Friday, August 20, 2021

Duke Ellington in Isfahan

A shot from Duke Ellington in Isfahan

Duke Ellington in Isfahan is a short film that the author of this blog (Ehsan Khoshbakht) made in 2018 and slightly reworked in 2021 for festival release. Featuring jazz historian and musician Alyn Shipton, it's an archive-based documentary.

This short documentary by the Iranian filmmaker, writer and archivist Ehsan Khoshbakht tells the story of Duke Ellington's concert tour of the Middle East in 1963 and the development of one of the most beautiful jazz standards.  

The legendary composer and bandleader was seen as the ideal cultural ambassador for the United States at the height of the Cold War, when President Eisenhower's desired perception of the US as a moral force for good in the world was being undermined by an awareness of its treatment of African-Americans. 

Arriving in Iran with his band, Ellington was inspired by the historical city of Isfahan and especially its architectural riches. It would give its name to one of the pianist's most enduring compositions, and the tour as a whole helped to shape a Grammy Award-winning album, Far East Suite, which showed how much Ellington had absorbed from the sounds of his travels.