He cut his teeth on jazz and films. Now writer and video journalist Bret Primack is combining the two with his first feature-length film, premiering at the Arizona International Film Festival. By Gillian Drummond. Cover art by Bret Primack.
It’s all the fault of Louis Armstrong. That’s how Bret Primack’s jazz itch started, and he hasn’t stopped scratching it since.
Bret was about ten years old when he first spotted the jazz great on TV at his home in West Hartford, Connecticut. The film The Five Pennies, with Louis and Danny Kaye, became a favorite. Then Bret began playing the trumpet. And soon his house was echoing to the sound of jazz music. As a teenager, he would take the train down to New York City to hit the jazz clubs, indulging a love that would not only stick with him, but dictate his career, and his life.
Bret’s father told him not to. He did his best to discourage his son from the world of music. As a semi-professional piano player and a back-up musician for the likes of Bob Hope, he had seen too much of the down side of the music biz. But for Bret, the itch wouldn’t go away.
Jazz even trumped his other passion – film. Bret studied at New York University’s Film School (Martin Scorsese was an instructor) but became a jazz music journalist.
The man is a trailblazer in more ways than one. He was an Internet follower and Apple computer user before most people had heard of either. He helped launch the website Jazz Central Station, and started the first jazz blog, Bird Lives, where he wrote outspokenly under the pseudonym The Pariah. (Once his identity was revealed, he stopped). Then along came You Tube and a chance for him to return to film-making without major expense nor major budgets.
He bought a cheap video camera, taught himself computer-aided editing, and made mini documentaries about jazz musicians. His You Tube channel Jazz Video Guy has attracted more than 30,000 subscribers on You Tube, and racked up almost 27 million views.
But as much as the Internet and new technology have been good to him, Bret is frustrated by it. He can track the time people spend watching his short video films, and many of them aren’t reaching the end of them, he says. They’re multitasking and getting lured away by other video teasers on the screen. “There are too many distractions. I have an audience of very temporary viewers, and I don’t like that. I spend a lot of time producing my work.”
Hence the decision to go back to his film school roots. The result is Taking Charge: the Pauly Cohen story, about the life and continued good times of jazz trumpeter Pauly Cohen.
Bret is a man who straddles a golden era and the 21st Century. He is nostalgic for the jazz greats and their era of road trips, struggles and, in turn, rich stories. Yet his Tucson home and his life are all about the new: Netflix and You Tube, Facebook and Twitter, and anything made by Apple beginning with an ‘i’. Similarly, while he gets excited about new music and film (a current listening favorite is Scottish singer Emili Sande), he favors old greats like Fellini, Kubrick and Sonny Rollins, one of his personal friends.
Bret is torn about Tucson too, a place he would visit from Manhattan in the winter during the 1990’s, eventually settling for good. “I love the vibration, I love the desert and the pace of life. But culturally it’s a huge drop-off.” If he had enough money he says he’d move back to Manhattan in a New York minute.
As for the future, Bret would love to make a comedy film. He is a co-founder of Axial Theatre, and has play-writing under his belt already. Right now he’s fascinated by a 1982 Godrey Reggio film called Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance, one with no dialogue and music by Philip Glass. “I’m interested in finding new ways to tell stories,” he says.
As for the push-pull of the Internet, he believes there’s time still to lure viewers back into more long-form films: “Once TV and the Internet converge, people are going to watch films on big TVs. Then they’ll have a better attention span. I give it three to five years.”
* Read more more on the film festival, including Bret’s own pick of the fest and our big ticket giveaway, here.