The latest edition of the “New Visions Jazz” series on VH-1, airing at 8 tonight, is the first of two 55-minute segments devoted mainly to Bill Cosby’s new venture as a jazz producer.
With Ben Sidran as host, the program switches back and forth between performances by Cosby’s group, a couple of Sidran-Cosby dialogues, and clips by other bands. Among the latter are a super-busy performance by Branford Marsalis, on soprano saxophone; Miles Davis, in a medley from his own “Tutu” album, and a very grainy black-and-white item by Duke Ellington playing “Perdido.”
Cosby’s own musicians--David Murray on tenor sax, Don Pullen on piano, Sonny Sharrock on guitar, Mark Egan on bass and Al Foster on drums--play the Miles Davis standard “All Blues” and a long, single-chord vamp in G entitled “Ursalina.” It’s all strongly funk-oriented, the kind of music more likely to appeal to young listeners who are into R&B; than to older folks who regularly watch the Huxtables.
In addition to acting as a sort of cheerleader, looking entranced, saying “Yeah!” and cuing the band to stop, Cosby talks about the intensity and emotion involved. Jazz, he says, is like comedy: Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy are “talking musicians.” The analogy may be a little hard to follow, but Cosby is obviously sincere, and Sidran is duly deferential, comparing him to Miles Davis.
The best spoken moment is Cosby’s opening greeting to the diminutive Sidran, to whom he says: “Hey, you’re taller than I thought.” Jazz may not be like comedy, but some jazz aficionados sure have a way with a quip.