Tuesday, March 24, 2015

3 Duke Ellington Films Restored

A Bundle of Blues (1933) [all images courtesy of Cohen Film Collection]
Duke Ellington was one of the Silver Screen's favorite personalities since the sound was introduced to cinema. The Duke's life on celluloid started with 1929 Black and Tan Fantasy and continued until the last days of his life. Among a wealth of visual material left behind after Duke's passing, the early films, for their presentation of best musicians in their glory days, are most precious, but also because of their age, less satisfactory in terms of sound and image quality.

In that regard, probably the best gift one could give to the members of Ellingtonia all around the world is the restoration and re-release of three Duke Ellington films, undertaken by Cohen Film Collection in the US whose new prints look like a Rembrandt picture being cleaned and removed from elements of dust and dirt by National Gallery. Now, you can see Black and Tan Fantasy, Symphony in Black and Bundle of Blues in very good to excellent qualities.

The digital restoration of the films was carried out by Cohen Film Collection at Modern Videofilm in Los Angeles, California. Originally produced by Paramount Pictures, U.M.&M. TV Corporation acquired the rights in 1954-55 along with approximately 1,600 other shorts from Paramount catalogue. The company removed the Paramount logo card from the original 35mm nitrate negatives and replaced them with the U.M.&M. TV title card. The original opening title card is not known to exist. [pic below]

Friday, March 20, 2015

Gjon Mili: When Jazz, Film and Photography Meet


Gjon Mili [pic above] is the photographer/filmmaker whose single cinematic achievement, Jammin' the Blues, changed the history of jazz on film. By bringing authenticity and artistic vision to capturing a performance on film, Mili was probably the first filmmaker who ever thought of transposing jazz, as an art form, into cinema.

Commissioned by Warner Bros. in 1944, Mili who was left free to choose the subject of his first short, turned to Norman Granz and asked him to put together a group of jazz musicians for a film which was meant to reconstruct the feeling of jazz after hours.

Granz not only invited some of his JATP stars, but also included some of the older, non-JATP musicians such as Sid Catlett (the original plan was to have Louis Armstrong on-board). The shooting was wrapped up in four sessions and the film reached the screens in December 1944 to critical acclaim. It was even nominated for an Oscar but lost it to Who's Who in Animal Land!

the last shot of Jammin' the Blues

70 years onwards, the UCLA film archive has restored the film and it's going to be screened as a part of the programme curated by me and Jonathan Rosenbaum for Il Cinema Ritrovato film festival in Bologna.

Anyone who has seen this true gem of jazz cinema and is familiar with Mili's groundbreaking photography for Life, will immediately detect a concept practiced by Mili to perceive the filming opportunity as an extension of photographic work, studying bodies and gestures and exploring the relation between musicians and space around them -- the study of the physical energy of a performance.

The photographs that I've collected here, all taken by Mili, serve as an evidence to that argument and also demonstrate some of the most dense, telling compositions ever created in jazz photography.

Friday, March 13, 2015

A Date with Dizzy (1958)


Aside from being the greatest trumpeter since Louis Armstrong, or being held high as one of the greatest composers in jazz, Dizzy Gillespie was a comedian of sorts. Alluring the audience with weird hats, funky language, and cake-walking, Dizzy was more than a musician, dominating any stage with charisma, an animated performance and a rare sense of ease.

In 1958, a filmmaker tried to capture some of these features on film, though camera's fascination with Dizz can be traced back to the 1940s and his first Soundie films. Directed by the independent American animator John Hubley, A Date With Dizzy presents Dizzy Gillespie Quintet with Sahib Shihab, Wade Legge, Nelson Boyd and Charlie Persip.

Combing comedy with animation and fragments of Dizzy's classic pieces, the story concerns a day in the studio, while in presence of an indecisive director and a nervous company representative, the band is trying to score for a couple of silly cartoon commercials such as Instant Rope Ladder and E-Z Popcorn.

The film is a sort of commercial itself, or rather commercial within commercial, but it is also a satire of how jazz was enslaved by consumerist culture when demands of the market limited this music in terms of what could be played and how that should be played. If most of great jazz performances on film suffer from interruptions and intervention with songs, A Date With Dizzy shares the same symptoms, yet intelligently makes fun of it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Cecil Payne-Ron Carter Quintet, 1998


The Cecil Payne-Ron Carter Quintet 

Eric Alexander (ts), Cecil Payne (bars), Stephen Scott (p), Ron Carter (b), Lewis Nash (d).
Jazzfestival Bern, Switzerland, May 8, 1998 

BWi (Payne)
Flyin' Fish (Payne)
Lover Man (Davis-Ramirez-Sherman)
Slide's Blues (Slide Hampton)
Cit Sac (Payne)

Monday, March 9, 2015

RIP Lew Soloff (BS&T Plays Maiden Voyage)

Lew Soloff [source]

Lew Soloff (1944-2015)

The son of a nightclub owner, Soloff was exposed to live music since early age. Later, he enrolled in Julliard and in 1968 joined one of the most exciting jazz-rock "fusion" bands of the era, Blood, Sweat & Tears. Soloff recorded and toured with BS&T for five years, before returning to jazz idiom to record (a few albums) under his name (including a wonderful Trumpet Legacy) and appear in numerous live and studio sessions with anyone from Carla Bley to Ornette Coleman. He was also a wine connoisseur.

Lew Soloff passed away in the early morning hours of Sunday, March 8, 2015 in New York City.

The recording below, Maiden Voyage (Herbie Hancock), is from a BS&T concert in Vienna's Konserthauson on July 14, 1972, featuring:

Lew Soloff - trumpet; Chuck Winfield - trumpet; Dave Bargeron - trombone & tuba; Lou Marini - woodwinds; Larry Willis - keyboards; Georg Wadenius - guitar; Steve Katz - guitar; Jim Fielder - bass; Bobby Colomby - drums.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Jazz Goes to the Movies... in Bologna

Brubeck and Mingus in the English jazz-noir Othello, All Night Long

I'm glad to announce that 'jazz on film' is returning to the screen, or rather jazz is going to the movies, in Bolgona, Italy.

Me and my Chicago-based friend Jonathan Rosenbaum have curated a mini retrospective of jazz films, “Jazz Goes to the Movies,” at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna (June 27–July 4, 2015).

A lively 'jam session' between reality and fiction, this programme explores 'the jazz life' in cinema, both for its participants and for its audience, in both documentaries and fiction films. Along with major documentaries such as Jammin' the Blues (restored) and Jazz on a Summer's Day, the programme features fiction films in which famous jazz musicians play themselves (Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck in All Night Long) and in which listening to jazz plays a significant role (Howard Hawks' Ball of Fire and Charles Burnett's When it Rains). We'll present new restorations of early sound jazz films (Dudley Murphy's Black and Tan Fantasy), as well as rarely screened Soundies (short musical films from the 40's).

Update [March 11, 2015]:

Some of the confirmed titles in the programme are

Cab Calloway's Hi-De-Ho (Fred Waller, 1934) RESTORED
Tillie (William Forest Crouch, 1945)
Ball of Fire (Howard Hawks, 1941)
Black & Tan Fantasy (Dudley Murphy, 1929) RESTORED
I Got It Bad And That Ain't Good (Josef Berne, 1942)
Jammin' the Blues (Gjon Mili, 1944) RESTORED
All Night Long (Basil Dearden, 1961)
Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Bert Stern, 1959) 
Begone Dull Care (Norman McLaren, 1949)
Big Ben: Ben Webster in Europe (Johan van der Keuken, 1967)

Yet, there are more jazz-related films programmed for the new edition of Il Cinema Ritrovato such as the world restoration premiere of Ascenseur pour l'├ęchafaud (Louis Malle, 1958, featuring Miles Davis' legendary soundtrack) and films by Gianni Amico.

In addition to that, there will be a panel on jazz and film run by me and Jonathan for which we've planned to screen some rare 16mm jazz films, including more Soundies.


More information about this year's programme, here. Fo general information about the festival go here.