“It’s great that Mr. Armstrong is finally getting his due,” reveals the director Sacha Jenkins when asked about the overwhelmingly positive response to his documentary “Louis Armstrong’s Black and Blues.” The Apple TV+ film holds a perfect 100% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes and has been nominated for Best Music Documentary at both the Critics Choice and IDA Documentary Awards.
Jenkins’ film follows the life and legacy of Louis Armstrong, the founding father of jazz, America’s first pop star, and cultural ambassador. To celebrate the acclaimed movie, watch our special Spotlight roundtable discussion with Jenkins and four key players from “Louis Armstrong’s Black and Blues” — animator Hectah Ariasarchival producer Amilca Palmer and editors Alma Herrera-Pazmino give Jason Pollard. Together they are joined by Gold Derby senior editor Denton Davidson for a fun, memorable Q&A. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
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Armstrong is shown performing “(What Did I Do to be So) Black and Blue” near the beginning of the film, and Jenkins reveals why it became the documentary’s title. “That song says it all. He’s talking about, my only sin is in my skin. He didn’t make that idea up, America did. To see a great American exercise his feelings, and the simple idea of, when you get struck, you look at your skin and come away with a black and blue. For a litany of reasons it felt like it completely articulated the thesis of the film and what Mr. Armstrong had to deal with his entire life and his entire career.”
Palmer calls it a “privilege” to have the opportunity to explore the entertainer’s expansive archives. “He had the presence of mind and the sense of his own importance that he was collecting on his own life from very early on,” she explains. “A good 50 to 60 percent of the material we use is actually in Armstrong’s own collection. His audio tapes, his scrap books, his clippings, his photographs, snapshots. He was someone who was at the top of his game in music and in film. He was being photographed and documented every day of his life by outside organizations. So it was overwhelming. We had to be really focused on what we were trying to say. We were guided by Louis’ own voice.”
Herrera-Pazmino shares what it was like to edit down over 1,500 hours of audio that Armstrong had recorded himself throughout his life. “There was a plethora to choose from, but it really came down to what’s going to serve the purpose of this specific story and who do we have to corroborate this story with. We also had to make sure we could balance his voice with other voices, whether that was his family members, his wives, people he traveled with, other musicians, people that witnessed. It was finding a thread across stories and reading through the transcripts. Everything was transcribed. It was a big treasure hunt.”
For Arias’ animation throughout the film he says, “It almost felt like Louis was the creative director because it’s matching his scrapbooks and his art. It was kind of a blessing, but then I felt like, man, he’s going to outshine me, I’ve got to do something with this. His stuff was so good, I had to match it and bring it to life.” Arias is nominated for Outstanding Visual Design at this year’s Cinema Eye Honors Awards.
“Before working on this film I didn’t give Louis his proper credit,” admits Pollard. “I thought he was a great musician, but all the personal stuff that he had to go through, and continued to go through to maintain a career, to maintain a successful life through 70-plus years is phenomenal. I’m grateful to have worked on the film and to have been exposed to those elements.”
“Louis Armstrong’s Black and Blues” is currently streaming on Apple TV+.
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