Jazz on film

One cold dark night as I was driving through the streets of old Milwaukee, I noticed some light emanating from the window of a deserted warehouse. I slowed down and turned right under a bridge to get cover as well as a closer look at the source.

For those of you who know Milwaukee, I was passing under the small bridge in the middle of this map.

A bright flickering image to the right then caught my eye and I couldn’t believe what I saw — an old jazz movie was being broadcast onto the bridge itself. Above me to the left were dark rows of windows, some broken, some shuttered, with one on the second or third floor producing the cone of light that ended up on a neat white facade on the stones that supported the railroad tracks. I rolled my window down a bit and could hear music. It was a silent movie, but someone had gone to the trouble of ensuring jazz would flow from the screen and into the street. There, hanging underneath the rails and just above the improvised screen, was an old speaker with wires attached that ran back along the bridge towards the building.

I had found my own secret drive-in theater.

I sat and watched two, maybe three, movies that night. I never tried entering the building and I never saw another movie played there. The speaker was still there the next day, and the next week, so I am pretty certain I wasn’t dreaming but I never saw another film. I’ve always wondered if someone had discovered an old stash of reel-to-reel films and was screening them, but the speaker was too open, too public…these were the real deal, I tell you, and their stock couldn’t have been any more recent than the 1930s. Most of the warehouses in the area were shuttered and silent; I also couldn’t help but wonder about ghosts of the past, squatting art students, or perhaps someone left behind and trying to stick it out as the world changed around them.

Anyway, I was reminded of all this when someone sent me a link to a more recent jazz film, featuring Dave Brubeck:

Once again, the jazz greats can be broadcast right into your living room…no desolated warehouse district required.

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