If you’re even mildly acquainted with the music and life of Duke Ellington, this documentary won’t tell you anything new about this innovator of popular music, and every so often, director Robert S. Levi does something that’s extremely distracting and annoying. Levi takes old film footage — of, say, an Ellington band performance at the Cotton Club in the ’30s — and adds a new soundtrack that applies sound effects (the gurgle of drinks being poured, the murmurs of audience members) and crisp, clear musical tracks that don’t quite match the tunes the musicians are playing on-screen.
That said, Reminiscing in Tempo remains enjoyable — how could 90 minutes of Ellington music not be? The variety and virtuosity of Ellington as both composer and bandleader is well established through the period performances that Levi allows to stand on their own, and a few of the interviewees are enlightening, especially Ellington’s son, Mercer (who now leads a modern-day version of his father’s road band), and the first-rate critic Albert Murray. B