On a Sunday afternoon in 1957, CBS aired the finest hour of live jazz ever telecast, The Sound of Jazz. Except for a nervous emcee, it was all music, it was informal (the guys wore their hats, Billie Holiday wore slacks), and it was immortal. The highlight was Billie Holiday singing ''Fine and Mellow,'' backed by a lustrous ensemble including, for the only time on records or film, all three of the classic tenor sax kings, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and in a heart-wrenching blues chorus Lester Young. There was much more: Count Basie and Jimmy Rushing cruising through ''I Left My Baby''; Henry ''Red'' Allen stomping off a wickedly arch ''Rosetta''; Thelonious Monk deconstructing ''Blue Monk''; and Jimmy Giuffre and Pee Wee Russell trading cross-generational clarinet licks.
Incredibly, CBS never rebroadcast the show and, more incredibly, allowed the copyright to run out, which is why we have two competing versions on video. The Sounds of Jazz presents the show as it was originally seen and is not to be missed. Vintage Collection tapes seems a sad attempt to market the same material while disguising its origin. In addition to putting incorrect dates in the title, Vol. 1 cuts out the opening minute of the first Basie number, where the credits were, as well as the transitional material, using freeze-frames of the performers to avoid cutaways to the host. The company even identifies the show as ''A Fred Baker Film & Video Co. Production,'' when it is actually well known in music circles to have been produced by the late Robert Herridge.
A*Vision's Vol. 2 similarly disguises selections from two 1959 CBS shows produced by Herridge, Studio 61 and Theater for a Story. In the first segment, Ahmad Jamal and Ben Webster alternated two selections each; here they are pointlessly reedited so that you occasionally see them playing something other than what you hear. In the second part, Miles Davis and the Gil Evans orchestra perform selections from their Miles Ahead album, and the Davis Quintet play ''So What'' from Davis' Kind of Blue. While you may want this tape for these splendid performances, not yet available anywhere else, you can't help but wonder how A*Vision, a subsidiary of Warner/Elektra/Atlantic Intl., could get involved with such shoddy product. F