The Story of Jazz (1993)

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Released 19-Mar-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1993
Running Time 97:44
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Matthew Seig

Madman Entertainment
Starring Lloyd Richards
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $24.95 Music None Given

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    A couple of years ago I had the distinct fortune from a reviewing sense of reviewing Jazz, a documentary series from famed documentary maker Ken Burns that looked at the history of essentially the sole contribution of the United States to world culture. That series is pretty much the definitive look at the topic and ran to over twelve hours of programming (with the Region 1 release going even longer). Despite its length, it inevitably left out a whole heap of stuff along the way.

    So what exactly can we expect from a single programme running barely ninety minutes that covers pretty much the same topic?

    Not a fat lot was my initial reaction on selecting this DVD from the dud list. For those not conversant with my review of Jazz, I came to the music rather late in my musical journey thanks to the abomination of Free Jazz and Avant Garde in the 1960's that single-handedly devastated jazz as an art form and from which the music has struggled to recover. It did so slowly in the 1980's by returning to its roots - the rhythm of the African-American music that spawned the musical form in New Orleans in the early 1900's. The point is that this is the music that I love nowadays, along with country music, and so as a fan and thus the sort of person most likely to check out a DVD of this sort, I doubted that this could provide anything new in comparison to the earlier series.

    In that respect, I was entirely correct - it does not provide anything really new and in many ways sort of provides a potted synopsis of the work of Ken Burns. However, that in itself may not necessarily be a bad thing (other than some of the footage included here seems to duplicate some of that included in the earlier released series). After all, there are no doubt many that would be daunted at the prospect of wading through twelve hours of material and might well prefer a more potted synopsis of the story of jazz.

    So for all of you in that group, here is your potted synopsis on DVD.

    The result is a reasonably interesting look at an almost uniquely American musical form from its roots in New Orleans to its development in Chicago and its rise to pre-eminence in New York during the swing era. From then it's a slightly downward trend through Bebop to its near destruction in the Avant Garde era. It mainly concerns itself with the major players such as Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Joe Oliver, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonius Monk and the myriad of stars that were created through the bands with which they worked - and believe me when Billy Eckstine starts reeling off the names of the players in his band you sure get the drift. The story is told through photographs, archival footage and interviews with some of the people involved and others heavily influenced by these people: Wynton Marsalis, Lester Bowie, Doc Cheatham, Bud Freeman, Zilner Randolph, Randy Weston, Jay McShann, Illinois Jacquet, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Tony Bennett, Carmen McRae, Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie are but some of the names who add their thoughts to the proceedings.

    Of course, if you don't recognise any of the names listed, one would have to question exactly why you are checking out this review. But if at least one of those names you recognise, then you understand that this might not be Jazz by Ken Burns but it does have a place and does have a point. If you need something a little less extensive than Ken Burns' masterpiece, you would be hard pressed to do better than this.

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Transfer Quality


    With archival material dating back to the turn of the twentieth century, and film material dating back to the 1920's, you can pretty much guess that we are not talking super high quality in the transfer department. Indeed, even though the programme itself - part of the Masters of American Music series - was made in 1993, some of the recent interview material is hardly stunning quality either. But we do of course make the necessary allowances so that we can indulge in the programme.

    Obviously the allowances we have to make are in respect of the copious film artefacts to be found in some of the archival material, with dirt, scratches, emulsion damage and whatever else being quite obvious at times. Certainly the material has not been subjected to any major restoration work, but perhaps the preservation work is all that it needs at the moment. Add into the equation the film-to-video artefacts, with plenty of (generally) minor aliasing present, and we can be thankful that there appears to be no evidence of any MPEG artefacts. Aliasing is especially noted at 4:22 in the photograph, 6:38 in the sheet music and 11:24 in the building as examples.

    The archival material is obviously and mostly black and white since it all dates back prior to the 1960's. It runs across the full scope of excellent in tones with nice fidelity in the grey scales to atrocious with little if any definition in the grey scales and looking more like a blob of black against a blob of less black. Some of the material is obviously film sourced whilst some is obviously video sourced and that adds further dimension to the disparity in the grey scale definition. The more recent interview material is obviously colour but is mostly not terrific colour, lacking a little in contrast (mostly too dark) and with an obvious need for some more vibrancy. Over saturation is not an issue and neither is colour bleed.

    The archival material has all the variability that we expect in such old material and therefore really is very much to expectations. What is not to expectations is the more recent interview material. This tends to be a little soft in definition, lacks a little in detail and seems to have a grainy look to it even though grain itself is not a real problem. Whilst it is certainly watchable enough, I really would have thought it would be a lot better than this. Shadow detail in the new stuff is okay - not spectacular though - whilst the archival material is sadly lacking in it. Overall a slightly disappointing look but not damagingly so.

    This is a single layered, single sided DVD so there is no layer change to worry about.

    There are no subtitle options on the DVD which is a serious bummer.

    Oh, the transfer is presented Full Frame (1.33:1) and it is not 16x9 enhanced if you had not already guessed.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is just the one soundtrack option on the disc, being an English Dolby Digital 5.1 effort. I have to confess that when I saw that emblazoned across the front cover of the DVD, I feared the worst. Experience has tended to show that when the words "Digitally Remastered for Dolby Digital 5.1" are plastered across DVDs featuring material dating back pre-1950's, the result is not a happy hearing experience. So it proves here.

    The biggest problem is that the soundtrack has been remastered by someone that does not understand sound at all. So, for instance, around the 78:00 mark we have the glorious experience of Double Bass accompanied by Sarah Vaughan on vocals. Enough said or do I need to expand?

    Yes folks, the bass channel has been mixed too prevalent in the mix so that at times it certainly is not an accompaniment to the overall sound but a dominant factor in the sound. The result is that, at times, the vocals are not all well balanced in the soundtrack and are rather difficult to understand. Indeed, around the 29:30 mark the bass gets so prevalent in the mix that it starts to drown out the otherwise quite easily heard narration. If you have the audio level up a bit higher than usual - as the narration might be a little on the quiet side for some - you should be warned that around the 34:45 mark the bass starts to get to room rattling in nature and turning down the volume would be advisable. There appears to be no serious audio sync issues with the transfer, although obviously with material of this age the synchronisation is not perfect.

    Obviously the whole point of the show is the music and generally that comes over pretty well with the sound having been very nicely cleaned up in the remastering process. I would perhaps quibble at times that vocals or lead instruments are a little too recessed in the mix so the overall balance is not quite what I would expect or prefer. The six channel remastering has not been entirely sympathetic to the original sound you might guess, but there really is not much indication of those six channels other than that too prevalent bass channel.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    Nothing meaningful at all, just some slightly hissy audio enhancement to the main menu. Please note that the DVD is mastered so that it simply stops at the end of the programme (leaving you looking at whatever screen colour you have defaulted on your system) rather than returning you to the menu.


R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    As far as I can ascertain, there appears to be nothing substantially different between the various region releases of this DVD.


    The Story Of Jazz has slightly lofty ambitions considering the nature of the music it is investigating and given that we are only talking about a single layered, single sided DVD. Nonetheless, it is an interesting enough encapsulation of the full story that is vastly better handled in Ken Burns' excellent series. The overall presentation is, however, let down somewhat by an unsympathetic six channel remastered soundtrack.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Thursday, April 29, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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