In a career spanning 70 years, the pianist Junior Mance played with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington, Cannonball Adderley, Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, appearing on over 100 record albums in the process. In addition to his career as a recording artist, he taught for 23 years at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, counting Brad Mehldau and Larry Goldings among his students before retiring in 2011.
Then, in 2012, according to Sarit Work, co-producer of a documentary in the works on Mance and wife Gloria, “Junior had a stroke which led to the onset of Alzheimer’s dementia. Though his musical abilities were untouched, his gradual mental and physical decline has forced Gloria’s role as manager, wife and soulmate to take on a whole new meaning.”
The story of Mance and Gloria’s role to “wind down Junior’s legendary career as he loses his identity — while still, somehow, maintaining her own” has inspired Ms. Work and her partners to create a film, Sunset and the Mockingbird, that celebrates Mance, but “also the love between Gloria and Junior, and of Gloria’s strength in keeping everything going, including herself.”
“When we began shooting two years ago,” Ms. Work writes, “even as Junior’s mind was slowly slipping away, he still performed every week and his musical ability remained sharp. He has since incrementally declined, and the film bears witness to how Gloria has adapted to these changes, in ways both heartbreaking and humorous. We see the hard decisions she must make, her coping mechanisms, and how she and Junior relate and survive the profound loss they are both experiencing in their own ways.”
“This is a film about dementia but is not a ‘dementia movie.” Ms. Work sees this as a love story, “pure and complicated. It focuses on an African American couple, but this is not a film explicitly about race, which is far too often a prerequisite for people of color being shown onscreen.” It also “celebrates jazz, but it isn’t a ‘jazz film.’”
The filmmaking team have just launched a Kickstarter program in order to raise funding “to bring on an editor to help us tell this important story.”
View the film’s trailer and you will find a story told with compassion, and by people who know how to make a movie.
Click here to view the trailer, and to get more information about the project.
Junior Mance plays piano on “Umbrella Man,” featuring Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong
Junior Mance and Ray Bryant play “Blue Monk”