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 By the early 2000’s, laserdiscs had been replaced by DVD’s, although there were a few releases after 2001, they were mostly re-releases.
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.
- Westchester Lady
- Never Enough (Prelude)
- Never Enough
- The Internal Triangle
- Restoration (Rehearsal)
- Angela: Theme From Taxi
- 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]]