A Jazz Tune Recorded In Heaven

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Fats Waller
They Died Before 40, a new jazz film, features eight jazz artists, most of them relatively unknown. They all died before reaching the age of 40. Actually, four of the eight died before reaching the age of 30! Seven died before 1944 and one died in 1956. The greatest jazz band in history has been playing in heaven for more than 50 years!

The film presents this band, organized in heaven, playing Stardust, “a tune recorded in heaven.” (They each recorded Stardust individually as a leader or sideman before they died. An audio engineer has been able to take some of each of these individual recordings and produce a beautiful version that can be heard in this film for the first time.)

When these men were chosen, serendipitously, by Howard E. Fischer, the producer, director and writer, he did not realize that they actually comprised what could be a functioning band – rhythm section (piano, drums, guitar and bass), two tenor saxophones and two trumpets. Who are these men?

The rhythm section consists of Fats Waller
Fats Waller
Fats Waller
1904 - 1943
, piano (died at 39 in 1943); Charlie Christian
Charlie Christian
Charlie Christian
1916 - 1942
guitar, electric
, guitar (died at 25 in 1942); Jimmy Blanton
Jimmy Blanton
Jimmy Blanton
1918 - 1942
bass, acoustic
, bass (died at 23 in 1942); and Chick Webb
Chick Webb
Chick Webb
1905 - 1939
, drums (died at 34 in 1939) who was not available for this recording (he never recorded this tune), so Big Sid Catlett sat in for him. The two tenors are Herschel Evans (died at 29 in 1939) and Chu Berry
Chu Berry
Chu Berry
1910 - 1941
sax, tenor
(died at 33 in 1941). The two trumpeters are Bunny Berigan
Bunny Berigan
Bunny Berigan
1908 - 1942
(died at 33 in 1942) and Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
Clifford Brown
1930 - 1956
(died at 25 in 1956).

The film also presents one piece of music each artist recorded that highlights his great talents. Interspersed is biographical information, expert commentary, photos and other material related to each. The film introduces these musicians and their music in the hope that more people will explore their music and learn about their lives. In addition, as an important aspect of the film, music historians talk about how the musicians’ lifestyles contributed to their deaths and how they died. At the end of the film a scroll lists about 20 other jazz musicians who died before the age of 40. Additional funding is needed to complete the film.

More information about the film can be found on Kickstarter.

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