New Jazz Film to Make History
They Died Before 40, a new documentary, features eight jazz musicians, most of them relatively unknown. They all died before reaching the age of 40. Actually, four of the eight died before reaching the age of 30! Seven died before 1944 and one died in 1956. The greatest jazz band in history has been playing in heaven for more than 50 years!
The film presents this band, “organized in heaven”, playing Stardust, “a tune recorded in heaven.” (They each recorded Stardust individually as a leader or sideman before they died. A music editor has been able to take some of each of these individual recordings and produce a beautiful version that can be heard in this film for the first time.)
When these men were chosen, serendipitously, by Howard E. Fischer, the producer, director and writer, he did not realize that they actually comprised what could be a functioning band – four rhythm (piano. drums, guitar and bass), two tenor saxophonists and two trumpeters. Who are these men?
The rhythm section consists of Fats Waller, piano (died at 39 in 1943); Chick Webb, drums (died at 34 in 1939) was not available for the Stardust recording in heaven as he never has recorded this tune, so Big Sid Catlett sat in for him; Charlie Christian, guitar (died at 25 in 1942); and Jimmy Blanton, bass (died at 23 in 1942). The two tenors are Herschel Evans (died at 29 in 1939) and Chu Berry (died at 33 in 1941). The two trumpeters are Bunny Berigan (died at 33 in 1942) and Clifford Brown (died at 25 in 1956).
The film presents music each artist recorded that represents his great talents. Interspersed is biographical information, expert commentary, photos and other material related to each. The film introduces these musicians and their music in the hope that more people will explore their music and learn about their lives. In addition, as an important aspect of the film, music historians talk about how their lifestyles contributed to their deaths and how they died. At the end of the film a scroll lists about 20 other jazz musicians who died before the age of 40.
Howard Fischer at 212-864-1479