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TV REVIEW : 'Reed Royalty' an Engrossing History Lesson

March 19, 1993|LEONARD FEATHER

Yet another aspect of Branford Marsalis' protean talents can be observed this evening (at 7 and midnight) when Bravo cable presents "Reed Royalty," the first half of a two-part special about jazz history.

"Reed Royalty" begins and ends with Marsalis wandering around an 18th-Century New Orleans mansion, blowing a lonesome soprano sax. In between, the hour consists of an eloquent lecture, amply illustrated by vintage clips.

Marsalis explains how the influence of the French Creoles brought the clarinet into jazz. Archival films show the horn's dominance through the swing era, with examples by Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and others, along with rare footage of four Duke Ellington sidemen doubling as a clarinet section.

Ellington also is the source of three among the many saxophone samples: Willie Smith and Johnny Hodges on altos, Harry Carney on baritone. Later clips cover the be-bop revolution (Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, et al.), the cool (Lee Konitz) and the avant-garde (Ornette Coleman).

Marsalis was wise to include such artists as Pee Wee Russell, whose clarinet proved that incomplete technique was no deterrent to emotion and creativity, and Steve Lacy, who spearheaded the revival of the soprano sax some years before John Coltrane.

The story is brought up to date by including the electronic era (Jane Ira Bloom in 1989) and the popular Cuban emigre Paquito d'Rivera in 1990. Produced and directed by Burrill Crohn, "Reed Royalty" is an admirably informative audiovisual lesson with across-the-board appeal. The second half, to be aired April 2, will deal exclusively with the tenor saxophone.

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