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REPORT | Louis Armstrong Gets His Due & More Jazz On Film At TIFF22

By Anya Wassenberg on September 12, 2022

Still from 'Louis Armstrong's Black & Blues' (Photo courtesy of TIFF)
Still from ‘Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues’ (Photo courtesy of TIFF)

Jazz lovers get a treat at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2022, with both documentaries and features that explore the art form in various ways.

Mini Review: Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues (director Sacha Jenkins)

Louis Armstrong — innovative artist, groundbreaking jazz musician…and laughingstock to subsequent generations. The work and career of Satchmo, with that beloved smiling face and blown out trumpet cheeks, are under the spotlight in this Apple original documentary.

Director Sacha Jenkins has combined vintage footage, contemporary voices in commentary — including Armstrong’s fourth wife Lucille, and other artists like Wynston Marsalis — and, best of all, Satchmo himself in extensive taped excerpts. It turns out that Armstrong became enamoured of recording technology early on, and kept a vast library of both music and conversations with many other artists.

Born in poverty in New Orleans, Armstrong got his first trumpet when he entered an orphanage at age 13. He played on the streets, and quickly became part of the city’s vibrant jazz scene. There was only one problem: being Black in Jim Crow’s South. Being restricted to playing in NOLA’s red light district, when that got shut down by city authorities, it put Armstrong and 200 other Black musicians out of work.

It’s just one incident where the ugly shadow of racism fell over his career. Nonetheless, with support and talent to spare, Louis Armstrong rose to the top of the heap, pioneering jazz vocals as we know them today, and introducing elements into his music that moved away from Western harmonies towards the African roots of jazz. He was a success, a trailblazer who forced racist hotels in Jim Crow’s South to accept him, and played to and with white audiences and artists.

It was during the Civil Rights era that his image became tarnished in the minds of many Black artists and others. Wynton Marsalis describes being angry at what he saw as Satchmo’s passive and submissive acceptance — his hamming it up on camera, and singing to horses in movies — of the status quo at the time. But, one by one, Marsalis and other celebrities describe their growing appreciation for the man and his music.

Certainly, Armstrong’s spicy and NSFW outbursts, captured for posterity in his tape recordings, dispel any notion that he was passive, or that he accepted second place treatment. He fought to get properly paid and treated every step of the way.

He chose to keep his politics largely to himself, displaying that ever-smiling face for public consumption, even though, as he pointed out on camera, he had quietly helped to fund Civil Rights initiatives. It’s a shame he was misunderstood for it.

  • Why you should see it: In a nutshell, it’s a portrait of an innovative artist who learned how to survive and thrive in a racist environment.
  • TIFF screenings here.
  • Where else to see it: An Apple original production, it will premiere on Apple TV on October 28, 2022.

More Jazz on Film

Miúcha, The Voice of Bossa Nova / Miúcha, a Voz da Bossa Nova (directors Daniel Zarvos, Liliane Mutti)

Heloísa Maria Buarque de Hollanda, known as Miúcha, was central to the development of Brazilian bossa nova in the late 1950s. The marriage of traditional Brazilian samba and jazz became an international sensation, but subsequently, its origins have largely been credited to male composers, and not artists like Miúcha. She was sister to Chico Buarque, pupil of Vinicius de Moraes, second wife of João Gilberto, musical partner of Antônio Carlos Jobim, and she sang with Stan Getz’s saxophone. This movie aims to set the record straight, with access to personal documents, audio diaries, home movies and much more.

  • Why you should see it: for the music and behind the scenes look at Brazilian jazz.
  • TIFF screenings here.

The Umbrella Men (director John Barker)

Comedy, crime, music, and the struggles of Cape Malay in South Africa come together in this fictional caper flick by South African director John Barker. Cape Malay are South African Muslim people of Indonesian origins. The titular Umbrella Men are a brass band who perform at a club, and at the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival held every January 2. It was the only day that the Dutch colonists allowed the Malay, who’d been brought to South Africa as slaves, to have a holiday. When the club is threatened with foreclosure, a bank heist seems like the only way to save it, as well as the unique music of the minstrel show itself.

  • Why you should see it: an entertaining blend of crime, comedy, and a unique musical genre.
  • TIFF screenings here.

A Jazzman’s Blues (director Tyler Perry)

Director Tyler Perry has made a lot of movies since he wrote the screenplay for this story, a passion project that’s taken years to put together. It’s a sweeping story about a murder mystery and forbidden love that’s punctuated by musical numbers. Songs are composed by Terence Blanchard, with choreography by Debbie Allen, for an epic tale about love, tragedy, and danger. It’s a departure from Perry’s usual popular comedies, with underlying themes about the resilience of Black culture.

  • Why you should see it: given Perry’s resources, and the talent involved, chances are it should prove to be well worth the price of admission.
  • TIFF screenings here.


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