Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Why Los Angeles Needs A Jazz Film Festival

"Happiness is a nice wet Rico reed."

"I've never done a gig in a hash bar," notes the guitarist, an older Englishman named Jon Dalton. "I spent my teenage years on the festival circuit in tents and vans. I cooked curry in a hubcap one night."

Welcome to a marijuana dispensary with the James Ellroyish name of L.A. Confidential Caregivers.
Located on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood, the space played host to a group of jazz artists who met for a couple of years there for informal Sunday-night jam sessions. It's something that used to happen in into the wee hours of the night, every night, all over the L.A. basin. Hungry young players would run it like a circuit. Then the clubs started dying on the vine and the sessions became limited to Sundays. And during the day to boot.

Hal Masonberg's sensual, understated documentary Jazz Nights: A Confidential Journey (2016) makes a case for jazz returning to the night. And not just the literal night but the night of alternative spaces and word-of-mouth, of music free from club and record label skulduggery and allowed to breath again. In the Uber and App-driven world, this could be a new trend in urban America: "Weed Dispensary Jazz." It's a strangely apropos setting, hearkening back to jazz's semi-legal origins. As the spirited saxophonist Geoff "Double G" Gallegos, who looks like he should be playing bass for Metallica, offers: "To be a criminal you have to improvise, and there's no better training for crime than jazz."

But herb is beside the point -- not all the cats in this racially and generationally mixed octet even like to get high. Between intimate musical interludes of the group easing into standards like Freddie Hubbard's "Little Sunflower," Toots Theilmanns' "Bluesette" and Harry Warren's "There Will Never Be Another You," they banter about how the dispensary gig freed them from the Sisyphus-like existence of jazz players in LA-LA Land. Before he wandered in the front door, guitarist Emil Porée drove a bus and cab in Pasadena to avoid the traditional studio-session work that his father was famous for. "I wanted to experience the music the way I wanted to: No veil between me and actual art."

(FYI: If you wish to see Jazz Nights in its entirety, its world premiere will be April 23, 2016 at the Newport Beach Film Festival.)

Over the last few months, the Beast had had the privilege of being contacted by a few filmmakers about their various jazz-related projects. Beside Jazz Nights, another one that stood out was Turn the Mics On, a 2011 film by L.A. guitarist Matthew Ritvo about the making of his 2009 album with local luminaries Michael Session, Roberto Miguel Miranda, Bobby English, Rahmlee Michael Davis and the late, great Woodrow "Sonship" Theus.

Add to this are three (!!) recent biopics about jazz: Don Cheadle's Miles Ahead, Howard Budreau's Born to Be Blue and Cynthia Mort's Nina. Each has been subject to its own set of criticisms, but honestly the Beast cannot remember a time when filmmakers could even dream of making any jazz-related project that wasn't a documentary (The Case of the Three-Sided Dream), a delivery-system for junkie porn (Low Down) or just plain lazy (Whiplash). This dates back to the mid- to late-1980s, where the documentary form seemed to outpace the fictional. There was the majestic Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser and the bizarre glitterscummy Chet Baker: Let's Get Lost (both released in 1988), and the dutiful but seemingly incomplete The World According to John Coltrane (1990). For the fictional field, things started off hopefully with Bertrand Tavernier's elegiac 'Round Midnight (1986) -- which garnered its star, L.A.'s own Dexter Gordon, an Oscar nomination -- and ended with a resolute thud by Clint Eastwood's Bird (1988), a noble failure that managed to make jazz more boring than Ken Burns' Jazz.

But thanks to IndieGoGo and Kickstarter -- not to mention these go-go days of online D.I.Y. mini-documentaries -- jazz on film is coming back hard. (Cheadle partially used an Indie GoGo campaign to fund Miles Ahead, as did the filmmakers of Fire Music, Jaco and I Love John Coltrane.) In fact, the Beast did a tally of L.A.-related jazz films and came up with about 30. This doesn't include films currently in production: L.A. rebellion filmmaker Barbara McCullough's film on Horace Tapscott; Mitchell Kezin's film on pianist/vocalist Bob Dorough, Tom Paige's The Gathering (which features decade-old footage of this young kid named Kamasi), Paul Sabu Rogers' Jazz in the Rainforest as well as docs on Shelly's Manne-hole and saxophonist Warne Marsh.

In short, we realized: There's enough material here for a L.A.-centric jazz film festival. Don't believe us? Here's a rundown of what could be. (Of course, if there's anything we've missed, please add to our knowledge.) Yes, much of this can be see online or on YouTube, but let's not lose the chance of seeing these images on a BIG screen surrounded by actual breathing human beings.

(1986; 2 hrs., 13 min.)
Special 30th Anniversary Screening!

(1977; 1 hr., 45 min.)
Larry Clark's docudrama student film from UCLA, featuring
Horace Tapscott and the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra.
Read the Beast's take on the film here.

(1997; 58 min)
An account of the 1996 Central Avenue jazz festival, directed by S. Pearl Sharp.
(2002; 60 min.)

The Pan Afrikan People's Arkestra: Live at Moers
(1995; 1 hr., 7 min.)
Titanic, earth-shattering set from Horace Tapscott's guerrilla jazz orchestra.
Arguably their finest filmed performance.

The Silence Is Broken
(2010; 1 hr., 49 min.)
AIDS/HIV docu-concert film from pianist Patrick Gandy.

Soul To Soul
(1971; 1 hr., 36 min.)
World Pacific Jazz record honcho Dick Bock's documents a landmark 1971 concert in
Accra, Ghana featuring Les McCann, the Staples Singers, Ike & Tina Turner, Santana
and the Voices of East Harlem.

A Tribute to Charles Mingus: Past, Present and Future
(2009; 60 min)

Film from Paul Sabu Rogers that includes interviews and performance excerpts
from heavies like Ndugu Chancler, Buddy Collette, Patrice Rushen and Nedra Wheeler.

The Vinny Golia Large Ensemble: 20th Anniversary Concert
(2002; 100 min)

Approximately…Nels Cline
(2012; 30 min.)

Steven Okazaki portrays the intrepid avant-guitar star from West L.A.

Art Pepper: Straight Life
(2007; 180 min.)
Laurie Pepper's three, hour-long troika of surrealist sketches of her late husband,
the postbop saxophonist Art Pepper. Go here for an NPR profile of the project.

Barry Manilow: The Making of 2am Paradise Cafe
(1984; 60 min.)

DON'T LAUGH. Follow the link above and you'll understand.

Charles Mingus: Triumph of the Underdog
(1998; 1 hr., 18 min.)
Directed by Don McGlynn. Produced by McGlynn and Mingus' widow Sue.

Charlie Haden: Rambling Boy
(2009; 1 hr., 25 min.)

Reto Caduff examines the free jazz bassist's Americana roots.

Trumpetistically, Clora Bryant
(1989; 5 min.)
L.A. Rebellion filmmaker Zeinabu irene Davis's brief portrait of a SoCal treasure --
the only woman to jam with Charlie Parker.

Dexter Gordon: More Than You Know
(1996; 52 min.)
Don McGlynn portrays the bop saxophonist-turned-Hollywood-actor.

Electric Heart: The Don Ellis Story
(2007; 1 hr., 13 min.)
John Vizzusi makes a case for the underrated
"psychedelic big band" leader and pioneer of World Jazz.

Eric Dolphy: The Last Date
(1991; 1 hr., 32 min.)

French documentary from Hans Hylkema and Dolphy biographer Thierry Bruneau.

Ernie Andrews: Blues for Central Avenue
(1986; 60 min.)
Lois Shelton's film on the underappreciated vocalist is credited for sparking
the reappraisal of L.A.'s African-American jazz history.

The Good Ear
(2009; 67 min)

Steve Rudolf's film follows club owner/promoter Rocco Somazzi
and L.A.'s creative jazz/improvised music scene.

I Stand Corrected
(2012; 60 min.)
Andrea Meyerson's timely document of left-handed jazz bassist John Leitham's
gender transition to Jennifer Leitham.

Jazz on the West Coast: The Lighthouse
(2006; 78 minutes)
Kenneth Koening on the groundbreaking Hermosa Beach jazz club.

(1980; 60 min.)
Carole Langer's gritty portrayal of the tormented bebop pianist who recorded with Charlie Parker.

(1986; 30 min.)
Short film about the avant-garde duo by Peter Bull and a
pre-Going Clear Alex Gibney, then a film student at UCLA.

(2014; 1 hr., 24 min.)
Alan Hicks' masterful biography of the late trumpeter.

The Legend of Teddy Edwards
(2001; 1 hr., 25 min)
Don McGlynn's film of the bebop saxophonist.

Leimert Park: The Story of a Village in South Central
(2006; 1 hr., 28 min.)

Jeannette Lindsay documents the 1990s cultural renaissance in this SoLA 'hood.
Read the Beast's take on the film here.

Life Is A Saxophone
(1985; 58 minutes)
S. Pearl Sharp's short film on "jazz poet" Kamau Daaood was recently
given a 28th anniversary reissue with 14 minutes of extra footage.

The Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story
(2014: 1 hr., 24 min.)
N.C. Heikin's portrait of the tumultuous career of the saxophonist and Jefferson High alumnus.

(2008; 97 min.)
Ava Duvernay's film on the melding of hip hop and jazz at the seminal Good Life Cafe in Exposition Park.

(2008; 90 min.)
Doug McIntyre & Penny Peyser portray the trumpeter and vocalist with the most recognizable voice.

(2008; 1 hr., 41 min)
Denny Tedesco, son of famed session guitarist Tommy Tedesco, filmed this love letter to the jazz musicians who supplied American youth with its necking-and-petting soundtrack.

The iconoclastic saxophonist from Memphis is more associated with Big Sur and Santa Barbara,
but he got his start in L.A. in the late '50s and was part of the local scene until he moved north
for his "wilderness years."

Lloyd was also a vital link between the jazz and rock worlds of the '60s. Amazingly, he's had no fewer than SIX films made about him, almost all by his wife Dorothy Darr. (Our blog bud Greg Burk previews a few of them here.) And oh man, if we could get them to show up for a live Q&A with our pal Dr. Jeffrey Winston? Sheeeiiiit...

(1969; 60 min.)

Eric Sherman's rarely screened doc was filmed during a pertinent time in Lloyd's career when he was at the height of his '60s popularity and about to go into self-imposed seclusion in Big Sur. Features the sublime quartet of Lloyd, Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette and Ron McClure.

(1995; 60 min.)

Ben Ingram vs. The State of Mississippi
(2009; 1 hr., 50 min.)

Film about Charles Lloyd’s father.

The Monk and the Mermaid: The Song of Charles Lloyd
(2009; 60 min.)
Italian documentary from Fara C. & Guiseppi de Vecchi.

Charles Lloyd: Arrows Into Infinity
(2012; 1 hr. 53 min)


  1. Great list!
    You need this one too: http://www.istandcorrectedmovie.com/