Monday, July 28, 2008

A jazz DVD: In review

A different version of this review is also available on (Check out the link to the right.)

I watched the movie " 'Round Midnight" last night. It's about a fictional jazz saxophonist who goes to Paris to rediscover his music and get his career and life back on track. Dexter Gordon, one of my favorite saxophonists, does an admirable job in the role of the main character, Dale Turner. Herbie Hancock, who plays in the backing band on screen, did the sound track, and it is awesome. Of course, when you're a Grammy winner and have Grammy winning material that you can throw in here and there at will, it is bound to make any sound track jam, and I really liked being able to catch licks of Watermelon Man and Cantaloupe Island here and there in the background. When the band plays, the likes of Freddie Hubbard and Bobby Hutcherson and Pierre Michelot, among others, play the roles of the musicians, so I assume they played on most of the sound track as well. Whatever, because they are real musicians, the band scenes come off real well. I appreciate a movie about music that sees to the details enough to get actual musicians as actors, not only for the extra dimension it gives to the artist, but also for the dose of realism it lends to the setting and action. (I hate when the drummer or pianist isn't playing what you're hearing on screen. It ruins a movie for me when something as minor as that is so sloppy, especially when there are all kinds of devices to make it look realistic, even without hiring musicians as actors.)

Really, the only thing wrong with the movie is that because it is a work of fiction based on some things that happened to a number of different musicians, it failed to engage me and I just didn't care about the tragedy that befell the characters. I mean, about halfway through, when the French guy is trying to appeal to the Dexter Gordon character to straighten up and fly right, he says, "Your music changed my life." What? "His music?" Who is he? He's played nothing but standards, and as good as the playing was and the sound track is, if that was enough to change your life, well buddy, I'd've hate to have met you before you discovered his music. To be fair, I wouldn't have appreciated a biopic of a real jazz musician, and that wasn't what I was expecting, but I think there needed to be some more story development in order to make us care about the people on screen. You know, in the '60's, famous jazz musicians were dropping like flies every other month because of being done in by their vices. (Yes, that's an exaggeration, but you know what I mean.) So what if it happens to some guy in a movie?

Still, the good outweighs the bad. Herbie's sound track is great and Dexter Gordon is the best jazz musician-actor ever to hit the big screen. He's real and intelligent, and that is just enough to make me feel like I didn't waste my time watching this movie.

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