When you think about visiting the U.S., places like New York City and San Francisco and Orlando obviously come to mind. Ditto for great natural sites such as the Grand Canyon, the beaches of Hawaii and the Rocky Mountains.
You could make the argument that American music has had an even bigger impact on the world than any of those cities or destinations. From jazz to blues to rock and roll, and from George and Ira Gershwin to Elvis Presley and Jay Z, American musicians have influenced the world for decades. The Beatles wouldn’t have existed without Elvis or Buddy Holly. Drake might not be bouncing around the sidelines at a Raptors’ game if it wasn’t for Tupac or Kanye West.
Last year the folks at Brand USA, which looks after tourism to the US as a whole, put out a wonderful and inspiring IMAX movie called National Parks Adventure, which centred on those iconic American national parks. Now they’re working on a follow-up film that will screen in giant theatres around the world, and it’s focussed on the wildly diverse American music scene.
Called “America’s Musical Journey,” the film will follow singer/songwriter Aloe Blacc as he surveys the vast U.S. musical landscape.
The movie “celebrates the unique diversity of American culture and the risk-taking spirit that characterize the USA, as experienced through the lens of music,” officials said. Blacc will explore “some of America’s iconic cultural cities and trace jazz legend Louis Armstrong’s footsteps through the colorful locales where America’s music was born.”
Filming already is underway and scheduled to launch worldwide on February 2018. It will be shown in IMAX and other large theatres around the world, including several in Canada. It also will be available on Netflix.
Tom Garzilli, chief marketing officer for Brand USA, told me they’ve been working on the project for a couple of years already.
“It’s the same company (MacGillivray and Freeman) that did the national parks movie for us, so we’re every excited. The first rough cut of the new film was very well received at a screening we did.”
The new movie is obviously quite different from the last one, which featured rugged parks, ice climbers, vivid desert scenes and much more.
“The parks were the stars of that film, along with the three adventurers who took us on the journey. In the next one, the music is really the star and Blacc is our storyteller. He’s an amazing performer and tells a great story.”
Being meant for large theatres, Garzilli said viewers can still expect “breathtaking shots and aerials,” along with more intimate moments.
“There are great stories about the origin of music in the U.S., how people coming to us and immigrants, along with indigenous native Americans” all contributed to the American musical landscape
Garzilli told me the movie will likely be 40-45 minutes long. That’s a tall order when you consider that noted filmmaker Ken Burns put together 10 episodes focussing only on jazz. Brand USA, on the other hand, is trying to distill ALL of American music into roughly the time of a single TV episode; maybe a little less.
It seems like a tall order if you’re going to incorporate indigenous music, roots music, jazz, country, western, rock and roll, rap, hip-hop, Hawaiian music, classical, grunge and all the other variations you can find in clubs and concert halls across the U.S. But, hey, someone has to do it.
“Yeah,” Garzilli told me. “I’m kinda glad I’m not the guy who has to edit it.”
On a more serious note, the U.S. is face challenging tourism times of late. The president isn’t popular overseas, and there are suggestions foreign visitors are shunning the U.S., or at least not coming in the numbers they had been. High-profile incidents such as the Las Vegas shooting don’t help the American image in Canada or other parts of the world.
Garzilli obviously understands that. But he thinks the musical film will make a difference.
“I think all of our story-telling in general works to remind visitors what makes the U.S. so unique and desirable. We have to be out there telling stories all the time, and this is a great way to do it. The films are immersive and impactful and have such a long life.”
“But, yes. I will say that, like at any point in time, there’s a lot going on right now (in the U.S.). But we’re as open and compelling as we’ve ever been and I think that’s why people continue to come.
“There may be challenges on and off for us in places like Canada, but I think the challenge there is more about the exchange rate than anything else. The thing for us, our job every day is to get up and tell our stories as best we can.”
“I think showing off the American people is key. We know if we keep doing that we’ll get great results.”