The first DVD of Ralph Gleason's Jazz Casual TV series combines three separate 30-minute programs previously available individually as videos; obviously this is the better way to acquire them, both financially and from a preservation standpoint. Count Basie's appearance is a bit unusual. Gleason parks himself next to the piano following the opening number and remains there throughout the show, making Basie seem nervous and rather uncomfortable with his host during the interview excerpts and rarely, if ever, looking Gleason in the eye while talking to him. Gleason was not a rookie at doing on-camera interviews of musicians, so this presumptuous way of lingering so close seems a bit odd. Fortunately, Basie is often rather humorous in a dry way, such as offering that everyone has a better version of "One O'Clock Jump" than he does and explaining that he was at one time a drummer but became discouraged after hearing Duke Ellington's drummer Sonny Greer. Basie is joined by his long-time rhythm guitarist Freddie Green, drummer Sonny Payne, and bassist Norman Keenan; they primarily stick to blues, though there are surprises, such as the leader breaking suddenly into Fats Waller's "Handful of Keys." Unfortunately, Gleason's hovering close to the piano seems to distract Basie, who cuts off five of the songs after less than two minutes. The closing improvised blues, entitled "Natonal Educational Television Blues," has become the theme song for this series of videotapes and DVDs; it is heard in its complete form rather than being faded out as most closing numbers are in this series. It is obvious that the format Gleason used on other programs, one extended interview, or in one case, omitting the interview, makes for a smoother, more satisfying show. Dizzy Gillespie's appearance is more satisfying, as Gleason sticks to just one offstage interview following the blistering opener, "Norm's Norm." The tasty "Lorraine," a soft yet complex blues named in honor of Dizzy's wife, features Leo Wright on flute, the leader on muted trumpet, as well as a bluesy solo by pianist Lalo Schifrin. "Blues After Dark" has an Afro-Cuban touch, and they wrap with Schifrin's powerful Toccata from his "Gillepiana Suite." Gillespie's quintet also includes bassist Bob Cunningham and drummer Chuck Lampkin. During the interview segment, Gleason and Gillespie discuss the growth of original compositions played by jazz musicians, differences in blues interpretations, and how playing piano helped him as a composer and arranger. Gleason is back at the side of the piano from the start of the John Coltrane Quartet's appearance on his show, but by 1964 these veterans had played so many gigs together they had probably put up with much worse. Coltrane declined to be interviewed, preferring to let the music speak for itself; it's just as well, because they needed every minute available to get their three numbers on videotape. They open with their sensational interpretation of "Afro Blue," which rivals any of their several live versions released on LPs and/or CDs. Coltrane's soprano sax reigns supreme, though McCoy Tyner's intense piano solo is also very impressive. Coltrane switches to tenor sax for the remainder of the program, which includes his mournful "Alabama" (written in honor of four young girls senselessly murdered by a bomb placed in a church just a short time prior to its composition) and "Impressions," which sadly isn't quite complete by the time the show had to be faded out; bassist Jimmy Garrison takes an extended solo, and the dynamic drummer Elvin Jones drives the band without overwhelming it in the studio, restraining his thunderous onstage sound. This performance is clearly the best of the three on this DVD, especially because there is so little videotape of Coltrane in performance with sound, although all three are recommended individually on the videotapes that Rhino still sells separately.
AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden