Sunday afternoon was spent tapping my feet in the stalls of the London Barbican to the tantalising performance of ‘Louis Armstrong, Charlie Chaplin and the Birth of Jazz.’
A vast screen projected the new silent film by Dan Pritzker, depicting a historically evocative account of the young Louis Armstrong living in the red light district of New Orleans. On stage, a swinging and vivacious jazz ensemble, tooted out pieces from Wynton Marsalis. His scores came alive through the musical participation of other well known jazz musicians, including trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, saxophonist Wes Anderson and drummer Herlin Riley.
Pritzker’s black and white film portrayed captivatingly the young and charismatic Anthony Coleman, as Louis, running round the colourful backstreets of New Orleans, exposed to the darker elements of society during the early decades of the century. His evident blinding passion for his little hornet saw him carve out a path as a respected jazz musician which served as a source of income to look after his mother and baby sister.
He strikes up an unlikely friendship with a beautiful a mulatto prostitute, Grace (played by Shanti Lowry), struggling to look after herself and her baby. Her plight centres round the colourful relationship with the villainous Governor Perry (a sinister yet devilishly humorous Jackie Earle Haley), father to her child. Pritzker weaves in contentious sociological issues of racial inequalities, female subservience and widespread poverty.
The skill and energy of the musicians provided superb accompaniment. Pianist Ehud Acherie’s performance was a showstopper. The creole influence, with its upbeat tones, kept the audience captivated throughout. The relentless flow of well-devised pieces, mostly by Marsalis were entertaining renditions and interpretations of Armstrong’s own work.
This show is a perfect contemporary fusion of jazz and cinema. Its excellent jazz music and original cinematography makes it well worth seeing.