Picks and Pans Review: The Last of the Blue Devils

UPDATED 09/15/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/15/1980 at 01:00 AM EDT

A remarkable documentary, this loving look at Kansas City jazz by a lawyer who never before shot a frame of movie film is a must for jazz fans. Bruce Ricker, a white New Yorker practicing law in K.C. in 1974, hung out in the black musicians' old union hall, where he heard some survivors from the city's golden age of jazz. He hired a cameraman and, for $12,000, staged a reunion. It brought Joe Turner and Jesse Price from L.A. and Count Basie and his band from a gig fortuitously nearby. They joined other alumni of the 1920s' Oklahoma City Blue Devils, which begat the K.C.-based Bennie Moten band, which begat the '30s bands of Basie and Jay McShann. Ricker intercut film of them today with black-and-white clips, including an old TV kinescope of Charlie "Bird" Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Five decades intershuffle as Big Joe Turner pours out a spine-prickling 1944 Piney Brown Blues; the Blue Devils rip through Basie's Squabblin' in 1929; Jesse Price and McShann, forceful as ever, sing the blues in 1974; Bird unleashes a multidimensional Hot House in 1952; Lester Young lives again in a 1957 tenor solo; the 1974-75 Basie and 1932 Bennie Moten bands both perform Moten Swing; and Turner belts Shake, Rattle and Boll in concert and on film from 1956. "We were doing rock'n'roll," says the big man, "before anybody ever heard of it." (PG)

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