Appellate Judge James A. Stewart is cool; he has a great air conditioner.
"One can become as cool as one wants to be."—Duke Ellington
Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was cool. Is cool, actually. He's so cool that his sister, Ruth Ellington Boatwright, still throws him a birthday bash every year, long after his 1974 death—and people still turn out in his honor.
Gary Keys is one of those honored guests. The director traveled with Ellington on a trip to Mexico in 1968, as the jazz legend joined in the Olympics festivities. More recently, he shot video of one of those birthday parties. All of the footage is combined in Duke Ellington: Reminiscing in Tempo.
It starts, appropriately enough, with a reminiscence about an earlier Ellington birthday, when he purposely transposed the digits, changing his age from 64 to 46. From there, we get memories of Ellington from people like pianist Bobby Short and vocalist Al Hibbler—and, of course, his sister. Friends of Ellington sing and play his works.
That's good, but what makes Reminiscing in Tempo exceptional is the musical interlude. About 30 minutes in, Keys introduces "Mexican Suite," Ellington's composition for the Olympics. It's not on any recordings, but Keys captured it in sound and image. It's supplemented by occasional background information and film of that Mexican trip. It sounds beautiful, and Keys' presentation of it is beautiful as well.
It's an abrupt shift from the warm but static discussion of Ellington's life, but it works out well. By combining what could have been two separate short films, Keys leaves time for only the best material from the birthday party video. He also gives viewers the chance to see Ellington and his orchestra perform a rare composition, which fans will consider a must-see.
The picture flares in the video of the birthday party, and you'll notice grain, flecks, and poor lighting in the vintage footage. Sound quality, on the other hand, is good. There are no extras, which is a shame since it appears that Keys had a lot more footage that could have been interesting.
This is one of those rare occasions when MVD could have crowed more about the "rare footage" on the DVD blurb, since Reminiscing in Tempo turns out to be a rare gem for jazz lovers.
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