Television writer and producer Robert Herridge (1914-1981) isn’t a well-known name, but he produced some of the greatest network coverage of televised jazz concerts ever in the USA. While it was common back in the day to celebrate jazz icons on film in Europe via TV broadcasts, this was a rarity on network TV in America. Herridge infused CBS two-camera production values, filming some of the greatest jam sessions ever: Miles Davis with Gil Evans, a dreamy Billie Holiday surrounded by Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Gerry Mulligan, Vic Dickenson, Roy Eldridge, and others. He also filmed the wonderful 1959 segment of Ahmad Jamal performing “Darn that Dream” with a bevy of great jazzmen admiring him from the sidelines.
The program first aired in 1957 as part of a series called Seven Lively Arts, and was one of the first major (nationally broadcast) features on network TV. The sessions took place at CBS Studio 58 in New York City.
Herridge worked mostly in the late 50s and early 60s. One of the greatest films is of Billie Holiday performing “Fine and Mellow”. Lester Young, her sax partner for so many years, had become estranged from her. Nat Hentoff, seen smoking a pipe in the Ahmad Jamal clip, said they sat on opposite sites of the studio. But when Lester came out to solo on “Fine and Mellow”, he played what Hentoff described as the “purest blues I’ve ever heard”. Billie looks lovingly at the then-very sick Pres, and looks like a proud mother at a young crew-cutted Mulligan.
These are some of the best productions ever. Check out these clips:
Billie Holiday’s famous song “Fine and Mellow” from 1957:
Miles Davis, with Coltrane, Cannonball, Gil Evans Orchestra 1959:
And again, the great clip of Ahmad Jamal doing “Darn That Dream”: