From the swamps of the Louisiana Bayou to a fascinating journey alongside jazz’s greats from Louis Armstrong to Billie Holiday, June is hitting all the right notes for jazz music fans with four films that touch on the musical roots of jazz in some shape or form.
With such rich and soulful characters making their mark throughout the history of jazz, we wanted to highlight how some of these cool cats were influenced in their lives musically and personally – where it all started in essence – to give you a glimpse into some of jazz’s most interesting personalities.
This film is a musical journey featuring the last original blues devils, many in their 80’s, still living in the deep south, working without management and touring the Chitlin’ Circuit. Here is a glimpse into one of these original blues devils…
“Lazy Lester was on the margins of the Louisiana blues scene in the mid-1950s. According to Rolling Stone (Feb 23, 2006) Lester replacedBuddy Guy on guitar in a local band even though Lester didn’t own a guitar at the time. His career took off when he found himself seated next to Lightnin’ Slim on a bus transporting Slim to a recording session.
At the studio, the scheduled harmonica player did not appear. Slim and Lester spent the afternoon unsuccessfully trying to find him, when Lester volunteered that he could play the harmonica. Lester’s work on that first Lightnin’ Slim session led the producer, Jay Miller, to record Lester’s solo and also to use him as a multi-instrumentalist on percussion, guitar, bass, and harmonica on sessions headlined by other Miller-produced artists including, notably, Slim Harpo. “Percussion” on these sessions went beyond the traditional drum kit, and included a rolled-up newspaper on a cardboard box.
Miller dubbed Lester “Lazy Lester” because of his laconic, laid-back style.”
Read more about Lazy Lester here.
On June 13 and 15, let Bobby Rush, Barbara Lynn, Henry Gray, Carol Fran, Lazy Lester, Bilbo Walker, RL Boyce, Jimmy ’Duck’ Holmes, Lil Buck Sinegal, LC Ulmer and their friends awaken the blues in all of us.
This film looks like a fantastic mash-up of jazz in popular culture, featuring clips from live-action features and animated cartoons of real-life jazz musicians who performed as themselves in guest-star roles or who plays fictional musician characters in the stories. Includes a tribute to the most influential jazz musician and singer of them all – Louis Armstrong.
“Coming to prominence in the 1920s as an “inventive” trumpet and cornet player, Armstrong was a foundational influence in jazz, shifting the focus of the music from collective improvisation to solo performance. With his instantly recognizable gravelly voice, Armstrong was also an influential singer, demonstrating great dexterity as an improviser, bending the lyrics and melody of a song for expressive purposes. He was also skilled at scat singing.
Renowned for his charismatic stage presence and voice almost as much as for his trumpet-playing, Armstrong’s influence extends well beyond jazz music, and by the end of his career in the 1960s, he was widely regarded as a profound influence on popular music in general. Armstrong was one of the first truly popular African-American entertainers to “cross over”, whose skin color was secondary to his music in an America that was extremely racially divided. He rarely publicly politicized his race, often to the dismay of fellow African-Americans, but took a well-publicized stand for desegregation in the Little Rock Crisis. His artistry and personality allowed him socially acceptable access to the upper echelons of American society which were highly restricted for black men of his era.”
Read more about Louis Armstrong here.
This one focuses in on a key personality of the jazz era – the Saxophone itself…
“From Adolphe Sax’s workshop of the 1840’s to the legendary era of jazz and bebop, it was forbidden by Nazis and Communists and banned by the Pope – gradually conquering all music genres. Throughout its 175-year history the saxophone has been both the most seductive and most feared instrument. Award-winning Canadian filmmaker Larry Weinstein illuminates and mythologizes the story of the saxophone, featuring its most legendary players as well as astonishing discoveries. The Devil’s Horn explores the sax’s longstanding curse that stemmed from the difficult life of its mad inventor, and is still said to affect saxophonists who fall prey to the instrument’s dark powers.” Read more here.
The icon of the West Coast “cool school” of jazz, Chet Baker, is played phenomenally by Ethan Hawke, in this “moody biographical fantasy” (NY Times). A bit about the original cool cat himself…
“In 1952, Baker joined the Gerry Mulligan Quartet, which was an instant phenomenon. Several things made the Mulligan/Baker group special, the most prominent being the interplay between Mulligan’s baritone sax and Baker’s trumpet. Rather than playing identical melody lines in unison like bebop giants Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, the two would complement each other’s playing with contrapuntal touches, and it often seemed as if they had telepathy in anticipating what the other was going to play next. The Quartet’s version of “My Funny Valentine“, featuring a Baker solo, was a hit, and became a tune with which Baker was intimately associated.
The Quartet found success quickly, but lasted less than a year because of Mulligan’s arrest and imprisonment on drug charges. Baker formed his own quartet with pianist and composerRuss Freeman in 1953, along with bassists Carson Smith, Joe Mondragon, and Jimmy Bond and drummers Shelly Manne, Larry Bunker, and Bob Neel. The Chet Baker Quartet found success with their live sets, and they released a number of popular albums between 1953 and 1956. In 1953 and 1954, Baker won the Down Beat and Metronome magazines’ Readers Jazz Polls, beating the era’s two top trumpeters, Miles Davis and Clifford Brown. Down Beat readers also voted Baker as the top jazz vocalist in 1954. In 1956, Pacific Jazz released Chet Baker Sings, a record that increased his profile but alienated traditional jazz fans; he would continue to sing throughout his career.
Due to Baker’s chiseled features, he was approached by Hollywood studios, and he made his acting debut in the film Hell’s Horizon, released in the fall of 1955. He declined an offer of a studio contract, preferring life on the road as a musician. Over the next few years, Baker fronted his own combos, including a 1955 quintet featuring Francy Boland, where Baker combined playing trumpet and singing. In 1956 Chet Baker completed an eight month tour of Europe, where he recorded Chet Baker In Europe.
He became an icon of the West Coast “cool school” of jazz, helped by his good looks and singing talent. Baker’s 1956 recording, released for the first time in its entirety in 1989 as The Route, with Art Pepper, helped further the West Coast jazz sound and became a staple of cool jazz.”
Full article here.