The Story of Jazz
directed by Matthew Seig, BMG Video, 97 mins., $29.98 . CODE: BAT-9
How can you possibly tell the story of jazz in ninety-seven minutes? Well, you can’t, of course, but this documentary makes a first-rate effort, touching every important base, however briefly, with intelligence and verve. Narrated by the actor Lloyd Richards, it begins with the seeds of jazz in slavery, traces the rise of the music in New Orleans, and carries through all the way to the fusion fad of the 1970s and the reaction that followed. A dozen musicians, some with very long memories, talk on-screen; they include Wynton Marsalis, Milt Hinton, Doc Cheatham, Billy Taylor, and Bud Freeman. But the scads of old filmed footage are the most remarkable part. Brief scenes of turn-of-the-century New Orleans, with musicians playing on the streets and children dancing, are followed by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in the teens, an actual glimpse of Bix, some early Armstrong, the Ellington band in the thirties featuring Cootie Williams’s trumpet section’s suave choreography, and much more. Dozens of jazz immortals perform on-screen, among them Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Mingus, Basie, Monk, Coltrane, and their many unforgettable sidemen. Don’t expect to see numbers performed whole, but do expect to be thrilled by a lot of great fragments in a very coherent whole package.