The Blues Are Brewin’

1947 was a good year for movies. It saw the release of Miracle on 34th Street, Gentleman’s Agreement, Life with Father, Lady from Shangai and Out of the Past, among other excellent films. New Orleans also hit the screen that year. It began life as an Orson Welles project, but Welles dropped it and went on to other things. If he had developed it, the movie might not have been in a league with Citizen Kane, but it would likely have had more to recommend it than the music. Unlike the other films mentioned above, New Orleans had an absurd story line, leaden dialogue and mediocre direction. Its take on the history of jazz is pure cliché, except for one element: the importance of Louis Armstrong. He, Billie Holiday, Woody Herman, Kid Ory and a raft of other musicians save the film and make it worth seeing again and again, even if you have to grit your teeth waiting for the next song.
In his new biography of Armstrong, Terry Teachout quotes the 1947 review by critic Bosley Crowther of The New York Times: “Put it down as a fizzle in every respect but one. That is the frequent tooting of Louis Armstrong on his horn.” Maybe Crowther dozed off during “The Blues Are Brewin’,” with Holiday, Armstrong and Herman. Herman’s alto saxophone half-chorus demonstrates that he is underrated as a soloist. Holiday’s long solo confirms that she is not.

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