Jammin’ the Blues is a 1944 short film in which several prominent jazz musicians got together for a rare filmed jam session. It features Lester Young, Red Callender, Harry Edison, Marlowe Morris, Sid Catlett, Barney Kessel, Jo Jones, John Simmons, Illinois Jacquet, Marie Bryant, Archie Savage and Garland Finney. Barney Kessel is the only white musician in the film. He was seated in the shadows to shade his skin, and for closeups, his hands were dyed with berry juice.
The movie was artfully directed by famed still photographer Gjon Mili, edited by Everett Dodd, with lighting and photography directed by Robert Burks (his first credit in this field), and released by Warner Bros. Producer Gordon Hollingshead was nominated for an Academy Award in the category of Best Short Subject, One-reel.
Working with Harold Eugene Edgerton of MIT, Mili was a pioneer in the use of stroboscopic instruments to capture a sequence of actions in one photograph. Mili did not serve as cinematographer for this film, but Blues uses multiplied images that in many ways recall the multi-image still-frames done with the strobe. The imaginative use of the camera makes this film a minor landmark in the way that musicians have been filmed.
In 1995, Jammin’ the Blues was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Jammin’ the Blues appears on the DVDs Passage to Marseille (2006) and Norman Granz: Improvisation (2007).
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