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44 recommended jazz docs: Pt 9/10

1. The Church of St John Coltrane (Jeff Swimmer, 1996)

"We experienced the effectual transference of the Holy Ghost through sound" Archbishop Frenzo

In 1965 Frenzo and Mary King were celebrating their wedding anniversary at a club in San Francisco when they first heard John Coltrane play. It clearly had a profound effect on them.

See, whenever I feel the divine power of Trane's music, I’ll pretend I own nothing by anyone else, and spend days chain-listening Trane records. That’s as dedicated as I get. Not Frenzo and King. They started a church in John Coltrane’s name.

Now, 50 years or so later, you can pick up "A Love Supreme" prayer cloth for $25,00 and a John Coltrane Long Burning Candle (howzabout that for imagery?) for $10,00 on the Fillmore church's ramshackle website.Though the more discerning collector may well hold back for the 'Everything Must Go', as just a few months back an eviction notice was posted on the church's doors. Shame because any church that opens service with a meditation to “A Love Supreme”, followed by a Coltrane Church band jam featuring Archbishop Frenzo on sax and Pastor Stephens on bass, is a church worth keeping.

2. Oscar Peterson: Music in the Key of Oscar (WM Cunningham, Sylvia Sweeney, 1995)

Confession: I can’t listen to an Oscar Peterson album all the way through without at least considering putting on a Ahmad Jamal one instead. I like Oscar and I know technique-wise he is right up there among jazz pianists, but that’s just how it is. Matters not. I watched this doc twice in a week, which is the sort of thing you did with “They Live” before you like grew up and stuff.

It’s a Shoe Zone cheap film, with some hideous 'suspenseful' background synth music in the interview scenes, and there is no filmmaking to speak of, but never mind all that…instead, drastically scale down your production standards and hear the stories; a number of which detail the depths of racism he had to overcome (the archive sound clips of announcers referring to him as ‘coloured boy’ or just ‘boy’ are disturbing).

Also, hear the music; there is substantial and precious footage here for the Peterson enthusiasts. This would be his very last tour before a stroke near-paralysed his left hand for the remainder of his career.

3. A Portrait of Mal Waldron (Tom Van Overberghe, 1997)

There are eight very good reasons to watch this film:

  1. It opens with Max Roach telling Mal Waldron a Redd Foxx joke

  2. …then Max and Mal play some Monk

  3. Mal speaks like Lou Reed

  4. Jeanne Lee is in it! A lot.

  5. So is Andrew Cyrille! As much.

  6. Mal - flanked by Andrew Cyrille and Reggie Workman on either side – puffing away in his pink suit while the other two big him up

  7. Bizarre but ambitious bit of editing which starts with Mal discussing his time playing with Max's wife,, Abbey Lincoln, cut to archive of a young Abbey Lincoln singing in the Max Roach/Clifford Jordan band, cut to the opening scene from Spike Lee’s "Mo’ Better Blues" where a much older Abbey Lincoln scolds her son for his lackadaisical attitude to trumpet practice, and then cut back to Mal talking about pushy parents!

  8. Steve Lacy uses the word ‘propinquity’

4. Jimmy Smith (Klaus Wildenhahn, 1965)

Candidate for the best music doc I’ve ever seen. I’m sure if it had been made by the Maysles Brothers rather than the near-unknown, Klaus Wildenhahn, this would be a more widespread opinion.

Shot in late 1965, when Jimmy Smith’s trio – completed by guitarist Quentin Warren & drummer Billy Hart - traveled to Frankfurt to begin their European tour. They were followed by a small West German television crew, who probably couldn’t believe that they stumbled on this much gold. I say stumbled, but the filmmaking – and Rudolf Körösi’s photography in particular - is very accomplished. Right from Jimmy’s opening credit drive (there’s more than one way to do ‘a Bullit’), it’s obvious that this has far more finesse that most TV artist profiles.

I always suspected Jimmy was edgier than those album sleeve pictures in homely knits suggested, but I didn’t know he was quite so fiery. Particularly fascinating are the “No gimmicks” Beatles debate, the superbly realised “Satisfaction” sequence and Jimmy’s wife explaining her choices when he loses his temper.

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