and, by using circular breathing he could play nonstop without taking a breath. Fascinating to observe.

Trumpeter Hubbard’s 1973 quintet included tenor saxist Junior Cook and pianist George Cables. The 50-minute black-and-white video captures Hubbard’s first real working band as a leader in a jazz fusion mode playing just three tunes: “Straight Life,” with Cables (on electric piano) taking a great solo, “Intrepid Fox” (on which both horns are really fired up) and “First Light” with Cook playing flute.

As good as listening to the music is, nothing quite beats seeing these men in action. Great goods for the jazz lover on your Christmas list.