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Film / Jammin' the Blues

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Jammin' the Blues is a 1944 Short Film produced by Warner Bros., directed by Gjon Mili. It is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, namely, a blues/jazz jam session that was recorded on film. A group of musicians perform three songs: "Midnight Symphony", "On the Sunny Side of the Street", and the improvisational "Jammin' the Blues".

Jammin' the Blues is noteworthy for its All-Star Cast of 1940s jazz musicians. Performers playing the session include saxophonist Lester Young, Harry Edison on trumpet, Marlowe Morris on piano, and many others.

Compare 1960 feature film Jazz on a Summer's Day, a concert film documenting the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. Drummer Jo Jones is in both films.


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Tropes:

  • Blackface: There was one white musician in the group: guitarist Barney Kessel. He's hidden in the shadows, but when the camera found his hands for a close-up, they're stained with berry juice.
  • Breaking the Fourth Wall: Drummer Jo Jones looks straight at the camera in the very last second of the film, as the performance ends and after The End has already popped up onscreen.
  • The Chanteuse: Marie Bryant sings the middle song of the set, "On the Sunny Side of the Street". The first and third pieces are instrumentals.
  • Chiaroscuro: Most of the film is shot dark and shadowy, except for when Marie Bryant shows up to sing "On the Sunny Side of the Street". The set is well-lit when she's on screen.
  • Concert Film: A filmed jam session.
  • Impractical Musical Instrument Skills: Lester Young was well-known for playing his saxophone at odd, unnatural angles and can be seen doing it less than a minute into this film.
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  • Narrator: Someone who isn't listed in the credits is heard at the beginning of the short saying "This is a jam session" and explaining that musicians "quite often get together and play" and that "it could be called a midnight symphony". Then he stays quiet for the rest of the short.
  • Rule of Cool: Did Sid Catlett, the first drummer, need to throw his drumstick up in the air, so that second drummer Jo Jones could catch it and start playing the third song without missing a beat? No, he didn't need to.
  • Smoking Is Cool: Let's be honest, it looks cool when Lester Young plays his sax with a lit cigarette still in his hand, and all the cigarette smoke drifting around certainly helps set the cool atmosphere.
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