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Jazz Icons Lambasts JJA, Calls DVD Nominee a “Bootleg”

May 14th, 2010 | By

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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7 Comments to “Jazz Icons Lambasts JJA, Calls DVD Nominee a “Bootleg””

  1. avatar Ken Dryden says:

    It is regrettable that this controversy has emerged. Because of still sporadic service of jazz DVDs to the many of members in the press (though I received a number of them and reviewed a few last year, including the Jazz Icons set), the votes cast were widely splintered among various releases, which essentially allowed the Basie Impro Jazz to make the cut.

    I’m don’t agree with Howard that it is unfortunate that so few current artists were included in the category. So many historical treasures have been issued in recent years (in the four box sets of Jazz Icons alone, in addition to others) that it would be impractical to omit them, while splitting the award into two categories is unrealistic until DVDs are more widely serviced to members, which should increase the number of us who nominate DVDs.

    It is not always easy to vet the legitimacy of a particular release. A few years ago I was hired to write liner notes for a label which was releasing several reissues and some unreleased music. When I phoned the artist present on the two unreleased sessions for comments to include in the liner notes, he responded, “Did they record that? No one has asked my permission to release it.” This led to my bowing out of that portion of the project, though another veteran jazz journalist stepped in, wrote the two sets of notes and the CDs were issued. Does that make me a more ethical person simply because I stumbled onto the problem by contacting the artist? If I had not, I would have completed the notes for both CDs, as the label was legitimate to the best of my knowledge. I am not an attorney.

    Sue Mingus has long fought labels which she claims have issued unauthorized recordings featuring her late husband, including such prominent, presumably above board companies like Denon and Telarc. Again, how does a writer determine legitimacy prior to nominating a release?

  2. avatar Jon Foley says:

    I’m sorry, but the response of the JJA (not you, Ken) to this “revelation” sounds like a parody of the police official in “Casablanca” – We’re shocked, SHOCKED to hear this DVD is a bootleg! Come on, gentlemen, let’s – to put it in plain language – cut the crap. Everyone with even the slightest familiarity with the jazz DVD market knows Impro-Jazz is a bootleg company, and is known particularly for the poor technical quality of its productions. How could this item possibly have been nominated? I have a few ideas, but I’ll wait to express them.

    I’m afraid this fits right in with some other puzzling, even bizarre, nominations for JJA awards in recent years.

  3. avatar David Whiteis says:

    In all good conscience, I’m against bootlegging and pirating in any form. I truly hope that the JJA did not knowingly nominate an unauthorized recording for a reward.

    On the other hand, we must admit that clandestinely recorded concerts and sessions have provided us, through the years, with some very important and exciting music. How many of us have never purchased a “live” LP or CD on a shady-looking, unknown label?

    (Full disclosure: To cite only a few examples, I picked up the Monk bootleg “Spastic and Personal” in Boston years ago, and it remains one of my most delicious guilty pleasures. I also admit that I owned an illicit copy of the in-concert version of “A Love Supreme” on CD before the authorized version came out, and I also have what I believe is a bootleg multi-LP copy of Coltrane live at the Half Note, which was apparently recorded either in-person or on radio during the same stint from which the recent “One Up, One Down” live recording on Impulse! was culled (the exact same take of “Song of Praise” is on both compilations, except that the bootleg version doesn’t include radio emcee Alan Grant’s somewhat smarmy announcements).

    Technically, this all makes me an accessory to something that most of us find morally reprehensible. But, in the spirit of Bo Diddley (“Before you ‘cuse me, take a look at yourself!”), I’m willing to be that I’m not the only one here with items such as these in my collection.

  4. With all the blather about paying musicians and paying side men “through the union” and paying royalties and so on, no one has paid Henry Grimes anything for this Jazz Icons Sonny Rollins box set for which Henry’s name is prominently mentioned in the advertising (though “recently re-discovered” is hardly accurate nine years, more than 4OO concerts, and a dozen releases after the fact). At the very least, you’d think the Jazz Icons people — and just how anonymous do they have to be, and why? — would want to send Henry Grimes the box set. So if anyone has contact information, such as an actual name and phone number or personal Email address, please send it to me at musicmargaret[@]earthlink.net or call us at 212-841- O899. (P.S. Henry Grimes also plays on the Fred Anderson DVD “2Oth Century Chase,” and sadly, Howard, as you’ve apparently forgotten, Fred Anderson is not a “living artist” any more. And for all we know, Henry may well also appear in the Anita O’Day box set or possibly others as well.)

  5. avatar David R. Adler says:

    Margaret – note that the date on the post is May 10, 2010. Fred Anderson died on June 24, 2010. You are commenting on a post that is many months old, so please check the facts before you accuse our writers of “forgetting” anything.

  6. avatar Tony Mac says:

    Margaret Grimes is renowned for going around half-cocked, not having her facts straight, and then threatening and abusing people.

    Its apalling behaivour. whats her problem?

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