Norman Granz Presents: Improvisation featuring Charlie Parker (1996)

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Released 10-Sep-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Music Menu Animation & Audio
Multiple Angles
Featurette-Various featurettes
Deleted Scenes
Short Film-Jammin' The Blues
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1996
Running Time 68:45 (Case: 280)
RSDL / Flipper No/No
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By None Given
Rajon Vision Starring None Given
Case Amaray-Transparent-Dual
RPI ? Music None Given

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes

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

Plot Synopsis

    Norman Granz is most probably the most important and influential figure in the history of jazz who was not a musician. He was a concert promoter, record producer, record label owner, talent manager and most importantly he loved jazz music, especially jam sessions of the greatest players. One of the other things which makes him stand out amongst the people on the business side of the music industry is that he was greatly loved and respected by the musicians themselves. He made sure they were well cared for, paid fairly and not treated with discrimination due to their colour. He was born in 1918 and died in 2001 after an incredible career where he worked with, managed and recorded many of the greatest players in jazz including Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Oscar Petersen (who he discovered) and Ella Fitzgerald whom he basically set up the Verve label to record.

    One of his earliest successful ventures in the jazz field was an Oscar nominated short film called Jammin' the Blues which was directed by photographer Gjon Mili. This film (which is included in the extras) was a 10 minute film of some jam sessions between famous players of the day including Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Harry 'Sweets' Edison, Barney Kessel and others. Around the same time Granz started promoting concerts which were known as JATP or Jazz at the Philharmonic. These concerts made him a big name in jazz and he started creating record labels, which then came together in Verve, which was to become one of the greatest labels in jazz. In 1950, he decided to make another jazz film with Gjon Mili, so he gathered together a number of jazz greats for a jam session which would be recorded for both sound and vision. Due to technical constraints in the environment to be used they were unable to record the video and audio at the same time, so they arranged for the musicians to jam and then got them to attempt to sync their playing when it was recorded for the film. They took a number of takes of the jam and then planned to edit the vision and sync it up to the audio. This proved to be much more difficult than they expected which should not have been a big surprise considering the improvisatory nature of jazz. Accordingly the project was shelved. In 1995, Granz took another look at the footage and decided to augment it with other improvisatory jazz footage that he had recorded over the intervening years. This resulted in the main feature on this disc which has now been also augmented with a 2004 introduction by legendary jazz journalist Nat Hentoff. The resulting collection of footage runs for just under 70 minutes and is linked together by voiceover introductions from Granz for each section.

    In detail the wonderful footage included here is:

  1. Nat Hentoff Intro (4:35) - Hentoff reads from a prepared statement, but although it's interesting in an informational sense, it is hardly visually exciting. Colour.
  2. Norman Granz Introduction (2:20) - Granz discusses the original project and the footage included here. Colour.
  3. The Mili Sequence from 1950 (2:56, 2:15, 2:12, 3:10, 4:09) - This is made up of five tracks which as I mentioned above had the video recorded separately from the audio. The music is stunning especially the first two tracks which feature one of the very few known collaborations between Charlie Parker and Coleman Hawkins, two of the greatest sax players in the history of jazz. Following this is a track featuring Parker along with a great rhythm section, Hank Jones, Ray Brown & Buddy Rich. Later tracks include other greats such as Lester Young, Ella Fitzgerald and Harry 'Sweets' Edison and others. It is certainly great to see this footage but what a shame that the audio and video were not recorded concurrently. Three of these tracks feature one of the most underused DVD features, multiple angles. These allow the viewers to see different takes of the filming. B&W.
  4. Duke at the Cote D'Azur 1966 (6:19) - Duke Ellington whilst on tour with his orchestra in Europe recorded this trio improvisation outdoors at a Jean Miro art museum in amongst famous Miro works. The artist himself was also present. This is a lovely, completely improvised number which backs Duke's piano with just bass and drums. B&W.
  5. Montreux Jazz Festival 1977 (4:27, 7:11, 4:59) - This footage features a Count Basie trio plus a number of guests on horns including such greats as Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge & Zoot Sims. Some excellent jams are included and Benny Carter especially is on top form. Colour.
  6. Joe Pass 1979 (3:11, 3:03) - Joe Pass on solo guitar plays two numbers both of which are magnificent. B&W.
  7. Ella Fitzgerald 1979 (2:11, 2:55) - This show features two Ella numbers which are good but not great. Obviously, this is Ella some years after her peak. These are definitely worth seeing but are not the pick of the material here. Colour.
  8. Montreux Jazz Festival 1977 (9:30) - This track Ali Vs Frazier was so named after it was performed due to the incredible battle between the horns on this track during a jam. The players here include Oscar Petersen on piano, Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet, Clark Terry on trumpet, Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis on sax along with bass and drums. Colour.

    This is a wonderful collection of rare footage of great jazz players performing wonderful music. When combined with the fantastic extras this makes a great set for all jazz lovers.

    Highly Recommended.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    The video quality is variable but all quite decent considering the age of the footage.

    The feature is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, non-16x9 enhanced, which I would guess is the original aspect ratio.

    The 1950 footage is surprisingly sharp and clear although does include quite a bit of film grain, quite a few specks, lines and scratches. There are also some jumps.

    The 1966 footage includes more film artefacts that the 1950 and is a little softer.

    The 1977 footage includes lots of colour artefacts including bleeding, flaring, comet trails along with tape tracking errors and microphony (in the second section).

    The 1979 Joe Pass footage is fairly soft and includes tape tracking errors.

    The 1979 Ella Fitzgerald footage includes flaring, grain, chroma noise, tape tracking and very ordinary shadow detail.

    There are subtitles in English and six other languages. They include any spoken words and are easy to read.

    The feature disc is single layered. The second disc is dual layered.

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


    The audio quality is wonderful.

    This DVD contains three audio options an English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack encoded at 448 Kb/s, an English DTS 5.1 soundtrack and an English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo soundtrack encoded at 192 Kb/s. Considering the age and source of these recordings all three options sound excellent, however, the DTS sounds warmer and more immersive than the other two. It should be noted that the case incorrectly lists a PCM stereo option.

    Dialogue was very clear and easy to understand and there was no problem with audio sync, with the exception of the Mili sequence as discussed above.

    The music comes across very well, although the 1966 Duke recording is a bit muffled and includes some tape hiss. The 1979 tracks also contain tape hiss and are a little boomy. The 1977 tracks are surprisingly good as are the Mili recordings.

    The surround speakers added some atmosphere but did not have much to do. This is fine as too much surround here would have sounded strange.

    The subwoofer is used throughout, adding bass to the music.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    There are lots of wonderful extras on this two disc set.


    The menu design is great featuring pen drawings reminiscent of many jazz illustrations of the time and the wonderful Charlie Parker sax work from the Mili sequence.


    An extensive booklet is included, featuring detailed essays about all the extras and the main feature along with track details and lots of vintage photographs

Disc 1


    Multi-angles are included on three tracks of the Mili sequence which allow the viewer to select different takes of the jam sessions. Excellent use of the multi angle feature which is used rarely.

Portrait of Norman Granz (4:23)

    Narrated by Nat Hentoff this includes anecdotes about Granz, discussion of his career and approach to jazz plus his importance to the development of jazz. 4x3.

Portraits by David Stone Martin (1:31)

    This is a collection of pen drawings of Granz and various jazz musicians. Nice extra. 4x3.

Disc 2

Rushes from the Mili Sequence (33:07)

    A large collection of extra footage from the 1950 sessions which includes Charlie Parker and Ella Fitzgerald. Unfortunately, there is no sound. Subtitles are included for lyrics sung by Ella. A worthy extra but difficult to watch without sound.

Interviews - About the Mili Sequence (13:18)

    1996 interviews with participants in the original session including Hank Jones (Piano) and Harry 'Sweets' Edison (Trumpet). Jones is modest and self deprecating about his role, taking into account the jazz giants included. He is also quite amusing. Edison is very interesting discussing the session, the difficulty syncing to improvisation and Granz himself. Also included is a short interview with Clark Terry about the Montreux footage from 1977.

Interviews - About Charlie Parker (32:42)

    Now this is some great stuff, featuring many jazz greats talking about Charlie Parker including people who played in his band. The interview subjects include Jay McShann, Phil Woods, the writer Ira Gitler, James Moody, Slide Hampton, Roy Haynes and Jimmy Heath. Haynes is particularly informative. The discussion includes reminiscences, views on Parker and his music, anecdotes and their other influences. Very interesting stuff for jazz fans.

Photo Gallery (15:11, 4:05)

    There are two options here both worthy of your time. The longer one uses split screen and includes stills, footage from the Mili sequence and music from Parker. The second is just the stills with onscreen textural comments on what is in the photos.

Jammin' The Blues (9:57)

    This is the original 1945 Oscar nominated short film, featuring a jam session between various jazz luminaries such as Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Harry 'Sweets' Edison and Barney Kessel. It is very atmospherically shot by Mili and a must have for fans of jazz. A wonderful extra. The video quality is a bit average with significant film grain, quite a few film artefacts and a generally soft look. Regardless this is wonderful to have.

R4 vs R1

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

    The Region 1 version seems to be exactly the same so lets just call it a draw.


    An excellent collection of jazz improvisation by some of the greatest players in the history of the musical art form.

    The video quality is variable but pretty good considering the age and source of the material.

    The audio quality is wonderful.

    The set has an great selection of extras including an Oscar nominated short film.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Daniel Bruce (Do you need a bio break?)
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV667A DVD-V DVD-A SACD, using Component output
DisplaySony FD Trinitron Wega KV-AR34M36 80cm. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL)/480i (NTSC).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-511
SpeakersMonitor Audio Bronze 2 (Front), Bronze Centre & Bronze FX (Rears) + Yamaha YST SW90 subwoofer

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