“The blues, to me, is like, being very sad, very sick…or in the church, being very happy. There’s two kinds of blues: there’s happy blues, and there’s sad blues. I don’t think I ever sing the same way twice. I don’t think I ever sing the same tempo. One night, it’s a little bit slow, the next night, it’s a little bit brighter – it’s according to how I feel. I don’t know – the blues is sort of a mixed-up thing. You just have to feel it. Anything I do sing, it’s part of my life.” – Billie Holliday
Jammin’ the Blues is a 1944 short film in which several prominent jazz musicians got together for a rare filmed jam session. It featured Lester Young, Red Callender, Harry Edison, Marlowe Morris, Sid Catlett, Barney Kessel, Jo Jones, John Simmons, Illinois Jacquet, Marie Bryant, Archie Savage and Garland Finney.
The film, quite simply, looks like Jazz itself.
Smoke curling from the cigarettes, to the ceilings of dark rooms, the simplicity and purity of the music endures, it speaks for itself, to anyone who will listen. What it says and the why of it are for each listener to discern, because as much as each player brings his life to the instrument and the music, so too each listener. A communion of sorts, a moment in the dark becomes a path to a light of recognition; of pain and loss and above all else, of enduring, surviving, carrying on, of love.
The movie was directed by still photographer Gjon Mili, He was the first to use electronic flash and stroboscopic light to create photographs that had more than scientific interest. “Time could truly be made to stand still. Texture could be retained despite sudden violent movement.” he once said.
The film, shot by his friend Robert Burk, employs these techniques to enhance the music. Norman Granz was the technical producer for the session as he was for so much of what has become the music we know as jazz.