Tag Archives: jazz

Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues (Sacha Jenkins, 2022)

PSA: Just highlighting the LOUIS ARMSTRONG’S BLACK AND BLUES documentary — currently on Apple — which I liked so much I plan on re-seeing it: there is marvellous archival footage: photographs of his youth, his collages, never-before-seen clips of him recording; the sight of his upper lip, bruised from playing the horn, and excerpts of the recordings he made of himself talking at home, sometimes alone, sometimes talking to friends. Armstrong’s been a figure in my life all my life, but I only intersected, entwined really, with his music in the late 80s after borrowing some of the compilations of his records with the Hot Five and the Hots Seven from the UEA library: Ain’t Misbehaving; Black and Blue; St. James Infirmary, Wild Man Blues and so many more. The movie has two axes: one revolves around showing some of his achievements, which I think too vast to be really calculable, the film can only offer evidence for a few – the notes he reached on his horn, say, though Wynston Marsalis is marvellous at illustrating this; the other revolves around accusations of Uncle Tomism by younger generations, including Ossie Davis. Davis remembers catching him offguard, tired and sad, and then when he came to, there was the smile, the grin, the face to white America; and Davis remembers how in that change he saw his ancestors, his father, himself; every black man who survived American racism. There’s a moment where Armstrong describes all the horrible things he endured; and the even worse things he saw and says, ‘and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it if I wanted to keep on breathing.’…All of that and more – the pain and a joy that seems transcendental – is of course in the music, at least for those who have learned how to listen to it. The film is good at demonstrating why Armstrong is one of the key cultural figures of the last century – a force really — and one of the most likeable.


José Arroyo

Eavesdropping at the Movies: 271 – Soul

Occupying some similar thematic terrain to Coco, Pixar’s 2017 masterpiece, Soul uses an afterlife-bound journey with a tight deadline to explore what it is that makes us human, in the context of a life devoted to music. When Joe, a music teacher and passionate jazz pianist, dies in a classic open manhole cover accident, his soul, now separated from his body but desperate to live, escapes an A Matter of Life and Death-inspired travelator to Heaven and ends up in the Great Before, a meadow populated with unborn souls preparing for their upcoming lives. Mistaken for a mentor, he is assigned 22, a cynical, sarcastic soul with no desire to live on Earth, and when he tries to return to his body, she accidentally comes with.

As well as to Coco, Mike finds Soul comparable to another of Pixar’s films: Soul handles philosophical concepts the way Inside Out did psychological ones, rendering them visually imaginative and narratively physical. ‘The zone’, where people describe themselves when feeling that transcendent state of flow when an activity consumes them, is in the Great Beyond a real place that Joe and 22 visit; the unborn souls develop personality traits signified by Boy Scout-style badges. The storytelling is economical and concise, characters’ priorities and attitudes smoothly and legibly changing as their goals and relationships shift. It’s a beautifully told story.

José considers the social and economic setting of Joe’s life, the music he loves and the barber he visits, about whose life he learns – the film humanely understands people and hardship without wallowing in despair, finding space for joy. We wonder how well it will play to kids, thrilled that Pixar refuses to speak down to its audience, if a little unsure about how much will translate to the younger members of its target audience. Predictably, Mike finished the film in tears, despite an ending he found to be overly mechanical and inorganic.

Soul is a beautiful, wonderful film. To José, it’s a masterpiece. To Mike, possibly not, but only because Coco exists. See it.

Andrew Griffith has brought to out attention this article you may also find interesting about rumblings of discontent in relation to the film and why it’s turned out surprisingly polarasing.

The podcast can be listened to in the player above or on iTunes.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.