a recommendation by Norman Warwick

Matt Fripp says in a recent newletter from JazzfuelthatJazz has always been a fertile ground for filmmakers, but the last few years in particular have seen a flurry of jazz documentaries being made. Whilst some of these films profile individual musicians, others opt for a broader angle, focusing on a record label, or a particular social issue across jazz history

it is certainly true that the impact of many of the greatest musicians in jazz history goes far beyond just their music. They are three-dimensional characters, many of whom have led quite remarkable lives. In fact, look out for a forthcoming article over the next couple of weeks looking at the sidetracks & detours that led me to where a singer turns the jazz Moon To Gold.

Some kazz practitioners have had interesting or important things to say; others have played jazz despite incredible challenges; others have had their lives cut tragically short. These are just some of the reasons that jazz has inspired has inspired so many great documentary films over the years.

It’s fascinating to see and learn about the lives of our musical heroes away from the bandstand: how their voices sound, how they dress, what they thought, and so on.

Jazzfuel put together their list of some of the best jazz documentary films out there. Of course, with a list that runs to 10, they missed out some other brilliant ones. We at Sidetracks & Detours selected just a few at random of those with our readers to give a flavour of how comprehensive organisation is Jazzfuel.

We hope this selection will inspire you to watch – or re-watch – some of these great jazz movies…

Art Pepper: Notes From a Jazz Survivor (1982)

Pepper was a mercurial alto saxophone soloist, who made classic West Coast albums like Meets The Rhythm Section and Art Pepper + Eleven.

As outlined in his remarkable autobiography Straight Life, he was also an extremely troubled individual, who spent time in prison and struggled with heroin addiction and other personal problems.

This 1982 effort features Art speaking with brutal honesty about his life, his music, his shortcomings and his strengths. It also contains extensive footage of a quartet performance in a Malibu club.

At just 49 minutes, Notes From a Jazz Survivor is one of the shorter films on this list, but it certainly packs a powerful emotional punch.

hoto 2 Jazz (2001)

Broadcast in 2001, Jazz outlines the history of the music all the way from its beginnings in the melting pot of New Orleans in the early 1900s up until the early 21st Century, across a 10-part series.

Directed by the American filmmaker Ken Burns, who has also made documentaries on The Civil WarThe Vietnam War and Baseball, this jazz documentary series was six years in the making and contains 75 interviews with the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Stanley Crouch and Gary Giddins, more than 500 hundred pieces of music, and thousands of still photographs and pieces of archive footage.

The film gives a hugely detailed chronological overview of jazz history but, as is probably to be expected given the breadth and complexity of the subject matter, it did receive criticism for what some felt were unfair omissions and biases.

For example, the series devotes nine of the ten episodes to music up to 1961, leaving a whole 40-year period to be covered in the final part.

Still, if you’d like to take a thorough look at the origins of jazz – with particular emphasis on figures like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington – this is certainly worth a watch.

Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes (2018)

This stylish film tells the story of the legendary record label, and how two Jewish German immigrants, Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, built an institution that produced some the best jazz albums of all time.

As a secondary narrative, we also witness the present-day recording of a Blue Note All-Stars Session, with current label artists including Robert Glasper, Ambrose Akinmusire and Kendrick Scott, who all give interviews.

We learn about learn about Blue Note’s history as risk-takers, who released bold, innovative music like Thelonious Monk’s Genius of Modern Music, and how its production values compared to other labels of the era.

The development of Blue Note’s signature sound is also covered, with classic hard bop albums like The Sidewinder and Song For My Father, prior to financial struggles and an interesting section on the birth of hip hop.

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (2019)

Surprisingly, this 2019 release was the first major biography of Miles on film.

Birth of the Cool tracks the high points of the trumpeter’s remarkable career: the making of genre-defining albums like Kind of Blue, Miles

Ahead, E.S.P. and Bitches Brew, and his later commercial success as a stadium-filling star.

It also covers the lows, including periods of burnout and ill health, drug addiction, and the awful racism he faced, including a 1959 beating at the hands of a policeman.

With the approval of the Miles Davis estate, director Stanley Nelson was able to assemble an impressive cast of interviewees, including Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock and Jimmy Cobb, all Davis sidemen and major musicians in their own right.

Frances Taylor, his former wife, gives a fascinating account of their life together and we also hear from Juliette Greco, with whom he began a relationship whilst visiting Paris in 1949, and his son and nephew.

The film attempts to give additional insight into Davis’ inner thoughts, and his raspy voice is impersonated by actor Carl Lumbly, who reads excerpts from the trumpeter’s brilliant autobiography.


Chet Baker: His Life and Music – Jeroen De Valk

From his emergence in the 1950s – when an uncannily beautiful young man from Oklahoma appeared on the West Coast and became, seemingly overnight, the prince of cool jazz.

In this first major biography, the story of Baker’s demise is finally revealed.

So is the truth behind his tormented childhood. The author brilliantly recreates the life of a man whose journey from golden promise to eventual destruction mirrored America’s fall from post-war innocence – but whose music has never lost the power to enchant and seduce us.

You can also find our Jazzfuel guide to the life & music of Chet Baker.

Coltrane: The Story of a Sound by Ben Ratliff

The story of John Coltrane goes beyond a simple discussion of music and cannot be reduced to the tale of a man who played the saxophone in the 60s.  Ratliff explores this very idea in his engrossing book, Coltrane: The Story of a Sound.

More than a simple jazz biography, it’s a study into the musical zeitgeist created by Coltrane; his identity, his influence, his distinctive language.

Understanding of music or of Coltrane is not essential to enjoy Ratliff’s engaging book. The words entrap us in an atmosphere that shows love, adoration, admiration, and wonder in spades, transporting us into something ethereal – the experience that only John Coltrane can give. 

Unsurprisingly, for one of the most forward-thinking musician in history, you can find him in our round up of both the best Avant garde albums in jazz history and the best Hard Bop albums of all time.

Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan 

by Elaine M. Hayes

With a host of accolades including Best Book of 2017 by both Publishers Weekly & The Washington Post, this jazz biography looks at the life and career of a true legend.

Sarah Vaughan came to prominence in the 1940’s during the rise of bebop, performing in Billy Eckstine’s band. One of her most celebrated songs – Lover Man – was recorded at this time, with Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker.

“Necessary and exciting. . . . Queen of Bebop models a way of understanding the lives and artistry of jazz musicians — one that establishes their importance and centrality in creating the best that America has offered the world.” – Washington Post

photo 8 A Biography of the First Lady of Jazz
 by Stuart NicholsonWhile unable to talk with Fitzgerald directly, Nicholson went about creating as true an image of the great jazz singer as possible through written accounts and exhaustive interviews of childhood and professional associates.

The resulting book details the rise of a career that began at the age of 17. From the New York City Apollo Theater to the grandest halls and theatres around the country, Nicholson offers an insight into the jazz legend’s life through those who witnessed it all with her.

Nicholson’s account proves to be a fascinatingly detailed look into the life of a true great. 

“a glittering, engaging, comprehensive biography and “must” reading for all her fans” – Midwest Book Review

Django Reinhardt by Charles Delauney

This was perhaps the first authoritative biography of jazz guitar legend Django Reinhardt’s life and works.

The original version of this book was written by French author, jazz expert, co-founder and long-term leader of the Hot Club de France, Charles Delauney.

Out of print for many years, the latest edition is split into 3 parts: first, the authoritative biography by Delaunay himself, the second a complete discography of the works of Django Reinhardt and, the 3rd, more than 150 photos and illustrations of the legendary gypsy jazz guitarist.

I should further admit that, notwithstanding these jazzfuelled tips from Matt Fripp, as editor of Sidetracks And Detours I might still often have to turn to The Complete Idiot´s Guide To Jazz, put together by Alan Axelrod, published by Alpha Books. J

Jazz, which is believed to have evolved in the 19th from a variety of Mississippi influences, is currently enjoying something of a musical renaissance. This Complete Idiot’s Guide instructs readers, like me, on everything they need to know about the evolution of jazz, including: its origins in folk, Dixie, African music, and rhythm and blues; the first recordings in 1917; the incredible advances during the “Jazz Age”; the pioneering efforts of musicians such as Louis Armstrong; and present-day infusions of jazz with reggae, pop, rock, and soul. The Complete Idiot´s Guide features profiles of such legends as Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Billie Holliday, as well as career highlights of contemporary luminaries such as Quincy Jones, Wynton Marsalis, and George Benson. It also includes numerous CD recommendations, photos, a chronology, discographies, further readings, and a glossary

Maybe, though, if you still have a Christmas book token to spend (do such things still exist?) you may wish to add your name to the Jazzfuel mailing list and be guided by their newsletter to the perfect book for you !

I´m told by Steve Cooke from his all across the arts office in Rochdale that one of my favourite folk groups, The Houghton Weavers will be playing in Middleton tomorrow evening, Friday 23rd December.

So, on a night when I will be heading down to Uga, on Lanzarote where I have lived since retiring seven years ago form that same office in which Steve Cooke is ever-strengthening the community arts network, the band that all we folkies aspired to be in during the seventies and eighties will be performing five miles from where I used to live. I´ll let Steve tell you all about it.


St Michael’s Church on Friday 23rd December 2022.

By Steve Cooke

The Houghton Weavers have been entertaining folk for 47 years with their unique blend of popular folk music, humour, and audience participation. On their current tour of the UK, we have a chance to catch them when Middleton Band present the Weavers at St Michael’s Church, Bamford on Friday 23rd December.

To coincide with their UK Tour, they released their brand-new single, ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ on Friday 7th October, taken from their album ‘New World in the Morning’.

“To us, this traditional Scottish Folk Song depicts the love that Queen Elizabeth II had for the beautiful Scottish Highlands. It could almost be a signature to her love and time spent north of the border. It’s such a poignant and beautiful traditional song and it seems a perfect track as our tribute to the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

Having been working on the album for almost 2 years, through Covid and into the summer of 2022, It’s a mixture of self-penned and traditional songs as well as some very well-known folk covers. We have used various session musicians including Ken Nichol of Steeleye Span and the wonderful country folk guitarist Pete Frampton. The album has that Weavers comedy element but is brought back down to earth with some beautifully poignant trad folk songs.

The Houghton Weavers are dedicating this album to Tony Berry who sadly passed away in 2019.

In their time together, the band have performed thousands of concerts, recorded over 30 albums, and starred in several of their own highly successful BBC radio and TV series and made countless appearances on other programmes. They guarantee a wonderful evening of entertainment and their experience – together with their style and professionalism – ensures that, as their motto says, they always “Keep Folk Smiling”.

At St Michael’s we can look forward to Steve Millington, David Littler and Jim Berry entertaining us in a show of charming fun, humorous jokes, and anecdotes, together with plenty of music, varying from raucous traditional and popular Folk Songs to sing-along favourites, with beautiful ballads and original pieces included throughout. Their wide and varied repertoire, alongside their unique and well-known style ensures that no two shows in the company of The Houghton Weavers are ever the same.

A Festive Concert with the fabulous Middleton Band.

Friday 23rd 7.30pm

St Michaels Church. Townley Street, Middleton. M30 7LP

£12, concessions £10 tickets are available from any band member, call 0161 3751876 or book online https://www.middletonband.com/

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