Masters Of American Music was a program that celebrated some of the great artists in the jazz world. Some of the episodes were previously issued on the VHS format, but those have been unavailable for years. Naxos has rescued a few of these treasures from the vaults, and have recently released them as the limited edition Masters Of American Music five-DVD box set.
The artists selected for individual study are Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughn, and Thelonious Monk. The fifth disc is a 93-minute documentary titled The Story of Jazz.
Every one of these DVDs is outstanding. For example, on the 69-minute Monk documentary, we see him performing such tunes as “Round Midnight,” “Epistrophy,” “Blue Monk,” and “Just A Gigolo,” just to name a few. There are also interviews with Thelonious Monk III, Ben Riley, Orrin Keepnews, and others.
The 56-minute Sarah Vaughn: The Divine One features performances of “The Shadow Of Your Smile,” “I’ve Got A Crush On You,” and “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” as well as many others. Interviewees include Billy Eckstine, Roy Haynes, Joe Williams, and more.
Lady Day: The Many Faces Of Billie Holiday is another very powerful documentary. It is 59 minutes in length, and won the 1994 Cable ACE Award for Best Documentary Special. Like the others in the series, Lady Day presents a mix of performances and interviews, to offer a well-rounded picture of the troubled legend’s life.
Is there a more troubled legend in all of jazz than Charles “Yardbird” Parker? Celebrating Bird is another one-hour documentary about the brilliant sax player, whose influence continues to this day. When it first aired in 1987, Celebrating Bird won a slew of awards, and it is easy to see why. The footage is incredible, and some of the interviews will just break your heart.
Finally we come to The Story Of Jazz, which begins in the plantations and leads up to the present day. This 98-minute program manages to squeeze in performances and interviews from an astounding array of people. The pace is lively, and some of the stories and histories absolutely fascinating. It has been said that everything Ken Burns attempted with his ten-part Jazz series had already been done, and done better on The Story Of Jazz.
There’s room for both in my opinion, and this set contains an excellent overview of some of the most important artists to ever play that all-American form of music known as jazz.