There’s something magical about capturing musicians on film that lets us revisit a certain era in a specific location, taking us back in time in a way that just can’t be matched through audio recordings. Without a doubt, jazz is all about the sound that comes out of musicians, but there’s something visceral about the art form that changes our perception when we see musicians in action. Being able to view a performance on film and then see the musicians talk about their art is a magical combination that can provide invaluable insights into the creative process and the jazz lifestyle. Fortunately, documentarians have been capturing jazz musicians on film for decades, and we’ve got some fantastic performances and footage with snippets of personality that are simply priceless. In some cases, these movies about jazz are well known and have been seen by generations of fans, while other films faded into obscurity, disappearing from our consciousness.
Video treasures rarely stay hidden in the digital age though, and a wonderful Latin Jazz documentary recently surfaced on YouTube that’s got some golden pieces of history captured on film. Created in 1991, Latin Jazz A New York features some impressive performances from well known musicians, as well as commentary and interviews that capture the scene in a an important time period where the music was transitioning towards a modern scene. The film features a good number of musicians that represent both the past and present of the music – that includes Eliane Elias’ trio with bassist Mark Johnson and drummer Bill Stewart, Danilo Perez’s trio with drummer Ignacio Berroa and bassist David Finck, late conguero Daniel Ponce’s band with pianist Oscar Hernandez, trumpet player Michael Mossman, and bassist Joe Santiago, Tito Puente’s Orchestra, the Chico O’Farrill Orchestra with pianist Arturo O’Farrill and conguero Candido Camero, saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera, and many more. The film includes some stunningly honest and exciting performances that highlight the passionate exuberance and deep artistry of the music as it emerged from New York in the early nineties.
There’s a lot of similarities between Latin Jazz A New York and Calle 54, an extremely popular documentary that showcased a number of the same musicians performing with much of the same fire and skill. While Calle 54 visited a lot of the same territory as Latin Jazz In New York, there’s a simple but important reason to watch both these documentaries – Calle 54 arrived nine years later, in 2000. Many of these musicians were still playing Latin Jazz, but their musical concept had matured and their performances took on different subtleties. It’s exciting to see the ways that these musicians changed in less than a decade and watching these two films in close proximity makes for a fascinating perspective upon Latin Jazz. There’s also a number of musicians that were only seen in one film or the other, so watching the two films exposes you to an impressive spectrum of artists. In many ways, these two documentaries share a lot of the same end goals and they resonate with the same passion for Latin Jazz; without a doubt, they’re both essential films that show the music coming alive with an unparalleled artistic vitality.
Produced by French film maker Karim Akadiri Soumaïla, Latin Jazz A New York clocks in at a little under an hour, and it’s a must-see for any Latin Jazz fan. The spoken language of the film is French, and even when the musicians speak in Spanish, there’s French sub-titles; if you don’t speak the language, you may miss some of the narration. The music certainly speaks for itself though, and even if you don’t speak French, you’re in for a treat. If you’ve got access to Calle 54, it makes a great companion piece to Latin Jazz A New York that’s both inspiring and thought provoking. This is a true treasure that captures a wonderful snippet of Latin Jazz history; I’ve embedded Latin Jazz A New York below – enjoy!
Check out some recordings from the musicians featured on Latin Jazz A New York:
Providencia, Danilo Perez
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