In the first days of VHS machines I purchased an early model (around 1976). As all that was commercially available at the time were gardening programmes I was itching to get some jazz on film.
I went to record the music for a TV commercial in Germany and arrived in my hotel room at 9pm the night before – flicking through the television channels ignoring Starsky & Hutch dubbed in German I chanced upon a live transmission of the Berlin Jazz Festival. When I mentioned this to the director the next morning he responded “Oh, we have jazz on TV all the time – I’ll send you some”. As he wasn’t particularly a jazz fan he sent me some very odd shows indeed.
I mentioned to a jazz loving friend of mine who was an international accountant “Wouldn’t it be great to find someone in every country who was a jazz fan and recorded jazz on TV – we could start a network!” He went to Stockholm on business, asked in the local jazz club if anyone recorded TV jazz and the fellow on the door said “You’re in luck, the man over there directed every jazz programme on Swedish television since the 1950s!”
A few weeks later, to our amazement, there arrived a batch of VHS tapes with unedited Mingus rehearsals, Sonny Rollins, Ellington and Basie. From this grew an international network of tape swaps that included people like Carlos Santana and Sal Nistico. In those pre-YouTube days many of the players never saw the videos they made. I had my house guest Al Cohn watching himself, Gil Evans watching Louis all night, Herb Geller reminiscing about Joe Maini, and his roommate Scott La Faro, Stan Getz, Art Farmer, Jerome Richardson and many more watching classic concerts by either themselves or their colleagues.
In addition we started getting contemporary sessions by such giants as Freddie Hubbard, Tony Williams, Joe Henderson etc, not really thinking that one day they would be historical documents.
When my collecting partner passed away I donated his collection to Sussex University for digitizing and cataloguing. Last year I moved house and downsized considerably with the result I have over a thousand tapes without a home!
Having just retrieved them from storage I have realized that I have to reluctantly get rid of them. I have several choices – donate to a music college who probably won’t have room for them, hope that a jazz lover may see this and decide that he really wants some incredibly rare film footage, most of which is not available on YouTube or – the hideous worse case scenario – they are put in a skip and destroyed!
Most of our collecting circle have now passed away and I’m sure that their relatives have junked a huge chunk of jazz history. I’m hoping that someone or some organisation will want them – the only request is they pick them up – they are literally priceless and of course I don’t want any money for them (when Reeling In The Years released a batch of jazz DVDs I advised them what to put out – however they seem to have ceased operating now). Email me if you can help!
Dr John Altman