Sunday, August 20, 2023

Cinequest ’23: Sloane: A Jazz Singer

Carol Sloane led a very jazz life. You can tell from the number of career “comebacks” she pulled off. Her last one came very late in life and she had a documentary crew there to film it. A lot of people might not recognize her name, but they should. Michael Lippert followed the late jazz survivor as she prepared for a live recorded engagement at Birdland in Sloane: A Jazz Singer, which screens during the 2023 Cinequest Film Festival.

Maybe you don’t know Sloane’s name, but Concord Records sold a whole lot of her albums in the early 1990s (before the label shifted its focus in “hipper” directions). She also appeared on
The Tonight Show many times in the early 1960s (but often during the optional 15-minute openings many stations did not carry). She also befriended both the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, neither of whom did much of anything to further her career, but her greatest cheerleader, Oscar Peterson, certainly did. There were definitely a lot of missed opportunities in her career, but she was still far from unknown.

Unfortunately, she was also held back by personal problems, including a troubled relationship with Jimmy Rowles (the renowned jazz accompanist) and caring for her husband Buck, during his slow demise. As her friend, executive producer Stephen Barefoot puts it, she had a lot of ups and downs—and her downs really got down there.

However, it would be a mistake to consider her a name from obscurity. You don’t just book Birdland by cold-calling. She was on Columbia Records when they were the most important label in America and a jazz powerhouse. She subbed for Annie Ross in Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Jazz listeners always knew her. It is just the media that is culturally illiterate.

I can argue that as much as I like, but Sloane still had to scuffle through a world that did not value real jazz as much as it should. She was doing it again, rightly anticipating the live recording of her Birdland run would be her final musical testament. Lippert’s cameras capture all the anxiety of her preparations, which reflected her artistic testament.

The resulting doc is often poignant, but the takeaway should be an appreciation for Sloane’s resiliency and artistry. She was able to keep coming back because the music meant something to her and her listeners. It is a sensitive film that name drops a lot of famous musicians. It also features prominently Mike Renzi, her longtime friend and musical collaborator, who ironically predeceased Sloane in 2021, but still contributed the solo piano performance of “I’ll Leave the Door a Little Open” to Lippert’s documentary. Sloane and Renzi were both great talents, which just about any viewer should be able to tell from their work together. Very highly recommended,
Sloane: A Jazz Singer screens this Wednesday (8/23) and the following Monday (8/28) as part of this year’s Cinequest.