They Died Before 40
Many people may have heard of Charlie Parker, who died at 34. But others, such as Herschel Evans, who died before reaching 30, are very little known and their stories untold. For example, Jo Jones, drummer and an integral part of the Count Basie band for many years, has called Evans the greatest musician he ever played with. He said that Evans made everyone he played with better.
Who was this giant, what made him an important creative artist and why did he die so young? These are questions that this film will answer concerning Evans and many more. Also to be featured are Charlie Christian, Fats Waller, Jimmy Blanton, Bunny Berigan, Clifford Brown, Chick Webb and Chu Berry.
Others to be mentioned will be Bix Beiderbecke, Fats Navarro, Oscar Pettiford, Eric Dolphy, Paul Chambers, Serge Chaloff, Sonny Berman, Frank Teschemacher, Lee Morgan and about a dozen more.
Through their music, archival film footage, photographs, reminiscences and expert discourse we will learn more about these artists, develop an appreciation of their artistry and reveal how and why their careers were cut short.
This film will expand our cultural heritage for this internationally renowned art form.
The film is being written, produced and directed by Howard E. Fischer, an attorney who represented jazz musicians and arts organizations and was the founder of the New York Jazz Museum in 1972 and its Executive Director until 1977. He also produced, wrote and directed the acclaimed film THE HOLLAND AVENUE BOYS: A SUCCESS STORY that appeared on over 50 PBS stations.
Dan Morgenstern, Retired Director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, a renowned jazz historian, author, editor, and archivist active in the jazz field since 1958 is a consultant to the project.
Financial participation is needed to pay for music and photograph licenses.
As founder and Executive Director of the New York Jazz Museum from 1972 to 1977 I was able to meet, observe and interact with hundreds of jazz musicians in a professional and social context. This gave me insight into their lives and what I learned has driven me to make this film. There are important lessons to be learned and gaps to be filled in our understanding of probably our most creative art form and those who made it so. These musicians never lived long enough to fully enjoy their gifts or gain the elusive acceptance their talents warranted. Whatever the reasons, we were robbed of brilliant Americans’ great creative talents and the pleasures they could have produced for millions throughout the world.
PLEASE HELP ME TELL THEIR STORIES AND ALERT OTHERS TO EXPLORE THEIR MUSIC AND LEARN ABOUT THEIR LIVES.
Written, Produced and Directed by Howard E. Fischer
93 minutes with over 600 photographs and graphic material plus 60 pieces of music
About the Film
1. Which musician’s funeral in 1939 attracted 10,000 mourners and an 80-car funeral procession?
2. How did substance abuse affect these musicians' lives and what Charlie Parker said about it?
3. What was probably the most significant activity in all their lives that lead to their success?
4. Which swing musicians influenced beboppers Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis?
5. How did the jazz environment affect these musicians’ lifestyles and deaths?
6. How are these musicians celebrated more than 50 years later in the case of one and more 70 years later in the case of the others?
7. What was the most significant turning point in the careers of these musicians?
8. What musician learned to play on a homemade instrument?
9. What legendary jazz band leader initially rejected one of his most important band members?
10. Which ground-breaking female jazz musician helped establish one of these featured musicians?
11. How did this musician impact Duke Ellington’s piano playing?
12. How was the bass and the guitar forever revolutionized by these two musicians?
13. How did the “after hours joint” impact these lives? (Not what you think.)
14. Which musician may have helped save the life of another great musician (still living today)?
15. Which disease killed some of these musicians and many other early jazz musicians?
16. Which musician earned a college math scholarship?
17. Which famous jazz musician influenced the careers of some of these musicians?
18. What affect did dancing have on jazz during the swing era?
19. Which 1930s jazz mecca encouraged integration?
20. Which legendary jazz singer propelled this musician’s career?
21. What musical innovations did these musicians foster?
22. Which musician, in his hospital bed before his family, sat up and announced, “I gotta go!” … and died?
23. Which jazz leader discovered one of his most important musicians while out of his hotel in his pajamas?
24. Which musician caused his predecessor and then current band mate to walk out and quit music and why?
25. Which instrument was taken out of the “doghouse” by this musician?
26. Which musician played so soulfully and could attack a certain note in a way that could make you cry?
27. Which musician’s wife confronted him about his mistress and what he said to her?
28. How did racism directly affect musicians in the Jim Crow era?
29. Which African American musician was forced to play at the other end of the recording studio with white musicians?
30. Which African American musician was probably the first of his race to be the leader of a group of white musicians?
31. Which musician was in what world famous band at what venue that probably was the event that began the Swing Era as a cultural phenomenon?
32. What song performed by this musician has been out there for more than 75 years in movies and recordings?
33. Which musician did Louis Armstrong rave about?
34. Which famous jazz musician speaking about this musician said, “He was so good that he made me stop playing”? (He had to listen to him.)
35. Which musician was the first Texas Tenor and what is a Texas Tenor?
36. Which musician from a famous band said this about one of our featured musicians -“he was the greatest musician I ever worked with.” He said that he “never knew a musician who could lift a band” like this musician did.
37. Which bandmate said of this featured musician “he had a sound on his horn that you will probably never hear again”?
38. Which musician’s wife said that he was the “most beautiful person” she’d ever met?
39. Which musician died on his wife’s birthday which was also the day of the month they had gotten married?
40. Who were the clean-living musicians who died of natural causes and unforeseen circumstances?
41. These musicians “recorded a song in heaven” for this film.
What can I say?....your film is sensational....the painstaking editing, scripting and overall direction is a tribute to your tireless dedication and focus....I hope that you quickly surmount the difficulties that you spoke of not the least because this film deserves to part of the canon of the best jazz films ever produced....
I just finished watching the entire film in one sitting. My initial impression is that it is terrific, certainly on a par with the Ken Burns jazz documentary of about 15 years ago. …the film is great.
Jazz aficionados will love it, and lay people will learn a lot from it. This film could easily be used in the jazz curriculum in hundreds if not thousands of high schools and colleges in the U.S. and in other places like Europe, Japan, and Australia, where jazz is held in high regard.
The film is really a superb educational tool.
This is great stuff. My feedback so far is that the stories are great... I like the music and pictures and the symmetry of the sections.
Sorry I've been able to view this till now. WOW! This is great- you've done a marvelous job!
…"great work" … "very entertaining and educational.” It is extremely well done.
I think it is VERY well done and very entertaining to watch, even for someone who is not necessarily a die hard jazz fan. I absolutely loved this film, and am impressed and proud of what you created.
I watched THEY DIED BEFORE 40 last night. You did a marvelous job of highlighting the careers of these important musicians.
…you have an absolutely superb film on your hands.
All I can say is Wow! I really enjoyed this film. I'll have to watch it again and take notes. I can tell the amount of work and of course the passion bleeds through as well.
I've heard the stories and this puts things in a better place.
Thanks, I'll be in touch.