Thursday, May 16, 2013

"They Died Before Forty" documentary

Jazz Museum Founder Howard Fischer Is Producing a Film About Jazz Greats Who Died

by Clem Richardson
New York Daily News, May 9, 2013
Howard Fischer has created music from heaven, played by musical geniuses who lived
fast and died young.
And he did it in a pretty creative way.
Fischer, 76, founded the New York Jazz Museum. He's nearing the end of a Kickstarter
campaign to fund his latest movie project on jazz greats who died young.
"They Died Before Forty," profiles eight jazz musicians -- notable in their day but
now largely forgotten -- whose deaths fit the movie's title all too well: pianist
Fats Waller, 39 when he died in 1943; guitarist Charlie Christian, dead at 25 in
1942; 23-year-old bassist Jimmy Blanton, dead the same year; drummer Chick Webb,
34, dead in 1939; tenor saxophone players Herschel Evans, 29, and Chu Berry, 33,
who died in 1939 and 1941 respectively; and trumpeters Bunny Berigan, who was 33
when he died 1942, and Clifford Brown, who died in 1956 at age 25.
"In fact, six of the eight died before they were 30," said Fischer, who is producing,
directing and writing the movie. "Some of them only recorded for two or three years,
yet were major figures on their instruments. Yet I've asked many of my friends about
them and most of them never heard of any of these guys."
Fischer has been around jazz since his parents introduced him to the music as a child.
A former entertainment lawyer, he once represented bassist and bandleader Charlie
"At one time we had one of the most significant archives of jazz music in the world,"
Fischer said, referring to the collection at the New York Jazz Museum, which he founded
in 1977. Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman both sat for live interviews with Fischer
at the museum, he said, and on Nov. 3, 1973, the museum hosted an all-women jazz
band that "had a line going down the street and around the corner."
This is Fischer's second movie; he wrote and directed "The Holland Avenue Boys,"
about his childhood friends who came out of his neighborhood and became successful.
This latest project has been a labor of love for over a decade, Fischer said.
"The main thing, after the music and the biographies, is that I want to show how
they died and how they lived before they died, and how that lifestyle contributed
to their deaths," Fischer said. "Many of them had lifestyles that were unusual even
for performers -- they'd have a one-night-stand performance, travel all night by
car and then hit another gig and repeat that week after week.
"A lot of them lived for the music and died for the music."
Some had storied exits. Webb, the diminutive drummer who discovered legendary jazz
singer Ella Fitzgerald, was surrounded by family when he sat up in his hospital bed,
said "I gotta go, I gotta go!" and died.
Webb was so popular that 10,000 mourners came to his funeral, which featured an 80-car
funeral procession to the cemetery. "He was that famous, and now no one remembers
who he was," Fischer said.
The movie will feature academics and musicians who either studied, worked with or
wrote books about each musician talking about their subject.
It will also have a nine-item soundtrack -- with limited financing, Fischer worked
out a master licensing agreement that allows him to use the music only in this country
-- that will feature each musician either performing solo or with a group.
"I have Berry doing a fabulous version of 'Sweethearts on Parade' with Lionel Hampton,"
Fischer said. "Blanton is doing a duet with Duke Ellington on 'Pitter Panther Patter.'
Christian is doing 'Solo Flight,' which was revolutionary for the guitar."
Through the wonders of sound splicing, Fischer has seven of the eight musicians --
who never played together -- playing a single rendition of "Stardust."
"Webb never recorded 'Stardust,'" Fischer said. "I got a man to take bits and pieces
of each of their versions of 'Stardust' and make it into one song. It's beautiful;
it's going to make a lot of noise when the film comes out."
Fischer is hoping to complete the project by late summer.

To help, go to his kickstarter page at
Fischer's website for the film is

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