The Last of the First | Chicago Reader

The Last of the First

Anja Baron directed this solid group portrait of the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, aging swing players who still perform together. Within jazz circles the musicians are demigods (guitarist Al Casey accompanied Fats Waller; vocalist Laurel Watson recorded with Duke Ellington and Count Basie; drummer Johnny Blowers worked with Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra), and even in their 90s they're surprisingly vital. Like other docs about aging musicians (a surprisingly robust genre), this features a series of personal portraits, visits to sites of past glories, praise from scholars and new fans, and a sad recognition that the players are dying off. Though hardly revelatory, it's touching and well made. 88 min.

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