Let’s Talk Laserdiscs

I’ve been working through the process of curating, archiving, converting, call it what you will, laserdiscs. Between 1978 and the late 1990’s, laserdiscs, or MCA Discovision were digital media. [See my first effort, Ron Carter Live / Double Bass]

While the video was almost always only the same quality as VHS tape, effectively analog rather than 4k, HDR, or even Hi Def. The sound quality was an better than VHS, it was CD quality. Because the media, aka the disc, was more robust the quality of both video and audio typically didn’t degrade.

I would argue that laserdiscs, rather than VHS, were what enabled MTV, and while VHS player, recorders were in way more homes, that was primarily because you could record, and a much smaller subset of consumers would buy pre-recorded VHS tapes. Whereas 100% of laserdiscs were pre-recorded, they could not be “burned” like todays DVD or CD’s or recorded like VHS.

They were the perfect medium for music. In 1980, only some 30 music laserdiscs releases were produced. They were more often live performances recordings, rather than the music video style recordings which would come to dominate the MTV era. Discogs includes some 4,500 music laserdisc releases. By the early 2000’s, laserdiscs had been replaced by DVD’s, although there were a few releases after 2001, they were mostly re-releases.

Jazz Platters

About a fifth of all the the music laserdiscs are from the jazz genre. Although laserdiscs could have an A-side and a B-Side, of the ones I know of, they are all single sided. Each side of the disc could hold about 60-minutes of music video. I assume this was as much about the filming production cost, rather than a lack of artistic content.

Creed Taylor produced six laserdiscs, releasing the first in 1990. By that time, all the top jazz musicians and labels were producing laserdiscs for or in the Japanese market and often by Japanese producers and/or directors. Japan had the highest penetration of laserdisc users.

For The Record

This Bob James produced laserdisc, For The Record, one of four I’m aware of that Bob is in, is for me, one of the best jazz laserdiscs. As well as live performance film, it includes studio and historic film, combined with commentary and insight by Bob.

As well as For The Record, Bob can be seen in:

  • Lee Ritenour ‎– Live From The Coconut Grove – both Volume 1 and Volume 2. Volume 2 contains a great version of the Bob James classic, Westchester Lady. Recorded in 1989, the laserdisc was released in 1990. Both volumes are here [on youtube.com] [Discogs Volume-1] [Discogs Volume-2]
  • Bob James Live From The Queen Mary Jazz Festival – Filmed in 1985, released in 1988, this is one of a small percentage of jazz laserdiscs that have subsequently re-released as a DVD. Which is a trubute to Bob’s popularity as much as anything. Perhaps, because there is a DVD release, for copyright reasons there is no youtube video. For details see discogs. [Master release]

Musically, For The Record, contains some 10-tracks, live performances, studio sessions and commentary. The tracks and musicians performing with Bob come, predomentally, from his Tappan Zee period, immediately after moving on from CTI. Kirk Whalum and Nathan East are featured, as well as more established stars, David Sanborn, Lee Ritenour and Harvey Mason.

  1. Touchdown
  2. Westchester Lady
  3. Never Enough (Prelude)
  4. Never Enough
  5. Ashanti
  6. The Internal Triangle
  7. Restoration (Rehearsal)
  8. Angela: Theme From Taxi
  9. Restoration
  10. The Island

As well as seven other chapters that contain commentary or overview material. Full information and details on the laserdisc can be found on discogs, as well as high-def pictures of my copy of the covers and the center label. [Discogs [r2708170]]

6 Replies to “For The Record”

  1. My god, thank you!
    i,ve been looking for this since FOREVER!
    this is my first introduction to jazz and i love it ever since.

    1. Thanks, I have a great Freddie Hubbard laserdisc, and I’m just writing the blog post for it now. Check back later today or subscribe via the box at the bottom of the home page!

  2. Great post for a too little known slice of Jamesiana. The 1962 pieces are revelatory – and show how BJ transformed his music from the experimental to the communicative. I would argue that one informs the other and Mr. James has contributed much to what I, at least, appreciate in music of all kinds. I’ve seen BJ a few times now and this video beautifully captures (even when the images are oddly grainy or woozy for digital media) what makes his music and the way he delivers it so compelling. Thanks, Mark for your commentary.

    1. Thank you and thank you for your support and encouragement.

      There is a copy of the Live From The Queen Mary Jazz Festival laserdisc on ebay, I’m tempted to buy, but know from discogs the DVD has way more “bonus” content. I just know I can’t share the DVD via youtube since it is still in copyright…

  3. Hi! I’m looking for a DVD of Bob James named “For the record”, but I can`t find it anywhere. Could you tell me if you have it? or where I can find it? It’s very important for me. Thank you in advance.

    1. As far as I am aware, this is not available on DVD. It was available on laserdisc and I have a copy, and have converted it and put it on YouTube as linked above.

      Also, the laserdisc is only available in US/Japanese NTSC TV signal format, even if you can get a laserdisc player in Spain, the signal is not compatible with most European TV’s.

      Let me know if I can be of any other help.

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