PBS Revisits America’s Civil Rights Movement With New Documentary

Courtesy: PBS

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.  That is why next month, PBS Distribution is bringing audiences what is one of so many important stories from America’s Civil Rights movement.

The Jazz Ambassadors is currently scheduled to be released on DVD on June 19.  The story centers on the so-called “Jazz Ambassadors” — jazz greats Dizzie Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington Benny Goodman and Dave Brubeck — as the group  worked with the United States government to fight the Soviet Union’s propaganda war while at the same time facing the reality of Jim Crowe laws in America.

The Jazz Ambassadors is told through archival film footage, photos, radio clips, and performance clips from the musicians and their integrated bands.  The story overall shows how the Jazz Ambassadors’ work ultimately played a key role in the Civil Rights movement at a critical moment while also serving its other purpose in foreign affairs at the same time.  A trailer for the program is streaming online now here.

The Jazz Ambassadors will retail for $24.99, but can be pre-ordered online now at a reduced price of $19.99 via PBS’ online store.  More information on The Jazz Ambassadors and other PBS programs is available online now at:

 

Website: http://www.pbs.org/

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Cohen Media Group’s Re-Issue Of Syncopation Hits All The Right Notes

Courtesy: Cohen Media Group/RKO Pictures

Courtesy: Cohen Media Group/RKO Pictures

Every year, any number of classic movies is re-issued on DVD and Blu-ray. The re-issues range from modern movies that come from the latter part of the 20th Century (the 1980s and beyond) and those that come from Hollywood’s golden era (the 1970s and before). Among that yearly mass of movies, some are sort of memorable. And then there are those that prove to be must have movies for any true movie buff. While 2015 is still very young, already one movie has been released that is more than deserving of the title of a must have for any movie buff. The movie in question is the 1942 classic RKO Pictures movie Syncopation. It was re-issued on Blu-ray and DVD February 10th via Cohen Media Group. Syncopation is a must have not just for any true-blooded movie buff but for any true-blooded lover of music (and more specifically jazz). While it has never been known as one of the major blockbusters of Hollywood’s golden age, it is still a wonderful work. The main element of this movie that makes it a must have for any true-blooded movie buff and lover of music is its story. Writers Philip Yordan, and Frank Cavett have crafted a tale from Valentine Davies’ original story that bucks the general trend of most romantic movies. Rather than putting the script’s romantic plot line at the center of the story, they instead make the movie’s music the center of the story. It is the central element off of which the story’s romantic subplot works for its own development. And just as the story’s essentially inverted story makes the movie enjoyable, so do the transitions used throughout the story. Audiences are presented with solid scene transitions throughout the movie’s nearly ninety-minute run time that make the movie’s central story easy to follow. The end result is a story that will not only entertain viewers but is also easy to follow. In turn, it will keep viewers engaged from beginning to end and is sure to, again, show why this movie is a must have for any true-blooded movie buff and lover of music. The largely original story and its easily followed transitions are both key elements of what makes Syncopation a must have for any true-blooded movie buff and lover of music. If they are not enough reason, collectively speaking, for audiences to pick up this golden age re-issue, the footage and performances included with the movie as bonus material is sure to convince audiences. Cohen Media Group has included as bonus material a number of classic recordings from the likes of Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway and others that equals out to roughly nearly an hour and a half in itself. The recordings in question are taken from their original tapes. And being that they have not been re-mastered, they look just as they did nearly a century ago. And that is not a bad thing, either. As a matter of fact, it helps the overall presentation of Syncopation in terms of taking audiences back in time. It is a wonderful feeling brought on by both that bonus footage and the movie together is a realization that Cohen Media Group’s new re-issue of Syncopation is indeed a must have for any true-blooded movie buff and music lover and one of this year’s best new re-issues.

Syncopation is one of the best new re-issues of 2015 and a must have for any true-blooded movie buff and music lover. This movie was never one of the bigger names from Hollywood’s golden era. But it is still a wonderful classic that any movie buff and lover of classic movies and music will love. The main reason for this is the movie’s story. Crafted by co-writers Philip Yordan and Frank Cavett, the movie takes a route not very often taken by screenwriters both past and present. Instead of just being another romance movie, Syncopation makes its romance story secondary while putting the evolution of America’s greatest music front and center. From the Dixieland and blues sound of New Orleans to the more up-tempo sounds of Chicago’s jazz scene and more, audiences get to hear for themselves the roots of the jazz community. Even better for audiences is that jazz legends Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Harry James, and Charlie Barnet all get some screen time along the way. Getting to see and hear these legends perform makes for an excellent introduction to them and their music for those that might not be so familiar with them or their work. It could be a doorway into a whole new world of music for that matter. And for those that are more familiar with them and their music, it is that much more reason to add this movie to their home collections.

The musical elements of Syncopation’s story more than make this movie worth the watch by anyone that has any love of classic movies and the rich history of Hollywood’s golden era. They are just part of the story’s whole, of course. They are the base on which the movie’s secondary romance story sits. The romance side of the story follows Kit Latimer (Bonita Granville) from her childhood in New Orleans to her adult life finding love, losing that love because of war, and learning to love again afterward. Director William Dieterlie didn’t allow this subplot to overpower the movie’s central story honoring what is America’s music, instead balancing both elements together. The end result is a story that proves to be unlike so many other romance stories both of its age and Hollywood’s current era and in turn one of the perhaps most underrated movies in Hollywood’s history. It is one that any true lover of movies and music should add to their collections should they not already own it.

The dual-lined story that serves as the body of Syncopation makes for plenty of reason for any movie buff and music lover to add it to their personal movie libraries. They are but a tiny portion of what makes it worth the purchase, too. Throughout the course of the movie’s story, director William Dieterlie and those behind the cameras make following the story especially easy thanks to the story’s scene transitions. The scene transitions are smooth dissolves. There is no jumping from point to point. Audiences will see this as Kit leaves her childhood behind in New Orleans for her new home. They will see it just as clearly when America is pulled into Work War I and the man she loves goes off to fight for her country, and after the death of her childhood nanny Ella. The examples could go on and on. But it should be clear just how Dieterlie used this effect to help advance the story. And because he used them when and where he did, it went a long way toward keeping audiences engaged from beginning to end thus making for even more reason for true-blooded movie lovers and music lovers to pick up this movie’s much deserved re-issue.

The writing that went into Syncopation is key to its success and enjoyment. Yordan and Cavett are to be commended for the way in which they balanced the movie’s two separate plot lines. Dieterlie’s handling of the transitions (and that of those charged with assembling the final product) is just as important to the whole of Syncopation. Both parts are integral to the enjoyment of the story in whole. On another branch, the presentation that is Syncopation’s re-issue is made all the more enjoyable thanks to the recordings that make up the movie’s bonus features. Cohen Media Group has included a total of nine classic recordings featuring some of the greatest names in jazz. The names in question include: Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and a handful of others. The recordings are presented exactly as they were in their original presentations nearly a century ago. They look and sound surprisingly good considering the fact that well over eighty years have passed since they were originally recorded. Their collective run time comes to almost an hour and a half if not more than that, with the shortest (Jazz A La Cuba w/ Don Aspiazu) coming in at five minutes and nineteen seconds. The longest (St Louis Blues w/ Bessie Smith) comes in at fifteen minutes and forty-one seconds. The recordings aren’t just audio tracks, either. They are actual audio/visual recordings that tell stories alongside the songs. And they will definitely keep audiences engaged even by themselves. Lena Horne even makes an appearance in one recording, singing ‘Stormy Weather.’ She is presented singing her song inside a house, rain falling on the window. The pain in her voice as she sings against that backdrop makes the classic gives the song so much emotional punch. The other bonus recordings offer their own entertainment, too. And audiences will see that for themselves when they pick up Syncopation for themselves whether on DVD or Blu-ray. It is yet another reason that Syncopation’s new re-issue is a must-have for any true-blooded movie buff and music lover. What’s more it is that much more way in which it proves itself one of this year’s best new re-issues. Together with the work of the movie’s writing team and the work of those behind the cameras, it proves that without even the slightest shadow of a doubt.

Syncopation proves in its brand new DVD and Blu-ray re-issue that it is one of the best new re-issues of 2015. It proves to be a piece that any true-blooded movie buff and music lover should have in their own home libraries. It proves this through the solid work of co-writers Philip Yordan and Frank Cavett. It proves this just as much through the story’s scene transitions. they make both of the movie’s story elements entertaining and interesting for audiences. The bonus classic recordings that were unearthed for this re-issue make its presentation whole. That is thanks to the surprisingly impressive quality of their audio and video. The combination of all of these elements makes crystal clear why Syncopation is such a welcome re-issue. Their combination shows without a doubt why it is one of this year’s best new re-issues and a work that every true-blooded movie buff and music lover should have in his or her home movie collection. It is available now in stores and online. Audiences can check out a trailer from the movie and check out the movie’s image gallery online at https://cohenmedia.net/films/syncopation. A link to Amazon and iTunes is also available at this website for those looking to order or download the movie online. More information on this and other titles from Cohen Media Group is available online at:

Website: https://www.cohenmedia.net

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CohenMediaGroup

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Precious Child: Love Songs & Lullabies Is One Of This Year’s Most Surprisingly Enjoyable Children’s Albums

Courtesy:  MGP Records

Courtesy: MGP Records

MGP Records’ newly released children’s album Precious Child: Love Songs & Lullabies is one of the most surprising releases in its genre so far this year.  The album, which was crafted by composer-musician Darryl Tookes and Joe Beck is a beautiful tribute to the memory of Beck, who passed away in 2008.  Beck, like Tookes, was himself a composer and musician.  He wrote and recorded with some of the biggest names in the music industry throughout his life. From Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Miles Davis to the likes of James Brown, David Sanborn, and Paul Desmond, Beck’s resume was a shining list of who’s who in the music world.  So it goes without saying that when Beck passed in 2008 his friend Darryl Tookes had to wonder if this project would ever see the light of day.  Thank goodness, it did.  That’s because of the pure musical beauty contained from beginning to end in this compilation of songs.  The compilation opens with a catchy, jazzed-up take of the standard ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ that in this critic’s view, boasts quite the Stevie Wonder influence.  It’s a take that will take many by entirely pleasant surprise.  The flowing harmonies and keyboard line in ‘I Love You Too Much’ conjure thoughts of Boyz II Men.  The song is a touching tribute to every young boy out there.  The young ladies out there haven’t been forgotten, either.  As a matter of fact, ‘Daddy’s Girl’ is great for when a young lady is still a little girl or even for the first father-daughter dance at the wedding of any father’s daughter to her suitor.  It boasts its own old school r&b style that will move any dad with a heart to tears of happiness.  All three of the songs noted here are excellent examples of what makes Precious Child: Love Songs & Lullabies a beautiful surprise of a record.  Audiences will find for themselves in purchasing this album that every single one of the album’s ten tracks will leave a smile on any parent’s face; some songs more so than others.  In the end, audiences will agree that this record is a fitting tribute to the memory of Joe Beck and an equally fitting addition to any parent’s music library.

Tookes and Beck make quite the first impression with this compilation in their jazzed up take on the standard ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.’  That jazzed up feel is the most obvious aspect of the song that audiences will appreciate about it.  This classic poem/song is typically much slower and straight forward.  This more up-tempo take on the song is the polar opposite of that standard sound. One could almost argue that it boasts a celebratory vibe for lack of better wording.  And after hearing it, audiences will agree it is worlds better than that standard format.  Tookes channels Stevie Wonder as he sings poet Jane Taylor’s classic work.  Audiences that hear this song without knowing it is Tookes singing might actually mistake him for Wonder.  That in itself is quite the statement to Tookes’ vocal talents.  Not to be left out, Beck shines with his guitar work alongside Tookes’ vocals.  Their talents alongside the song’s vocal harmonies and the percussion add even more depth and emotion to the song.  That depth and joyful emotion generated through the song makes it clear why it was chosen as the album’s opener.  It makes just as clear that it was the right choice to open the album.

Beck and Tookes’ jazzed up take on ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ was the perfect choice to open this album, especially when taking into consideration the body of the album, closer included. It isn’t the only cover included on the album, either. There is also a medley of nursery rhymes that is just as enjoyable. And the duo’s gentle adaptation of ‘Rock a Bye Baby’ is just as impressive. The pair’s re-imaginings of classic songs aside, there are just as many equally moving originals throughout the album, too. One of those truly great pieces is an ode to sons everywhere in the song ‘I Love You Too Much.’ The gentle strains of the piano set against Tookes’ equally gentle vocals makes a person want to listen. The picture he paints of a father and son’s relationship is something worthy of a music video. This critic already has a vision of a music video in mind just listening to the video as the father and son talk to one another in the song’s verses. And as with the album’s opener, harmonies play a big role in this piece, too; especially in the song’s final moments. The best way to explain the combination of it all is that it is something that truly must be heard to be fully understood and appreciated. And in hearing it, every parent out there will appreciate the pure talent and musicianship exhibited throughout the composition. It is one more work that makes this compilation in whole an absolute for any parent out there.

The cover of the classic children’s poem/song ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ and the tribute to every son out there that is ‘I Love You Too Much’ are two absolute gems that shine so brightly one Precious Child: Love Songs & Lullabies. Every parent that picks up this album will be glad to know that in crafting the album before Beck’s passing, he and Tookes did not forget all of the young princesses out there. Beck and Tookes pay tribute to all of the daughters out there early on in the simply titled ‘Daddy’s Girl.’ All of the parents and daughters alike will be happy to see that this original song is also the first original work included in the compilation. It is the second song overall, yes. But it is the first of the record’s original tunes. So in a sense, one could say that the young ladies out there are getting a double tribute, getting their own song before the boys. Of course, that was meant in the most playful sense possible so as to not offend anyone. The lightly Latin-jazz tinged song is a piece that works whether a young lady is a child or enjoying her first father-daughter dance at her wedding. Tookes sings happily of a daughter, “This is a love/A love like no other love/This is a love/Unlike another/A love like no other I’ll ever know/And so she goes/And as I watch her grow/Daddy’s girl/My daughter/And I love her so/Daddy’s girl/My daughter/And I love her so.” Once again, the harmonies that are so prevalent throughout this record do so much in this piece. The addition of what sounds like bongos in the background alongside a light triangle line adds even more emotion and depth to the whole thing. As with ‘I Love You Too Much’ that depth and emotion makes it so easy to see this song being accompanied by a music video, too. Yes, that is a not so subtle hint to whoever makes those choices. Music video or not, it is one more absolutely beautiful and moving piece that exemplifies what makes Precious Child: Love Songs & Lullabies one of the most wonderfully surprising children’s albums to be released this year. That is not to discount the album’s other songs, either. The lullaby that is ‘Daddy’s Here’ and the album’s African-influenced title track will impress audiences just as much. Whether it be for those songs or any of the others not noted here, one will come away from this album knowing that in listening to it, they have just experienced something very special. They will know they have just experienced not just a group of songs, but a group of truly thought out and heartfelt songs that dare this critic say is timeless in its own right.

Precious Child: Love Songs & Lullabies is one of the most surprisingly enjoyable children’s albums to be released this year. From start to finish, every song on this album plays its own part in making this album timeless in its own right. Collectively, they make the album potentially one of the year’s definite best in its category this year. It is available now in stores and online. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Scholastic Set An Excellent Tool In The Classroom And The Home

Courtesy:  Scholastic/New video/Weston Woods/New Kideo

Courtesy: Scholastic/New video/Weston Woods/New Kideo

Scholastic’s African-American heritage based box set, Stories About African American Heritage featuring MARCH ON! The Day My Brother Martin Changed The World is a wonderful box set.  This triple-disc set is an excellent tool both inside the classroom and in the home, regardless of whether viewers are celebrating Black History month or simply to learn about an important part of African American history.  The stories culled for this collection celebrate some of the most respected and notable figures in the African American community such as musicians Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald.  Also featured in this set are stories of famed civil rights figures Rosa Parks and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Viewers are even introduced to some of the most well known African-American stories.  In all, this collection includes thirteen stories for audiences.  As an added bonus, interviews with the sister of Dr. King, Dr. Christine King Farris and with author of Henry’s Freedom Box, Ellen Levine.  There are even discussion questions included for students, children and parents both in the classroom and at home.  And what Scholastic set would be complete with the optional Read-Along feature?  That is here, too.  It all comes together to make a box set that any viewer will appreciate and enjoy.

Stories About African American Heritage (as it will henceforth be known) opens fittingly with a collection of stories centered on two of the most well known figures in the Civil Rights movement; Rev. Dr. martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks.  It opens with a story by Dr. King’s sister, Christine King Farris titled, March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed The World.  In this story, Mrs. Farris describes not only how her brother prepared for his landmark speech at the nation’s capitol, but the reaction of the people who were in attendance.  The story is made even more interesting as it includes actual photos of Dr. King throughout the story as well as of those in attendance.  Audiences also learn that Dr. King wasn’t the first minister in his family.  His grandfather, A.D. Williams was also a minister.  Just as interesting to learn is that while most people remember this moment in history for Dr. King’s speech, many may not know that Dr. King had also come to meet with Congressional leaders about passing a new law that would make whites and blacks truly equal.  He hadn’t come just to give a speech.  This story is more than just a story.  It’s a trip back in time to a pivotal moment in history.  It’s a trip that everybody young and old, white, black and otherwise should take at least once.  While the story’s companion interview with Christine King Farris is dated (it mentions the monument built in his honor before it had been built), her interview helps to bring the story full circle and show just how significant his speech was and still is today to Americans as a whole.

The main feature on Dr. King is a very powerful and moving piece.  It’s just one of the interesting pieces included in this set of thirteen stories.  Also included as part of the set, is a feature on famed pianist/composer and band leader Edward Kennedy Ellington, A.K.A. Duke Ellington.  Right from the start, audiences get a little history lesson on Ellington that’s easily accessible for all audiences.  Whitaker reads to viewers that Ellington was born in 1899 in Washington, D.C. and that the name “Duke” was a name he brought on himself as he told people to call him by that name.  Viewers will be interested to learn that Ellington apparently originally did not lean towards music.  Rather, according to the story—narrated by veteran actor Forest Whitaker—Ellington originally was more interested in playing baseball than the piano.  The story of how Duke was drawn back to the piano is just as entertaining as his early lack of interest in the instrument.  The history lesson centering on Duke’s rise to stardom is equally easy to grasp for audiences.  Being that it’s being read out loud, both parents and kids alike will easily remember the majority, if not all, of what they are taught.  That’s really what makes this an especially nice addition to this set.  Just as with the feature on Dr. King, it doesn’t come across as a history lesson.  It comes across simply as a story about important historical figures since it’s coming across on the screen instead of in a book.  The visual images will stimulate the eyes and mind, while the history will stick with viewers.  As a result, it could help to foster an interest in music in younger viewers just as the piece on Dr. King could get young audiences interested in politics.  Again, it’s one more wonderful tool for viewers both in the classroom and in the home.

The last disc in this set celebrating African American heritage focuses on the literature of a people.  Just as religion, politics, and music are important parts of African American history, so is literature.  In the set’s final disc, viewers get a healthy dose of literature from the African culture as it includes five classic stories anchored by the story, Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears.  This tale tells the story of why mosquitoes buzz in people’s ears, just as the title notes.  According to the story, the mosquito buzzes in people’s ears because it has a guilty conscience after causing the death of a baby owl.  This concept might be a bit much for some younger audiences.  So parents should use their own discretion with this story.  That aside, it still is an interesting addition to this final disc’s collection of stories.  Added to the set’s other stories, the entire collection comes together to make a set that again is a wonderful tool that any parent or educator will want to use every year any time of year, not just for Black History Month.  It is available now and can be ordered online via New Kideo’s official website at http://www.newkideo.com/scholastic/the-heritage-collection/.

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