Champaign-based Transcendence Broadcasting, a Telly Award-winning TV production studio, with deep roots in Chicago, has completed post-production for its latest documentary film, The Cotton Club: The Musicians’ Story (2022) and plans to release it on Paus.TV, a leading streaming service in the European market.
The film features well known talent from Chicago, including Dee Alexander, voice over artist, National Public Radio Jazz Vocal of the Year winner (2014), as the host. And is produced/directed/written by Gene Koprowski, a graduate of Northwestern University and the University of Chicago, and the film’s score was produced by Nancy Bruening, an alumnus of the American Conservatory of Music, which was based in the city. Katherine B. Koprowski (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) is the offline editor of the film, and associate producer. Limited release for the documentary is also planned here domestically on select PBS stations.
“I am thrilled to be part of this beautiful film which reveals so much about the influence of The Cotton Club on music in the 1920s and 1930s,” said Dee Alexander, who hosted the 30 minute documentary, and who is a noted personality on the Jazz Network/WFMT Radio Network, which is owned by WTTW/PBS Chicago.”A legacy which continues today and whose influence will ultimately inspire future generations.”
“The film tells the story of the famed players at the Cotton Club from the perspective of the musicians and dancers and those they influenced creatively — Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Chicago’s Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa, rather than focus on the gangsters who financed the venue, as some storytellers have done,” notes Gene Koprowski, producer/director/writer of the 30-minute documentary film.
Chicago Actors Featured
“We had a number of Chicago area actors in the production, including Coy Wentworth and Nathan Taylor, for re-enactments as Benny Goodman and Cab Calloway,” said Koprowski. “We also had a second unit in London to film our actress, Molly Murphy, who portrayed Eva Gardner, who made her singing debut at The Cotton Club.”
The underscore was drawn from the jazz archives of the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Institute, and matches music from the Harlem-based musicians Ellington, Basie and others to the quotes being given on-screen by the interviewees, including Grammy Winner Brian Torff, who was born and raised in Chicago.
“None of this music has been heard on TV by modern audiences,” said Nancy Bruening, executive music producer of the film. “We picked music that is like a jazz music festival — to quote Duke Ellington — and the documentary features instrumental performances by Johnny Hodges and other legends of the era.”
The film also makes news about a certain Chicago “connection” which financed the original Cotton Club feature film, quoting The Cotton Club (1984) director Francis Coppola.
The producers have discussed possibly offering the film as an Non-Fungible Token (NFT) globally, with Paus.Tv, in London, as its next film marketing project after the film and companion documentaries The Frank Capra Story: A Wonderful Life (2019), and On With the Show: Eighty Years of Bugs Bunny Cartoons and Classical Music (2020) have aired this year in Europe. “That all depends on the fan reaction,” said Koprowski. “NFT’s are very hot now. Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher had an NFT offering for their cartoon show last year, and studios are eyeing it as a distribution vehicle that is customizable for individual viewers.”
The creative team for the film earned four awards for its most recent documentary on Bugs Bunny, including the Telly Award (2021), the Davey Award (2020), the Marcom/Marketing Communications Gold Medal (2021), and the Viddy Award/Videographer Award (2021) for his documentary, On With the Show: Eighty Years of Bugs Bunny Cartoons and Classical Music (2020).