Frankfurt am Main, bank metropole and city of vertical superlatives – anyone who only thinks of skyscrapers forgets that the vertical also runs in the other direction, creating rooms beneath the earth. Rooms that speak more than the disdain of Mammon. Elizabeth Ok’s film CARLO, KEEP SWINGIN‘ tells the story of just such a room, a room of creativity and resistance. In short, the story of jazz. As a young man in the 1940s, Carlo founded the “Hot Club” in a cellar dome. Here the brothers Mangelsdorff secretly played forbidden “nigger music” during the Nazi era and starved themselves down to 42 kg in order to avoid being drafted. After the end of the Second World War, national and international greats of the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Bill Ramsey passed through the doors of “Domicile du Jazz”. The atmosphere was electric. Jazz legends from around the world such as Duke Ellingtion, Ella Fitzgerald, Lee Konitz, Chet Baker, Dean Martin, Albert Mangelsdorff got together for jam sessions. There wasn’t any money in it but there was plenty of schnapps. Conservatives called the club “jazz hell”, but for the youth of bombed Frankfurt it was a place of freedom.
Bohländer is the central figure who inspires many musicians through his music and is like a spiritual leader for them. Additionally, he is involved in a captivating love story in the 60s with Anita, a black jazz singer from New York who comes to Germany and later becomes Carlo’s wife.
Willi Geipel who was the tenant and host of the Jazzkeller in the early times describes the early stages of the cellar as follows: “Only a doorbell without any name showed the way to the secret place, where jazz was played in the underground.” The fellow companions give pictorial descriptions of the location and the time period and revive the father of jazz in Frankfurt, Carlo Bohländer. His wife Anita, who was a jazz singer herself, draws a lovely but also contradictory picture of him as her husband, father and complicated man. She came to Frankfurt from New York in 1964 and fell in love with Carlo, the Jazz professor, as she called him, the first evening she sang in the Jazzkeller. They married and she stayed in Frankfurt where she still lives today.
Paul Kuhn, Albert Mangelsdorff, Günter Lenz, Gusti Mayer, Fritz Rau and others provide a lively narration, often employing their instruments. Archive material gives an iridescent impression of the musician and theorist Bohländer.
The documentary is an explosion of pictures and music, it is a swinging portrait about an extraordinary, multi-layered man, a man with infectious ingenuity, wit and enthusiasm. A complicated and moving love story of what must have then very unusual couple and a hymn of praise to music and freedom after the catastrophic experience of National Socialism. The club, the swing, the jazz and Carlo Bohländer built bridges between nations and made it possible, for the world to come together again in Frankfurt. A film like this is also an exciting documentation of the early era of the German Republic.