Then and now, jazz critics to look scornfully on “all-star” sets at concerts. Some of the musicians play to the crowd; solos go on too long or were rushed; tempos were brisk; the repertoire simplified; the gatherings weren’t always well-planned.
But now, nearly forty years after this jam session at the Nice Jazz Festival, we can only give thanks for such an assemblage. We can note mournfully that almost all of the musicians named above — with the exception of Harley White and Eddie Graham — have departed.
Here are giants.
And you’ll see delightful fashion statements as well — Norvo’s summer casual; Carter’s psychedelic trousers; Hackett’s demure mandarin collar, and more. Hines’s attire needs its own posting.
George Wein announces Hines; the stagehands move around; we see Duvivier toting his bass and Rosengarden making those preliminary percussive noises before Hines appears, smiling widely. He begins a brisk OUR MONDAY DATE with the rhythm falling in line — and all the flash, daring, and exuberance is entirely in place, forty-five years after his early bravura playing in Chicago. The ensemble that follows is cheerful although the instrumental voices seem to float to the surface and down again — perhaps because of the cinematography of Jean-Christophe Averty (usually known for his incessant cutting between shots) focuses on Hines. Carter is majestically fleet for two; Norvo cool and mobile for his, raising and lowering his shoulder as always.
But little dramas are going on. Carter is dissatisfied with his reed and is working on it; Vic looks as if he’d rather be elsewhere, at a slower tempo (although his bridge is splendid). The other all-stars seem to have decided that the way to deal with Hines’ tempo is to split choruses — Bigard / Venuti swap trademark phrases for two choruses (while Bigard plays, Venuti tidies his bow); Hackett and Carter embark on the same playful gambit, but the King looks quite surprised at a squeak and is almost ready to put his horn down for its misdemeanor. Hines returns for two exuberantly showy choruses, mixing lopsided shards of the melody with surrealistic stride, calling the band in for a final chorus (where the camera stays on them), Hackett more powerfully leading — into the leader’s showy extended ending: nine minutes later.
A year later, it is Hines (in green) with Harley White, bass; Eddie Graham, drums, paying tribute to early Ellington with BLACK AND TAN FANTASY in a reading that sticks closely to the original arrangement — then a romping C JAM BLUES which is all Hines at his flying best, with an equally flying solo by White and a half-time ending.
What follows is, for me, magic: Vic Dickenson playing a ballad, I GOT IT BAD, with no other horns.
Please note how he quietly puts the tempo where he wants it (slower than Hines has counted it off) and his amazing variety of tones and moods — exultation and pathos, sadness and near-mockery. No mutes, nothing but years of lip technique and experimenting with the kinds of sounds both he and the horn could make. The delicacy yet solid swing of the last eight bars of his second chorus; the entire solo returning to the melody but the very antithesis of “straight” playing. Vic isn’t cherished as he should be, for his mastery of “tonation and phrasing,” but his vocalized range, his soulful use of vibrato, his balancing the blues and wit . . . there should be statues of Vic Dickenson!
What comes next seems from another world, with all respects to the very excellent drummer Graham — a lengthy CARAVAN, with some reflections of Jo Jones. Appropriately.
It is a varied half-hour, and viewers will have their favorite moments, as I do. But we owe thanks to our YouTube friend (details below) for sharing this with us, and (even before this) French television for having the foresight to record such gatherings . . . against the day when the giants would no longer honor us with their presence.
The begetter of this slice of delicious French television,”belltele1,” on YouTube, seems to have a special key to the treasure chest of jazz video rarities. In a half-hour of casual browsing, I saw Eldridge, Brubeck, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bechet, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Monk, Rollins, Mingus, Teddy Buckner, Louis, Jonah Jones, Ellington, Basie — the marvels are there for the viewing. And he offers DVDs of the programs . . . .
May your happiness increase!