VA Film Fest's Gem for Lovers of Jazz and Romance

Oct 24, 2019

Film Festivals offer the public a chance to see beyond Hollywood – to discover small gems that might never make it to the multi-plex.  This year’s festival in Charlottesville included the story of an unlikely couple who shared music and love.  The screening was sold out and won the Audience Choice Award.

Jeanie Bryson and Zebulon Mellett crafted this film as a tribute to the late jazz musician Coleman Mellett.
Credit Jeanie Bryson

Coleman Mellett fell in love with his guitar in junior high school, and some years later he fell in love with Jeanie Bryson – a jazz singer, the daughter of Dizzy Gillespie -- who saw Mellett play at the Cape May Jazz Festival.

“My friend Ed looked up at the bandstand and said, ‘That guitar player is really cute,’" she recalls. I said, 'Yeah, he’s cute, but he’s very young.”

He was 22, she 38. His musical talents impressed her, and some weeks later she invited him to join her for a gig.

Her mother was skeptical, but not for long:

“She told me that she was interested in this very young guy, and I was a little concerned, but I realized once I met Coley that he was more of a man than an awful lot of men I know – even at that age.  Being with a musician is probably intolerable for people who are not musicians.  I think musicians/ do very well together.”

Bryson and Mellett agreed.

“We were two peas in a pod," Bryson explains. "We would marvel at finding each other, and we would say it to each other.  We thought we were the luckiest people in the world. He started writing songs about us and me, so it was perfect.”

Some years later, Mellett appeared on a late-night public access program.  Rosie Mangione – wife of the famous jazz trumpeter Chuck Mangione – happened to be watching.

“I knew Chuck had his nose out for a new guitar player,” Rosie begins.

“So I came home from a gig, and she says to me, ‘I found your guitar player,’” Mangione continues.

She arranged for Coleman to drop by the house, and one week later – after an in-depth study of Mangione’s music, the young guitarist arrived.

“The bell rings.  We open the door.  There’s this kid,  and he took out his guitar and started playing one of my songs,” Mangione says.

Mangione was impressed with the acoustic audition and invited him in to play an electric guitar.  A short time later Coleman left.

“And Rosie comes running in in a panic.  'What happened?  What happened?  Was he that bad?’ I said, ‘He was that good!  I hired him!’”

In 2009, Mellett was supposed to play with Mangione and the Buffalo Philharmonic.  He boarded a commuter flight in Newark and was killed along with 49 other people when the plane went down in icy weather.

Jeanie Bryson was devastated as were many of Mellett’s musician friends and relatives, but they came together around ten songs that Coleman wrote and recorded – songs never released.  Together, they found ways to mix the music into an album, and that project became the heart of a documentary film which Jeanie and Coleman’s brother Zeb produced.

Sing You a Brand New Song: The Words and Music of Coleman Mellett won prizes at the first two festivals where it was shown.  It’ll be screened  at Charlottesville’s Violet Crown Theater tomorrow night (Friday, October 25) at 5:00.