Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 August, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 15 August, 2010, 12:00am

Verve Records was a specialist jazz record label established in 1956 by the pioneering Norman Granz.

In 1994, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first of the Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts, a concert was held to pay tribute to some of the greatest artists to have recorded for Granz: Count Basie, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Stan Getz, Bud Powell, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Wes Montgomery, Oscar Peterson, Art Tatum and Lester Young.

The concert was filmed and released in 1996 under the title Carnegie Hall Salutes The Jazz Masters, to coincide with Verve's 50th anniversary.

The music has been unavailable in this region for some years, but now the Universal Music Group, which owns Verve Records, has re-released the show on DVD with Chinese subtitles.

Of the artists honoured, Fitzgerald and Peterson were the only ones still living in 1994. Both have since died, as did Granz in 2001. We have also lost 10 of the artists who performed at the show: Don Alias, Ray Brown, Betty Carter, Joe Henderson, Antonio Carlos Jobim, J.J. Johnson, Hank Jones, Jackie McLean, Art Porter and Jimmy Smith.

The great trombonist Johnson, who performed at Granz's first Jazz At The Philharmonic show, takes a solo on Tea for Two, and Hank Jones, who died in May, pays a beautiful solo tribute to Tatum with Willow Weep for Me.

Dee Dee Bridgewater fronts the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band for two songs for Count Basie then pianist Yosuke Yamashita plays Parisian Thoroughfare for Powell.

Roy Hargrove, Steve Turre and Don Alias lead a high-octane take on Manteca in tribute to Gillespie. The host Herbie Hancock and John McLaughlin - who later perform Davis' It's About That Time - quieten things down with Turn Out the Stars for Evans, before Jimmy Smith plays Walk On The Wild Side and celebrates Montgomery with guitarist Kenny Burrell on Down By the Riverside.

A highlight comes in the form of three performances from Antonio Carlos Jobim dedicated to Getz.

Abbey Lincoln follows a film clip of Holiday singing Don't Explain with I Must Have That Man, while Betty Carter is at the top of her form for How High the Moon in honour of Fitzgerald.

The Peterson tribute, Tangerine, involves a fine showing from Peter Delano - at the time the pianist was just 18 years old.

The concert concludes with a huge jam session on Charlie Parker's Now's the Time, kicked off with the horn harmony lines played on the acoustic basses of Ray Brown and Christian McBride. It would have been great to be there. This is the next best thing.

Take three

Although many of Verve's brightest stars were instrumentalists, the label released a long line of landmark vocal jazz albums. These three are among them.

Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook (1956, Verve): widely considered the best in theSongbook series, this is an indispensable Ella Fitzgerald album which finds her at the top of her impressive 1950s form.

Sing a Song of Basie (1957, Verve): the debut album by Lambert, Hendricks and Ross put 'vocalese' - with lyrics matched not just to melodies but to actual jazz solos - on the map.

Songs for Distingue Lovers (1957, Verve): Billie Holiday sings a set of standards with subtlety and passion in one of the most successful of her late recordings.