Louis Armstrong (Archival)
"Louis Armstrong's Black & Blues" One of 2022's Best Music Docs
You know you're living the good life when you're covering two film fests in a row and both just happen to be screening one of 2022's best music documentaries. Such is the case with Sacha Jenkins' remarkable Louis Armstrong's Black & Blues, the Closing Night Screening at Nashville Film Fest and the Opening Night Screening at my hometown Heartland International Film Festival the very next day.
Louis Armstrong's Black & Blues is a powerhouse film. Jenkins has been given access to Armstrong's personal archive including his very own audio recordings that offer up a detailed, years-long detailing of his behind-the-scenes persona juxtaposed against his public image. Scheduled for release on Apple TV+ later this month, Black & Blues had its world premiere at TIFF and has been making the rounds of a limited fest circuit before its release.
Those familiar with Armstrong's music will rejoice. All of the greats are here and they're immersed in Armstrong's abundant audio diaries and video footage that will make music lovers weep. If you don't know much about Armstrong, you'll know much more by the time the closing credits are rolling. Songs like "What a Wonderful World," "Hello Dolly," and "When the Saints Go Marching In" are familiar yet feel so vibrant and powerful here that it practically feels like our beloved Satchmo is in the room with us. Black & Blues delves into Armstrong's personal life, though spends most of its time with his fourth wife Lucille.
Black & Blues for the most part keeps things positive, though it explores the delicate balance he tried to find in both supporting civil rights and using his influence while also maintaining his 50+ year career. Armstrong was known to refuse to play places where he couldn't stay, however, he would later become a somewhat controversial figure for largely staying in the background during civil rights protests that he would support financially but not actively participate in. Black & Blues gives us deep insight into Armstrong decision-making and actions at the time, likely even creating a strong argument supporting his absolute role in the historical times in which he survived and even thrived. Jenkins masterfully assembles the complex nature of this man, his music, and his place in America and identity with cities such as New Orleans, New York City, and others.
Black & Blues is the kind of film that happens when a filmmaker understands the man, the music, and the culture and is able to put it all together in a way that engages, entertains, educates, and inspires. If you didn't consider Louis Armstrong a musical icon before, you most certainly will after watching Louis Armstrong's Black & Blues.
I would watch Louis Armstrong's Black & Blues again and again for the music alone, but thanks to the magnificent work of Sacha Jenkins there are a myriad of other reasons to watch what is unquestionably one of the year's very best musical documentaries.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic