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.

Relying on a very simple, long-take-filmed-in-medium-shot style, this comic short is a mixture of historical documentation (seeing Dizz and Sahib together is a precious moment) and sheer nonsense. The ignorance towards jazz as an artistic form is somehow attached to most of the films we see from that period (or even today), A Date With Dizzy included, where Sahib Shihab, a great baritone sax player, is credited for alto sax!

You can watch this short film here:


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