By now, perhaps ten thousand people have seen Neal Miner’s extraordinary film documentary of the remarkable musician Bill Crow, JAZZ JOURNEYMAN. That’s a good start but more people need to see it. Not simply because Bill turns 95 this year and is still gigging; not because it chronicles Bill’s 75 years in music; not because it is a splendidly understated yet effective film portrait . . . but because both Bill and the film are so inspiring.
Bill comes across in the film as he is in real life: unassuming, funny, gentle, heartfelt. And a simply entrancing storyteller, with great stories to tell. He is center stage, leaning against the fireplace in his home, and completely at home, comfortable in his own skin with no need to boast of his accomplishments.
Speaking of accomplishments: Neal Miner, who’s justifiably famous as a spectacularly eloquent string bassist, shows off once again his subtle art as a film-maker, staying out of Bill’s way to frame him with quiet love. Neal’s camera work is never flashy, and his narration does the job beautifully. And before the film is fifteen minutes in, we have heard about Bill’s intersections with Quincy Jones, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lennie Tristano, Charlie Parker, Dave Lambert — later, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Marian McPartland, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington . . . up to the present-day and current gigs.
Neal’s film is also consistently illuminated by photographs from Bill’s library and, even better, interludes where we get to see and hear Bill at his bass, his beautiful choice of notes, his thoughtful phrasing, his resonant tone.
I will stop here lest I spoil all the surprises: but it’s a wondrous film portrait, entertaining even for people who don’t know how much it cost to get into Birdland in 1950. How wonderful that we can celebrate someone who’s unique while they’re alive. And while we’re at it, how wonderful to see someone who is so active with such a positive outlook. Happiness depicted, happiness shared.
Bless you, Bill: thank you, Neal.
May your happiness increase!
P.S. I am in temporary exile from Facebook, having been hacked on May 7, 2023 — so if you feel the spirit and are an active Facebooker, please share this for me.