Saturday, January 30, 2010


The most prophetic film ever made . . . it predicted the riots of the ‘60s and ‘70s and gave the basis for them.” Willard Van Dyke, pioneer American documentary filmmaker, Curator of Films, The Museum of Modern Art, 1971

“. . . packs more of a wallop than the ENTIRE 10 disc Ken Burns Jazz documentary.”
Shandrasblog December 20, 2009

Ed Bland's 1959 film -- THE CRY OF JAZZ -- more current than ever.

"Bland's insights into the art and politics of jazz . . . are profound. . . . the movie, which is as heartfelt as it is analytical, suggests a new dimension in music criticism."
Richard Brody, The New Yorker, January 11, 2010

“The Cry of Jazz is a deep look into what jazz actually is and its metaphoric relationship to its creators, Blacks in America. . . . The ideas and thoughts expressed by the main character/narrator . . . were the seeds of the civil rights movement. . . . foresees Hip Hop Culture. . . a historically significant picture [that] should be added to the United States National Film Registry.”

THE CRY is an essay film. One of its argument is that jazz is dead. This was a highly controversial notion when the film was released in 1959. It still is controversial. Following are more excerpts from the article I wrote for Film Culture magazine (no. 21, Summer 1960), continued from my previous posting.

 . . . although jazz was originally the exorcism of a hopeless and timeless demon, in the past 10 years or so it has become a cult of romantic and futuristic pretensions. No one could be further from the spirit of jazz than the typical member of this romantic futuristic cult: the Hipster who seems to be invading and disturbing the present but shaky sanctum of American conformity.
What then, is the future of jazz? None. Jazz is dead!
The musical reasons for the death of jazz center around the restraining elements of jazz. The restraining elements are the form and the changes. If any attempts are made to develop the form and/or the changes, the swing or the spirit of jazz is lost. Since the jazz body cannot grow, it can only repeat itself. In so doing, it is stagnant, in so doing, it is dead. The three reasons for the death of jazz are: (1) that the changes cannot evolve and retain the form; (2) that the form cannot evolve and retain the swing; and (3) that both the changes and form cannot evolve simultaneously and have jazz. In all three alternatives, we have no growth in jazz. And this is what is meant by the death of jazz.

         Due to the exhaustion and contradiction of the musical materials which constitute jazz, those materials no longer function as adequate means for the creation of the worship of the vividness of the present moment. New musical means will have to be forged in order to achieve the end of constructing those works which articulate the esthetic and religious dimension opened up by jazz. While jazz as a minimal response served both as a holding action and a delineator of the vividness of the present, it is now incumbent on the hard core of Negro creators and musicians who chose to create thru the American Negro experience to enlarge on the legacy which jazz has left. Otherwise the Negro as he stands now is dead, for he exists in either the ridiculously stilted snobbish and anxiety-ridden Negro middle class, or the smooth fluid amorphous “white” Negro scrounging around trying to find some way of identifying with white America.

Coming April 2010 - NYU Orphan Film Symposium

1 comment:

  1. What a treasure!! Discovered this film at jazz mart in Chicago. I thought this was going to be a performance film by the late great Sun Ra. Little did I know that I had discovered a precious critique on black music. This film is prophetic, and just like you said " Jazz is dead" so do artists of today like Nas say "hip-hop is dead". So I've been trying to get the original book, is it still in print? If not how do I obtain a copy. I need this in my life!