Back in the forties, jazz was still very much caught in the shadow of its mothering countries determination that it was "the Devil's music", and so was very often neglected to being heard only in brothels, cheap bars, or if chance would have it, at home on your own record player should you have been so fortunate to have such money combined with a lack of reverence for current social climate. So, while it was becoming common during Cinema's golden age to slap out these jazz/blues musical shorts produced on low budgets and screened for the sake of making any buck the production company could, the experience of going to see this music performed on a giant screen where stars like Bogart and Hepburn would grace nevertheless was a fantastic one. Nowadays of course, jazz is very much regarded as stuffy old-man music that university professors and neurotic Jewish comedians listen to in between Strauss and Brahms. Not only this, but our very own 21st century devil music has hours upon hours of footage devoted to it, live, staged or otherwise—most of which exceeds the budget for Jammin' the Blues by staggering amounts. Why then, when watching this sixty year old relic do I get the impression that most music productions from here on in went down, rather than up- hill? The answer of course lies heavily in taste; many teenagers these days will look at this stuff and laugh before logging into YouTube and watching the latest Chipmunk music video, drooling over the tits, ass and "bling". But then, you have to wonder if said video would ever be considered by the United States National Film Registry as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". The answer, in all likelihood, is a blunt and simple no. But, I have to ask, why?
Well, simply put, Jammin' the Blues, although ostensibly a music video in all respects, is a little more than that. It defines an era, and it does so with an artistry that many films of the time were only just discovering—mainly in France. Combining the rhythm and blues of this great jazz band consisting of Lester Young, Red Callender, Harry Edison, Marlowe Morris, Sid Catlett, Barney Kessel (who, being the only white man in the band, had to be casted in shadow as to preserve the nation's delirium that white and black people could not coexist in such a unit), Jo Jones, John Simmons, Illinois Jacquet, Marie Bryant, Archie Savage and Garland Finney, with the stylish film-noir-type cinematography implemented by first-time director Gjon Mili (primarily known for his still photography until this time), Jammin' the Blues not only captures these great musicians at their peak, but also defines a musical and social era, as well as a cinematic one. Opening with a simple shot relaying the titles for the film gradually pulling back to reveal Lester Young's hat just as he takes the lead before divulging in many great shots highlighting each of the players in interesting and complementary angles, Mili achieves something unique and interesting to watch, something that's culturally significant and, well, downright entertaining at the same time. Most importantly however is that it's perhaps one of the most succinct and memorable miniature portraits of the jazz-age (little of which was deemed appropriate for the screen until long after its heyday) known to exist. For that reason amongst a multitude of others, Jammin' the Blues is a rare treat for all music and cinema fans alike, offering ten minutes with Young and Callender and the gang as they tear it up one more time for old time's sake.