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Barry Harris and Mal Waldron: Passing It On / A Portrait

Francis Lo Kee By

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Barry Harris / Mal Waldron
Barry Harris: Passing It On / A Portrait of Mal Waldron
Rhapsody Films

This DVD release collects two films about two significant jazz pianists—Barry Harris and Mal Waldron. The first film is a short (23 minutes) but wonderfully personable glimpse into the life of pianist/educator Harris, who describes himself at the film's beginning as an "inveterate be-bopper," a man dedicated to that part of the jazz language he calls "the beginning and end of music." What clearly comes across is how committed Harris is to increasing through teaching the size of the music's younger audience. One of the settings is the Jazz Cultural Theater, an independent school Harris founded to promote jazz. One longs for more of Harris' playing, but as the film ends there is little doubt that we have just witnessed a substantial document of one of America's national treasures.

A Portrait of Mal Waldron was filmed a dozen years later and, as a project made in Europe, benefits from a bigger budget. Besides wonderful comments and candid rehearsal clips featuring Max Roach, Steve Lacy, Jeanne Lee and other close collaborators, there are snippets of rare archival footage. In one scene Waldron, who was Billie Holiday's final accompanist, is shown walking down a street in Belgium, and he says to the director, "I believe that if Billie Holiday stayed in Europe, she would be alive today." We then realize that he himself had moved to Europe in 1965, staying there until his death in 2002.

Both A Portrait of Mal Waldron and Passing It On represent the jazz life as a labor of love undertaken by these great musicians—both carrying on with the utmost positive energy, despite the comparative absence of fame, wealth and, at least Stateside, the respect that was their due.


Passing It On: A film by David Chan and Ken Freumdlich. Barry Harris: piano, with Red Rodney, Pepper Adams and Clifford Brown. Copyright: 1985. Rhapsody Films. Run time: 23 minutes.

A Portrait of Mal Waldron: A film by Tom Van overberghe. Mal Waldron: piano, with Max Roach, Steve Lacy, Jeanne Lee, Andrew Cyrille, and Reggie Workman. Screenplay: Bo Mandeville & Tom Van overberghe; Photography: Toon Illegems; Editor: Joris Heugebaert; Mixing: Guido Godon. Produced by Bo Mandeville & Willem Thijssen. Copyright: 1997. Minerva Pictures (Antwerp, Belgium). Run time: 52 minutes.


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