‘Louis Armstrong’s Black and Blues’ director Sacha Jenkins tells how research completely changed his opinion of Armstrong [Exclusive Video Interview]

The reality of who Louis Armstrong was came as quite a shock to Sacha Jenkins as he was working on his new documentary “Louis Armstrong’s Black and Blues.” “He was the exact opposite of who I thought he might have been based on being a young, Black kid in New York in the ‘80s, finding my identity, being into this Black consciousness that hip-hop was delivering at the time,” he tells Gold Derby during our Meet the Experts: Documentary Film panel (watch the exclusive video interview above).

In addition to discovering the immense talent that Armstrong possessed, Jenkins came to realize how he was not at all what he thought he was. “What I knew about him felt contrary to the revolution or being pro-Black based on what other people might have said or based on my perceptions and when I did the research, it was completely the opposite of that.”

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“Louis Armstrong’s Black and Blues,” which is currently streaming on Apple TV, tells the story of the legendary jazz musician from his beginnings in New Orleans to becoming one of the most famous musicians in the entire world. In addition to showcasing his talent, the documentary uses personal recordings of Armstrong that show his most candid thoughts that paint a stark contrast to the public persona most people saw. Previous to this film Jenkins has directed many documentaries including “Everything’s Gonna Be All White,” “Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James,” “Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men” and “Burn Motherf***er, Burn!”

One of the film’s more daring choices was using an original score composed by Oscar nominee Terence Blanchard in addition to Armstrong’s own recordings. Jenkins says that Blanchard was able to find the perfect balance with his score in the film. “He knew not to make something that would compete with Armstrong. It would enhance and support the film.” The Blanchard score also helped the film because of the financial realities that would have come along with just including Armstrong’s music. “The music also costs money. Even if I wanted to have wall-to-wall Armstrong music, it would exponentially raise what it would cost. But at the same time, to get an original score from Terence Blanchard? I mean, what could be better than that?”

Another distinctive feature of the documentary is animation that’s used to illustrate Armstrong’s thoughts that were in his personal recordings. This was thanks to Jenkins’s longtime collaborator Hectah Arias. “We wanted to do something that got you closer to understanding who Armstrong was.” The animation was also used as a chance to highlight the fact that Armstrong made collage art for his own enjoyment. “We felt that finding a way to emulate his style would only get us that much closer to understanding who he was. It was a way to marry the visual aesthetic of Armstrong that a lot of people don’t know about with the man himself.”

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