Tuesday, January 27, 2009


I received a copy of the documentary film Musician for Christmas and I finally got around to watching it. As I mentioned before, it profiles Ken Vandermark, my favorite musician currently on the scene. The movie is shot in a very direct style; there are no interviews or narration. It begins with Vandermark alone in his basement composing and working through some writer's block and ends with concert footage of him playing a solo show at an art museum (or possibly an art gallery). In between, it's an unvarnished look at the day-to-day life of a musician operating well outside of the mainstream of commercial music. The entire film is summarized in the final scene. It begins with a close-up of him addressing the crowd, his humility and humanity on full display, before launching into a Japp Blonk-inspired solo. As he starts to play, the camera pans back to just beyond and above the audience, revealing the modest crowd. The camera holds that shot until the song ends, and the movie fades out with the applause. It shows the loneliness, sacrifice, humility, creativity, strength, and elation that the uncompromising artist must endure, posses, and hopefully, receive.

I've always felt that Vandermark was an amazingly humble artist. Every time I've seen him play, he always seems genuinely touched that people bothered to pay money to listen to his music. That humility is on display in Musician, and while a lot of it is just his personality, the occupation that he has chosen certainly reinforces his humility. As a fan of his music, I really enjoyed the concert segments and I also enjoyed the way that they were shot. The rehearsal segments were even more interesting, both for the behind the scenes look that they offered and for the insight they offered into Vandermark as a composer and bandleader.

Musician is obviously a must-see for fans of Vandermark's music, but it's also a movie for anyone who is interested in watching the creative process in action.

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