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Docurama presents
A Night in Havana: Dizzy Gillespie in Cuba (1988)

"I think it's necessary for our children to know from whence they have come, and where they are going."
- Dizzy Gillespie

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: August 03, 2005

Stars: Dizzy Gillespie, Arturo Sandoval, Gonzalo Rubalcaba
Director: John Holland

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 01h:24m:27s
Release Date: July 26, 2005
UPC: 767685969137
Genre: jazz

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B B+B-B D+

DVD Review

Unmistakable with his soul patch and his wildly puffed-out cheeks, Dizzy Gillespie was one of the true giants of jazz, both a virtuoso performer and a pioneer in bringing the rhythms and traditions of cultures beyond our borders to the indigenous American musical form. This documentary is a celebration of Gillespie and his talents, the occasion being a trip he and his band took to Cuba, a country from which he took a good amount of musical inspiration. It's more of a travelogue and a character study than a concert film, and as such it's not wholly satisfying; in truth, Gillespie is a better musician than he is a raconteur, and his stories and observations aren't as entertaining as his playing. But still, it's a warm and affectionate portrait of one of the masters of the trumpet.

Gillespie is, unsurprisingly, given a hero's welcome upon his arrival; he even gets an audience with Fidel, who showers him with praise and gifts. The best moments of the documentary are musical ones—at one point, for instance, Gillespie forgoes his horn for a keyboard, playing piano while accompanying Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval on a signature Gillespie number, Duke Ellington's A Night in Tunisia. At moments like this, you think that, musically, Gillespie can do anything; he's got a set of pipes at least as good as Louis Armstrong's, too, as he demonstrates when he takes the lead vocal on Gee, Baby, Ain't I Good To You? The editing of the documentary is a little arbitrary—there's no central narrative or musical motif, just Gillespie offering tales from the road and about the inspiration he took from Cuban music intercut with him either performing for or being entertained by throngs of adoring locals.

Sociologically, Gillespie is probably at his most interesting when comparing Cuba with the South Carolina in which he grew up; perhaps, he thinks, that accounts for some of his affinity with the local music. But that's less important and less interesting to watch than when he's got his trumpet in hand; an extended jam session (A Night in Tunisia again) is probably the musical highlight of the piece. Gillespie also gives us a couple of charming and off-color stories; overall, this isn't an exhaustive look at the man or his music, but at less than 90 minutes, it never wears out its welcome.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Picture quality is a little flat and degraded; transfer to DVD is workmanlike.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Sound quality is a little ragged, but the transfer doesn't seem to introduce any new problems.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
8 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Bob Dylan: Dont Look Back , Brother's Keeper, Go Tigers!, Keep the River On Your Right, Porn Star: The Legend of Ron Jeremy, Lost in La Mancha, The Smashing Machine, The Weather Underground
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. filmmaker statement
  2. Docurama catalog
  3. DVD credits
Extras Review: There's a brief bio on director John Holland, along with some notes from him, principally professing his love for Gillespie. A full boat of Docurama trailers are the only other extras.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

An affectionate if a bit rambling portrait of one of the great trumpeters paying his respects to a land that provided him with great musical inspiration.


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