Various Artists

Play Your Own Thing: A Story of Jazz in Europe [DVD]

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Julian Benedikt's third documentary about jazz explores the origins of European jazz, the influence of visiting and expatriate Americans, along with the search for distinctive styles by many of the Old World players. Rather than overly relying on a few musicians and critics as spokesmen, as the uneven Ken Burns' Jazz series did, this 90-minute film successfully blends excerpts of interviews with several dozen European musicians, along with segments of performances by American jazz groups, European groups, and bands that blended players from both continents. The interview portions rarely run for more than a minute or two at a time, while the live performances are interesting, ranging from swing to bop and free jazz. The documentary is very well done, with relatively few flaws, though there are some irritating labeling goofs and omissions, including Paul Gonsalves being identified as Johnny Hodges in a Duke Ellington clip, the misspelling of bassist Niels-Henning ├śrsted Pedersen's name, and the surprising failure to list Oscar Pettiford's name onscreen as he doubles on bass and cello in a live performance with guitarist Attila Zoller. Few of the performances are complete, though that may be due to the increasing royalties demanded by copyright holders to include them in documentaries. Play Your Own Thing: A Story of Jazz in Europe will be of great interest to jazz fans who want to learn more about European jazz, while even longtime collectors will inevitably discover a previously unfamiliar artist or two in the process of viewing the film.