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Music documentaries celebrate the old and the new – Times Herald-Record

Two very different music documentaries, one a classic and one brand-new, both set at prestigious concerts, are among tonight’s most interesting treats. 

The “Independent Lens” (10 p.m., PBS, TV-PG, check local listings) presentation “Pipe Dreams” follows four talented young musicians preparing to compete at the Canadian International Organ Competition.

I must admit that when I approached this film about a Canadian organ-playing contest, I half expected a take along the whimsical lines of a Christopher Guest comedy. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It focuses on the passions and discipline of four young people, none out of their 20s, from all corners of the globe. 

Chinese-born Yuan Shen is the daughter of her country’s most famous organist. She’s known all her life that her dad really wanted a son as a protege, so she sets out to be twice as good as any man. Low-key Nick Cappozoli of Pittsburgh has earned the love of his local churchgoers, so he sets out to dazzle the judges with obscure compositions. At 19, Sebastian Heindl is the youngest musician ever to enter the competition. Born in Leipzig, home to Johann Sebastian Bach, he has been celebrated as a prodigy since he was 11. The son of a black preacher from Texas, Alcee Chriss III learned the electric organ playing at his father’s church. To master the pipe organ, he had to seek out mentors from bigger and richer congregations and ask to be tutored for free. Having lost his mother at a very young age, he knows he is playing for an audience member not in the seats. 

The film does a masterful job of showing the unique and mysterious appeal of the giant pipe organ. An exalted contraption from a premodern age, it requires working multiple keyboards, many pedals and dozens of stops. It can evoke intimacy or summon ominous chords seemingly from the bowels of the earth. Yuan Shen says it can produce either a “lullaby or the angry voices of the gods.” 

The emphasis here is entirely on the young competitors. Unlike most TV music contests, we hear nothing about the judges or the institutions they represent. It’s all about the young and the passionate and the awe-inspiring instrument they have chosen. 

— Presented in rich, saturated color, completely without narration or commentary, the 1959 documentary “Jazz on a Summer’s Day” (8 p.m., TCM) captures performances at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, ranging from Thelonious Monk to Dixieland bands. Blues, gospel and R&B artists including Mahalia Jackson, Big Maybelle and Ray Charles appear here, as does rocker Chuck Berry. 

Co-directed by fashion photographer Bert Stern and Aram Avakian, the film can be appreciated solely for the fashion choices of its audience. It wordlessly celebrates summer at its most lush, from hipsters enjoying their al fresco concert to a nearby yachting competition. It recalls an era of men in hats and ties, and women in their gorgeous dresses. 

Vocalist Anita O’Day borrows a feathered hat to emerge from a heroin trance and steal the show (and perhaps the movie) with her unique take on the ancient standard “Tea for Two.” 

An American classic. Highly recommended.  

TONIGHT’S OTHER HIGHLIGHTS

— Dwayne Johnson presides over “The Titan Games” (8 p.m., NBC, TV-PG).

— Weird Halloween calls on “9-1-1” (8 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14).

— Ben Higgins glances back on “The Bachelor: The Greatest Seasons — Ever!” (8 p.m., ABC, TV-PG).

— Lola and Emily square off on “All Rise” (9 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG). 

— A breakaway bull stampedes on “9-1-1: Lone Star” (9 p.m., Fox, r, TV-14).

— A judge faces obstruction charges on “Bull” (10 p.m., CBS, r, TV-14).

“Diesel Brothers” (10 p.m., Discovery) rolls into a seventh season. 

SERIES NOTES

Who’s on top on “The Neighborhood” (8 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG) … “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” (8 p.m., CW, TV-14), followed by a repeat episode (8:30 p.m., TV-14) … Dottie needs help on “Bob Hearts Abishola” (8:30 p.m., CBS, r, TV-PG) … “Penn & Teller: Fool Us” (9 p.m., CW, TV-PG) enters its seventh season.

LATE NIGHT 

Ron Funches appears on “Conan” (11 p.m., TBS, r) … James Corden, Ibram X. Kendi and Bright Eyes are booked on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (11:35 p.m., CBS) … Jimmy Fallon welcomes Will Ferrell and John Legend on “The Tonight Show” (11:35 p.m., NBC).  

Jason Sudeikis, Mike O’Brien and Second Chance Theatre visit “Late Night With Seth Meyers” (12:35 a.m., NBC).

kevin.tvguy@gmail.com

"Pipe Dreams" follows four talented young musicians preparing to compete at the Canadian International Organ Competition.

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