“If someone looks at them years from now, we feel these shows will give a genuine idea of what jazz was like in 1962.” — STEVE ALLEN
JAZZ SCENE USA’s broadcast over nationally syndicated television in 1962 was cause for joy among jazz fans, and acclaimed at the time by most critics as the finest program of its kind. The brainchild of life-long jazz devotee Steve Allen, the series showcases many of the very best California-based jazz performers, not to mention rare TV appearances by outstanding national acts as well. All are featured without commercial restraints in a relaxed, casual atmosphere created by hipster host, singer Oscar Brown, Jr. Uncompromising in its use of imaginative camera angles, the visual style is on a par with the creativity of the music. These shows are time capsules to treasure from America’s golden age of televised jazz.
Now that the dust of history has settled, there can be no question that Phineas Newborn, Jr. (1931-1989) was/is one of Jazz’s most important and enduring pianists. Blinded by his dazzling technique during the time he was on the scene, many critics dismissed him without catching on to his brilliant musicality. We are fortunate that some producers (most notably Lester Koenig at Contemporary) saw fit to capture Newborn’s artistry on record with at least some regularity. Now we have an opportunity to witness this amazing musician in action. Shy and reclusive (as Oscar Brown implies), Newborn was never able to make the full frontal assault on the music world that his talent should have demanded, and he spent his final years in his home town of Memphis, seldom venturing out for concert dates. Accompanied by Al McKibbon on bass and Kenny Dennis on drums, Phines plays three original compositions: Theme for Basie, New Blues, and the breathtaking Blues Theme for Left Hand Only, Billy Strayhorn’s beautiful Lush Life and and Sonny Rollins’ Oleo (way up tempo) round out the program.
Jimmy Smith (1925-2005) exploded onto the jazz scene in 1956 with the first of many great Blue Note LP’s. His dynamic work on the Hammond B-3 organ caused everybody to sit up and take notice, and within a few years the jazz world was overpopulated with Smith-inspired disciples, ranging from the very talented down to marginally competent copycats. Jimmy remains the unchallenged boss, however, and at the time this set was filmed, he had just recorded his first album in a lucrative deal with Verve records. We see him here with his exceptional trio, with guitarist Quentin Warren and drummer Donald Bailey. The tunes include Walk on the Wild Side (taken at a more reized tempo than the famous Verve recording), Mac the Knife, and Jimmy’s tour-de-force 1956 hit, The Champ.
A Meadowlane Enterprises, Inc. Production