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Trumpe​ting Louis

August 19, 2010 By:
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Director Daniel Pritzker

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

"I do," regales Daniel Pritzker. "I miss it right now."

He's not missing out on much of anything else: The scion of the family whose Hyatt dynasty put to bed any financial concerns he may have for life -- Daniel was ranked No. 236 on the Forbes 400 "The 400 Richest Americans 2009," breaking the bank at $1.5 billion -- Pritzker prizes his contributions to a charitable lifestyle through the family-named foundation.

He also prizes the Jewish concept of giving anonymously, and is hesitant to chat about what he and his wife, Karen, have accomplished, opting more for silence when it comes to tzedakah.

And it comes often: School's out, however, on others talking for him; he and his wife have been praised and applauded for their involvement in funding schooling for minorities, and have infused a fund for the establishment of a school in impoverished Cambodia.

Money talks, but music walks the line: This attorney with an earnest attitude -- he graduated from Northwestern University Law School, Class of '86 -- is a class act with his own act: He and a bunch of disc dudes do the music tours with Sonia Dada, a band for which Pritzker plays guitar.

"In fact," he recalls on the record -- the group has had a number of hits since their eponymously named debut album in '92 -- "we once played TLA and then the Keswick."

Which means he is about to embark on a homecoming of sorts: "I love the Keswick," he says of the Glenside site, "and I love Philadelphia."

Which brings back another city: New Orleans. Pritzker's priority now is premiering "Louis," his paean to the saints who come marching in through the streets of New Orleans, hurdling hurricanes and high waters to keep the buzz beating.

"Louis," a modern-day silent film making noise among industry cognoscenti, premieres on Tuesday, Aug. 31, at the Keswick, one of only five theaters chosen nationwide to host the touring/ screening.

A blast of a bio film about the late, great Louis Armstrong and the city he trumpeted -- it is not a documentary but a myth-driven "factional" take on the city which served as midwife for the birth of the blues -- "Louis" is Pritzker's premiere as filmmaker.

Silence may be golden, but the film's gold standard is only enhanced with those jazzed by the prospects of providing its soundtrack: This silent movie is not "The Perils of Pauline"-- and no puerile effort by a novice director -- but a triumph of Pritzker, who has asked Pulitzer-Prize winning trumpeter Wynton Marsalis an all-star jazz ensemble to accompany it live.

His kind of town: Pritzker previously had attended a performance of the silent movie "City Lights" with accompaniment by the Chicago Symphony, which made a stunning first impression on the Second City native.

As an artist whose muse was more music than movies, he decided to mix life's soundtrack up a bit -- he had already been working on another film, about jazz's underappreciated, relatively unknown Buddy Bolden -- and felt emboldened to bring Armstrong's armada of music to the silent screen, serenaded by Marsalis and more.

"I saw that presentation of 'City Lights' and said, 'I can do that,' " recalls the producer/director whose effort has attracted a chorus line of charismatic musicians to the Keswick.

Still, photography -- indeed, still photography by such legends as Edward Steichen -- had been more of an interest and influence in his early years.

"And I looked for a guy who could light a black-and-white film like those photographers were able to" instill in their still life, he says of his choice of Oscar-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond ("Close Encounters of the Third Kind"), who encountered this classic tale with a modern sense of mastery, seeping it in a sepia sensation that lends "Louis" an old-new world majesty.

What a wonderful world, indeed: Did the guitarist in Pritzker preen to consider adding his own musical talent to the mix?

He laughs: "I do not play at that level."

But it's a level playing field, after all: His modesty is maddening for those who know that Pritzker's love of music has landed his "Lover, Lover" at the top of the Billboard Country Chart.

"I wrote that 18 years ago," he says with a chuckle.

And 25 years ago, he marched down the aisle with tennis shoes on his feet, accompanied by wife Karen, to the tuneful feting of a New Orleans band, with "Here Comes the Bride" coming from the tuba player.

A ketubah encased in creole/cajun/kosher pedigree? "There is a spirit, a sense of redemption of that music," of the old-style New Orleans sounds championed by Armstrong and a strong cadre of contemporaries.

Saturated Satchmo: That sound is in evidence in "Louis," whose soundtrack is, in the main, music composed by Marsalis.

Not that the nation's living trumpet treasure didn't feel there might be a flat note about the project.

"When I first showed Wynton the script," remembers Pritzker, he told him also that the score would include works by 19th-century American Jewish composer L.M. Gottschalk, who had created his canon of works in New Orleans. "Wynton looked at me [suspiciously] before taking on the project and asked, 'You're not coming from a place where you're going to claim that a Jewish guy invented jazz?' "

No -- that was the legacy of the relatively unknown Buddy Bolden, whose record books Pritzker pried open to read about his life and make him the source of his other film, to premiere next year.

Not that there's any hint of animosity, or that Marsalis meant to push the mute button on Jews' contributions to jazz, of which, acknowledges Pritzker, there have been many.

Indeed, Marsalis knows their backstage and upfront efforts have provided a horn of plenty. Which may explain why, says Pritzker, "Wynton has a shofar on his mantle."

Days of awesome, man. And not only that, adds Pritzker of his friend's unlimited RAM of musical talent, "He can play it!"

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