Tag Archives: documentary film

“VINCE GIORDANO: THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST”

vincegirodano_poster

About seventy-five minutes into this gratifying portrait of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, trombonist and keen observer Jim Fryer describes its subject as “an intense man . . . a driven man . . . consumed” by the ideals he’s devoted the last forty years to.  And his goal?  As Vince says in the film, it is “to get the great music out there for the people.”

From his early introduction to the music — the hot jazz 78s on his grandmother’s Victrola — to the present moment, where he is the inspired creator of a ten-piece Jazz Age big band possibly without equal, Vince’s ideal has been complex. Reproduce live the sound, accuracy, and vitality of the music he heard on the records, and add to that repertoire by playing, vividly and authentically, music that never got recorded. His quest has been to have a working band, the contemporary equivalent of the great working bands, sweet and hot, of the Twenties and Thirties, visiting the Forties on occasion. Add to this the constant schlepping (you could look it up) of the equipment for that band; finding a new home after Sofia’s could no longer stay open; finding gigs; keeping this organization running against the odds.  The film wholly captures how difficult Vince’s consuming obsession is to accomplish, and to keep afloat day after day.

Many readers of JAZZ LIVES are fervent Giordanians or perhaps Vinceites, and we crossed paths for years in the darkness of Sofia’s, at the Christmas teas.  I have a long history with this band, going back to a Nighthawks gig in the preceding century, in the eastern part of Long Island, New York, where the night sky darkened, the thunder rumbled louder than Arnie Kinsella’s drum set, lightning flashed, but the band kept playing until the last possible minute before the deluge.  So I’ve experienced Vince’s dedication firsthand.

Here’s the film’s trailer — a delightful encapsulation that doesn’t give away all the surprises:

The narrative follows Vince and the band over two years and more, from Sofia’s to Wolf Trap for PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION with Garrison Keillor, to Aeolian Hall with Maurice Peress for a recreation of Paul Whiteman’s presentation RHAPSODY IN BLUE — the opening clarinet solo brilliantly played by Dan Block — to the Nighthawks’ search for a new home, which they found at Iguana.  The film brings us up in to the present with the New York Hot Jazz Festival and a band led by Nighthawk Dan Levinson (his “Gotham Sophisticats”) as well as a new generation of musicians inspired by Vince, who has shown that it is possible to play hot music at the highest level with accuracy and spirit.

So much credit for this beautifully-realized film, must, of course, go to its intensely-charged subject, the Nighthawks, and their music. But filmmakers Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards are expert visionaries.

Even given this vibrant multi-sensory material, formulaic filmmakers could have created something dull.  They might have been satisfied to simply document performance: aim cameras at the Nighthawks and record what they play, as videographers like myself have done, which would have been accurate but limiting as cinema. Or, given the many people willing to talk about Vince and the Nighthawks, Edwards and Davidson could have given us a pageant of New York’s most erudite talking heads, some of whom would have been happy to lecture us.

Instead, by beautifully combining both elements and adding some surprises, they have created a wholly engaging, fast-moving portrait of Vince, the Nighthawks, and their world.  THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST never seems to stand still, and the cameras take us places that even the most devoted fans have never gone.  We get to peek in at Terry Gross’s interview of Vince, to travel downtown for a Nighthawk-flavored session of the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn and a recording session for BOARDWALK EMPIRE.

One of the film’s most pleasing aspects is candid, often witty commentary from people who know — the musicians themselves. Edwards and Davidson have fine instincts for the telling anecdote, the revealing insight.  We see and hear Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Levinson, Mike Ponella, Mark Lopeman, Peter Yarin, Andy Stein, Cynthia Sayer, Jim Fryer, and others, people who have worked with Vince for twenty-five years and more, and their stories are as essential to the film as is the music.

Edwards and Davidson quietly capture telling details, visual and otherwise: the box of doughnuts brought on the bus; the rivets on Vince’s aluminum double bass; Jon-Erik Kellso’s hand gestures — contrapuntal choreography — during SHAKE THAT THING; the voices of the Nighthawks joking about being fired as they head into a band meeting.  The film is admiring without being obsequious, so we also see a short, revealing episode of Vince losing his temper. But the details ever seem excessive.  In this era of fidgety multi-camera over-editing, the film’s charged rhythm — appropriately, a peppy dance tempo — is energetic but never overdone, never cleverly calling attention to itself.

There’s vivid photographic evidence of the spectacle at Sofia’s and the Iguana: the tuxedo-clad Nighthawks not only playing hot but enacting it; the dancers jubilantly embodying what they hear in ecstatic motion.  A documentary about Vince would be empty without the music.  I noted SUGAR FOOT STOMP, THE MOON AND YOU, PUBLIC MELODY NUMBER ONE featuring Catherine Russell, WHITE HEAT, SWEET MAN, Kellso burning up the cosmos on SINGING PRETTY SONGS, THE STAMPEDE, ONE MORE TIME, YOU’VE BEEN A GOOD OLD WAGON, even BESAME MUCHO at a rainy Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.  And the sound recording is just splendid.

One of the secret pleasures of this film, for the true believers, is in spotting friends and colleagues: Matt Musselman, Will Friedwald, Tina Micic, Jim Balantic, John Landry, Molly Ryan, Sam Huang, Chuck Wilson, and a dozen others.  (I know I’ve missed someone, so I apologize in advance.)

In every way, this film is delightful, a deep yet light-hearted portrait of a man and an evocation of a time and place, a casual yet compelling documentary that invites us in.  First Run Features is presenting its New York theatrical premiere at Cinema Village on January 13, 2017, and I believe that Vince and the filmmakers will be present at a number of showings.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

“THROUGH THE EYES OF A DRUMMER: THE LIFE AND PHOTOGRAPHS OF JIMMY WORMWORTH”: A FILM BY NEAL MINER

Worm

The Neal Miner we admire is a superb jazz string bassist and composer:

The composition is Neal’s TIME LINE: his colleagues are Michael Kanan, piano; Greg Ruggiero, guitar.

Fewer people know Neal as a fine record producer, a splendid videographer (the evidence is here, now a gifted documentary-maker.

I was privileged to be in the audience last Thursday night when he showed his film about the engaged and engaging drummer / photographer Jimmy Wormworth to a very receptive audience.  Neal has put the film on YouTube for all of us to enjoy at our leisure, for free.

Although I tend to glance at my watch during documentaries, I sat rapt, and it wasn’t only because the stories were delightful.  Neal has not resorted to fancy film tricks (although you HAVE to wait for the coda); he has gently stayed out of the way of his subject.

And the stories!  Tales of Paul Chambers, Charlie Rouse, George Braith, Lou Donaldson, Dizzy Gillespie . . . all the way up to the present, with Tardo Hammer, Jon Hendricks, Annie Ross, Dwayne Clemons, and other friends. In the Fifties Jimmy bought a Brownie camera and began to take candid photographs of his heroes and colleagues, and they are priceless, as is the cheerful commentary.  The film is as close as we will get to sitting down with an amiable jazz legend who graciously unrolls fascinating anecdotes of his first-hand experience.  At the end of the documentary, the audience stood and cheered.

I said to someone on the way out, “Much better than a memorial service.”  Neal has done something beautiful and lasting by celebrating and chronicling a great artist while that person is alive.  I would like to see him get grant money to do more of these films, although I would hate to see him put the string bass in the closet.

Here’s Neal’s commentary:

For the past five years I have been experimenting with video and audio recording. After getting my feet wet with a few projects, I decided to undertake the challenge of documenting a person’s life, career and, in this case, some very unique photographs.

Since 2005 I have had the good fortune of playing regularly with master drummer, Jimmy Wormworth on a weekly show with the iconic Annie Ross. On one of our first gigs together Jimmy pulled an old snapshot out of his pocket, handed it to me with a playful grin and said, “Who’s that?” After examining the slightly tattered photograph I realized that it was none other than my bass hero, Paul Chambers, sipping from a bottle of Gordon’s gin backstage while standing next to the legendary pianist, Wynton Kelly. Every week thereafter, Jimmy showed me more shots that truly amazed me.

I then learned that when Jimmy was in his early twenties he was the drummer for the hot, new vocal group, Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. He was on tour with them from 1959 to 1961, sharing concert bills with all the top jazz groups of the day. Backstage Jimmy was not only rubbing elbows with the giants of jazz, he was also snapping photographs with his Brownie camera, documenting these legends in a very candid light.

I was immediately intrigued and inspired to do something to help Jimmy share these photos and his stories with the world. This documentary is strictly a labor of love and not for profit in any way. My only goal is to share Jimmy Wormworth’s fascinating life story and his beautiful photographs.

I hope you enjoy this film, the making of which was an amazing experience and opportunity for me to learn and grow. I am truly grateful for all of the many people who contributed to and helped out with this project.

Thank you for watching!
Neal Miner

P.S. Please spread the word and long live Jimmy Wormworth!

May your happiness increase!

JAZZ MYSTERIES in A FASCINATING FILM: “FINDING CARLTON,” JUNE 11, 2012

Here’s where I’ll be on June 11.  I hope you can join me!

Monday, June 11, 7:30 pm

FINDING CARLTON:  Uncovering the Story of Jazz in India

Featuring a Q&A with director Susheel Kurien (who is also a jazz musician himself) and Michael Steinman, jazz aficionado and writer of the blog Jazz Lives.   PLUS get a peek at rare footage of American jazz musicians performing in India!

USA, 2011, 73 min. How did jazz from America find a home in India? And how did India respond to it?  Filmmaker Kurien tells the untold story that begins with Depression-era African American musicians journeying from Paris to Calcutta and Bombay.  This captivating and unique film takes audiences on a richly atmospheric journey into India’s little-known jazz age–which lasted from the 1920s to the 1970s–through a portrait of the maverick guitarist Carlton Kitto, who chose to continue as a be-bop guitarist in the relative obscurity of Calcutta over emigration, commercial studio work, or Bollywood.

Tickets: $15 ($10 for students); $20 at the door: call (516) 829-2570,  or click here to purchase online via PayPal.

The film will start at 7:30pm at the Clearview Squire Cinemas: 115 Middle Neck Road, Great Neck.   Visit our website www.greatneckarts.org/Film for more information about the Furman Film Series!

Here’s what I had to say about FINDING CARLTON after my first viewing.

Even people who are not terribly interested in jazz in the intricate ways some of us are will also find much to admire in the portraits captured in it.  And the jazz-fanciers in the audience sat up, enthralled, throughout it. 

The film concentrates on two musicians: guitarist Carlton Kitto, who found himself entranced by the sound of Charlie Christian on the records his mother played at home while she cooked or cleaned — and Louiz Banks, a Grammy-nominated producer and jazz pianist.  Carlton takes our attention and never lets it go, both because he swings delicately yet powerfully, and because he is a sweetly endearing character. 

Unlike some documentaries I have seen where the story is compelling yet the characters are off-putting, everyone in the audience fell in love with Carlton, his sweet sincerity and his devotion to his music.  It did not surprise anyone that when Carlton got pushed on stage when the Ellington orchestra played a concert in India, that Ellington himself warmed to the young guitarist, invited him to sit in, and that Carlton improvised six choruses on SATIN DOLL with the band.  I’m only sorry that the Duke wasn’t able to hire Carlton on the spot and take him on tour.

FINDING CARLTON is full of the results of the most fascinating archival research, but it is not simply a film for those people whose heads are full of record labels and matrix numbers. The fruits of that research are vivid onscreen, in the photographs, sounds, colors and textures of the Indian jazz scene from the Twenties onward — with quick but telling portraits of deeply inspiring players including the world-class pianist Teddy Weatherford, the elusive trombonist Herb Flemming. The stories Sushiel has uncovered talk of Larry Coryell and Billy Taylor, of Louis Armstrong, Dave Brubeck, of jamming with Sonny Rollins in an ashram. As well as these famous names, we encounter people and players who go straight to our hearts: the first-rate singer Ruben Rebeiro, the devoted jazz fan Farokh Mehta, singers Pam Crain and Christine Correa — we watch the radiance on Christine’s face when she is able to hear a broadcast of her father’s band for the first time, music she heard as a child but never knew existed.

Kurien has a splendid eye — even though this is his first film — for the little human details that bring both individual characters and a larger world (now, perhaps no longer quite so vibrant) into focus and into our hearts. FINDING CARLTON blossoms with lovely montages of the present and the past, the aural and the visual, the moving and the still. It is respectful but never dull, informative but never preachy or didactic.

I urge you to make a small jazz pilgrimage to see it: it is fully realized, lively, and deeply moving. I came away from it with some feelings of loss: one of the later scenes shows Carlton at a gig in a hotel lounge, playing swing for an almost empty room, but I thought of his resilience and that of the music we love.

For more details, please visit http://www.findingcarlton.com.  And here is the link to Susheel Kurien’s blog, http://bluerhythm.wordpress.com/

May your happiness increase.

“FINDING CARLTON”: DISCOVERING JAZZ IN INDIA

This remarkable photograph was taken in the Fifties — the saxophonists and other players are assembled to pay tribute to Benny Goodman.  That in itself would not be unusual.  But that the tribute took place in Bombay is a surprise to those who do not associate jazz and India. 

The photograph comes to us through the kindness of Susheel J. Kurien, the creator of a new documentary, FINDING CARLTON, a film about the story of jazz in India.  Here’s how Susheel describes his film:

Through the portraits of a few remaining survivors, it tells the unknown and mesmerizing story of a bygone age of jazz in India.  Through archival material and poignant encounters with a maverick bebop guitarist, jazz fans, and other artists, the film uncovers an untold story of cultural cross-pollination: born of pre-war African-American diaspora, American Army presence in Calcutta during the Second World War; and of US State Department sponsored jazz tours in India.  The film also illuminates the influence of American jazz on Bollywood. Artfully edited in a rhythmic, multi-layered, warmly intimate and affectionate style, FINDING CARLTON revives the intense power of a largely undocumented jazz movement, weaving memory, concert footage and expert commentary with scenes of moving reunion between elder Indian jazz pioneers. Centered on human chracters with idiosyncratic lifestyles and built around rich archival material including audio, it progressively gathers force to relate the story of an entire Indian jazz generation.  FINDING CARLTON is currently in production and welcomes the support of those who would like to help complete this film.  Conceived by Susheel J,. Kurien, a Half Diminished Production in collaboration with Chrysalis Films.  Thanks to Mansoor Khan for the “Bollywood” scenes from Teesri Manzil, used with permission from the owner. Please contact: findingcarlton@gmail.com for more information. 

You can see the trailer on YouTube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yX0OH-t8WZY&feature=channel_video_title

And, for more information and other scenes from the film, visit Susheel’s blog:

http://bluerhythm.wordpress.com/

I have to point out that the documentary is indeed artfully done, and it is also the only film I’ve ever seeen to devote any attention to the masterful African-American hot pianist Teddy Weatherford.

TRADITION IS A TEMPLE (in New Orleans)

Tradition is a Temple — a music documentary — asks for your help to show what never left New Orleans.  Its filmmakers call for pledges to “crowd-fund” post-production on this musician owned-documentary on New Orleans music culture.

Tradition is a Temple highlights the dynamic resilience of New Orleans musicians, acclimated to hard times and dedicated to their city, the way of life, and the music. The artists discuss how, as children, they were inspired to pursue music, the trials of jazz today, and how the traditional sounds of the streets will survive.
 
The non-fiction film aims to show that Katrina, the economic downturn, and the BP oil spill can’t quiet this small, buoyant, and totally unique American sub-culture. After all, children still dance along with brass bands on Sunday afternoon Second Line parades as they have for generations.
 
Filming began in 2006, when director Darren Hoffman was a film-school-graduate-turned-music-student attempting to capture the nuts and bolts of New Orleans music by video taping his drum lessons with prominent local musicians. After several years and hundreds of DV tapes, Hoffman’s “video project” had slowly grown to include intimate interviews with his teachers, multi-camera studio recordings, and live concert footage. That wasn’t all, Hoffman’s passion for the music had evolved into a commitment to his teachers; he gave all of the featured musicians a majority share in the film.
 
“I don’t know if any of the artists actually believe that there will be any profits coming back to them.” Darren admitted, “Unfortunately, a lot of guys are used to getting the short end of the stick when they sign contracts… Either that or they don’t think anyone wants to watch a movie about jazz.”
 
The filmmakers are raising money in order to complete the costly post-production process through online “crowd funding”.  On sites like Kickstarter.com and IndieGoGo.com artists, filmmakers, musicians and designers can raise significant amounts of money from hundreds of donors, each pledging small amounts of money. Tradition is a Temple offers pre-orders for the DVD and Soundtrack as just a few of the many rewards in exchange for pledging toward their campaign, which continues until Feb. 3, 2011.
 
“With a little luck,” Hoffman added, “we’ll be able to prove to [the artists in the film] that we’re legit, and to the world that jazz music still has resonance in American culture.”

http://traditionisatemple.com/
Featuring: Shannon Powell, Jason Marsalis, Lucien Barbarin, Roland Guerin, Steve Masakowski, Ed Petersen, Topsy Chapman, The Treme Brass Band, The Baby Boyz Brass Band, and spoken word performer Chuck Perkins.
Writer/Director: Darren Hoffman
Producers: Darren Hoffman, Patrick Stafford, and Kristen McEntyre.
Executive Producer: Darren Hoffman
Director of Photography: James Laxton
Sound: Steve Reynolds and Kevin Schneider
Editor: Darren Hoffman