“Jazz Legends: The Golden Age of Jazz” is a new DVD title which appears to have originated as a television documentary from the late 1950s or early 1960s. It is basically a hodgepodge of musical numbers taken from old films that feature some of the greatest jazz performers of the 20th century. Strangely, it also includes performers with a almost no connection to jazz as we know it.
For the greats of the genre, there is Cab Calloway singing “Smokey Joe,” Duke Ellington performing “Stormy Weather,” a very young and thin Louis Prima singing “China Town,” Louis Armstrong acing “That’s Why They Call Me Shine” and Peggy Lee rolling a bouncy rendition of “It’sa Good Day.”
Strangely, this film is padded with performers who are closer to old-style pop music and big band swing: Rudy Vallee, Lawrence Welk, the Dorsey Brothers, Betty Hutton and the Mills Brothers. How they got listed as jazz is a minor mystery. There is also an early performance by Sammy Davis Jr. when he was part of the Will Mastin Trio singing and dancing the novelty song “Boogie Woogie Piggie.” It is not jazz, by any stretch, but watching Sammy go to town is a thrill (especially as this appears to be the cleanest print available of this rare film clip).
Thus, if you don’t mind the distraction of some entertaining non-jazz interlopers, or if your fast-forward button is working, then by all means enjoy this rollicking collection of old-time jazz giants.