“Vince Giordano: There’s a Future in the Past”
Learning About Giordano
Vince Giordano is a jazz and swing musician and bandleader. In this new documentary by co-directors Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards, we learn about Giordano’s career as a musician, his childhood and his personality. I suppose I must have been out of the county when he was popular here in America because I knew nothing about him before seeing this film.
Born and based in Brooklyn, Mr. Giordano, 64, has for forty years been leading his 11-piece band the Nighthawks that specializes in the pre-swing era music. Giordano himself plays several instruments, including tuba, string bass and bass saxophone, and sings. He gained popularity playing hotels and today he has a group of young fans that come to his concerts dressed in the style of the earlier period. His music has been featured in Woody Allen’s movies and the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.” It is said that he has made his music new again and this is because of his devotion to stylistic authenticity.
Giordano is a collector and has some 60,000 big-band arrangements that he has found in his extensive search for original manuscripts and radio transcriptions of music that here is called “hot jazz”. What the singer, pianist and cabaret performer Michael Feinstein is to vintage popular songs, Mr. Giordano is to hot jazz.
“There’s a Future in the Past” is a ground-level exploration of this historian at work, leading the Nighthawks or one of their satellite ensembles and traveling the country to examine and rescue old arrangements that have turned up in radio station archives and musicians’ basements. What others would dismiss as trash is the equivalent of discovering gold to Mr. Giordano.
This documentary goes deeply into Giordano’s world to show us the “drudgery and headaches of being a bandleader” and that includes juggling personnel, scheduling, dealing with unions and carrying instruments. This is not a “get rich quick” profession but rather one that is based on loving what one does.
We see persuasive revivals of tunes and arrangements and solos from the 1920s and ’30s and understand how difficult it is to do this. — and the great present-tense effort it takes to pull them off. Giordano doesn’t just lead his band, he also finds vintage arrangements from the days of Fletcher Henderson and Paul Whiteman, handles bookings, checks that all his band members and their instruments have gotten onto the bus. Giordano also has to break down his band’s setup before he’s finished hauling it to the stage..
Regular gigs, even for small crowds, are invaluable to the sharpness of the band. I wish that the film considered the value of the painstaking recreations that Giordano provides. The music is not improvised but rather the band tries to discover what it might have been like to hear those bands of yore.
Giordano has been keeping vintage big-band jazz alive in concert venues and onscreen. He has devoted his life to doing so. What we really see are the basics of the band’s perseverance as working musicians.
The documentary follows Giordano over a three-year period capturing the bandleader and multi-instrumentalist as he makes the radio rounds and leads his 11-piece band through their twice-weekly shows at a Manhattan theater-district hotel. There is a new set for every show and as many as 2,500 arrangements on tap thus the musicians on their toes. It’s a challenge they welcome and a gig that makes them proud.
We see and hear a rousing rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue” and an engaging “Boardwalk Empire” recording session with David Johansen. We also see a dwindling audience yet the film ends on an especially satisfying high note.
Giordano’s passion is his preserving and curating history through the archives in his side-by-side Brooklyn houses. He brings new energy into older pieces of music and is masterful as he does so.
The directors present the struggles and the hard work that go along with Giordano’s career. He is aperfectionist and that is a difficult task and it is upsetting to see his minor meltdown onstage at the New York Hot Jazz Festival over a missing piece of equipment. During this, the camera observes discomfort in the band members’ faces. Moments later, however, we see a brilliant performance.