Since many music documentaries have been shown at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham over the years, I was disappointed by the lack of them on this year’s roster but at least there was Hugo Berkeley’s THE JAZZ AMBASSADORS, which screened at Cinema 4 at the Convention center Sunday morning.
The film, mostly made up of black and white photos, and archival footage, is about America’s greatest jazz artists including Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, and Duke Ellington travelling the world as Cold War cultural ambassadors in the mid ’50s.
It began when African American congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. convinced President Eisenhower, and top ranking Foreign policy officials that jazz played by black or mixed race bands could radically improve the U.S.A.’s image in the non-white countries of the world. So a tour taking Armstrong, Gillespie, Ellington and their mixed-race band members to such countries as Turkey, Pakistan, Demascus, and Iran was quickly put into motion.
Quincy Jones, described as a “rising young arranger” was hired to be music director, and play the trumpet. A recently filmed interview with Jones has him reflecting back in wonder on this appointment: “To think he have trusted me, 22-years old, to be in charge of his, my God’s band!”
The beautifully shot short concerns a puppeteer named
Ganja, whose forum is a viral web series for Bisha TV. Ganja seeks to ridicule President
Omar al-Bashir, who, opening titles tell us, seized power of Sudan in the 1989
military coup, and Ganja accomplishes this by voicing a puppet of the ruthless
dictator for a series of crude political spoofs that aired during the country’s
It may be only a 15-minute short, but it won the Jury Award for good reason as it says more in its brisk running time than many docs come close to in feature length.