Saving Jazz

Saving Jazz

Saving Jazz, a documentary of just under an hour, has a stream of consciousness feel to it. For a while it appears it’s going to be about jazz photographer Herman Leonard and the effect that Hurricane Katrina had on his life, then it appears that was just a hook, an introduction to pave the way for a film about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in general, then it goes off into the history of jazz, then it’s the history of New Orleans, then Herman Leonard’s back and it’s about him again, etc.

Definitely the topics all relate to each other, but the organization is quite informal.

Still, it’s mostly interesting stuff. As I mentioned in connection with a couple other films I’ve written about, I have an attachment, a fondness for New Orleans, having lived in the French Quarter during several years of a formative period of my life. So I’m predisposed to take an interest in this material.

Not that I’m some kind of photography buff, but I liked Leonard’s photos, the way he captured the personalities of the musicians he photographed, and the ambience of the jazz clubs and such. And he’s an interesting, affable old guy (83 years old). I appreciated the way he spoke from the heart about his art.

One of my favorite moments of the documentary is when he is looking through the wreckage on his first trip back to his house in New Orleans after Katrina, and he comes across his collection of jazz photos, all damaged to varying degrees (though the negatives were stored elsewhere and survived). The patterns of water damage added unintentional but strangely artistic elements to a lot of the photos. Leonard is blown away seeing such things as a musician’s head enclosed in a halo-like circle. It’s like he and Katrina have collaborated on these photos, in some cases creating something that may be better than what he came up with on his own.

I liked seeing Irma Thomas, Mardi Gras Indians, the streets of the French Quarter, and various other things I associate with New Orleans, and I agreed with those praising the cultural richness and uniqueness of New Orleans. Still, given how I feel about the city, I would expect if anything to be touched even more deeply by something like this. Instead it was just mildly to moderately interesting to me.

I’d say I got into Saving Jazz a bit more than I did Music Rising, a similarly well-intentioned celebration of New Orleans and its music, and a call for its rebuilding after Katrina. Oddly, I probably had the part of me that misses New Orleans massaged by the fictional A Love Song for Bobby Long as much or more than by either of these documentaries.

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