Armstrong was New Orleans to his core, but the first place he truly felt at
home was Queens, New York. Japanese traditional hot jazz musicians Yoshio and
Keiko Toyama therefore visit both during their annual Armstrong pilgrimages.
Joel Schlemowitz follows them as they celebrate the spirit of Satchmo in Louis Armstrong Obon, which screens as
part of the Experimental Spotlight: Mono
No Aware x [+] (Plus) short film program at this year’s Japan Cuts, the Festival of New Japanese Film in New York.
1968 to 1973, the Toyamas lived in the Crescent City, becoming mainstays at the
storied Preservation Hall. Eventually, they returned to Japan, but they always
carried New Orleans jazz in their hearts. In modest detail, they explain how
they launched a major Japanese instrument donation initiative after Hurricane
Katrina, offering some much desired competition to our friends at the Jazz
Foundation of America. However, much to their surprise, they saw grateful New
Orleanians reverse the flow of instrument donations in the wake of the 2011
earthquake and Tsunami.
that does not make you feel all soft and goey about the Toyamas, than bear in
mind they also led Japanese fundraising efforts to restore Louis Armstrong’s
beloved Queens house and convert it into a world class jazz museum and cultural
center. Plus, as musicians, the Toyamas can also get down on what Armstrong
called “the gold old good ones,” (Yoshio on trumpet and Keiko on banjo).
it screens as part of an experimental film block, Obon is a completely accessible and sweetly touching film. The only
aspect falling outside the mainstream is Schlemowitz’s unpolished Super 8mm aesthetic.
For a film about jazz, Obon is also a
surprisingly quiet film, but that reflects an appropriate level of respect,
considering quite a bit of the footage was shot during the Toyamas’ yearly Armstrong
grave site visit. Eventually, we do hear Yoshio Toyama cut loose with Vince
Giordano and the Nighthawks—and he clearly still has the chops.
though Obon is only fourteen minutes
long and screens amid some radically different shorts, jazz fans will certainly
find it rewarding. There is a long and fruitful history of amazing Japanese
musicians, like Eri Yamamoto and Shunzo Ohno, taking American jazz and making
it their own, but artists like the Toyamas who embrace its traditional roots
are not so well documented.Obon helps
tell their stories. It is a moving and meditative tribute the musical couple,
as well as the giant who continues to inspire them. Highly recommended, Louis Armstrong Obon screens this Sunday
(7/12) at the Japan Society, as part of Japan Cuts’ Experimental Spotlight: Mono No Aware x [+] (Plus)shorts block.
Labels: Documentary, Japan Cuts '15, Keiko Toyama, Louis Armstrong, Short Films, Yoshio Toyama