User Reviews (20)

Add a Review

  • Maybe the greatest film ever about jazz.

    It IS jazz.

    The opening shot continues to haunt my reverie.

    Lester, of course, is wonderful and out of this world.

    Jo Jones is always a delight (see The Sound of Jazz as well).

    If you can, find the music; it's available on CD.

    All lovers of jazz and film noir should study this tremendous jewel.

    What shadows and light - what music - what a hat!
  • Each of the major studios cranked out jazzy one-reelers throughout the thirties and forties (with Universal taking the lead). While most looked as cheap on screen as they were to make, Warner Bros. (which abruptly stopped making them in 1946) often distinguished theirs with offbeat camera angles, mirrors and optical effects, thanks to some creative directors like Jean Negulesco. It is fitting that the best of this genre should come from this studio.

    What sets "Jammin' The Blues" apart from the rest of the pack is that it more closely resembles an avant-garde experiment than a Hollywood musical. Filmed in July 1944, it transforms an ordinary jam session into a "trippy" dream-escape from war-time troubles, highlighted by the tune of "On The Sunny Side Of The Street". Gjon Mili and cameraman Robert Burkes (later to work with Hitchcock) were allowed plenty of artistic freedom, perhaps because Lester Young was not Glenn Miller and the studio could care less how he and his fellow musicians were presented. The optical printer is put to good use, with multiple images of the same performer appearing at once. (Norman McLaren really milked this process two decades later in "Pas De Deux", while Linwood Dunn's team achieved different effects in "Citizen Kane".) The strong emphasis on silhouettes and lit cigarette smoke was also ahead of its time; in some ways, this predated the psychedelic sixties, but with a distinctly forties film noir style.
  • kennethwright458 September 2003
    Simply but imaginatively filmed studio-set performance short, a perfect match of music and images that defines the very coolness of cool and the hipness of hip. The precise visual and musical arrangements give the lie to its claim to be a record of a jam session: what it is, is a pop video - every bit as stylised and knowing as that implies, and all the better for it. Among the very best music films ever made, and almost certainly the most cinematic. These cats are solid gone, daddy-o ...
  • RT Firefly28 April 2004
    Wow, it is hard to believe this film was made in 1944. If it were released today, sixty years later, it would still be regarded as stylish and avant-garde. I caught this on a cable channel in the US called Turner Classic Movies (TCM). It was the lead off short in a series of musical shorts compiled to form a two or three hour special. I cannot stress how ahead of it's time this film was. The photography was very clever, such as using Lester Young's hat as a indefinable symbol in the opening shot, pulling back as Lester raises his head revealing his face. A "jam" session opens the short, Marie Bryant sings "On the Sunny Side of the Street" with velvety perfection, then another number which features jitterbug dancers. A good film to show today's artists that clever ideas didn't begin with their generation.

    Good news for Jazz fans, I understand Rhino has released a compilation titled ‘Hollywood Swing & Jazz' comprised of numbers from these old musical shorts, which features, among others, the Marie Bryant number from this film.
  • This short was nominated for an Academy Award and I wish it had won! Basically a filmed jam session between some very talented musicians, including Lester Young and Joe Jones, the music is incredible! Hollywood quite often embraced Jazz (particularly animation, believe it or not) but this is a rare look on film at an improvisational jam. This has been added to the Film Preservation list and deservedly so. TCM runs this as filler periodically and runs it every March sometime for its' "31 Days of Oscar" tribute. From downtown at the buzzer, swish, nothing but net and the shot's so smooth, the net barely moved. Most solidly and highly recommended!!!
  • 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.
  • Jazz aficionados will treasure this classic short showing some of the best men of jazz just doing their thing. It's like watching a no frills music video today.

    The jazz men give us an additional treat in the person of Marie Bryant who sings a classic version of On The Sunny Side Of The Street. I had never heard her sing before, Bryant sounds remarkably like Billie Holliday. That's a compliment folks.

    Their instrumental work is tops as well. With the black cinema of its time fed a lot of white stereotypes, this film is to be watched and treasured. No great production values, just a lot of good music.
  • I have seen this ten minute short several times on is a swinging jam session featuring some of the GREATEST jazz musicians that every lived. It has been told that when they filmed this short at the Warner lot that some of the great actors with Warner Bro. such as Humphrey Bogart, Bettie Davis, Edward G. Robinson Etc. stopped what they where doing to hear this jam session through out the day. One damper on this short was the fact that Barney Kessell was filmed silhouetted so that a white musician was not identified playing with black musicians.
  • ...may seem like an overstatement, but it is not.

    What is so hard to comprehend is - why didn't they make more musical shorts like this? Wasn't the beauty of it totally apparent to everybody involved? I guess not. So many shorts were made for commercial reasons only, and with some luck there may be some artistic value in there. This is one exception - the only one? - where it seems they were the director had a vision and clearly could appreciate the music as art. Why didn't anybody ever think to shoot Lester or Charlie Parker on a live date? Crazy, man.

    A pity there were no sequels. If you've seen anything of similar quality please share it!
  • Warning: Spoilers

    What a piece of joy this is.

    Its wonderful: Lester Young, Barney Kessel, Red Callender, Illinois Jacquet and Jo Jones — all legends, and all have flawless performances in this short film.

    A perfect encapsulation of what jazz can do, that other forms don't.

    IMDb want me to write 'more than 10 lines' so that I'm allowed to submit a comment but I don't think I really need to say any more than just how great this short is.

    The previous commentator was right, there is a 'noir' quality here. it must be the serpentine of smoke surrounding Lester Young's presence. And like a Dashiel Hammet, things that happen don't always need an explanation.

    OK, sorry to tell you folks, but there are no car chases; no nudity; no swearing; and no explosions!

    . . . . Just one sublime slice of history.
  • This Warner Bros. short is a jam session with several outstanding African-American jazz musicians, including Lester Young. Darkly lit and with a mood that matches the music, the film was groundbreaking in its day and was a showcase for then lesser-known musicians and entertainers who would not otherwise have had exposure to a much larger audience.

    Director Gjon Mili (1904-1984) 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.

    This is a must-see for anyone interested in jazz or who may want to see the jazz of the time. Or, perhaps, the way the African-American community as presented. Outside of jazz performances, it was not common for them to be in movies, unless in a comic setting (often at their expense).
  • Warning: Spoilers
    "Jammin' the Blues" is a 10-minute black-and-white documentary from the final days of World War II. Today, almost everybody has a concert DVD of one of their favorite artists in the shelf, but back then things looked different. Still, this one here shows you that concert recordings already existed back in the day and it was a genre, in which Black people were apparently welcome too. This short film brought Gordon Hollingshead one of his many Oscar nominations and even if he lost out to an animal-themed work for this one, he may not have been too mad as he won with another entry the same night. "Jammin' the Blues" had pretty good music, good vocals by Marie Bryant, band is fun to listen to. I recommend checking it out. Thumbs up.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Jammin' the Blues is an Oscar-nominated short from 1944 that is basically 10 minutes of improvisational jazz played in one long jam. Marie Bryant sings "The Sunny Side of the Street" at one point for the film's highlight then jitterbugs with Archie Savage to bring this most entertaining "jam session" to its exciting end. The director Gojn Mili was a photographer and that experience shows in some of the double exposure shots of some of the musicians that makes this one of the most innovative angles of the '40s. According to some notes I read one of the musicians was white and had to be filmed in silhouette in reflection of the social attitudes of the time. What a shame. Still, this most unusual film of the time is available on YouTube so if you love jazz, I suggest you seek it out there.
  • I can see why this film was Oscar-nominated for Best Live Action Short, as it was constructed masterfully. Even if you don't particularly like the Blues, you can easily appreciate this film. It is simply very well made, though for the life of me, I can't see why director Gjon Mili only got to direct one film--this one. In other words, the film is nominated and yet the director didn't get any sort of career boost. As for the black performers, I could understand this not causing their careers to shift into high gear, as unfortunately most of white society have indifference (or worse) for blacks or "that kind of music".

    If you do watch this film, if you aren't particularly enjoying the earlier portion, skip ahead to about the 5:50 mark--where it picks up considerably. When the lady stopped singing and the performers began to improvise, the pace improved quite a bit.

    UPDATE: I saw this short once again and was MUCH more impressed the second time. That's because I just finished watching an 11 hour DVD collection of the Vitaphone musical shorts and it was by far the best in the set--mostly due to director Gjon Mili's brilliant touch. See this one!!
  • Jammin' the Blues (1944)

    *** (out of 4)

    Jam session with some of the top Jazz musicians of the time including Barney Kessel, Lester Young, George Callender and Harry Edison. If you're a fan of Jazz then you'll really enjoy this short, which features some really funky sounds as well as a great song by Marie Bryant. It's a shame this only ran 11-minutes because it could have easily been expanded. A funny sidenote and a bit of reverse is that Barney Kessel is the only white person playing in the band. The director kept him in the shadows to hide the fact that he was white and also put berry juice on his hands.
  • Holy Smokes! Am I ever glad this was a throw-in on the Special Features section of a "Passage to Marseille" DVD! This is absolutely stunning. Not JUST the music, not JUST the choreography, and not JUST the cinematography. They each are remarkable on their own. But together? This is a powerhouse.

    I'm not a big jazz fan, but I am a music fan as well as a movie fan. It is not a very long movie, sadly, but you should do yourself a favor and see this.

    At first I had no idea what to expect. I have a large appreciation for the blues style, and knowing this was from the 40's I was anxious to hear something that did not border yet again on 'rock, as inspired by...' stuff.

    I had no idea who any of the people in this were, and no idea the guitar player was actually white.

    It is very artfully done - between the music, the 'scene' changes through the camera, and just the whole overall design on this short film should be far better known than it is. And on that note, I'm sure there are likely other films that this one may have borrowed from for all I know - and if it did, please share!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    . . . for your youngsters, if you have signed them up for music in school (especially band, since the only orchestra instrument featured here is the bass, unless you count the guitar, which many early string programs will omit from their intermediate grades 5 through 8 offerings). Among the band instruments highlighted are the trumpet, the drums (or percussion), and a couple of real great tenor sax players. What all the instrumentalists have in common is that they play with a lot of feeling, which some school instructors might overlook in their hellbent efforts to get the notes and rhythms "right." I have a feeling not many of these taxpayer-subsidized educators would think to show their kids JAMMIN' THE BLUES as a goal to work toward, but at 10 minutes it's a wonderful investment of time to illustrate how far junior can go if he or she just PRACTICES. (Note: there is a singing & dancing interlude here which might upset most religious school principals and the average home-schooling parent.)
  • I have seen this ten minute short several times on is a swinging jam session featuring some of the GREATEST jazz musicians that every lived.

    It has been told that when they filmed this short at the Warner lot that some of the great actors with Warner Bro. such as Humphrey Bogart, Bettie Davis, Edward G. Robinson Etc. stopped what they where doing to hear this jam session through out the day.

    One damper on this short was the fact that Barney Kessell was filmed silhouetted so that a white musician was not identified playing with black musicians.
  • Considering the incredible talent, music, and cinematography, "Jammin' the Blues" is extraordinary. Has to be the greatest jazz film of all time. My god! Lester Young, "Sweets" Edison, "Big Sid" Catlett, Barney Kessel, Jo Jones, etc.!!!

    I have no idea how it was okayed by the studio, but it is to Warner Brothers everlasting credit that it was. Norman Granz was the technical director, undoubtedly the best Warner Brothers could have recruited at the time for the job.

    "Jazz on a Summer's Day" is a close second, in my opinion. It's a really great jazz film. A longer film, but a bit uneven. Really hard to compare the two.

    If you are new to jazz, this is where you should start .
  • Verve Records was a major publisher and recorder of serious jazz works . At this time he was an impressario, who staged 'Jazz at the Philharmonic' at the Philharmonic Auditorium in Los Angeles on July 2 of the year this short was released. He's credited as 'technical director' here.

    Nominally a jam session, the amount of talent on display is amazing. Arranged on a bare stage with some extreme point-of-view shots under director Gjon Mili, who usually was a still photographer in the movies, and certainly knows how to get cinematographer RObert Burks to light this impressively.