COPENHAGEN, 20 September
2004The pianist Niels Lan Doky, who is part Vietnamese, part Danish,
was educated in America, and lives in France, conceived, wrote, co-directed,
and stars in a documentary film, currently in post-production, about jazz being
a universal language.
Although he's accompanied such famous acts as
David Sanborn, Al Jarreau, the Brecker Brothers, Joe Henderson, and
John Scofield, he's never made a film
before. But he had been inspired by Wim Wenders's "Buena Vista Social Club."
Doky liked that it was about the present time, that the featured personages
were all alive, and that you got to know the musicians as well as their music.
Why not do the same thing for jazz?
Starting about a year ago, carried
away by the project, playing less and less piano, getting little sleep, Doky
pulled out all the stops to make the movie before it was too late. Musicians
were dying, and he wanted to document the living not the dead. He wrote
outlines, drafts, budget-estimates, structure charts, and he pitched the
project to film producers and money people. The Danish-based Ben Webster
Foundation, the producer Jorgen Bo Behrensdorff of Park Films, and others, were
interested. The total budget came to 400,000 euros.
Filmed in July, it
has the working title Between A Smile And A Tear - A Night At The Montmartre
Club in Copenhagen. The first part of the name came from Thielemans, who
likes to say that he lives between a smile and a tear. Along with the singer
Lisa Nilsson, Doky co-wrote a song by that name for the film, which will have a
theatrical release in the Spring of 2005.
From 1959 to 1974, the
Montmartre in Copenhagen was one of the most prestigious jazz clubs in the
world. Johnny Griffin and Dexter Gordon
would come in for months at a time. Stan Getz played there regularly. The house
rhythm section was Albert "Tootie" Heath and Kenny Drew (both Americans), and
either Niels Henning Orsted Pederson or Mads Vinding, both Danes, on bass.
"Thad Jones, Stan Getz, Oscar Pettiford, Don Byas
" Just pronouncing
the names seemed to give Doky pleasure. "
Brew Moore, Ernie Wilkins,
Horace Parlan, and Ben Webster, among many, many others, all lived and worked
in Copenhagen. Copenhagen was less-recognized but it was just as important a
haven for American jazz musicians as Paris."
The diplomatic 40-year old
Doky went out of his way to avoid saying that the Danish are in general
friendlier than the French; but he did point out that Copenhagen is smaller and
less of a global crossroads than Paris, and that the people have more time and,
perhaps, need for the friendliness of foreigners.
"Some of the musicians
became Danish," he said. "They learned to speak the language. Tootie gave his
son the Danish name Jens. Some of them are buried there. Ben Webster and Kenny
Drew lie near each other in the Assistents cemetery, along with national icons
like Soren Kierkegard and Hans Christian Andersen. Thad Jones is in the Vestre
cemetery, where some of our prime ministers are buried.
have so much to offer. But they are not known as people, even by fans of their
music. They lead such interesting lives, they are so smart, they have such a
good sense of humor. I would like these people and their music to reach an
audience outside the music's immediate circle, like the Wenders film did."
He lined up a core cast of Montmartre veteransGriffin, Toots
Thielemans, Heath, Vindingto play with him in the band. He would also
interview them, and they would talk about the new versus the old days, about
the musician's life, and about the meaning of it all.
came when Doky discovered that the hairdressing school occupying the premises
of the original Montmartre would be closed for vacation in July, that they had
not partitioned the space, and that even their mirrors were on wheels. He
rented it for the month. Art directors, set designers, carpenters, and a work
crew were engaged to turn the empty space into a movie set, including the
The Montmartre opened in July for the first time in 30
years for two concerts with live audiences filmed by four cameras as part of
the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, which also invested in the project. The violinist
Didier Lockwood and singer Nilsson completed the band. Lockwood is from Paris,
Griffin lives in Limoges, Heath flew in from Los Angeles. Thielemans (82) is
from Brussels, Nilsson (33) from Stockholm.
"Jazz is a form of music
with a unique character," Doky said. "People of radically different backgrounds
- geographical, cultural, political, racial, religious, age, gender,
etceteracan in some strange way acquire an immediate mutual understanding
and create a spontaneous common expression, all without any prior rehearsal or
prior personal acquaintance. The musicians in the movie each speak English with
their own accent. And they speak jazz with their own accent."
Mike Zwerin has been jazz and rock critic for
the International Herald Tribune for the last twenty years. He is currently
writing a book called "Parisian Jazz Affair" for Yale University Press and he
is the jazz editor of Culturekiosque.com. Zwerin who has lived in France for 33
years, was promoted recently from 'Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des
Lettres' to 'Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" by the French
Minister of Culture.