Eagle Rock Entertainment // 1967 // 180 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dennis Prince (Retired) // March 13th, 2008
Two legends. One stage. History in the making, baby.
Eagle Rock Entertainment has shown remarkable prowess in its ability to uncover and unveil some of the best acts in music history. Seeking original and rare material from across the musical spectrum, they deliver a true gem for classic jazz enthusiasts, Norman Granz Presents Duke: The Last Jam Session.
Los Angeles born and bred Norman Granz was a jazz music producer of notoriety, especially during the 1950s and 1960s. While much of America remained unaware of the jazz movement, Granz deftly introduced its passion and appeal when he produced the wildly popular Jazz at the Philharmonic sessions. These performances attracted the participation of jazz-era greats such as Gene Krupa, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, and more. Granz would go on to form various record labels, most notably Verve Records, and managed and produced recordings of the best traditional jazz musicians around. Celebrated for his unwavering integrity, Granz worked under the personal credo to fight racism, give listeners a good product, and to make money from good music.
Granz went on to capture many jazz acts on film, as is evidenced by this unique treasure that relays the toe-tapping performances of Ella and Duke at Cote D'Azur. Intended as a vehicle to promote Ella, it became a rightly shared ticket when Duke Ellington and his band were signed as accompaniment. Filmed in 1967 at the French Rivera venue, Duke and his boys are in fine form, as portrayed in the first disc of this two-disc set. The film begins with a brief monologue from Ellington himself and then proceeds to the Cote D'Azur stage for a light-hearted yet riveting performance. Later, Ella Fitzgerald joins the band and sings with soulful assurance that captures the hearts of all in attendance. The black-and-white film is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio yet is clearly cleaned up. Although film dirt and damage are present, it's obvious the image has been stepped up from its likely less-polished present condition. The audio is similarly clean and enhanced, offered in your choice of DTS 5.1 Surround, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, or PCM Stereo (with the nod going to the DTS mix). Bonus features on this disc include an introduction by longtime jazz music critic and analyst, Nat Hentoff, a vintage photo gallery, and another gallery of jazz-themed pen-and-ink art from David Stone Martin.
Disc Two presents what would become the Duke's final jam session, filmed as he recorded numbers for his record, Duke's Big 4. This previously unreleased footage reveals Duke and his band, The Duke Ellington Quartet (including bassist Ray Brown, guitarist Joe Pass, and scat drummer Louis Bellson). This is a very intimate setting as you have a fly-on-the-wall view of the legendary jazz master laying down tracks with his compatriots. This color footage is presented in 1.33:1 aspect ratio and, although generally clean, it's a bit soft (a limitation of the filming process hampered by the darkened studio setting). Audio is again offered via DTS 5.1 Surround, Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, and PCM Stereo. As a bonus feature, you'll find an interview with Duke's bassist, Ray Brown, in Ray Brown: 25 Years Later.
In the end, if you enjoy traditional jazz or are curious to learn of its roots, give this rare footage a good look and listen. Definitely recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
* Full Frame
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* PCM 5.1 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 180 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Nat Hentoff presents Duke & Ella
* Interview with Ray Brown
* Photo gallery
* Portraits by David Stone Martin
* Official Duke Ellington Site
* Official Ella Fitzgerald Site