various artists,
The Swing Era
(Idem, 2004)

Distributed by Music Video Distributors, the Swing Era DVD series from Idem Home Video is a rich exploration of this popular form of jazz that continues to fuel dance classes and CD purchases decades after its inception.

The Louis Jordan entry into this series includes films and soundies (i.e., three-minute-long music videos filmed in the early 1940s) from Jordan's prolific career. Presented without commentary or narration, these quick and fun clips of the smiling, bouncing master of jump blues includes "Caldonia," "Five Guys Named Moe," "Beware" and 32 others.

However, this is not merely a collection of his novelty numbers. There are some earthier tunes like "That Chick's Too Young to Fry" and "Wham, Sam (Dig Them Gams)."

The Sarah Vaughn DVD would be more properly titled "Sarah Vaughn & Friends" as it is a compilation not only of Vaughn but also Lena Horne, Ethel Waters with Count Basie, and the International Sweethearts. Also included are three singers coming from a blues direction: Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith and Ida Cox.

Vaughn, of course, exudes technical excellence and grace, but she is a vocal stylist that only partly covers swing. The Lena Horne examples (two soundies) really swing, and the lengthy, elaborate "Boogie Woogie Dream" is a pinnacle of this short film genre in three acts with set and costumer changes and boogie-woogie piano greats Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons.

Interestingly, the white girls got segregated off to their own Peggy Lee DVD. This is itself sectioned into singers before bandleaders and blondes ahead of brunettes to arrive at a programming order of Peggy Lee, June Christy, Ina Ray Hutton, Lorraine Page and finally the acrobatic Rita Rio.

There is also a Nat "King" Cole DVD in the series dedicated exclusively to the talented "middle of the road" singer/pianist in 27 tracks. This includes such songs as "Route 66," "Nature Boy" and "Mona Lisa."

Much of the material comes from the very first short musical films made specifically for television, the Snader Telescriptions -- a musical treasure from the early 1950s.

Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton receive a DVD split between those two bandleaders (although Ellington of course gets top billing). These two go together well because the pieces are mostly instrumental; each bandleader arranges for a lot of brass and features a lot of quick solos from different orchestra members.

Hampton's mellifluous vibes playing is a real musical treat of this chapter in the Swing Era series.

A real highpoint in the series is the Cab Calloway DVD. This DVD takes the musical highlights from the 1947 film Hi-De-Ho for a cohesive set of live performances, including "St. James Infirmary," "Calloway Boogie" and "Minnie the Moocher."

Being actual films, the visuals are of higher quality than the soundies and telescriptions featured in some of the other collections. And, of course, Cab offers a stellar, exaggerated performance at every step.

This is only a sampling of the full Swing Era DVD series, which also features selections devoted to Count Basie, George Shearing, Dizzy Gillespie, Artie Shaw, the Mills Brothers, Benny Goodman and more. True devotees of swing should definitely add this to their music wishlist!

review by
Tom Schulte

12 February 2005

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