Saturday, February 16, 2019

WFA ’19: Baby Won’t You Please Come Home (short)

You know the title standard must be a bluesy torch-song, because it was first popularized by Bessie Smith and subsequently covered by Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Julie London. Pearl Simmons also recorded it, but the homecoming part probably had more personal resonance for her than the wayward man. Sadly, she no longer performs, presumably in part because her faculties are slowly slipping away in Christopher Piazza’s short film Baby Won’t You Please Come Home, which screens during the 2019 Winter Film Awards.

Simmons and her contractor husband always took pride and pleasure in the elegant home they purchased and fully restored in an affluent neighborhood. Over the years, it was their source of security. Unfortunately, he passed three years ago. She misses him during her moments of lucidity, but Simmons is getting increasingly lost in her memories. She is also losing time, growing ever more forgetful, and confusing past and present. Her grown daughter Cynthia fully recognizes the problem, but her determination to protect and manage her mother might no longer be realistic.

Viewers can be confident the music in Baby is legit, because young Simmons is played by rising star jazz vocalist Jazzmeia Horn, who is backed by real deal jazz musicians like Andrew Gutauskas on baritone saxophone (a somewhat unusual choice for a singer’s combo, but it sounds great) and Steve Einerson or Adam Birnbaum on piano. Simmons’ choice of repertoire also rather surprisingly leans towards the traditional. In addition to “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home,” she also performs a powerful “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” and a very nice “I’ll See You in My Dreams” (an Isham Jones tune).

Piazza nicely uses scenes of the younger singer at the peak of her performance powers as a counterpart to the older, somewhat impaired Simmons. Horn really does not have much to do from a dramatic standpoint, but she undeniably commands the stage. On the other hand, Michelle Hurst is quite poignant, in a heartbreakingly realistic way as the contemporary Simmons.

Baby would pair up quite nicely with Richie Adams’ feature film, Of Mind and Music, both in terms of their respective themes and musical content. The music swings, but Piazza also portrays the challenges of dementia and care-giving with sensitivity and empathy. Recommended for jazz patrons and fans of senior-focused dramas like Iris and On Gold Pond, Baby Won’t You Please Come Home screens tonight (2/16) and Tuesday afternoon (2/19), as part of this year’s Winter Film Awards.