Featuring live musical performances, new and old, from Mahalia Jackson, Dr. John, Louis Armstrong, Terence Blanchard (also an Executive Producer) and more, not only does UP FROM THE STREETS offer a platform to present some of the best musicians the past 100+ years have produced, it also offers audiences a personal historical tour of New Orleans with Blanchard as a guide.
The film begins in the neighborhood of Tremé, known as “The Cradle of Jazz”, at St. Augustine Church where Blanchard describes it to be the oldest African American Catholic parish in the United States, and from there the documentary spins an extensive web to cover the broad evolution of Jazz and how its place within the city of New Orleans allowed the music and culture to simultaneously inform each other. The film is not only about music, but it’s a love letter to the city itself where musicians are icons and its people are family. In his Director’s Statement, Murphy writes that the film is about “how the music of New Orleans reflects the culture of the city; and how music has the power to change lives.”
The film also offers insight into how the music is so specifically and uniquely American. From the Cradle of Jazz, Murphy and Blanchard trace the formation of the music from the African American experience in the South and how those experiences shaped particular characteristics found within its sound, beginning with its rhythm. They then follow Jazz’s journey to Chicago, before covering the country and eventually finding its migration overseas. You will come to understand how Jazz is as Blanchard describes it, “America’s art form” and you will feel the adoration in his voice as he says this.
With its 104 minute runtime, you can’t expect the documentary to cover the entire history of Jazz, but it does a considerable job of illustrating the important chapters while taking informative moments to expand on important pieces of history that are crucial for us to hear today but unfortunately aren’t spoken about enough. For example, of course, the documentary covers the influence of musicians like Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and Miles Davis, but he also takes the time to demonstrate the influence of female musicians and band leaders like Neliska “Baby” Briscoe and Sweet Emma Barrett. Murphy also takes great care to describe the pain that the art form was born from and how that pain is still present in the 21st century while it continues to affect the evolution of its music.
Along with Harry Connick Jr. the film features a variety of interviews from prominent musicians such as Keith Richards, Robert Plant and Sting, who profess their love for the city and its music. And we’re also treated with covers of popular songs in and out of the genre, like Lennon/McCartney’s “Blackbird”, which is performed by Blanchard with Quiana Lynell, as well as Otis Redding’s “A Change is Gonna Come” which is performed by Ivan & Aaron Neville. While finding the differences in their renditions, you will pick up the particularities of New Orleans Jazz that they go to great lengths of describing.
So give yourself a break this weekend and enjoy UP FROM THE STREETS, maybe even prepare some authentic creole cuisine and get up to dance. It’s all certainly worth your time and it’s a great virtual method of travelling the country from your living room. And don’t forget about some of our many other feel good titles still available to stream, such as The Booksellers, Driveways, and RBG. Enjoy your weekend!