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Passing the Torch

Bret Primack
United States, 2017, 43 min.

In English.
This film is family friendly.

Passing the Torch documents a ninety year old Jazz master, Jimmy Heath, mentoring teenage musicians with a thirst for knowledge and an appreciation of America's homegrown art form, Jazz. Director Bret Primack captures Heath's gentle, humorous sharing of life lessons and the non-threatening way he guides aspiring artists to musical excellence. An esteemed mentor, Mr. Heath reaches a much younger generation by understanding his role, to be dependable, engaged, authentic, and finely tuned to their needs. Accordingly, these teenagers recognize their unique opportunity, to learn Jazz and life from a man who walked with giants like John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. Mr. Heath, came to the Tucson Jazz Festival to play with the Tucson Jazz Institute's Ellington Band, repeated winners of Jazz at Lincoln Center's Essentially Ellington competition for high school groups. The collaboration was so meaningful that Doug Tidaback, the nationally recognized Jazz educator and co-founder of the Tucson Jazz Institute, brought Jimmy Heath back for a recording session. Filmmaker and teacher Bret Primack documented the interaction between the Jazz Yoda and this very talented group of teenage musicians. Passing the Torch, includes performance excerpts, rehearsals, interviews and behind the scenes moments that celebrate the joy of creation individually, and as part of a group, and the intergenerational sharing of wisdom.

Director's Statement

This past January, Jimmy Heath and the Tucson Jazz Institutes Ellington Band opened the Tucson Jazz Festival and something magical happened between the master musician and these young students. Doug Tidaback, an educator who runs the TJI along with bassist Scott Black and saxophonist Brice Winston, felt that the vibe between Jimmy Heath and his students was so strong that he invited the Jazz legend back to record with the Ellington band, which has won a number of Essentially Ellington competitions at Jazz at Lincoln Center. When filmmaker Bret Primack, a fifteen-year resident of Tucson and a friend of Jimmy Heath, learned of the recording, he decided to document the proceedings. I was at the January concert and what happened between Jimmy and those kids came as no surprise. I've known Jimmy since 1978 and in addition to being a superb tenor saxophonist and composer, he has a gentle, humorous, non-threatening approach to teaching that always produces memorable results. I didn't plan it, but this will be my second film featuring a ninety-year old musician. My first documentary feature Taking Charge, featured famed big band lead trumpeter, Pauly Cohen. I figure, if these guys are still doing it at ninety, there's hope for me yet.

Category: Documentary, Festival Alum.
Themes: Aging, Arts, Education, Music, Youth, Arizona Film.