Montclair Jazz Festival: Jazz score in films featured
Montclair Film/Montclair Jazz Festival movie screenings
Jazz House Kids ensemble, 7 p.m.; screenings begin at 7:30
Sunday, July 28: “Elevator to the Gallows”
Friday, Aug. 2: “Alfie”
Sunday, Aug. 4: “Anatomy of a Murder”
Monday, Aug. 9: “’Round Midnight”
Cinema505, 505 Bloomfield Ave.
By GWEN OREL
Montclair Film’s Tom Hall knows his jazz scores.
He grew up playing the saxophone, and toured Europe as a 16-year-old player.
Scratch the surface of a lot of film lovers, and you just might find a musician.
And many musicians work with and love film.
This year, for the second time, Montclair Film is partnering with the Montclair Jazz Festival to present a related film series, with music by Jazz House Kids ensembles before each screening.
Last summer, the films were jazz documentaries.
This year, it is the scores of four films that the two organizations wanted to highlight.
“Our motto for the festival is ‘see live music, hear live music, be live music,’” said Melissa Walker, Jazz House Kids’ executive director. “And we really believe in bringing in the elements of the arts. The face of the festival is a visual, working with [artist] Andres Chaparro.
“There are films that tell the story, not only in a docu-pic and the life of a musician, but also as a backdrop to the story.”
“‘A rising tide raises all boats’ is really true in the arts,” said Hall. Both organizations have similar missions in that they have strong educational and preservation components, he said.
And, Walker said, building community is important to both organizations. “I think community is really at risk right now. I don’t mean just in our politics but in our ability to convene and commune with other people.” But when you go to a film or hear live music, you’re coming together with other people. That’s important, especially for young people who can become very isolated with their devices, she added.
For its 10th anniversary, the festival will be two weeks long (in fact slightly more), kicking off on July 26 with the D.J. Brother Mister party. The nine-hour day in the park on Aug. 10 is the grand finale.
For the first time Egan & Sons on Walnut Street will host a watch party throughout the day, and a post-festival jam session after the festival ends.
“As someone who’s performed at a lot of festivals, you have to have a place for us to all come together and jam,” Walker said. “It’s just a must.”
Last year, the state of emergency flood caused the Jazz Festival to cancel, and host a private event primarily so the children could perform. There’s a Plan B this year: in case of severe weather predictions, an alert will go out the day before, and the festival will relocate to the Wellmont Theater at 5 Seymour St.
SOUNDS OF THE TIMES
Hall largely curated the films in MF’s series. The Montclair Film Festival screened a film the Stanley Nelson documentary “Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool” this spring, and “Elevator to the Gallows,” directed by Louis Malle is featured prominently in it, Hall said.
When he thought about presenting films that highlight the jazz score, “Elevator to the Gallows” was at the top of his list.
“They just played the movie for [Davis], he got an ensemble of jazz musicians, and they improvised a score while they watched the film. Nobody is pretending to play.” He added that it’s also a great example of French new wave noir. “The music really gives it a feeling of the times. ”
Walker said that all of the ensembles will play the music of the film composers. She plans to attend all four films.
The second film in the series, Otto Preminger’s “Anatomy of a Murder,” stars Jimmy Stewart and features a score by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. “It is traditional scoring, the way a John Williams now would write a score for a film,” Hall said. “There are themes for characters, and it’s really quite complicated and well done.”
It’s noticeable that the two films from the 1950s about murder use jazz as the score. But that’s less because jazz was considered dangerous than that the music was considered cool, and just coming into the mainstream, Hall said.
“All of the French new wave people were enamored with noir and Hitchcock,” he said. “‘Anatomy of a Murder’ has Jimmy Stewart, in a way you couldn’t be squarer. It’s a courtroom procedural in the ‘12 Angry Men’ style. Putting a Duke Ellington score on it makes it seem both classical and hip, in an interesting way for the time period.”
Jazz said something about who you were, if you listened to it, Walker said. “Jazz was an art form that was also pushing the boundaries of race relations in America. Jazz was that first art form that had mixed bands. And so that was also not only bands but an audience where whites would be going up to Harlem where clubs would be mixed.”
“Alfie” is a movie that most people probably do not associate with jazz. It’s about a promiscuous man who doesn’t want to settle down, even when he gets his girlfriend pregnant.
“This is that swinging London era and yes, people think maybe a bit more psychedelic, rock and roll, the Beatles, but in reality, a lot of the counterculture of the 1960s was into jazz, and came out of the Beatnik movement of the ’50s,” Hall said. “I don't know that hippies were into it but there was a literary community and hip urban communities who were definitely into the music. Everyone knows the song ‘Alfie’; Dionne Warwick made it a hit. It’s a classic pop song. But the score for the movie is Sonny Rollins, an incredible saxophone player still going today.
“This is a more out-there hip signifier for this movie. It’s about gender politics and this cad male character. It’s a good time to go back and look at the gender politics. It’s a movie about a man but not really pro-man in a lot of ways.”
The final film, “’Round Midnight,” which screens just before the Jazz Festival grand finale in Nishuane Park, is also the most recent: Hall recalls going to see it as a teenager when it came out in 1986. “This [movie] for me is a very romantic look at what we imagined the jazz lifestyle was like, which is sort of be the druggy expat living just to play the music,” he said. And he was also struck by the racial politics of having to leave the United States in the 1950s as Baldwin did and as Dexter Gordon did. “But in retrospect it's a really powerful portrait of the sort of necessity and the pain behind being an expat.” This film is the only one in the series whose story is about an African American jazz musician. And because of the way it was recorded live as the film was being made, whole songs are played, not just short excerpts.
“This film is raw in many ways,” Walker agreed. “It highlights the sacrifice, and the real courage it takes to be an artist.
“What’s so interesting about that film is that it’s as relevant today as it was then. We’re still talking about gender, we’re still talking about race, we’re still talking about who has the right to be on stage, who are we. Right now, we are having this conversation as vigorously as we’ve had. When you bring these films forward they show you how this dialogue continues today.
“‘Be the music’ means that we are all creative people, we all improvise in our own way, and we are all a part of something bigger than ourselves.”