If you read my recent rave about Californian prodigy Rachel Flowers… or discovered her (as I did) through her astonishing clips on Youtube… however you discovered this musical phenomenon, I imagine you’ll have been anticipating Lorenzo DeStefano’s documentary about her, Hearing Is Believing, as keenly as I have. A review of the film follows shortly on this blog but in the meantime, I had the great pleasure of interviewing its director…
Lorenzo, thanks for talking to theozymandiasprogject. How did the recent premiere of Hearing Is Believing go?
The June 9, 2016 advance screening in Ventura went amazingly well. 2 screens. 400 people. Tremendous response. Much warmth, many tears, and a whole lotta love for the film and for the family that inspired it. The audience responses were just incredible… (* a sampling of them reproduced at the end of this interview – Oz.)
Those are some pretty impressive testimonials there… for anybody who isn’t yet aware of the phenomenon that is Rachel Flowers, what would you tell them about her?
Rachel’s given abilities and the music that is her inspiration make her a talent that cannot be ignored. She’s a survivor who is fast maturing into a consummate musical artist.
How did you first encounter Rachel’s music, then the lady herself and her family?
I was introduced to Rachel by Hans Ottsen, a prominent Ventura jazz guitarist and friend. He said he had a new trio and that I should drop in and hear Adam Clark on drums and a young woman named Rachel Flowers on keyboards, flute and vocal. That was January 18, 2014 @ Squashed Grapes here in Ventura. Hans had told Rachel & Jeanie that I was a filmmaker whose work he admired. They weren’t actively looking for a film to be made, though I did learn that several people had approached them over the years but none had followed through, leading them to believe it would never happen or that film makers talk a good game but don’t deliver. For their own reasons they agreed, two months after we met, to discuss the possibility of a film. Before 3 months had elapsed we were filming, so I guess it was meant to happen when it did. 53 days and 21 months of filming later we’d completed production on the film, which had an editing schedule of 12+ months and over 300 hours of material to go through. At this point, some 30 months after we met, we consider each other very close friends as well as allies on a mission. “Team Rachel”, as it were. Everyone on that team believed she was fully deserving of the imaginative and insightful film that we have made about her. There’s a closeness that comes from having collaborated on something very special, a vehicle that will not only have its own life as a film but fuel Rachel’s rise to prominence on the international music scene.
I imagine it was a no-brainer from the word go that you’d want to make a film about her?
It was a non-brainer that she was a very special musician. How special a person she is and the dynamics of her family life came later. This has been a very big effort for such a little person, a “neighbourhood girl”. But then Rachel always seems like a huge presence to me.
You’ll see from the new trailer ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDcUT00zBek ) that we’re trying to orient the audience by putting Rachel and her story in the context of this fucked-up world we live in, i.e. that there’s room for something else on our radar, not just the horrors, the noise out there. We’re counting on that, along with some inside politicking by us and our supporters, to get this on the radar of film distributors and music labels in the weeks and months ahead.
How did you go about funding it?
Over 150 contributors worldwide, from $10 to $40,000 at the high end, people who’ve known of Rachel for years via Youtube, new recruits to what we’re calling “Team Rachel”, and friends and longtime supporters of mine. $122,000 raised to date (in 2 years) out of a projected budget of $300,000. Never had a project click like this before. Probably never will again. Amazing support system based on love for Rachel and trust in me. It doesn’t get any better. It puts a lot of pressure on me to deliver, but that’s been a good thing. Now I feel we need to fulfil Rachel’s dreams and help her launch a major musical career. She and Jeanie will need professional and hopefully first rate representation & booking help to get there. Clearly the film and Rachel will proceed side by side for all time, which is a good thing.
Will Hearing Is Believing be playing at any festivals?
We just completed the film so it’s out now to domestic and international festivals for consideration.
Please tell us about the participation in it of people like Dweezil Zappa and Keith Emerson…
Both Dweezil & Keith knew about Rachel before I showed up, Keith especially. He let her play his rebuilt Moog before he even did, which was amazing. It’s sad he isn’t around to see her blossoming on film and in life. I was days away from sending him a cut of the film when March 10, 2016 came around and Keith was gone. The Emerson Tribute Concert in LA in May, as you know, put Rachel in front a whole new crowd, audience & musicians, and did she shine or what? Keith would’ve been smiling wide.
Dweezil had heard about her incredible covers of Inca Roads, Peaches en Regalia & Zoot Allures. He didn’t actually meet her until NAMM 2015, where we filmed their first encounter and where he invited her to play with Zappa Plays Zappa any time she liked. It was four months later, on April 25, 2015, when we shot the amazing sequence at the Brooklyn Bowl in Vegas, where she plays keyboard on Inca Roads and does a fierce guitar duel with Dweezil on “Montana”. Got the audience chanting “Rachel, Rachel, Rachel”. That was pretty incredible. She was stunned, as we all were.
What sort of a distribution is the film is going to get?
As first-rate as we can get, both theatrical, VOD, DVD, and all the related ancillary markets, domestic & foreign. It’s a long road to get a film like this to the public. There are lots of obstacles along the way. But, as Jeanie so wisely says in the film, “It’s marathon not a sprint”. People should stay in touch with our website & Facebook pages for updates on screenings, distribution, music gigs, etc.
HEARING IS BELIEVING CROWDFUNDING VIDEO (2:53) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjXfY43bEI0
Please tell us something about your previous music-themed films, Los Zafiros – Music From The Edge and Talmage Farlow..
Los Zafiros were “The Cuban Beatles” during the ’60s. My film reunited the two surviving band members, Manuel Galban and Miguel Cancio, and told their story to a backdrop of archive newsreel footage depicting life in Cuba at the height of The Cold War. The intention was to introduce them and their music to a whole new audience which I believe they deserve.
Tal Farlow was expected to follow his father into a dead end job in the textile industry in Greensboro, North Carolina, where he was born in 1921. Instead he taught himself guitar, listening to the jazz greats on the radio and worked his way up through dance bands till he was playing with the likes of Buddy DeFranco, Artie Shaw and in the Red Norvo trio with Charles Mingus. In 1958, at the top of his game, Tal retired from the music scene to become a sign painter in Sea Bright, New Jersey, a lovely East Coast beach town with a view of Manhattan. When asked why, the explanation he offered was: “It didn’t suit my temperament, I guess.”
This is the most fascinating thing about Farlow, isn’t it… that he just walked away from his glittering musical career?
I’m a failed jazz guitar player from Honolulu and Tal was one of my heroes along with Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessel, Johnny Smith, Charlie Christian, Grant Green, et al.
God, I love Grant Green…
Tal always seemed to be the most unusual musically, the most daring, a guy who hung it all out over the edge without fear of failing (though I found out later, in the filming, that he did indeed have a high degree of anxiety, especially during the “comeback” after the film came out in ’81.) When I first asked him if I could make a film he politely turned me down, said he didn’t think there was anything there to film anyway. Typical genuine modesty on his part, but from my POV, inaccurate. Then I met him at the Concord Jazz Festival in ’78 and he agreed to let me try and raise some dollars, probably thinking I never would or could. While I was trying to put some funding together in ’79 I spent 3 weeks in Sea Bright with Tal and his then-wife, Tina, who was previously married to the very successful Austrian composer Frederick Lowe of Lerner & Lowe. I wrote the outline for the film during this time, did preliminary interviews with Tal, and got to know more about the man behind the myth, as it were. From there we regrouped in 1980 and started filming, on a budget that ended up in the region of $100,000. Making the film, my first long-form project, was really gratifying, the mission to let the public know about a guy whose legendary status was obscured by his early retirement in ’58 (he was only 37.) The 20 years of friendship with him was the real payoff. He asked me to be best man at his wedding to Michelle Hyk in ’98, just months before his death. That was a real honor. And he left me one of his Gibson Tal Farlow models, which I wish to hell I could play.
Could you envisage the situation in which Rachel, after being so intensely involved in her music for so long, could decide that she wanted do something else with her life?
I can’t even fathom what else she would do. As Jeanie says, “Music is her heart”. Check back with me in 20 years…
Thank you, John.
… and further thanks to Lorenzo for the opportunity to catch a preview of Hearing Is Believing. It totally lived up to my expectations, a beautiful piece of work which I’ll be reviewing here soon.
* As promised, a selection of audience responses to the World Premiere of Hearing Is Believing in Ventura, 09/06/16…
“Just saw preview of a superb Oscar calibre documentary, ‘Hearing is Believing’. Look out for this unforgettable film.”
“Many congratulations on a superbly moving film. You knocked out the audience tonight. The blood sweat and tears you put into it shone dazzlingly through.”
“The movie was brilliant. Two sold out theatres, the back wall packed with people standing. Director Lorenzo DeStefano asked, ‘Do you think there’s a place in the world for this movie?’ Yes, I do.”
“Wonderful film. Amazing story. Moving connection with Rachel and her music from the very beginning.”
“Great story, watching Rachel Flowers play is really amazing. She reaches out with music and all you have to do is listen and you’ll know the beauty of sound.”
“Lorenzo DeStefano has directed an extraordinarily sensitive and moving film. I’d see this film again and will recommend it. Not to be missed.”
“The film was really incredible. It was so empowering. I was tearing up one minute and then giggling right along with Rachel the next.”
“I enjoyed your film immensely. Thank you, Rachel Flowers, for the music that you make. Hard to put into words the impact of the purity of your composition, but you somehow channeled the soundtrack for life.”
FYI, Lorenzo recommends the following NY Times obit on Tal Farlow
and advises us that the entire archive for the his Farlow documentary is at Duke University in N. Carolina, preserved for researchers into the indefinite future –http://library.duke.edu/rubenstein/findingaids/farlowtalmage/.