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Review: 'Low Down'

John Hawkes and Elle Fanning play father and daughter in Jeff Preiss’ jazz film, "Low Down."

A minor figure in the jazz world, Joe Albany came to prominence in he '40s and '50s during the bebop era. Like many jazzsters, he had a heroin habit. Low Down looks at Albany's life in the '70s through the eyes of his daughter Amy Jo, as adapted from her book of the same name.

Albany, played convincingly by John Hawkes, was living in Los Angeles at the time, estranged from his alcoholic wife, Sheila (Lena Headey), eking out a living and doing his best to look after his teenaged daughter (Elle Fanning).

But Albany's best is not quite good enough. While Amy Jo digs his music despite rock being the current sound of L.A., she's just too young to enjoy the boozy/druggy scene that comes with it (including weed). Albany's in and out of jail on probation violations, and can't quit shooting up even if he wanted to. "I must confess," the pianist says, "I love to get high."

It's a tough existence for Amy Jo, who lives among transients, hookers, junkies and assorted weirdos (a couple are played by Peter Dinklage and Taryn Manning). Albany's trumpeter friend Hobbs (Red Hot Chili Peppers' Flea) also has a habit. Amy Jo's only hope is her grandmother (Glenn Close), who takes her in when Joe disappears in Europe for two years. He's eventually deported "for holding one lousy ounce of marijuana."

She has a boyfriend (Caleb Landry Jones), who has epilepsy, when he returns. In one scene, Albany checks out Cole's rock band. He's unimpressed but does come to Cole's rescue when he has a seizure.

Albany's not a bad dad. He never hits Amy or swears at her. He lives on the margins of society in a post-jazz world. 

Jeff Preiss' film is predictably dark and seedy, and justifiably so. Joe Albany represents a by-gone era when jazz cats lived side by side with bohemians and other fringe-dwellers. It was an interesting life, one which Amy Jo survived. But it's also a sad, hardscrabble existence.

Albany was a contender, a somebody. Now with this sensitive portrait, the world can get a better look at what his life really was like.


Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.