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Author Topic: Scorsese, Eastwood and others "Keeping the Blues Alive"  (Read 10815 times)
KC
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« on: January 20, 2003, 11:46:36 AM »

 8) This article was on the Op Ed page of today's New York Times.

Quote
Keeping the Blues Alive
By BOB HERBERT

"The sun's gonna shine in my back door some day. The wind's gonna rise and blow my blues away." — Tommy Johnson

The United States Senate has declared (with unintended irony) that 2003 is the "Year of the Blues." It has urged the president to issue a proclamation to that effect.

It's very difficult to overstate the cultural importance of the blues, which have been around about 100 years, were crucial to the overall development of jazz and gave birth about a half-century ago to a boisterous new music called rock 'n' roll.

The blues, powerful and bitter and mean and hopeful and funny, grew out of the brutally degraded condition of black Americans in the early decades of the 20th century. The music was like a salve to the raw wounds of men and women working literally like slaves in the cotton fields and corn fields of the Mississippi Delta, or struggling against the dire poverty and grotesque racism of other Deep South venues, or trying to survive on domestic and janitorial work in the unforgiving environs of the industrial north.

These were lives condemned to poverty and tragedy and desperation. Opportunities were few and life expectancies were pathetically short. And yet the people endured. The blues provided the soundtrack.

"I got to keep moving," sang Robert Johnson, perhaps the greatest bluesman of them all. "I got to keep moving, blues falling down like hail, blues falling down like hail. . . . And the day keeps 'minding me, there's a hellhound on my trail, hellhound on my trail, hellhound on my trail."

Now hold onto your hats, folks, because that music is about to make a comeback.

The filmmaker Martin Scorsese and some of his associates are raising the curtain today on a dandy project. "This is special," he said in an interview last week.

Mr. Scorsese and six other directors, including Wim Wenders, Mike Figgis and Clint Eastwood, are nearing completion of seven feature-length films about the blues. Excerpts from five of the films will be shown today at the Sundance Film Festival.

All seven films will be shown on PBS next fall as the centerpiece of an even bigger project called "Year of the Blues." This will include a 13-part public radio series on the history of the blues, a companion book of rarely seen archival material, and a traveling blues exhibition and education program that the sponsors hope will reach up to five million children.

The "Year of the Blues" will begin more or less officially with a benefit concert at Radio City Music Hall in New York on Feb. 7.

The film project began about five years ago when Mr. Scorsese was the executive producer on a concert film with Eric Clapton in which footage of blues musicians from the past was used. From that, said Mr. Scorsese, "came the idea of doing a series of films that would honor the history of the blues."

The films are not straight narratives, or documentaries, but rather what Mr. Scorsese calls "interpretive, personal looks at the blues."

"The idea," he said, "was to take the archival footage, and then to take journeys, interpretive looks at the blues, and create an awareness for young people that, first, this is an art form, and then to understand how it happened, where it came from and how it continues."

Mr. Scorsese's film, "From Mali to Mississippi," is not yet finished. "I hope to complete it by March," he said. It goes all the way back to the antecedents of the blues on "the banks of the Niger River in Mali" and then follows the progression of the music to the cotton fields and juke joints of the Mississippi Delta.

The blues somehow flourished in those fields of oppression and went on to nurture nearly every form of popular American music that followed.

In his book "Deep Blues," Robert Palmer described a visit he made in 1979 to the Mississippi Delta home of Joe Rice Dockery, who had inherited from his father the remnants of a plantation on which an astonishing number of great blues musicians had lived and played.

Mr. Dockery had grown up on the plantation but had never heard the music.

"None of us gave much thought to this blues thing until a few years ago," he said. "In other words, we never heard these people sing. We were never the type of plantation owners who invited their help to come in and sing for parties. I wish we had realized that these people were so important."
 

Thanks to Bruce Ricker, who worked on Eastwood's film, for sending this along to me. For the record, the three directors not mentioned in the story are Charles Burnett, Leslie Harris and Marc Levin.    

KC
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Doug
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« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2003, 07:20:30 PM »

Cool, KC, thanks for sharing.  I particularly love the early blues, so Scorsese's movie looks like it'll be fascinating.  Robert Johnson's story has all the makings for an award winning movie, if the right script and director can be matched up.  Seeing how Clint handled Charlie Parker's story, he would be #1 on my list, but I doubt he would do it.  Maybe Spike Lee....  
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« Reply #2 on: January 23, 2003, 12:32:08 PM »

Great,  ;D ;D !!!!!!!!!
 Wim Wenders is Dutch and he makes excellent films. He made a documentary on the Buena Vista Social Club and it's very well done. A bit in the style of Clint, would be neat if they would make something together.
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« Reply #3 on: January 27, 2003, 02:25:17 AM »

Wim Wenders IS Dutch?????????????????? ;D


And the Dutch did win the World Cup 2002    ;) ;)
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« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2003, 07:19:32 AM »

According to the IMDb, Wenders was born in "Düsseldorf, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany" ... just like Heinrich Heine. Perhaps he's of Dutch ancestry.

He started his film career in Germany with such classics of the New German Cinema as Der Angst des Tormannes beim Elfmeter (1971) and Falsche Bewegung (1974); for U.S. moviegoers, probably his best known film was Der Himmel über Berlin (Wings of Desire, 1987), which featured a couple of shabby angels in the still divided city, and Peter Falk "as himself." Since the 80s he's also worked in the U.S., e.g. Paris, Texas (1984) and The End of Violence (1997).

It will be interesting to see his take on the blues.
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« Reply #5 on: January 27, 2003, 03:05:57 PM »

Yes, we did win the worldcup 2002 and world war 2 too !!!!!
Oops my mistake, i read somewhere that he was Dutch........It is quiet a Dutch name too........
Glad we still have (had) Van Gogh (he's Dutch right ????, or wrong again ??????) ;D
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« Reply #6 on: July 18, 2003, 10:24:27 AM »

The website for this feature is now up over at PBS.com.

Clint's feature will air Saturday, October 4.

Synopsis:
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Piano Blues - Director - and piano player - Clint Eastwood (Play Misty for Me, Bird, Unforgiven) explores his life-long passion for the piano blues, using a treasure trove of rare historical acts as well as interviews and performances by such living legends as Pinetop Perkins and Jay McShann, as well as Dave Brubeck and Marcia Ball.

Information and a promotional clip for the series can be found here.
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« Reply #7 on: August 03, 2003, 10:16:53 AM »

Can't wait for this...

Robert Johnson is the FOUNDER of rock and roll...

Dave Brubeck Rules...  I have plenty of his CD's  Take Five is my favorite...
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« Reply #8 on: August 15, 2003, 01:28:35 PM »

I agree ... to me, the blues are the soulful core of nearly all worthwhile American (or American-based) music.    
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« Reply #9 on: September 04, 2003, 11:17:31 AM »

Taken from The Californian.com (HERE)

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Clint Eastwood's new film to premiere at jazz festival

By Tom Leyde

The Monterey Jazz Festival is approaching faster than a nuclear-powered trombone slide, and this year's party looks like another great one.

Besides the great music and food, this year's festival will feature a new film directed by Clint Eastwood.

Titled "Piano Blues," the film is one of seven in a PBS series called "The Blues," produced by filmmaker Martin Scorsese. The series was developed in conjunction with the declaration of 2003 as "The Year of the Blues" by Congress.


The series premieres Sept. 28. But you'll get a sneak preview of Eastwood's contribution at its jazz festival premiere on Sept. 21.

"Piano Blues" features interviews with Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Dr. John and other pianists as well as footage of historical blues artists. It debuts Oct. 4 on PBS.

In an interview on the series' Web site (www.pbs.org/theblues), Eastwood says:

"The blues has always been part of my musical life and the piano has a special place, beginning when my mother brought home all of Fats Waller's records. Also, the music has always played a part in my movies. A piano blues documentary gives me a chance to make a film that is more directly connected to the subject of the music than the features that I have been doing throughout my career."

Eastwood goes on to say:

"My love for blues continued while I was growing up in Oakland. On the radio and on records, I heard great piano players like Art Tatum, George Shearing, Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner, as well as the boogie-woogie piano players, such as Clarence "Pine Top" Smith, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade "Lux" Lewis and Jay McShann. There was a musical scene that allowed all kinds of styles to flourish, including gospel, which is where I think much of the blues started in the churches of the South."

After "Piano Blues" is screened, Eastwood will appear on a panel with McShann, who is featured in the film, and the co-producer of "The Blues" project.
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« Reply #10 on: September 16, 2003, 07:10:05 PM »

The Piano Blues soundtrack cd will
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feature new recordings of classic blues songs by contemporary artists, including Bonnie Raitt, The Electric Mud Kats (featuring Chuck D.), Jeff Beck, Lucinda Williams, Lou Reed, Nick Cave, Cassandra Wilson, Los Lobos and others.  (source)

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« Reply #11 on: September 17, 2003, 06:07:41 PM »

I hope there's clips of Otis Spann, the best blues piano player ever, in my opinion.
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« Reply #12 on: September 19, 2003, 06:07:04 AM »

As the co-producer of Piano Blues, I wish to advise the person above that there is over 5 minutes of Otis Spann playing the piano on screen . Also, there is rare footage of Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, Art Tatum, Pete Johnson, Oscar Peterson, Nat King Coleand new footage of Eastwood with Ray Charles, Dr. John, Dave Brubeck and jay McShann. It should be noted that Ray Charles and Clint Eastwood were both born in 1930. The DVD of the documentary will be available  on Oct. 14 thru SONY. Air date is Oct 4, Sat nationwide on PBS.

Bruce Ricker
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« Reply #13 on: September 19, 2003, 06:33:08 AM »

Thanks! We're all looking forward to it!
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« Reply #14 on: September 23, 2003, 07:51:37 PM »

Article in the Monterey Herald (HERE)

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Festival ends on the upbeat
By VICTORIA MANLEY

Most of the audience didn't seem to notice that their make-shift auditorium was crowded, stuffy, and hotter than the 90-degree weather outside.

That's because they were jazz fans, watching one of the world's most famous jazz fans, as he talked to jazz greats.

"The blues is the basis of everything," Clint Eastwood told them in his latest film, "Piano Blues."

"I always thought that the blues was a true American art form. It may be the only true American art form we have."

"Piano Blues" isn't your typical Eastwood film. There's no grit, no guns. Just music, performed by the musicians whom Eastwood considers some of the absolute best.

His documentary, "Piano Blues," is one of seven films in a series produced by Martin Scorsese. The series, "The Blues," will premiere Sunday on PBS. Eastwood's 90-minute film will conclude the series Oct. 4. More information on the series can be obtained by visiting its Web site www.pbs.org/theblues/.

The documentary -- which features interviews conducted by Eastwood with Ray Charles, Jay McShann, Dave Brubeck, Marcia Ball and Pinetop Perkins -- debuted Sunday at the Monterey Jazz Festival before a packed audience of more than 500 spectators.

Following the film's screening, Eastwood participated a panel discussion with McShann, who also performed at the festival, and Richard Hutton of Vulcan Productions, which produced the film. It was led by freelance music writer Dan Ouellette

When he was approached about directing the film, Eastwood said, "I thought, why not? I'll just concentrate on the keyboard, the piano.

"I didn't have anything in mind," he said. "I just wanted to tell (the history) mostly through the music. I want the music to speak for itself. Audiences aren't stupid -- they'll learn as they listen to the music."

The approach, he said, was intended to offer audiences more than short soundbytes: "This was meant to be the anti-MTV."

Eastwood has expressed his love for jazz before. Before Hollywood, he could often be found in San Francisco Bay Area nightclubs, in the audience and sometimes on stage at a piano.

The music has played a recurring supporting role in many of his movies. Even on the Monterey Peninsula, the longtime resident and former Carmel mayor has made clear his devotion to jazz as a member of the jazz festival's board of directors.

Eastwood began shooting the documentary about a year ago. His interviews with McShann and Brubeck were filmed at the bar at Mission Ranch, which Eastwood owns.

A member of the audience Sunday asked Eastwood if making the documentary was easier than his usual blockbusters. He said it was "much more difficult."

"This is mainly an editing job. The star of this is the (editing)."

Another asked Eastwood if his love for the blues was related to his time in political office. "It probably does," he joked. "I was mayor for two years, and probably was in a constant state of the blues."

But Eastwood was only half-kidding. "Blues relates to everything," he said.

McShann said he was pleased with the film for a very simple reason: "I like it because it's playing the blues."

More than that, panelists agreed, is that the film and the series may introduce blues to a young generation raised on pop music and MTV.

"You get so tired of these rock groups with 16 guitar players and a drummer," Eastwood said. "Don't people play other instruments anymore?"

The show may even inspire some young musicians, McShann said.

"Some of the greatest musicians we have don't get to express themselves," he said. "Each person has their own voice, and they let themselves loose when they feel it's time to."
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« Reply #15 on: September 25, 2003, 06:35:28 AM »

Here is an Associated Press story on this series, as published in the Miami Herald (and many other papers, I'm sure):

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Posted on Wed, Sep. 24, 2003  
 
Eastwood, Scorsese get the blues on PBS
LYNN ELBER
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES - What would lure a high-flying filmmaker like Clint Eastwood into making a documentary for PBS? The blues, nothing but the blues.

Eastwood, Martin Scorsese and five more directors offer their visions of the great American art form in "The Blues," a seven-part series airing 9 p.m. EDT Sunday, Sept. 28, through Saturday, Oct. 4 (check local listings).

The blues-lovers' extravaganza opens with "Feel Like Going Home," in which Scorsese tracks the music's origins from Africa to the juke joints of the Mississippi Delta, and concludes with Eastwood's "Piano Blues."

In between are "The Soul of a Man" by Wim Wenders; "The Road to Memphis" by Richard Pearce; "Warming by the Devil's Fire" by Charles Burnett; "Godfathers and Son" by Marc Levin and "Red, White and Blues" by Mike Figgis.

Scorsese, the impetus behind the series, is inspired by music in general and the blues in particular.

"It's sort of scored my life in a way, and I think it's pretty evident in the movies I make," he told a news conference in July.

As with documentaries he's made about the movies, Scorsese ("Taxi Driver," "Goodfellas," "Gangs of New York") said, "The Blues" is a means of honoring the music's power, its contribution to society and "how it all began."

As bluesman Willie Dixon famously put it: "The blues is the roots. Everything else is the fruits." Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith and B.B. King are among the artists featured in "The Blues" and its companion book, Web site and CD.

The directors approached for the film shared certain qualifications, including documentary experience and, most importantly, love of the blues.

"This is one of those projects that there's no reason to do unless you're passionate about the subject," executive producer Margaret Bodde, a longtime Scorsese collaborator, said from New York.

Eastwood is a musician who has scored his own movies. A young Figgis was in a 1960s blues band that included future Roxy Music star Bryan Ferry as lead singer.

The project's roots can be found in Scorsese's documentary "Nothing But the Blues," which intercut a 1995 blues concert by Eric Clapton with archival blues footage.

"We felt we had just scratched the surface, there was so much rich history there," said Bodde. Rather than an encyclopedic approach, they envisioned taking on the blues as "artists would look at something, from an emotional and an impressionistic standpoint."

The filmmakers divided the subject up, in broad strokes, by geography and era and by their own preferences. Eastwood came aboard after specifying his desire to focus on piano blues, a part of his life since hearing his mother's Fats Waller records.

"We obviously didn't want seven filmmakers each making a film about Robert Johnson," said series producer Alex Gibney. "I think there was a rough sense of flow ... but the key thing was that once a director had his own territory, he had complete freedom within that territory to operate."

Burnett ("The Wedding," "Selma, Lord, Selma") was the first filmmaker approached.

"It was kind of daunting in a way. It's a great project and you really want to do it, but then reality sets in: 'Oh, my God, how are we going to do it?'" said Burnett, whose focus was on the post-Civil War period to the early 1900s and includes the rise of blueswomen.

"What I wanted to do was take the point of view of a blues player - how he would treat it if asked to do a film about the blues?" he said. "He would play with it like blues players do the music, and talk about it from a personal standpoint."

Born in Vicksburg, Miss., and raised in Los Angeles, Burnett saw firsthand how the honest, earthy style of music was both embraced and condemned by the black community.

"It was the devil's music, and there were a lot of things in it that kids shouldn't hear or decent people shouldn't hear or do," he said. "There was a lot of tension."

It was Europe's embrace that helped keep the music alive when Americans snubbed it for the emerging, blues-based sounds of rock 'n' roll in the 1950s, Bodde said. Rare footage was located for the film in the archives of British and German television.

For each director involved with "The Blues," the goal was a "vibrant interplay between past and present. We didn't want to make films about wonderful music that happened in the past and is gone," she said.

Contemporary performers influenced by the blues tradition are featured, including Jeff Beck, Bonnie Raitt and Lucinda Williams.

Familiarity with the blues isn't necessary to enjoy the series. "The only thing it does require is that you're interested and you like music and you're moved by music in some way," Bodde said.

Filmmaker Burnett hopes viewers appreciate the true value of what early blues artists created.

"They lived in eras when life was harsh. Yet, although most were uneducated, they produced this wonderful music that illuminated the human experience and how one can survive."

Contact Lynn Elber at lelber@ap.org

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« Reply #16 on: September 30, 2003, 06:29:56 AM »

Just wanted to remind everyone that this series began airing THIS WEEK. Martin Scorsese's and Wim Wenders's episodes have been shown already. I've found several articles in the press about the series, and I'll post the Eastwood-related parts here.

From the Kansas City Star (by Robert W. Butler):

Quote
"Piano Blues" (airs Saturday):

Clint Eastwood begins his film by delivering a quick history of the piano and stating, without equivocation, that it is the king of instruments and the foundation of all music.

He comes pretty close to making his case.

Of all the episodes of "The Blues," this is the most joyous, the most unrestrained, the most spontaneous. Eastwood, himself an accomplished pianist, quite obviously is nuts about the other keyboard players he features here, and his pleasure at being in their company is infectious.

By standard documentary criteria, "Piano Blues" is a bit shaky. As an interviewer, Eastwood is a pretty good movie star -- which is to say he nods happily at whatever his subjects utter and rarely pitches a question that requires anything more than the most cliched response.

But the music! It's spirited, sublime, moving, funny and altogether transporting.

The film effortlessly weaves together both new performances and archival ones, and Eastwood has the good sense to simply let the musicians do their things uninterrupted.

In the studio he captures such greats as Ray Charles, Kansas City's own Jay McShann (whose show-stopping rendition of "Kewpie Doll" elicits a hilarious comment from Eastwood), Pinetop Perkins, Dr. John and Marcia Ball. He also goes out on a limb by bringing in some players generally thought of as strictly jazz artists. But darned if Dave ("Take Five") Brubeck doesn't prove himself an inspired blues pianist.

The archival performances are killers: Fats Domino, Ray Charles pounding out a seminal "What'd I Say," Professor Longhair, Dorothy Donegan, Charles Brown, Otis Spann. Again, Eastwood also turns to players usually associated with jazz -- Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Nat "King" Cole, Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson, Thelonious Monk -- to make his point that "the blues is the basis of everything."

"Piano Blues" offers an uplifting and hugely tuneful finale to the series and leaves you with the conviction that, yeah, the piano is king.
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« Reply #17 on: September 30, 2003, 06:32:14 AM »

From the Chicago Sun-Times (by Jeff Johnson):

Quote
"Piano Blues"

Director: Clint Eastwood; Airing: 8 p.m. Saturday

Eastwood obviously comes to "The Blues" with a background that's more mainstream Hollywood and less documentary-oriented than most of these other filmmakers. It's a surprise, then, that he follows the documentary format religiously, albeit informally. An accomplished musician, Eastwood sits at the piano bench and kibitzes, playing along occasionally with many of the pianists he most admires, including Ray Charles, Jay McShann, Dr. John, Marcia Ball and Dave Brubeck. Much like Figgis' take on Union Jack blues, "Piano Blues" is largely anecdotal. But what stories these artists can tell! And Eastwood, who himself has practiced the 88s enough to get to Carnegie Hall, is great at bringing out their personalities, his easygoing conversational style belying his excitement in discussing a subject so close to his heart. Maybe a few Delta blues lovers will quibble with Eastwood's expanded definition of the music to include jazz and pop artists, but they're missing the bigger picture -- that the blues has influenced the direction of almost all American music. Rating: ***1/2
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« Reply #18 on: September 30, 2003, 06:36:29 AM »

And from The Advocate (by John Wirt):

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The series saves the best for last. Airing Saturday, Clint Eastwood's affectionate Piano Blues presents a brilliant parade of pianists. The unobtrusive Eastwood balances his program between intimate new interviews and performances and exciting film montages of such classic artists as Charles Brown, boogie-woogie players Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons, swing and boogie pianist Dorothy Donegan and many more. The new stuff includes a delightful, single-piano duet by aged blues man Jay McShann and jazz pianist Dave Brubeck.

Ray Charles, Marcia Ball, Dr. John from New Orleans and Henry Gray from Baton Rouge (though the impression is that he's from New Orleans, too) are among Eastwood's contemporary players and interviewees. Using Dr. John as a reference point, the soft-spoken Eastwood cites the "celebratory sound" of New Orleans and the continuous contribution the city's pianists made to the blues. Sitting at a grand piano on the Eastwood Scoring Stage at Warner Bros., gravel-toned Dr. John tips his hat to Huey "Piano" Smith, Champion Jack Dupree, Professor Longhair and Fats Domino. The color film of Longhair, too, is extraordinary.

Thoughtful yet fun, Piano Blues ends The Blues on a high note.
(Emphasis added)

Enjoy it, everyone!  8)
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« Reply #19 on: October 04, 2003, 07:40:25 PM »

I just watched the special. It was very enjoyable. It looked like Eastwood and all the people he talked to had a good time while filming that.
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