by Abi Lewis
A character driven feature length documentary looking at the man behind the legendary Jazz Cafe in Newcastle.
This is the portrait of a man who stands like an island against the stream of modern culture; an unbending, uncompromising enigma fighting a rearguard action in defence of his beloved jazz.
This is the story of a club, a dishevelled and cluttered monument to a bygone age. A shabby beacon, calling out to the lost souls in search of a refuge, a bottle of warm booze, and free flowing music. Trad, swing, be-bop or avant-garde; all are welcome.
This is the story of the modern age; of a lost heart of music.
This is the story of the small, disparate but determined community whose fight is to preserve the venue that they cherish.
This film is the collection of said stories and more.
However, ultimately this is the story of one man. Keith Crombie: The Jazz Man.
The story behind it
I've known Keith all of my life. In 1978 whilst my mother was in labour, my father and his closest friend Keith waited in a near-by pub. When the news came through that I had arrived, the pair laced with alcohol came to the hospital to meet me. On arrival Keith captured the first ever pictures taken of me and 35 years later I filmed the last ever interview that Keith recorded…. and that's how it started!
I always thought I knew my godfather well, the man I’ve literally known all of my life. I was wrong.
This is my take on the unravelling story of one man. Keith Crombie: The Jazz Man.
What inspired the film?
Keith! He was such an eccentric interesting character and the venue itself was like nowhere else I know. So I felt both needed to be documented.
It was so much more than a Jazz Café, it was Keith’s business and his home, being allowed into the building was like being invited into Keith’s living room, a place that just happened to have live jazz playing three nights a week.
As I started to film with Keith I found out about his colourful past; stories which stem back to the late 50’s early 60’s. Originally a ten minute short, it quickly escalated into the feature length documentary it has now become.
Characters like Keith’s are an anomaly, an endangered species and need to be remembered and documented.
The journey so far …
I was originally driven to make the documentary THE JAZZ MAN as, like Keith himself, the jazz cafe was becoming old and worn and my gut feeling told me it was time someone documented Keith and the history of the venue before it was too late.
Fortunately I began filming at the right time and over a two year span captured some fantastic moments with Keith and the other characters that frequented the jazz café. It was easy to find the right subjects, as the place was a Mecca for interesting and quirky characters.
Since the sudden and shocking passing of Keith in late 2012 the story has become so much more poignant and is a real tribute to Keith and what he stood for.
This year we have concentrated on some final interviews that needed to be filmed to help tell the story and connect Keith back to his roots in the live music scene of 60s Newcastle.
The interest we have had in the film since the launch of the trailer has been phenomenal. The Jazz Man doc has already been exposed to an international audience of thousands through various channels: local and regional media; printed and online jazz press such as Jazz Wise Magazine and many international jazz blogs including Jazz Wax, Jazz Lives and Jazz Shaped.
We have also had interest from various independent music venues and cinemas around the UK who are interested in screenings and the support of organisations such as Jazz Services for the project.
For this film we have interviewed people from all parts of Keith’s life.
We speak to icons such as Eric Burdon from The Animals and film director Mike Figgis who tell us their memories of 1960’s Newcastle and a young Keith.
Greg Hicks from the Royal Shakespeare Company, who used the place as an after-show club for fifteen consecutive seasons in Newcastle.
We also hear from the cast of characters who were drawn into Keith's world, these include local musicians, artists, poets and members of the general public, who shared this quirky corner of Bohemia and tell stories of visiting international jazz legends such as Wynton Marsalis and Harry Connick Jnr.
The music featured in the film includes acts that are home to the North-East; Gypsy Dave, The Safe Sextet, and the Budtones. All artists showed support by kindly contributing tracks gratis to help the production of this low-budget film.
“As traditional jazz's musical heyday skulks surreptitiously into the past, those still championing the genre appear evermore distanced, even alienated, against the trajectory of popular culture. Not many people seem to fit the above description more than Newcastle's Keith Crombie, the subject of film maker Abi Lewis' new documentary 'The Jazz Man'. There is something fantastically quirky about the set-up of the film, the reluctance to show Keith's face in the trailer gives grounds to his air of elusivity … I'm looking forward to this one.” Jazz Shaped
“The trailer is lively, moving, energized, unsentimental. I look forward to its release and distribution." Jazz Lives
One of the biggest challenges so far has been to fund the film on a micro budget. Luckily I have had the support of extremely talented crew from the region, who all worked gratis from the start. This film has really been a labour of love to all involved especially my close-knit team who I could not have done without!
What is the money for?
Up to now everything has been self funded and helped by a team providing their expertise and equipment for free.
We are now in post-production which is expensive - I have been lucky enough to get industry discount for the post production - edit, sound and colour grade to broadcast standard. The money raised will pay for this.
Anything extra (which would be amazing) will go towards commercial music and archive footage.
Message from the director
I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has already supported The Jazz Man documentary. I have encountered extreme generosity over the past 3 years from individuals who have happily given their time and equipment without charge. This just goes to show what an impact Keith Crombie and the jazz cafe has had on so many people. We couldn’t have got this far without your help, thank you!
We are now at the last hurdle. I am excited to get to this stage and even more excited knowing the film will be complete early 2014.
If you can support us by giving money in return for rewards then fantastic; if you’re not in a position to do this, you can still help support the film by raising the profile of the this documentary by sharing the links with your friends and family!
Abi has been working in the TV and film industry for 10 years; starting out as an assistant director in drama television and went onto work as a production manager across documentaries, commercials, music videos, and promotional films. The Jazz Man will be her debut as a producer/director.