With his previous film National Parks Adventures, filmmaker MacGillivray Freeman showed us the beauty of America in sweeping fashion. Soaring above the peaks of Yosemite to exploring the grasslands of the Everglades, it was a documentary that captured the pure veracity America’s natural treasures had to offer. With America’s Musical Journey, Freeman brings his epic style of filmmaking to the roots of music in America, taking us on a new journey of heart, extravagance and the legacy of musical creation that exists from coast to coast.
Presented as a special screening in conjunction with this year’s Canadian Music Week, America’s Musical Journey looks at the history of America through musical context, splitting up varying styles by cities and regions. With the talented Aloe Blacc to guide us, it’s not only a history lesson of a vast country, but a very personal tale about how and why we connect with music so intimately.
Anchored around Aloe Blacc’s personal journey and the life of Louis Armstrong, America’s Musical Journey never feels scattered despite the swath of places it visits. There’s always a throughline in this film, which is something I greatly appreciated. Black has a boyish charisma that shines through and his passion for music in all its forms is evident every second he’s on screen. And if you needed another reason to fall in love with the sound of America’s Musical Journey, Morgan Freeman adds a layer of gravitas that’s endlessly inviting.
Despite swapping subject matter, Freeman retains the majestic scope and stunning vistas that make his work so unique. The ability to combine a large-scale look at America as a musical nation, with the personal stories that make music so ambitious, is a key feature in this documentary.
Starting in New Orleans, America’s Musical Journey carries a chronological narrative of sorts, taking a jazz-heavy look at the city’s colourful past. There’s a celebratory tone that’s infectious and I found myself grooving in my seat throughout the screening. From there, Black and co., move up river to Chicago, where flash mobs and “Chicago footwork,” is given time to shine.
As with Freeman’s other films, America’s Musical Journey begs to be seen on the biggest screen possible, with its release in IMAX theatres the definitive option.
You can currently watch National Parks Adventures on Netflix and look for America’s Musical Journey at the Ontario Science Centre starting June 23.