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Louis Armstrong: A cinematic symphony in jazz

The audience in Symphony Hall will get a treat Wednesday night. Performing: Wynton Marsalis, pianist Cecile Licad and a 10-piece jazz ensemble, including Sherman Irby, Victor Goines, Marcus Printup, Ted Nash, Kurt Bacher, Vincent Gardner, Wycliffe Gordon, Dan Nimmer, Carlos Henriquez and Ali Jackson. Conducting: Andy Farber.

A splendid group of musicians, but what will make this concert special is the silent film they're accompanying. Silent classics have played the hall, but never before, as far as I know, a new silent film. "Louis," inspired by the New Orleans childhood of Louis Armstrong, was produce by Marsalis, who wrote the score they'll be conducting.

I saw a preview at the Siskel Center, with a musical sound track. The live experience and the big screen should only enhance the experience. The Chicago premiere will begin an Aug. 25-31 tour going to  New York City, Washington, D.C., Detroit, and Philadelphia. Some of the proceeds from the five concerts will benefit Providence Saint Mel School in Chicago in honor of Paul J. Adams III, the founder of the school, which has compiled such a good academic record it inspired a documentary, "The Provident Effect."

Vilmos Zsigmond, a four-time Oscar nominee for cinematography, who won for "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," photographed Louis in a style faithful to the best silent films. Dan Pritzker directed, and the screenplay is by Derick Martini, Steven Martini and Pritzker . It stars Anthony Coleman in a inning performance as young Satchmo, about eight years old, and Jackie Earle Haley as a judge who sternly lectures him. Shanti Lowry is a Storyville good times girl. Zsigmond himself plays a Hungarian photographer much enchanted by the city's emerging jazz scene.

A formal review will await the film's general release. For now I can say I hugely enjoyed the film's energy and wit. It's not a social documentary, and its recreation of New Orleans is certainly on the upbeat side, but then Louis Armstrong was on the upbeat side. He might like this film. He wouldn't say it was accurate, but he would be amused. What he'd especially approve of might be Marsalis -- who took took his performances as an inspiration -- and the jazz band.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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