Count Basie — A telling moment in this terrific Jazz Casual program occurs very early on, when host Ralph J. Gleason asks Count Basie the name of the first piece that the pianist-bandleader and his small group played. "I ... more »don't know," says Basie with a laugh. He's not being flip. "I Don't Know," as it eventually became known, is, like most of the other music Basie and company play here, nothing more or less than a blues jam, improvised on the spot. The "casual" label has never been more appropriate, as this 1968 performance finds Basie at his most relaxed. He smokes a lot. He talks a lot: about the influence of Duke Ellington and such legendary pianists as Fats Waller, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis; about the genesis of "One O'Clock Jump," the Basie band's signature tune; and about his own playing style, which he self-effacingly calls "dated." And, best of all, he plays a lot, accompanied by the superb rhythm section of Sonny Payne on drums, Norman Keenan on bass, and the redoubtable Freddie Green on guitar. "I never get tired of playing the blues," Basie tells Gleason, and in the hands of these pros, you'll never get tired of listening to it. Basie's blues are inimitable: effortlessly swinging, completely cool, at once laconic and driving, danceable, humorous, just unmistakably right, with the rhythm players always on the beat and Basie himself the master of what not to play. This is great stuff, and highly recommended. --Sam Graham Dizzy Gillespie
John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie--trumpeter, bandleader, entertainer--was 43 and still at the peak of his powers when he appeared with his quintet on Ralph J. Gleason's performance-interview TV program, Jazz Casual, in early 1961. And while his style had become somewhat cooler since the days when he and Charlie Parker led jazz's bebop revolution, this four-song set is as identifiably Dizzy as his trademark up-tilted horn and ballooning cheeks. The tunes, from Benny Golson's mid-tempo "Blues After Dark" to Dizzy's own "Lorraine" (with an exotic, sinuous melody reminiscent of his more famous "Night in Tunisia"), are invariably swinging, with fine solo turns by Gillespie, saxophonist-flutist Leo Wright, and a pianist named Lalo Schifrin. That's the same Lalo Schifrin who within a few short years would achieve pop music immortality by composing the Mission: Impossible theme. --Sam Graham John Coltrane
It might not seem like much: 30 minutes, three tunes, four musicians on a bare- bones soundstage. But this is John Coltrane, and any opportunity to see the legendary saxophonist at work is something to be savored. That's especially true with this January 1964 television performance. Some five years after his membership in Miles Davis's immortal Kind of Blue group, he was well past playing the usual standards and ballads; at the same time, he had yet to explore the outer reaches of the avant-garde. Joined here by pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones--the classic Coltrane quartet, and undoubtedly one of the most important and influential groups in jazz history--he works his way through three numbers that were familiar components of the Coltrane repertoire: Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue," which finds Trane on soprano sax and features a typically dynamic Tyner solo; "Alabama," a Coltrane original with a brooding, droning intro and conclusion sandwiched around the middle section's slow, swinging groove; and "Impressions," the modal touchstone, which at nearly 14 minutes long gives all four musicians plenty of room to stretch out. Playing the tenor horn here, Coltrane is typically restless and searching, volcanic and commanding. It's not necessarily pretty, especially when he is backed only by Jones's angry, explosive polyrhythms, but the power is undeniable. The fact that Coltrane says nothing (all other Jazz Casual guests were interviewed by host Ralph J. Gleason) is immaterial; what could he say with his voice that he hadn't already said with his horn? --Sam Graham« less
"I happened upon this DVD and was very pleasantly surprised. I don't remember the original show but I thought that this was a rare opportunity to see and hear three past masters of jazz. Count Basie was engaging and interesting to listen to. His band was so tight they even grooved when he was just playing around. Dizzy performed the tunes that made him famous in his own unique style. Lots of African related rhythms proved interesting to watch and listen to. Coltrane refused to be interviewed so Ralph Gleason said that he would let the music do the talking for him. I thought that might put some people off but the music definitely spoke for everyone. This is an incredible performance. John Coltrane displays his genius but the special treat for me was hearing and seeing Elvin. Great Stuff and very educational. I bought a copy to show to my jazz students."
Jazz History in the Flesh
Bob Rousseau | Seattle, WA United States | 06/06/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I agree with much of what the other reviewers had to say, but give Gleason a break- if Trane didn't want to speak, he didn't want to speak (I'm sure Miles wouldn't have agreed to be interviewed if he had been on the show, either). But because of Gleason's show, we get to see the Coltrane quartet at one of its peaks-particularly the mezmorizing "Afro Blues"."
Starts slow, and builds intensity
J. Powers | Basehor, KS United States | 05/21/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"It seems as though this disc polarizes the reviewers; either they love it or hate it. Though it has its flaws, I'd have to say it's very worthwhile. I agree with the ones who didn't like Ralph J. Gleason's style. Yes, he's irritating, but he takes up very little time on the Gillespie and Coltrane segments. See the "Jazz Scene USA" series with Oscar Brown, Jr. for a late 50s/early 60s era jazz program with a first rate host and better production values. At first viewing I thought the Basie segment was disappointing, but it's grown on me. Diz was the main reason I bought this disc, and he didn't disappoint. He was even a good sport for the interview. His segment cooks at a consistent simmer. Very nice, but Coltrane cuts Diz for the highlight of the program. He's at one of his peaks, with a killer band, and they just keep ratcheting the intensity up higher and higher until the end. I'm not sure about the guy who gave this one star... he talks as if the picture and sound are worse than they actually are (reasonable but not stellar for their era) and like Gleason was on between every song (he was for Basie's and The Count seemed annoyed). I'd like to see more of these 3-on-1 Jazz Casual compilations. A single disc of 30 minutes with no bonus material is a waste."
Worth it if you're listening.
John Sanders | Seattle, WA USA | 07/30/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I'm a working jazz pianist in the Seattle area and always looking to get closer to Basie's perspective. If you've got ears and want to see these guys in action, get this disk. Granted, there are some short interviews, but it's a small price to pay to see a slice of the minimal good footage available from these long gone times in jazz history. A player's textbook in black and white!"
An Important Piece of Jazz History
Bob Rousseau | 03/16/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I really love the way Count Basie played piano and one didn't get to hear much of it in the big band setting. This VCR/DVD gives one a chance to let the Count stretch out and also gives the viewer an opportunity to watch him and his group play and listen to the Count talk. Recommended for the jazz fan and any piano student. I play it often and learn something every time. It features the Count, Sonny Payne, Freddie Greene and Norman Keenan on bass.
I was, however, disappointed with the sound quality. One can hear some of Freddie Green but the bass is lost.
Finally, I was amazed at the naivete and incompetence of the host, Ralph J. Gleason. The VCR opens with Basie and the boys playing a simple generic 32 bar AABA tune, probably derived as so many are, from the basic "I Got Rythmn" structure. As the Basie finishes, Ralph slides in on the piano bench beside Basie and says, first, "Well, Count what do you call that?". Clearly it has no name and Basie mumbles something to that effect and then Raph says, "Is that the way you used to play the blues in Kansas City?". I nearly fell of my chair the first time I saw this (for the non fan, the blues has a 12 bar structure) and even Basie is nonplused for a few moments but he recovers nicely without telling Ralph what a fool he is. I guess the musicians tolerated Ralph because he does come across as a nice guy.
Finally, for the listener interested in hearing Basie stretch out more, see the "Basie and Zoot" cd."