Jazz musicians and fans have been sending out their thoughts and prayers via Facebook and Twitter following the news that pianist Mulgrew Miller suffered a serious stroke yesterday. Details are somewhat limited but it is reported that Miller is currently in intensive care.
Miller, who has been called a protege of Oscar Peterson, suffered a stroke back in 2011 and made a full recovery. Musicians such as Terence Blanchard, Geoff Keezer, and Charlie Haden have been sending out well-wishes on Twitter.
Me: I’m going to watch this movie, “The Girls In The Band.” And hopefully write a review.
Hip Old Jazz Radio Dude: Oh, yeah? What’s it about, chick singers?
Me: Um, no. It’s about the great female instrumentalists who couldn’t get hired by the big bands, or almost any band led by a man.
HOJRD: Didn’t they have those all-girl bands to play in?
Me: Well, that’s what they had to resort to in order to make a living. And even then, they were treated as novelty acts, not as “real” musicians. Many of them were better players than their male counterparts, but they had to put on frilly dresses and smile all the time. You know, I think —
HOJRD: (eyes glazing over, attention span limit reached) Oh, yeah, yeah, right. Excuse me, I have to go dust off this turntable…
WHY WE NEED THIS MOVIE #2
Me: I really enjoyed your playing tonight!
Very Young Female Saxophonist: Thanks so much.
Me: Are you glad you continued with your music after college? It couldn’t have been an easy career choice.
VYFS: Um, what?
Me: Well, historically, female jazz instrumentalists were largely ignored, or treated with disdain by male musicians. They’d never get called for gigs, or if they actually got into a band, they could be replaced with a male musician at any time, without any notice. You know, I think–
VYFS: (looking at me like I’m deranged) I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Excuse me, I have to go adjust my reed…
Alternately touching and humorous, The Girls In The Band is a delightful movie that can serve as a primer for the nearly forgotten story of the talented, hard-working, dedicated musicians who just happened to be female during a time when “girls just don’t do that!” It’s nicely paced, moving between interviews and archival film footage and photos, and filled with great music. The older musicians tell their tales, the hurts and disappointments still fresh; the good times, the excitement and the love lingering and making it all worthwhile. The younger musicians listen, learn and pay tribute.
The Girls in the Band has won Audience Awards at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Omaha Film Festival and the Victoria Film Festival. Director/Producer Judy Chaikin has a couple of Emmy nominations under her belt for her documentaries, as well as numerous film festival awards and a Blue Ribbon from the American Educational Film and TV Festival. A theme running through most of Chaikin’s work is “righting a wrong,” and she spent eight years making this film so that the stories and the art of these musicians would not disappear.
One can forgive the hip old jazz guy for being from another era. One can rejoice that the very young jazz girls don’t have to deal with the same issues that plagued their predecessors. Both could still benefit from watching this entertaining slice of history.
They Died Before 40, a new jazz film, features eight jazz artists, most of them relatively unknown. They all died before reaching the age of 40. Actually, four of the eight died before reaching the age of 30! Seven died before 1944 and one died in 1956. The greatest jazz band in history has been playing in heaven for more than 50 years!
The film presents this band, organized in heaven, playing Stardust, “a tune recorded in heaven.” (They each recorded Stardust individually as a leader or sideman before they died. An audio engineer has been able to take some of each of these individual recordings and produce a beautiful version that can be heard in this film for the first time.)
When these men were chosen, serendipitously, by Howard E. Fischer, the producer, director and writer, he did not realize that they actually comprised what could be a functioning band – rhythm section (piano, drums, guitar and bass), two tenor saxes and two trumpets. Who are these men?
The rhythm section consists of Fats Waller, piano (died at 39 in 1943); Charlie Christian, guitar (died at 25 in 1942); Jimmy Blanton, bass (died at 23 in 1942); and Chick Webb, drums (died at 34 in 1939) who was not available for this recording (he never recorded this tune), so Big Sid Catlett sat in for him. The two tenors are Herschel Evans (died at 29 in 1939) and Chu Berry (died at 33 in 1941). The two trumpeters are Bunny Berigan (died at 33 in 1942) and Clifford Brown (died at 25 in 1956).
The film also presents one piece of music each artist recorded that highlights his great talents. Interspersed is biographical information, expert commentary, photos and other material related to each. The film introduces these musicians and their music in the hope that more people will explore their music and learn about their lives. In addition, as an important aspect of the film, music historians talk about how the musicians’ lifestyles contributed to their deaths and how they died. At the end of the film a scroll lists about 20 other jazz musicians who died before the age of 40.
Additional funding is needed to complete the film.
More information about the film can be found on Kickstarter, a funding platform -http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/jazzfilm/they-died-before-40.
KPLU’s new School Of Jazz CD – Volume 9 will be released this coming Tuesday, May 7. Listeners can purchase the CD at kplu.org. All proceeds go to the schools’ music programs. KPLU has raised over $70,000 for the schools, since the project started. This year, bands from Ballard High School (Seattle), Graham-Kapowsin High School (Graham), Jackson High School (Mill Creek), Lakewood Jazz Choir (Arlington), Lynnwood High School (Bothell), Mercer Island High School, Mountlake Terrace High School, Newport High School (Bellevue), Roosevelt High School (Seattle), Seattle JazzED, South Whidbey High School, and W.F. West High School (Chehalis) will be featured on the CD. This year’s professional jazz mentors include Thomas Marriott, Tracy Knoop, Greta Matassa, Brad Boal, Jay Thomas, Travis Ranney, Dan Wager, Steve Treseler, Neil Welch and Andy Omdahl.
The School of Jazz project has won has won two national awards for its effort. On May 7th during KPLU’s Midday Jazz, KPLU will broadcast the entire CD (one song every 30-minutes) between 9am – 3pm PST. Listeners can hear it locally in the Seattle/Tacoma market on 88.5 FM, or online at kplu.org.