'Reminiscing in Tempo'

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington didn't celebrate his birthday, preferring to keep such things—i.e., aging—to himself. Yet since the jazz legend's death in 1974, his sister Ruth has thrown him a party every year, gathering friends, fans, and former bandmates for a birthday bull session. Director Gary Keys crashed one such party, and in Reminiscing in Tempo he weaves in the memories of its attendees amid rarely and never seen footage of Ellington performances. Songs like "Take the A Train" and "Mood Indigo" are hashed out and marveled over, and though not all "do tell" moments deliver (it's no surprise that Ellington has a weakness for "the ladies"), anecdotes about Ellington's elegant defiance in the face of flourishing racism do. Amiably shapeless, if a bit baggy in places (as in the dingy, extensive footage of Ellington's 1968 trip to Mexico), Keys's tribute to a tribute is a charming riff on an epic figure.

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