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As a smooth jazz journalist, I sincerely support the smooth jazz genre, as I adore the sound and recognize the diligence and hard work artists and musicians place into their craft.

  sheila e ross

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Jazz Reviews on JazzNet247 Radio Europe

Artist : Various Artists

Album : Round Midnight

Year : 1986

Label : Warner Brothers

round midnight

: Dexter Gordon : Saxophone | Herbie Hancock : Piano | Wayne Shorter : Saxophone | Freddie Hubbard : Trumpet | John McLaughlin : Guitar | Bobby Hutcherson : Vibes | Lonette McKee : Vocals | Ron Carter : Bass | Billy Higgins : Drums | Tony Williams : Drums | Cedar Walton : Piano

Round Midnight is one of my favourite DVDs and I remember the release of the movie well as I was working in Stuttgart in West Germany at the time and visiting Strassbourg in France where I saw the billboards advertising the movie with the cover artwork of Dexter Gordon portraying an alcoholic / drug abused saxman Dale Turner. As soon as I could I bought the DVD and the CDs and wore out all of them in a pretty short time.

The movie was directed by Bertrand Tavernier and written by Tavernier and David Rayfiel. The film starred Dexter Gordon and François Cluzet as the two main characters, but also featured Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Lonette McKee, Bobby Hutcherson, Eddy Mitchell, Billy Higgins, John McLaughlin, Pierre Michelot, Ron Carter, Palle Mikkelborg, Tony Williams, Freddie Hubbard and Cedar Walton amongst others who played in the various bands in the clubs in New York and in Paris. Martin Scorsese also appeared in the movie as Dale Turner's manager when he returned to New York after a stay in Paris.

The protagonist jazzman, 'Dale Turner' was based on a composite of real-life jazz legends Lester Young and Bud Powell. Whilst the film is only fictional, it is drawn directly from the memoir / biography Dance of the Infidels written by French author Francis Paudras who had befriended Powell during his Paris expatriate days and on whom the character "Francis" is based.

The film is a wistful and tragic portrait that captures the Paris jazz scene of the 1950s and the jazz club showcased the Blue Note jazz club. Dale Turner is an accomplished saxophone player barely getting by playing at local jazz clubs and struggling with drug and alcohol abuse. After a conversation with a fellow musician who is currently disabled by illness, Dale decides to try to improve his lifesyle by traveling to Paris and making a living playing at the Blue Note jazz club until his luck gets better.

Turner arrives in Paris and is befriended by Francis (François Cluze), a struggling French graphic designer specializing in film posters and who lives with his daughter Bérangère, his marriage has broken up. He idolises Dale Turner and tries desperately to help him escape from his alcohol abuse.

Francis allows Turner to move in with him and his daughter, manages to put himself on his own two feet again and starts to get by without a reliance upon alcohol. He eventually decides it is time to go home to New York to see his old friends and to re-acquaint himself with his own daughter Chan, her name was to inspire Herbie Hancock to write the wonderful 'Chan's Song'.

Francis accompanies Dale and the local music community in New York is ready to accept the musician back. He writes a song dedicated to his own daughter in the hope of strengthening their relationship after so much time apart. He invites her to the club to hear its debut but manages to confuse her true age and tells the audience she has just turned 16, she is actually 15 and she makes this point to Francis who is seated next to her in the audience.

Later in the week when Dale tries to further his bond with her by sharing a meal at a local diner an old drug dealer of Dale's recognises him there, he re-introduces himself and implies his supplies are still available to Dale.

Francis tries to intervene a few times to keep Dale protected from his old suppliers and attempts to keep up with all of them. When Francis eventually leaves and returns to Paris to his daughter he receives a telegram from Dale's music manager Goodley (played by Martin Scorsese) saying that the musician had died in a local hospital.

For a true blue jazz lover like myself and an old school jazz fan who lived through the mid to late 50's and 60's the movie touches the heartstrings particularly with the struggle by a jazz musician, a) to find work and somewhere to express themselves, and b) the struggle against alcohol and drug addiction which was so prevalent during these days, (and before and after if the truth be known).

When you scrutinize the performances after 10 or so viewings of the DVD you can really understand and appreciate the emotion, tormoil and heartbreak of watching someone with so much talent destroy themselves and then the uphill battle as Dale tried to go straight again having witnessed the friendship and love of his new French friends.

The music is stellar throughout and the band members on display are the 'who's who' of the jazz scene, but the main protagonist is the marvellous Herbie Hancock who played Eddie Wayne in the movie and who was the bandleader and pianist in the Paris band and wrote many of the songs on the movie and soundtrack. Of course his time with Miles' band had put him in a perfect position to portray his part in the movie and Tavernier's direction is magnificent throughout. Herbie can be forgiven for being a little shy on camera as I am sure that he had just had some basic acting training to play the part.

However Dexter Gordon played the lead role like a seasoned acting professional, albeit that he was reliving his own way of life and lifestyle, but his acting was believable and his interactions on stage were top class.

Dexter was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor and won a Grammy for the film's soundtrack entitled The Other Side of Round Midnight in the category for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Soloist. Hancock won the Academy Award for Best Original Score. The soundtrack was released in two parts: Round Midnight and The Other Side of Round Midnight.

I can't imagine that any jazz fan hasn't seen this movie yet, but if you haven't you are missing a treasuretrove of jazz excellence which will certainly brighten your day.  ^

Review by Wes George
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Similar Artists -
Ben Webster, Lester Young, John Coltrane, Colman Hawkins, Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Jackie McLean, Wayne Shorter, Stan Getz

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