By – Gareth Jones
For fans of new directions in Jazz, historically significant Black films, being educated while entertained
Earlier this year, International Anthem (a fantastic record label out of Chicago) released the recording of the 2019 musical creation of Angel Bat Dawid. This production was commissioned for the Hyde Park Jazz Festival. Dawid adds layered production of that one time performance. This incredible work was inspired by the 1959 short film A Cry for Jazz written and directed by Edward Bland, who would go on to become a noted screenwriter and musician.
This 34 minute film is not going to blow you away with cinematic technique or excellent acting. In fact, the acting is amateurish and cringe-inducing. Edward Bland himself has often been critical of the filmmaking as well. However, as an historic document The Cry of Jazz is astonishing. It captures a specific moment in time when Jazz was about to go through a transformation. As the lead character and narrator Alex, played by George Waller (in his only known performance) challenges the white guests at a party about their interpretation and knowledge of Jazz. He walks them and us through the history of the genre succinctly and in depth from its origins to the current incarnation in 1959, ending with a highlight of Sun Ra and how he and his fellow musicians are taking Jazz into the future. Along the way, we are shown a montage of the horrific conditions in Chicago in documentary fashion, or even in the style of Italian Neorealism. Alex argues that it is from these conditions that the musical form evolved and that it is the only from the Black experience that it could have been born. He explains that Jazz is a “contradiction between freedom and restraint.”
It is his proclamation that “Jazz is Dead”, that causes the most consternation among the guests at the party. However, once again he explains how Jazz in its current form has hit a plateau and cannot evolve further. The form is too limiting. Watching the film today, one can see how many of the conditions have not changed and that the film’s message is just as important today as it was in 1959. Bland’s film is a vital preview to the rise of Malcolm X and a more militant civil rights movement.
This leads directly to music of Angel Bat Dawid who asks the question, “If Jazz is Dead then why was there no funeral?” Her requiem is a thunderous answer to this question. It is structured and built around the traditional classical requiem including the titles of songs. She also names songs after many quotations from the film including “Because Jazz is the one element in American life where whites must be humble to the Negro” and “The Jazz body is dead but the Spirit of Jazz is Alive”. Her creation clearly shows us that music needed to evolve and the constraints of one form became the building blocks for new forms such as R & B and Hip-Hop, all of which are synthesized into her Requiem. One of the highlights is that she was able to bring Sun Ra Arkestra’s musicians Marshall Allen and Knoel Scott to the performance. Jazz is dead in one form but is alive and well in so many new iterations and inspirations. In that way, it is alive and thriving.
Written by: Gareth Jones
By - Kristi Houk “These are dangerous days. To say what you feel is to dig your own grave.” -Sinead O’Connor, “Black Boys on Mopeds” from I Do Not Want What I haven’t Got, (1990) I wasn’t supposed to write this. I was slated to review the latest Guided by […]
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