What could be better than another weekend filled with music films? Playing on Saturday, June 25, and Sunday, June 26, are four documentaries: “Learning to Live Together: The Return of Mad Dogs & Englishmen”; “Let There Be Drums!”; “Jazz Fest:A New Orleans Story”; and “Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over.”
‘Learning to Live Together: The Return of Mad Dogs & Englishmen’ (2021)
“Learning to Live Together,” playing on Saturday, June 25, pays tribute to the legendary singer Joe Cocker. A total of 32 musicians and singers that played with Cocker formed a band that worked in part because it acted like a family. It also created the reunion that became this documentary.
In 1970, Cocker took the band on a cross-country, two-month tour with exceptional success. Unlike any other group, Mad Dogs and Englishmen, a title picked up from Noel Coward, become a hippy sensation. The tour took place only once, until the revival of the group when it again performed just once. What came out of that original event launched a number of careers. As Rita Coolidge, a member of Mad Dogs and Englishmen, said, “No matter what was going on, it was perfection.”
‘Let There Be Drums!’ (2022)
Also playing on Saturday, June 25, comes “Let There Be Drums!” This celebration of drum music features a host of musicians including Taylor Hawkins, Chad Smith, John Bonham, and Stewart Copeland. Readers who haven’t learned about or heard these musicians play are in for a treat.
Drum music is about the rhythm of life, according to “Let There Be Drums!” Because drum beats usually play in the background of a band’s performance, it’s a treat to focus on them. The film explains that drum music originated in Nigeria and West Africa, and originally was used as a way to speak to the gods. The internal heartbeat of drum music makes people dance, according to the film.
“It messes with your equilibrium. That was the magic,” said the late Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. The year 1967 brought about a big change, according to this documentary, and music got a lot freer with Garcia. “Let There Be Drums!” looks at how the instrument is passed down from parent to child. Jason Kreutzmann spent time with drummers to learn about his father, drummer Bill Kreutzmann, who has been called the center of the Grateful Dead. Among those interviewed is Ringo Starr.
‘Jazz Fest: A New Orleans Story’ (2022)
This vibrant documentary, playing on Sunday, June 26, is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and was filmed at the 2019 event.
It follows the Oscar-winning 2021 film, “The Summer of Soul.” The festival didn’t begin until 1970 because of the Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation. Rock, blues, and pop, as well as rhythm and blues, were performed in addition to jazz. As one film participant put it, “Jazz welcomes all her children for a visit.”
Quint Davis organized the eight-day event, which was founded by George Wein, also responsible for the Newport Jazz Festival. In 1970, some 50 of the top musicians, including Mahalia Jackson, Duke Ellington, and members of the Marsalis family, performed. “Jazz Fest” illustrates how music has been woven into the cultural fabric of New Orleans through events like Mardi Gras, jazz funerals, second-line music, and brass band parades. The film illustrates the difference between Cajun music and zydeco as played in the post-Katrina years.
The festival was filmed on 14 stages, with 7,000 musicians and 100,000 fans. It was a celebration of many music genres, from funk and gospel to soul and hip-hop. The focus was on New Orleans artists, including rapper Big Freedia. After its 2019 performance, the festival was shut down by COVID for two years. But when it returned this year, it showed how New Orleans was still alive despite Katrina and COVID.
‘Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over’ (2021)
Filmusic ends on Sunday, June 26, on a high note with this tribute to the celebrated singer Dionne Warwick, the first woman to win a Grammy in the pop category. She received her first standing ovation when she was only 6 years old. Her first time onstage was at New York’s Apollo Theater.
When Warwick once snapped angrily at producers Burt Bacharach and Hal David: “Don’t make me over,” they turned the phrase into a bestselling song. Multitalented, Warwick can read and write music as well as sing, and over the years she broke through cultural, racial, and gender barriers. When she toured the South, her performances were sold out. She was advised not to turn her back on “the white folk,” but, of course, she did. Her career blossomed in Europe, where music transcended color. The song “Heartbreaker” sold 3 million copies and was a part of one of her top-selling albums. She won six Grammys over the course of her 60-year career, and is one of the most charted female vocalists of all time.
In addition to her musical success, Warwick became an activist, supporting a number of causes. She was the first recording artist to support AIDS in the 1980s. It was before the disease was understood, and when she saw so many people in the music business struck down by the disease. Her song “That’s What Friends Are For” became an anthem for AIDS awareness. President Ronald Reagan honored her by appointing her U.S. Ambassador of Health, a post she held during both the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.