This video delivers more than I'd bargained for--15 tunes by two legendary if short-lived aggregations--the Billy Eckstine band, considered by many the most auspicious assembly of players in the music's history, except for those followers of the music who would bequeath the honor to the disc's other featured big band, that of John Birks Gillespie. For music that had the reputation of being far-out, progressive, inaccessible, the proceedings suggest quite the contrary, from the full-bodied voice of Mr. B and infectious tenor saxophone of Gene "Jug" Ammons to the nimble footwork and athletic choreography of Dizzy and the amiable sounds Helen Humes--or a striking sound-lookalike. (The notes don't bother with matters of identification, though followers of the music will have no difficulty recognizing John Lewis, Ray Brown, Milt Jackson and Art Blakey.)
There's not much breathing room on the program which, in spite of an extended bass solo by Ray, is hot and heavy, thickly textured and full-blown from start to finish, bringing the viewer closer to the impression the group made upon a young Miles Davis when he first heard the band he, like the other founding fathers of "bebop," would be destined to play in. With the addition of a burlesque routine plus the jive talk (and a vocal) by Diz, the modern-day listener could be forgiven for assuming that the music of Bird and Diz was nothing less than a commercial success if not a national craze. Sadly, it was a brief flickering flame that would nonetheless become a litmus test for the majority of jazz musicians who followed, seeking above all to be taken seriously by their peers.
The highlight of the disc is, unquestionably, the visual antics and superlative playing of Diz each time he's in front of the camera (with "Things to Come" a stand-out). Almost as enjoyable are Billy's "Rhythm on a Riff" and his original ballad "I Want to Talk About You" (recorded by Coltrane multiple times, perhaps most notably on "Live at Birdland"). Tadd Dameron's "Our Delight" is the only tune out of the 15 that continues to played today--a detail that in itself might be seen as representative of the music's fate.