Filmmaker wins $20,000 to finish jazz documentary

Hugh Walsh/Courtesy photoGloucester resident Henry Ferrini, shown with jazz icon Wayne Shorter who appears in his film in progress, has won a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to complete a documentary about jazz legend Lester Young.

Henry Ferrini, a Gloucester documentary filmmaker, is among the recipients who received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which gave out more than $82 million for projects across the country.

Ferrini received an Art Works award of $20,000 to help fund the production of his ongoing documentary film about iconic jazz saxophonist Lester Young (1909-1959).

The Art Works category supports the creation of work and presentation of both new and existing work, lifelong learning in the arts, and public engagement with the arts through 13 arts disciplines or fields.

Ferrini, a sax-playing filmmaker, said this is a “game changer” for his work about this jazz legend.

“I’ve been waiting a long, long time for this award,” he said. “It not only will allow me to travel to New Orleans, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Paris to finish the principal photography, it will give the film increased visibility, which will help raise the rest of the necessary funds. I am looking forward to working with the NEA to finalize the grant paperwork and am thrilled of the agency’s support for this project.”

Ferrini, an impassioned storyteller on film, is also a founder of the Gloucester Writers Center.

The Young film is being produced and directed by Ferrini, and administered by the Center for Independent Documentary.

Ferrini has been working for several years on this film about Young, who was born in Mississippi and learned his art in the family band as a teenager touring the country. Young has been described historically as “the musical bridge between Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker.” He was nicknamed “Prez” or “Pres,” referring to his moniker as the “President of the Tenor Saxophone” or “President of Jazz.”

“The story creates a window into the first half of 20th century America, a time when jazz was the pop music of the day and alternatively nurtured an undercurrent of protest in the black communities. At the core of the film is a rare audio interview where Lester looks back at his life,” stated the NEA press release.

On Feb. 6, 1959, in a Paris hotel room, Young told his story to Le Hot Jazz journalist Francois Postif. Five weeks later, he died at the age of 49.

Young first got his start with the Count Basie Orchestra, and became a musical force in his own right in the decades that followed.

“Mr. Young brought Americans together in rooms from Kansas City to Boston to dance, listen and engage. His musical energy transformed prejudice and hate into beauty and grace. He created a new sound that became an inspiration to poets, musicians and artists. His art and life affected black culture, American culture, literary culture, sixties culture and the language we use today,” according to the NEA release. “When you catch yourself saying the word ‘cool,’ you acknowledge the man who coined the word.”

Music critic Ralph Gleason once said: “If you don’t know Pres, you’ve missed a great part of America.” 

Ferrini has a long history in jazz on the North Shore.

In the 1980s, he worked in Beverly at Sandy’s Jazz Revival with Sandy Berman. This club brought in the likes of Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Doc Cheatham, Muddy Waters, Buddy Rich and hundreds more to the North Shore.

In 2009, he was a co-founder of the nonprofit North Shore Jazz Project, which ran concerts at the Beverly restaurant Chianti with Rich Marino, the owner and chef. A year later, he started the North Shore Jazz Project All-Stars, a group of high school musicians from the North Shore. The All-Stars still perform, now under the direction of Mike Tucker and the Salem Jazz and Soul Festival. 

NEA Chairwoman Jane Chu approved this second major funding announcement for fiscal 2016.

Gail McCarthy may be contacted at 978-675-2706 or gmccarthy@gloucestertimes.com.

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