Jazz Icons Lambasts JJA, Calls DVD Nominee a “Bootleg”
May 13, 2010, New York — “You should be ashamed of yourselves,” producers of the Jazz Icons DVD series scolded the Jazz Journalists Association for naming Count Basie & His Orchestra — Live in Berlin & Stockholm 1968 a “Jazz Video of the Year” finalist in the 2010 JJA Jazz Awards. In an “open letter” sent to a selection of jazz journalists but not the organization itself, unidentified “producers of the Jazz Icons Series” contended, “We have spoken with Count Basie’s estate and the rights holders to the footage filmed in Sweden in 1968 and neither of them has given permission for this material to be released.
“It is irresponsible and reprehensible that an organization that purports to be arbiters of quality in jazz would nominate such a subpar and illegitimate release to a major reward,” the unsigned letter continued. “Every time we see bootleg releases reviewed in mainstream jazz publications it makes our blood boil.”
The JJA is conducting research into Jazz Icons’ claim of the illegitimacy of the Count Basie DVD, and JJA members are asked to continue to vote on the proposed finalists while legality of the Count Basie DVD is being determined. Members of the JJA Jazz Awards ballot committee, contacted by email, acknowledged that provenance of the video had not been vetted.
The JJA is conducting research into Jazz Icons’ claim of the illegitimacy of the Count Basie DVD.
“We haven’t researched the legal background of Jazz Icons productions, either, or that of any of the more than a 1500 CDs considered for Jazz Awards voting,” said Howard Mandel, president of the JJA. “As professional journalists, we value professional standards and adherence to copyright law, but details of foreign rights for 42-year-old videos shot for European television broadcast can be hard to ascertain. Whether a Spanish company contracted with German or Swedish holders of Basie’s ’68 video, whether the Basie family owns this material and what restrictions pertain to it is not essential to appreciating the DVDs’ content.”
Voting in the first nominating round by more than 60 of the JJA’s full professional members positioned the Basie DVD, released by Spain’s Impro Jazz studio, ahead of any single one of the eight DVDs Jazz Icons released as a Series 4 Boxed Set in 2009. Those discs, also sold individually, comprise “vintage concert” performances from 1962 to 1970 by Erroll Garner, Anita O’Day, Art Blakey, Woody Herman, Coleman Hawkins, Art Farmer and Jimmy Smith with their ensembles.
This year’s finalists along with the Count Basie video are: 21st Century Chase, a set by tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson recorded live and issued by Delmark Records; Extraordinary Life and Music of a Jazz Legend about violinist Svend Asmussen, issued by Zone 1 and distributed by Shanachie; Thelonious Monk: American Composer and Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker, both re-releases distributed by EuroArs International of documentaries produced in 1991 and 1993, respectively by Toby Byron Multiprises; and Anita O’Day: The Life of A Jazz Singer, directed by Robbie Cavolina and Ian McCrudden, initially released in 2007 by Ugo Productions and Elan Entertainment.
The JJA’s award for “DVD of the Year” was reintroduced this year after being suspended since 2003 due to low interest and spotty distribution of video discs to JJA voters. In 2000, the award went to the reissues of Ralph Gleason’s “Jazz Casual” NET television series of a 1960s; in 2001 to Ken Burns’ Jazz, the 10-part PBS series, and in 2002 to Calle 54, director Fernando Trueba’s documentary film on Latin jazz in New York.
“What’s most unfortunate in my mind is that of the five nominations in this category only one DVD — Fred Anderson’s 21st Century Chase — focuses on a living artist and recent performance,” Mandel mentioned. “Video is a powerful tool for documenting great jazz, and there ought to be more of it produced right now, not only repackaged from decades-old broadcasts.”
Jazz Icons describes its catalog at its website as being “presented by Reelin’ in the Years Productions LLC and Naxos,” an international classical music label. Its letter contrasts “legitimate companies who pay advances to the artists, pay for the footage, pay the side musicians through the union, pay royalties, re-transfer the footage from master tapes or film, not to mention including booklets with liner notes and photographs” with what it says is the Basie DVD’s “horrendous multi-generation VHS video quality [that] alone would be enough to convince even the casual fan that this is a bootleg.
“At the risk of this sounding like sour grapes at not being nominated, we would have been very happy if all of the nominees were relevant music DVDs legitimately released by reputable companies in 2009,” the Jazz Icons letter concluded. “This was not the case and is an embarrassment to the industry and a source of anger and frustration to those of us going the extra mile to create quality DVDs in an increasingly anemic jazz marketplace.”
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