DVD Reviews

Syncopation (Cohen Film Collection)

Jazz and the movies are America’s two greatest contributions to the arts, but Hollywood rarely gets it right when jazz musicians are portrayed on the silver screen. Syncopation, a 1942 film directed by William Dieterle has been issued on home video for the first time, and while it’s not the classic that the trailer claims, it is considerably better than most Hollywood jazz films. As a bonus, the DVD and Blu-Ray editions contain nine exquisitely restored jazz shorts featuring Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Artie Shaw, Jack Teagarden and Cab Calloway, and reviewer Thomas Cunniffe states that these films are more entertaining than the feature.

Woody Herman: “Blue Flame: Portrait of a Jazz Legend” (Jazzed Media)

In celebration of Woody Herman’s upcoming centennial, Graham Carter has produced a 110-minute documentary chronicling the history of the famed bandleader. Thomas Cunniffe reviews the DVD, noting that the film has interviews with many distinguished Herman alumni and several rare film clips.

Miles Ahead (Sony Classics DVD)

Don Cheadle’s long-awaited Miles Davis film, Miles Ahead is far from a typical biopic. It requires its audience to come in with prior knowledge of Davis’ life. However, it is a remarkable film, especially for a first-time director like Cheadle. In this DVD review, Thomas Cunniffe marvels at the way Cheadle juxtaposes various time frames from Davis’ career into the same scenes.

Celebrating Pittsburgh Jazz

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a small city when compared to metropolises like New York, Boston and Philadelphia. However, the rich musical culture of the city’s black community produced an extraordinary number of jazz masters, including Earl Hines, Mary Lou Williams, Roy Eldridge, Billy Strayhorn, Kenny Clarke, Billy Eckstine, Erroll Garner, Art Blakey, Ahmad Jamal and George Benson. Thomas Cunniffe reviews a new documentary and a new book which celebrate the jazz heritage of this great city.

Marian McPartland: In Good Time (Films by Huey)

Through her numerous live performances and her award-winning radio series, Piano Jazz, Marian McPartland has steadily built a reputation of one of jazz’s great masters. Yet she is not one to trumpet her own accomplishments. Finally, a filmmaker has done it for her (with the help of several other great musicians). Thomas Cunniffe reviews the DVD.

Masters of American Music box set (Naxos/EuroArts)

Released just in time for the holidays is Naxos/EuroArts’ 5-DVD box set Masters of American Music. Thomas Cunniffe reviews the set which includes profiles of Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Thelonious Monk and Billie Holiday as well as an overview of the music The Story of Jazz.

Thelonious Monk: “Paris 1969” (Blue Note)

Thelonious Monk’s tour of Europe in late 1969 was the last time he would travel the Continent with his own group. Despite a number of setbacks, the quartet was in great form for its appearance at Paris’ Salle Pleyel. As Thomas Cunniffe reports, the film of this concert has circulated among collectors for years, but Blue Note’s new DVD may be the first legitimate release of this material.

Oscar Peterson: “Easter Suite” (Naxos/Art Haus)

While his Easter Suite was considered one of his major compositions, Oscar Peterson never made a commercial recording of the work. In time for Holy Week, Naxos/Art Haus has issued a DVD featuring Peterson’s only recording of the piece, made for The South Bank Show. Thomas Cunniffe reviews the disc.

Sonny Rollins: “Saxophone Colossus” (MVD Video)

Most jazz documentaries spend the majority of their time dwelling on the past. However, Robert Mugge’s 1986 film Saxophone Colossus caught Sonny Rollins in a particularly creative period. Mugge splits his film between an outdoor combo concert in upstate New York and the Tokyo premiere of Rollins’ original concerto for saxophone and orchestra. Through it all, the saxophonist captivates with his boundless energy and creativity, Thomas Cunniffe reviews this new home video edition of the film, which features 4K remastering and Dolby sound.

The Zen of Bennett (Sony Music/RPM/Netflix)

There have been plenty of documentaries made about Tony Bennett, but the latest film on the singer, The Zen of Bennett, assumes that the viewers know his biography, and focuses instead on the philosophy that makes him such a compelling artist. Thomas Cunniffe reviews the DVD version.

Tubby Hayes: “A Man in a Hurry” (Mono Media/Treatment/Proper)

To commemorate the 80th anniversary of Tubby Hayes’ birth, there’s been several new CD reissues, a long-awaited full-length biography and now a documentary on the British tenor sax giant. Hayes lived a fast and full life before his passing at the age of 38, which makes the documentary’s title, A Man in a Hurry all the more appropriate. Thomas Cunniffe offers his thoughts on the film in this month’s DVD review.

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