Sloane: A Jazz Singer chronicles the story of legendary New York jazz singer Carol Sloane. She reflects on her career as a forgotten talent in the jazz world from the 1960s to the 1970s, reviving her career in the 1990s after some time away from centre stage.
Carol’s remarkable career and the sacrifices she made for her art are reflected in the film’s driving jazz-infused soundtrack, which is approached in an interview-style format. Moreover, the film counts down the days prior to one of her final performances at New York’s Birdland Jazz Club.
The film takes a relaxed approach to its interview with Carol. Filmmaker Michael Lippert makes you feel as though you’re sitting down to talk with your grandmother as he starts chatting with Carol. She comes across as a genuine, funny, and kind-natured person who is brimming with stories from her past to share.
Carol talks about attending church in her early years, when she quickly fell in love with singing. Her name was Carol Morvan back then. She didn’t take on the stage name “Sloane” until she began to take her profession as a jazz singer seriously. This was also prior to her being introduced to jazz music, which she describes discovering with nostalgia after receiving a radio as a gift from her parents.
Moreover, she never developed a personal affinity for Elvis Presley or rock ‘n’ roll. Instead, she was lured to jazz music by listening to the most well-known black female jazz singers of the era. Those included Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Sara Vaughan, and Carmen McRae (some went on to become great friends of Carol’s).
She sang at the Newport Jazz Festival in Rhode Island in 1961. She had no idea at the time that record producers from Columbia Records had been listening to her music and were eager to sign her to the label.
The film highlights the cultural shift in music from the 1960s to the 1970s, as bands like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were seen as the next big thing. Rock ‘n’ roll and pop music were cool, and jazz wasn’t.
The film also pays close attention to Carol’s friendships, primarily with the famous jazz pianist and composer Mike Renzi, who collaborated with her frequently. You got the sense that they had a mutual love and respect for one another. Snippets of the pair laughing together gave the film an unfiltered feel.
In the second half of the film, the tone shifts abruptly as Carol recalls her hardships. Financially, in her early career, living as a musician in Manhattan, New York, there were several periods when she couldn’t afford to pay the rent. She said, “Art don’t pay.”
This sharp contrast in tone feels essential to filmmaker Michael Lippert’s ability to accurately tell Carol’s story.
At this point in the film, the turmoil in Carol’s personal life comes to light. She attempted suicide by taking a bottle of sleeping pills as a way to cope with her partner’s alcoholism. At the time, she was in a relationship with jazz pianist and singer Jimmy Rowels; the pair also worked together.
It’s here that we also learn that Sloane’s late husband, Buck Spurr, was sadly diagnosed with cancer and dementia. But this point in the film also showcased Carol’s desire to carry on in the face of adversity – choosing to return to her music career in the 1990s – as she felt that she wasn’t ready to let her talent go to waste.
In the final part of the film, it’s time for Carol to perform at the renowned Birdland Jazz Club. These moments show us how a musician prepares for a show before the curtain call. In my opinion, this rounded off Carol’s story nicely. It shows that even at 82 years old, singing songs from The Great American Songbook and giving them justice, Carol still had immense passion for her craft.
Overall, the heart of the film lies within the humanity of Carol Sloane’s story. It’s raw in its portrayal of her life, encompassing both her highs and lows on a personal and professional level. The film demonstrates that it’s never too late to pursue your artistry. Jazz music was Carol’s calling, and she found her way back to it eventually. It’s an enjoyable watch for lovers of music, heartwarming with melancholic undertones.
Featured Image Credit: Central Scotland Documentary Festival