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With: Quincy Jones, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Buck Clayton
Written by: Jean Bach, Susan Peehl, Matthew Seig
Directed by: Jean Bach
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 60
Date: 09/27/1994

A Great Day in Harlem (1994)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Jazz Men

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A Great Day in Harlem is one of the films that was nominated for Best Documentary instead of Hoop Dreams. It's a fine film and runs only an hour as apposed to Hoop's three. It deals with a legendary, almost magical photograph taken in 1959 for Esquire magazine, gathering over 50 jazz musicians, including legends like Dizzy Gillespie (who was interviewed shortly before he died), Charles Mingus, Lester Young, Count Basie and Thelonious Monk. As the movie progresses, we see rare 8mm footage of the day, and come to understand how nearly impossible it would have been to not only get all these players together at one time, at 10 in the morning, but to get them to stand still. We see other photographs and hear some great music. The rest of the movie interviews the surviving players reminiscing about the ones who are gone. It's too bad that the film's brief running time is devoted more to remembering, rather than music. (Newcomers would have no idea what it is that made someone like Gilespie a legend.) Yet the film is alive and keeps moving briskly. It makes you feel excited and awestruck. It may not convert anyone to jazz, but it's a good place to try. (Note: the DVD runs a lot longer.)

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