Lullaby of Harlem (1999)

Genres - Music  |   Sub-Genres - Music History, Social History  |   Run Time - 60 min.  |   Countries - United States   |  
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Review by Craig Butler

As a film, Lullaby of Harlem is no great shakes. Nothing more than a series of performances by various jazz musicians strung together by introductions that are practically the definition of "concise," Lullaby doesn't really qualify even as a documentary, as it fails to provide context, delve into background or in any real way illuminate the people or the era it represents. But none of that is on Lullaby's mind; all it wants to do is showcase some of the greatest jazz talent America has produced, and it does an admirable job of that. Viewers who are able to simply sit back and enjoy the music (and occasional visuals, although these are usually fairly primitive, befitting what one assumes is their early television origins) will be amply rewarded. True, the musicians represented are not necessarily giving their best performances, but when one is talking about the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, and Fats Waller, even less-than-best is plenty good enough. Highlights abound, ranging from the hefty Velma Middleton's dance break (complete with splits) during a duet with Armstrong to Gillespie's gyrating hips and arched back to an extremely acrobatic jitterbug break by Whitey's Lindy Hoppers during a Duke Ellington sequence. Those who can forget about the unambitious manner (cinematically) in which the material is presented are in for a treat.