Monday, August 17, 2009

Jammin’ The Blues (1944)

Director: Gjon Mili
Cinematography: Robert Burks.
Cast: Lester Young – on tenor sax, George ‘Red’ Callende on bass, Harry Edison – on trumpet, Marlowe Morris – on piano, Sidney Catlett – on drums, Barney Kessel – on guitar, Joe Jones – on drums, John Simmons – on bass, Illinois Jacquet, Marie Bryant – singer, and Archie Savage.

In 1944 Life magazine captured in a Warner Bros Hollywood studio the making of a jazz music short by an obscure 40 year-old still photographer born in Albania, Gjon Mili.

Gjon Mili (front left) on the set of Jammin' the Blues

This was to be Mili’s only directing credit and the 10 minute film of a group of black jazz musicians jamming was nominated for an Oscar in 1945, and in 1955 was entered into the National Film Registry of America.

The movie has been perfectly preserved and to me is the smoothest music short ever made. Totally avant-garde. The music and the singing is superb, and the direction amazingly modern. Cinematography was by the later Hitchcock stalwart Robert Burks on his very first DP assignment. There is a noir ambience to the film and each scene has a formal elegance that is enthralling. Gili has total command of his form, and the mise-en-scene and the continuity are impeccable. A must-see.