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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Where have all the Ellingtons, Parkers and Coltranes gone?
Did the greats take Jazz with them when they passed on? Chances are that if you're reading a review for a film like "Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense," you probably already know the answer to this question. While Jazz is far from popular these days, it is quietly flourishing. The torch blazes brightly thanks to musicians that pay homage to the music's roots, yet...
Published on June 12, 2010 by The Delite Rancher

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3.0 out of 5 stars DVD needs better balance between music performance and oral interviews
When evaluating jazz music performance I prefer the music do the talking and minimize the words. If the performers featuring on this DVD were left to play longer this is a five star, but they were constantly interrupted by a narrator or the artist himself trying to define present Jazz in their own abstract or personal terms. Not an easy task, particularly when you ignore...
Published on January 3, 2013 by Heri


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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Where have all the Ellingtons, Parkers and Coltranes gone?, June 12, 2010
This review is from: Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense (DVD)
Did the greats take Jazz with them when they passed on? Chances are that if you're reading a review for a film like "Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense," you probably already know the answer to this question. While Jazz is far from popular these days, it is quietly flourishing. The torch blazes brightly thanks to musicians that pay homage to the music's roots, yet interpret the genre to fit the current zeitgeist. As would be expected, the film introduces the debate over what's Jazz and what's not. In contrast to the conservative depiction Ken Burns offers in "Jazz," this team of directors offer a broader vision of the music. Perhaps most notably, the Jambands get their day. A thriving sub-genre of Psychedelic Rock infused Jazz has been brewing in this country for at least a decade. Of this movement, interviews are given to Marco Benevento, John Medeski and Skerik. In addition to a stirring Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood performance, the Benevento/Russo Duo is seen at the High Sierra Music Festival. "Icons Among Us" covers additional musicians that combine Rock with Jazz. Bill Frisell and Will Bernard are both interviewed and shown performing. Including musicians like Roy Hargrove, Brian Blade and Matthew Shipp, much of the film focuses on what most listeners would consider contemporary Jazz. Beyond this, a large segment is given to the ultimate resurrection of the old guard, Wynton Marsalis' Jazz at Lincoln Center. With daKAH, time is even given to the Hip-Hop fusion. The European scene is also given a thoughtful look. Did you ever wonder what the whole ECM thing evolved into? Tineke Postma and Bugge Wesseltoft are keeping the genre alive and well on the other side of the Atlantic. Bringing things full circle, the film finishes in post-Katrina New Orleans. "Icons Among Us" is jam-packed with interviews and performances by just about everybody who belongs in a film about Jazz in 2010. Despite the large scope, no coverage is given to Latin, Avant-garde, Brazilian, Free or Jewish Jazz. Focusing on 'real' Jazz, Smooth Jazz isn't dignified with so much as a mention. While the film may preach to the choir, any Jazz listener is bound to walk away with new found knowledge. The production is excellent. The sound quality is fantastic for the live performances and the video editing is deliciously stylish. While this is a great piece of film, the committed will want to go all the way and get the full four disc version. If you believe that Ken Burns stopped short, this long overdue film will bring you up-to-date. So where have all the Ellingtons, Parkers and Coltranes gone? They're here and you'll know who they are after watching "Icons Among Us."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars visually stunning jazz documentary, May 28, 2010
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El Sutro (Philadelphia) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense (DVD)
This is a beautifully filmed documentary that captures the energy, improvisational spirit, and daring attitude of today's jazz musicians. The film shows live jazz being made in a variety of venues and reveals the breadth of the art form - from small "serious" jazz clubs to massive festivals to concert halls to basements, recording studios, front porches, computer labs, etc. You gotta respect the filmmakers for being able to shoot equally beautifully in all of these environments. Jazz is everywhere and ever-changing. We need more documentaries like this in other fields (i.e. architecture, painting, journalism) to show the intense creativity of this day and age.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Jazz documentary for the now, October 25, 2010
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This review is from: Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense (DVD)
This takes off where Ken Burns left off, which left you thinking that jazz just died after Miles went electric and Coltrane died. But this amazing documentary is here to show us that jazz is still alive. Love the interviews of all the different artists out there, and it turned me on to so many i haven't heard of. Kept me watching the whole time! A must see for everyone!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A provocative glimpse of the present state of the art (useful as a complement to Ken Burns' History of Jazz), October 14, 2011
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This review is from: Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense (DVD)
I nearly turned off this video after 5 minutes, which would have been a mistake. At first there appeared to be more interviews than music, and no small number of (comparatively) young musicians who evidenced little knowledge about the history and broader context of their music, as if they couldn't care less about anything other than the next gig. Soon it becomes clear that, for most of them, the primary focus is on the joy and excitement of playing, the difficulty of getting work, the public's lack of interest in their music, the shortcomings of critics and, in some cases, virtual contempt of the past and of the "greats" who still occupy a place in public memory or music history books. The musicians interviewed frequently struggle almost sophomorically with words that say essentially the same thing--"profound" wisdom like "jazz is a confining word" and music shouldn't be characterized because all music is as different as the individual personalities who play it; or "we don't play anything that can be labeled from one night to the next; like each of us, our music is constantly changing" or "jazz is music that reflects the experience of each of us, our emotions, our soul, our feelings at the moment."

To the experienced follower of the music, the comments might seem less formulaic and tiresome were they balanced with a few more thoughtful, even "prepared" statements by interviewees who, while no doubt capable musicians wanting to sound authoritative, occasionally come closer to sounding like born-yesterday whiners. Scarcely any of those interviewed even acknowledges the proud and hard-won, unequivocally African-American legacy, which Ken Burns documented so well in his series for PBS ten years ago. Nor is any priority given to the creation of beauty or, heaven forbid, the importance of the "standard" or the Great American Songbook to the music's development and its leading players. What we hear is repetitious complaints on the order of: "Let us play our music, express ourselves, be applauded and rewarded for our creativity but without labels or expectations." But does it occur to some of these embittered music-makers that it's a two-way street? Certainly, it would be easier to be sympathetic with the music's spokesperson were he respectful of its history, its innovators and their contributions, of the purpose of the music beyond good-times, audiences and money. Besides the lack of attention to melody, tradition, and beauty is an apparent indifference, if not aversion, to swing--at least not in the succession of brief snippets of interviews and music to which the viewer is exposed.

The film could use stronger, more thoughtful, deliberative and articulate voices. Why not some some studious apologists for jazz as an authentic African-American art form with an indissoluble relation to blues and popular song as well as to an oral tradition? Since when does the ethnicity, region, time period of Dante or Shakespeare or Picasso somehow serve to cast a negative light upon their greatness? Why should jazz be different--unless there's an implicit understanding that it falls short of the best art? Ironically, for all their attempts to be new, cutting-edge, different, and all about the "now," the interviewed subjects undermine their case with familiar old cliches like: "jazz is in the moment," "Jazz expresses your soul and emotions," "jazz is the sound of surprise," "jazz like life is constantly changing," "if Charlie Parker were living today, he wouldn't sound the same," "music expresses the way I feel," "improvising is like telling a story," ad nauseum.

Recently, I've heard veteran voices argue that jazz reached an artistic peak in 1960 (above all, "Kind of Blue" and "Giant Steps"), enjoyed a renaissance beginning in the 1980s, which consummated with Burns' series in 2000. It's been in a downward spiral ever since. Now it's a fragmented scene with a number of different musicians playing different music in all parts of the world. The times are perhaps changing too fast to be sorted out--and especially so since the digitalization of the world we live in, including music, not to mention the death of "hard copy" in the form of LPs or CDs. Yet, there is a "constant" in the past, were musicians, like our modern civilization, not so exclusively concerned with the "now" and, of course, their own personal futures. This African-American art form, at once no less original than the American Popular Song (originating largely among immigrant Jewish-American composers inspired by the African-American music that gave rise to Berlin's "Alexander's Ragtime Band" and its numerous progeny comprising a "Great American Songbook") has a history, a heritage, a national identity, a stellar cast of unique and brilliant players of undeniable genius (chiefly Pops, Duke and the Count, Prez and Hawk, Bird and Diz, Clifford and Trane, Bud and Bill Evans, with Miles Davis as presiding muse over the past 60-65 years of the music's history).

What's difficult for anyone new to the music to grasp, even musicians, is the rhythmic-melodic-harmonic complexity of Bird's 4-bar break on his "A Night in Tunisia" recording at Carnegie Hall-- or the rapturous reaching of Coltrane, a movement as much toward the pre-history of the African-American song-sermon as toward some apocalyptic vision--or the deep and mesmerizing, dark and dangerous romanticism of Bill Evans' playing during his very last days (no doubt the closest jazz has come to embodying the primeval power Nietzsche attributes to music in "The Birth of Tragedy"). Sensing that the nobler knight has preceded you is no reason simply to disregard the predecessor's accomplishments and to move on. Anyone can call Bach and Beethoven profane names while proclaiming their own creations (produced on "Garageband"?) more significant.

But at about this point the filmmakers introduce a more thoughtful voice, that of Bill Frisell (which I would not have expected, especially with Wynton Marsalis on board). Acknowledging the influence of Marsalis, Frisell states that some kinds of music stem from and continue to express a "culture"--one, moreover, that can be conveyed to the public at the same time that listeners are exposed to and entertained by the music. As Frisell points out, Wynton Marsalis has succeeded in such a project, despite the splintering of the music into improvisatory ensemble playing on folk forms throughout the world. (As usual, the great, polymath forerunner, Billy Taylor, goes overlooked and unmentioned. And Frisell's is hardly a lone voice. Besides Wynton, there's the extraordinary Roberta Gambarini--a European vocalist who has become a spokesperson for, and noteworthy practitioner, of this African-American art form that she continually calls upon for inspiration, adapting (without apology) the music of Armstrong, Benny Carter, Brubeck, Stitt, Rollins, Fathead Newman, Griffin, Moody, Hank jones, Jimmy Woode. Frisell, Marsalis and Gambarini are just three musicians who can play the blues and improvise on "I Got Rhythm" changes, reflecting the spirituals, the blues, traditional jazz, American pop, swing, bop and beyond--yet perform with musicians of other backgrounds, styles, and traditions even as they remain rooted in, and express, a distinctively American, "jazz" culture.

Ultimately, the film manages to give off luminous if provocative sparks while introducing us to some of the music's most important new voices. Jazz, like the indigenous culture that Frisell sees capable of giving shape and meaning to the music through musicians like Wynton Marsalis, is far from a confining "prison." It's a unique communal experience meant to be shared and explored by people not afraid to communicate with those who are different or removed from them in time and space. And finally it's a democratic music, but it's ALSO an "art form." Despite the overt resentment expressed by some of the musicians toward past jazz masters ("f...k them" is heard from the lips of more than one of the interviewees), the music stopped being a "merely" democratic "folk form" at least as early as 1928, the year that Louis Armstrong's brilliant recorded performance of "West End Blues" revealed that, like Bach's German-Lutheran-Baroque culture or Verdi's Catholic-Italian-Romantic one, the elements of Congo Square are capable of producing the geniuses (though very few--perhaps 6-8 in the music's short history) that prove capable of moving the music forward but in a meaningful way. No longer is it is musicians (whether advanced or "wannabe's) simply coming up with new and different sounds. It's now a matter of creative and imaginative professionals who have assimilated all that's gone before and who consequently stand in readiness to put everything on the line to express what only they can. They are the specially chosen, the seminal ones, the immortals. Without them, jazz could not be an art--any more than literature would qualify without Homer and Shakespeare; painting without DaVinci and Michelangelo, classical music without Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Verdi and Bartok.

"Jazz"--it's a word, and like any word in the language, it's much much more. Every signifier is a signified, and every signified in turn is a new signifier. The true "genius" (perhaps the most overused, devalued word in the language) knows how to transform an apparent limitation into a universe of inexhaustible freedom along with art that touches each of us at our emotional-intellectual core while leaving behind an impression that is timeless and unforgettable, one capable of altering the culture itself and the personal lives of each of us.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good doc!, August 22, 2013
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This review is from: Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense (DVD)
Great look at younger musicians and the sentiments that keep pushing them into new territory. Should be a required follow-up to Ken Burns' much heralded series from the last decade.
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5.0 out of 5 stars I want to know something else, February 27, 2013
By 
Jack (Phoenix, AZ) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense (DVD)
The Delite Rancher, coincidentally (or not) from Phoenix like me,asks, "Where have all the Ellingtons, Parkers and Coltranes gone?"

I know where they went, and I can't get past the doorman to that club, at least not yet.

This documentary sat me - bolt upright! - in my recliner on a sleepy Wednesday afternoon. Whoa! I said to me. I got to get more of that. It's what I'm lookin' for and most of all I didn't fully know it was what I'm seeking.

So instead of asking Delite Rancher's question, I pose one of my own: Where are the cats who are playing on this documentary? Where do I go to find out? Like the Rancher, I'm in the Sonoran Desert and this isn't exactly 52nd Street. So where to I find where these cats are working?

And a hey howdy to Delite Rancher. He can reach me at laeva 65 (at) gmailcom
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4.0 out of 5 stars An Inside Look at the Jazz scene, February 3, 2013
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This review is from: Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense (DVD)
Well edited documentary done in an artsy way so that the viewer becomes acquainted with the mind-set of jazz musicians and understands what jazz IS. Inspirational artistically. . .
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3.0 out of 5 stars DVD needs better balance between music performance and oral interviews, January 3, 2013
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This review is from: Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense (DVD)
When evaluating jazz music performance I prefer the music do the talking and minimize the words. If the performers featuring on this DVD were left to play longer this is a five star, but they were constantly interrupted by a narrator or the artist himself trying to define present Jazz in their own abstract or personal terms. Not an easy task, particularly when you ignore or bypass the old icons. Of course not everyone ignored the roots of jazz. Maybe all this DVD needed is more balance between live performance and interview.

The best commentary on the DVD is from Paul De Barros; he is absolutely right when he states Jazz was once connected to society, to civil rights movements (1950-60). John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Charlie Parker, and other greats performers had something to say to society: "people we exist, we are black and this is our music, it is unique and good". At present some contemporary jazz groups do not seem to show any connection to society except for money. Of course society is changing and we live in a "brave new world" and no need to look back; all improvisation must be accepted, etc. That's a way of thinking, but unfortunately some "modern jazz" performers (not true musicians) think they can mix or add noise improvisation to jazz and call it "music",...and then expect we buy that kind of music.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Just Watch It..., September 3, 2014
This review is from: Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense (DVD)
Really great.
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4 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An exploration into the history & creativity behind Jazz, May 8, 2010
By 
This review is from: Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense (DVD)
Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense
1 Disc Widescreen Edition releasing on May 11, 2010

"Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense" is a feature-length documentary about music and the influences that are shaping the world of jazz. It has interviews, performances, and the musicians themselves lending their voices to the story.

The history of jazz is explored as it has pertained to the African-American culture making it their own to communicate unique messages and demonstrate their freedom of expression. Then it caught on with all sorts of people and was no longer limited to one demographic. Even in Europe in the U.K., jazz has caught on and become very popular in its own way.

Jazz music does not have to be limited to the usual trumpets, saxophone, piano mix but can be found in any instrument you want. People everywhere are taking jazz to the next level of expression by adding in sounds of the Caribbean with steel drums, adding hip-hop vocals, or even one guy was hitting the sides of his piano. What is interesting about this documentary is the creativity in new forms of music and new instruments and the only limit is the artist's imagination.

Without a musical background outside of theater, I cannot judge the merits of the jazz performances but the enthusiasm and passion for the material is undeniable. This DVD features short interview clips with: Marco Benevento, Terence Blanchard, Anat Cohen, Avishai Cohen Trio, Ravi Coltrane, daKAH, Bill Frisell, Robert Glasper, Russell Gunn, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Medeski Martin & Wood, Nicholas Payton, Tineke Postma, Dianne Reeves, John Scofield, Wayne Shorter, Skerik, Esperanza Spalding, and more. This should be fascinating for fans of jazz music, musicians themselves, and for classes. For the average layman, it is just ok.

Bonus Features:

There is a feature where you get to see the Living Daylights Mardi Gras Party from 2002. There are also FIVE full performances from Donald Harrison, Jr. Quartet, Matthew Shipp, Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band, The Roy Hargrove Quintet, and Bugge Wesseltoft. There are in-depth profiles of jazz advocates Jazzreach, Earshot Jazz, and the Jazz Foundation of America. Last but not least, a production slideshow. Again, these are great for jazz fans and everyone else...*shrugs*
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Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense
Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense by Peter J. Vogt (DVD - 2010)
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