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Case Number 07511: Small Claims Court

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A Night In Havana: Dizzy Gillespie In Cuba

New Video // 1988 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Ian Visser (Retired) // September 2nd, 2005

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All Rise...

Few people know that Dizzy Gillespie stole the concept for be-bop from Judge Ian Visser, who originally called it "Sha-boom-boom-deet-deet-dat-wah-wah-waaaaaah."

The Charge

Join a jazz legend on his whirlwind tour through the rhythms of Cuba.

The Case

Dizzy Gillespie was one of the few jazz musicians to be known to the general public. With his famous "puffy" cheeks, a zest for living, and a crossover hit in "A Night in Tunisia," Gillespie enjoyed an amazing career that spanned several decades. Filmed in 1985, just five years before his death, A Night in Havana—Dizzy Gillespie in Cuba traces Gillespie's visit to Cuba, home of the sound that captivated the artist for most of his life.

Gillespie is famous for two major contributions to music: the creation of be-bop and the popularizing of the Afro-Cuban sound through its blending with American jazz. By 1985, it had been 30 years since Gillespie's last visit to the island, and finally the political mood had thawed enough to allow another trip to take place. As such, Gillespie's visit to Cuba and his subsequent performances at the Fifth Annual International Jazz Festival of Havana are more than simply gigs for the musician. In a mix of interviews, jams, and festival performances, Gillespie crosses Cuba, reveling in the sound of the island.

And reveling is certainly the right word. The energy and passion in this elderly man are inspiring, to say the least. The viewer gapes as the spry jazz-man, proficient in several instruments, jams in music halls and back rooms, with endless energy and interest. The Cuban people seem to be in utter awe of the man and appear both overwhelmed and overjoyed to be in his presence. Gillespie also manages to swing a meeting with Cuban President Fidel Castro himself, who appears to be a big fan.

Those looking for a history of jazz or Gillespie should find another source than this documentary. This is not a film that traces the history of Afro-Cuban music, or the life of Gillespie himself. In the seated interview portions the viewer learns a few tidbits about the man and his music, especially his admiration for a Cuba that retained its African musical traditions, but for the most part this film is content to place the camera on Gillespie and let the music do the talking.

The music itself is actually the biggest let-down of the film. The pieces from the jazz festival are not titled or introduced, and with two exceptions ("A Night in Tunisia" and "Manteca"), the songs are only partial clips, not entire performances. None of the other performers are credited, and the actual jazz festival itself is not discussed or even named in the film. Although some of the jam pieces are interesting to watch (including some great stuff with then-unknown trumpeter Arturo Sandoval), viewers expecting anything like a concert film are bound to be disappointed. There is also a bit too much of Gillespie's singing, which is not his strong point as a performer.

Does this make this a "bad" DVD? It's depends on the viewer, and what they expect from the effort. For Gillespie completists, this film is sure to please. For anyone with a more tempered interest in jazz, the lack of full performances will make A Night in Havana—Dizzy Gillespie in Cuba a better rental than purchase. Docurama usually does a fine job on their releases, but the failure to give any background on the festival or the performers involved limits the depth of the experience.

As one might expect from a feature shot in 1985, the visual experience of A Night in Havana—Dizzy Gillespie in Cuba leaves something to be desired. The major issue here is grain, which is present in most scenes. However, it is not overly distracting, and at least it is consistent. Audio is solid and clear, capturing the great sound of Gillespie's trumpet and other assorted instruments without any issues.

Extras are somewhat limited. We get a filmmaker's bio, his text statement about the filming process, and a trailer.

Overall, fans of jazz and Gillespie should be happy with this release. Insofar as A Night in Havana appeals to completists, this court finds it not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 75

Perp Profile

Studio: New Video
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Concerts and Musicals
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Theatrical Trailer
• Filmmaker Statement
• Filmmaker Biography


• IMDb

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