Maestro(s) | Credit: Courtesy

This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on February 9, 2023. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at

For avid and/or habitual festival-goers who also happen to be music-heads, the occasion of the 10-day period of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival amounts to a hiatus from the musical portion of one’s cultural diet. But that’s not entirely true, considering the role music — and especially music docs — have played in SBIFF programs. Last year’s closing night film, for instance, respectfully toasted pop-soul royalty with Dionne Warwick: Don’t Make Me Over.

In past years, music snuck more regularly into the SBIFF menu, thanks to the passion of past programmer Michael Albright. We got fascinating filmic insights into John Coltrane, John Fahey, and the recently belated local/global hero David Crosby (in both David Crosby: Remember My Name — which screens for free on Monday, February 13, at  2 p.m. at the Arlington — and Echo in the Canyon in 2019), while screenings morphed into live musical moments featuring the likes of Sergio Mendes, Jakob Dylan, and even Peter Case and his trusty acoustic guitar, in a Metro Four theater.

The current SBIFF programming, now led by noted film critic Claudia Puig, also takes care to include music in the mix, if in more modest quantities. One of the most intriguing titles comes loaded with a telling title, Karen Carpenter: Starving for Perfection, taking on the tragic but also triumphant story of premiere pop singer (and fine drummer) Carpenter, also famous for having died young from a fame-driven eating disorder.

Aiming the camera at a lesser-known name behind the scenes of music, Killing Me Softly with His Songs is a world premiere presentation from director Danny Gold, showcasing the work and life of songwriter Charles Fox. Among Fox’s most ear-wormy credits are the Roberta Flack classic “Killing Me Softly with His Song,” and the TV theme song  for Happy Days. Just mentioning those titles puts a song in one’s brain.

In the French feature film Maestro(s), director/co-writer Bruno Chiche tells the tale of father and son conductors, and the tensions of competition within a “family business.” And in Voices Rising: the Music of Wakanda, director Ryan Coogan listens up to the worldly musical forces behind and within the epic Wakanda Forever, with Swedish composer Ludwig Göransson culling sounds and energies from around the world. Even better, Voices Rising: the Music of Wakanda screens for free on Thursday, February 9 at 2 p.m. at the Arlington.

These are among the films in this year’s SBIFF requiring us to listen up, along with peeling eyes and opening hearts, to what’s on screen.

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Giving Jazz Some

Samara Joy performs at the Monterey Jazz Festival | Credit: Josef Woodard

For some of us, the clear high point of Sunday night’s visit to the Grammy Awards festivities was the moment when the great American art form of jazz, normally shuttled to the margins of culture, had a rare, highly public close-up. It was more than ready, in the form of the dazzling young jazz singer Samara Joy, whose powerful blend of respect for tradition and sidestepping into modern jazz notions has been captivating audiences both deep in the jazz world and outside of it. She was a star at last September’s Monterey Jazz Festival, even on one of the smaller stages. No doubt, the main stage will soon beckon her.

There she was, anointed the official Best New Artist, joining an extremely sparse, elite list of jazz artists who came before her, including The Swingle Singers in 1964 and the multiply talented and forward-thinking Esperanza Spalding in 2011 (shortly before her concert at Campbell Hall, cause for a hearty jazz buzz hereabouts). To see jazz in America’s house, properly celebrated and enthroned, suggested that there is hope yet for the music’s all-too off-to-the-side status to sneak into the public awareness.

Return to the Pink

As UCSB Arts & Lectures Associate Director Meghan Bush mentioned in her introduction of the veteran kitsch and velvet party band Pink Martini, at the Granada last Friday, this was at least the tenth time the Portland-based band has come to town under A&L auspices. They have bumped up from Campbell Hall to the Arlington and Granada level of local houses — with a casual Christmas streaming duo showing in 2020 — but over the past 25-plus years, the song (and songs) largely remain the same — apart from such newbies as the Karla Bonoff-ish “Full Circle,” a COVID-era song by China Forbes — as does the band’s fun, globe-trotting formula.

The band formed by pianist Thomas Lauderdale, leading up to a dozen musicians, naturally included its fluke-ish, phenom-launching French song “Sympathique (Je ne veus pas travailler),” quirky pop delights “Hang on, Little Tomato” and “Hey Eugene,” songs in assorted languages and “world music” grooves and a game request for “Girl from Ipanema” (with a typically tasty guitar solo by Dan Faehnle). “Brazil ” closed the festivities, as it is wont to do in Pink Martini-land, with a distracted conga line wriggling through Granada’s aisles. Somehow, post-pandemic (it’s almost official!), a return to the band’s easy-does-it, demographic-spanning appeal felt just right for what ails us.

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