Le Devoir-Review

logo-devoir1-300x103Le Devoir, Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th of October, 2013

SERGE TRUFFAUT

Montréal, Qc

It took seventeen years of courage and patience before Steven Morris could complete a documentary devoted to the most underestimated R & B pianist, singer and composer who ever existed: Harry Vann Walls. Seventeen years of chasing leads to pay homage to one who made a fortune for, both literally and figuratively, a swarm of artists, and especially, record label executives.

Thanks to this film, presented this week as part of the program of the “Festival du nouveau cinéma” (FNC), one learns, or relearns, a fact of paramount importance regarding the evolution of American popular music: Vann Walls was, in the 1950s, the house piano player at Atlantic Records, famous for having produced the likes of Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Charles Mingus and other fallen angels of Jazz and Blues.

As such, Vann Walls punctuated the singing voices of Big Joe Turner, Lavern Baker, Ruth Brown, etc. Under its watchful eye, Morris’ camera delivers a testimony that invites one to both meditate and admire as it details how Vann Walls and his fellow artists were cheated, far and wide, by the under assistants of the musical arts.

That said, Morris accomplished the following feat: he convinced Ry Cooder, Ahmet Ertegun, founder of Atlantic, Jerry Wexler and especially Dr. John, once Vann Walls’ student, to commit to memory what the musical world owes to this pianist, who spent the last thirty years of his life in Montreal. This film being a must see, let us hope that a distributor steps up to the fold.