Rashida Jones, Alan Hicks
A life filled with incredible art, unbelievable luck and the perils of fame
One of popular culture’s most prolific composers, arrangers, social activists and cheerleaders for up-and-coming talent (e.g., Andreas Varady) is given a loving portrait by one of his many children (spanning three marriages)—along with Hicks—chronicling the life, music and times of a gifted jazz trumpeter who doggedly determined that he would make his mark on the planet before succumbing to “A Closer Walk With Thee.”
The production could readily have been called The Black American Songbook, as Jones’ career is laid out in a then-and-now format that will remind one and all (along with newcomers) just how the musician’s talents did as much to break down the racist divide as civil rights movements and far-too-late legislation combined. Perhaps the biggest breakthrough was teaming up with Frank Sinatra who used his legendary voice and considerable “enforcer” heft to remove many barriers—at least for his sometime conductor-arranger.
The mix of archival footage and present-day clips (magically edited by Will Znidaric and Andrew McAllister) makes the time fly by, leading up to the historic …
Beyond Sinatra, the singers and instrumentalists involved (ranging from Count Basie, Aretha Franklin, Michael Jackson through relative newcomers…) aptly demonstrate how Jones led the way for decades in anticipating and solidifying musical tastes from be-bop to hip-hop and successfully combining the two at will. (In the film department, he made a mockery of the “rule” that only white composers could write for strings—just another example of how ridiculous any sort of segregation—too often state-sanctioned—was and is.)
Surviving the battle with the bottle (“Let the Good Times Roll” indeed:
You only live but once
And when you're dead you're done),
two brain surgeries, (“I’m Gone”—almost) and failed marriages, Jones knows full well how blessed his life has been and, hopefully, will pen a few more or discover the next great voice (er, Hello there Lesley Gore) before having a “Thriller” reunion with Jackson on high.
Bragging rights at what cost
On July 20, 1969, I was on my first-ever visit to Europe (Holland, Austria, Germany: a concert tour with Ottawa’s Laurentian High School Symphonic Band), when I noticed a crowd of people hovering around a TV set in a storefront window. As my eyeballs joined the dozens of others, there was Neil Armstrong (never heard of him) espousing his famous, “That's one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Seemed incredible then. Now, 40 years later, seeing Chazelle’s docudrama of the buildup, success and conclusion of JFK’s dream comes across as almost trite when considering the humungous expense and loss of so many lives that were required to beat the Russians and set the first foot on the Moon.
As is mentioned from time to time in the production, “imagine if those resources had been put to the service of the population” rather than one-upping the Soviets.
The principals (Ryan Gosling as Armstrong; Claire Foy playing his long-suffering wife) do their best, but in present-day times when the landing’s payoff is so hard to quantify, and Russia-U.S. relations have become worse rather than better, it really is hard to give three cheers for an achievement that has not left planet Earth in a better place. JWR