Penn music prof’s documentary short to premiere at film festival

Penn music professor Guthrie Ramsey is making his directorial debut with the release of his film “Amazing: The Tests and Triumph of Bud Powell.”

The 16-minute documentary has been selected for screening at this year’s BlackStar Film Festival. The fest is a celebration of cinema by and about people of African descent, highlighting films that are often overlooked from emerging, established, and mid-career directors, writers, and producers working in narrative, documentary, experimental, and music video filmmaking. Held annually in Philadelphia, this year’s festival runs from Thursday, July 30, to Sunday, Aug. 2.


“Amazing: The Tests and Triumph of Bud Powell" will be shown with a collection of shorts showcasing virtuosity in music at 2:40 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 1, at International House, 3701 Chestnut St. Single-show tickets for the screening range from $6-$12 and are available online or at the box office.

The documentary is based on Ramsey’s 2013 book, “The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History and the Challenge of Bebop,” which paints a portrait of the life and times of Earl Rudolph “Bud” Powell. Born in Harlem in 1924, Powell was an architect of the 1940’s modern jazz style of bebop. He moved from the recording studio and stage as one of the greatest pianists of his era, to the psych ward, jail, and an untimely death at age 41 from complications of tuberculosis and alcoholism.

Like Powell, Ramsey is a pianist. He is a composer, arranger, and bandleader of a sextet called Dr. Guy’s MusiQology. His group has released two CDs of original music that blends the sounds of jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel, neo-soul, and classical. A widely published writer, Ramsey is also the author of “Race Music: Black Cultures from Bebop to Hip-Hop” and the founder and editor of the blog Musiqology

Ramsey, the Edmund J. and Louise W. Kahn Term Professor of Music in the School of Arts & Sciences, teaches courses on popular music analysis, from the late-19th century to the present, and explores film topics in his teaching and writing.

In addition to producing and directing the film, Ramsey arranged the musical score. In the year-and-a-half that it took him to complete it, he says he learned a lot about the filmmaking process.

“I got into film because I find it a powerful way to share ideas through visual and sonic aesthetics,” Ramsey says. “As a musician, I've always been intrigued by the medium. I've always had the goal of placing my music in a film. What better way than making your own?”

Ramsey says that he initially made the film to promote his book about Powell and as an educational vehicle. The film provides insights about Powell not explored in the book from music greats, such as pianists Courtney Bryan, Bertha Hope, and Jason Moran. LaMarr Bruce Jurelle, a professor of African-American studies at Yale, provides perspective on Powell’s madness and his artistry.

New York-based filmmaker Mario Latham assisted Ramsey with his inaugural film project. Mikel Washington, who works on graphic design for Ramsey’s Musiqology blog, was a co-producer and art director. Jabari Zuberi did some editing and cinematography.

Ramsey says that since getting into the BlackStar Film Festival, he’s thinking about submitting the short to other festivals and plans to screen the film for students in his history of jazz course this fall.

Guthrie Ramsey