Art Works Blog

Jazz: What's it really about?

Washington, DC

Brian Blade and Christopher Thomas of Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band are featured in Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense. Photo by Jean Hangarter

?It?s a quick and surface explanation, a cliché, to say that, ?Jazz is the only truly American art form,?? said John Comerford, producer of the documentary Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense. ?If you know something about jazz, about the influences---that?s like saying ?gumbo is a spicy soup.? There is so much more to it.?

Comerford and the film?s director, Lars Larson, demonstrated the complex flavor of jazz recently when their film was shown as part of the Smithsonian's Jazz Appreciation celebration. Featuring legends such as NEA Jazz Masters Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock as well as younger artists like Jason Moran and Greg Osby, who performed at the screening, Icons Among Us makes the case that today?s young artists are blazing new trails in the 21st century just as their predecessors did in the 20th.

The documentarians were among ten filmmakers chosen to participate in AFI Project 20/20, ?an international initiative designed to enhance cultural exchange, understanding, and collaboration through filmmakers and their films from the U.S. and abroad.? The NEA is a 20/20 supporter, along with the State Department, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The Smithsonian also featured another film from the project, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench. Directed by Damien Chazelle, the film is a love story between a jazz musician, played by Jason Palmer (one of DownBeat magazine?s ?twenty-five trumpeters of the future?) and a young woman enthralled with his music.

?I'm always pleasantly surprised to find young people engaging with jazz. It shouldn't be a surprise, but it is,? said Chazelle. ?I remember shortly after the screening of my film seeing a nine-year-old trumpeter at a Jazz Appreciation Month reception just tear the roof off. It's young people who will carry jazz forward, so it's exciting to see. I focused on a young jazz musician in my film for that very reason."

?For now, because of jazz?s history---which is fundamentally a history of the relations between cultures, between races---and because of the spirit it embodies---which is fundamentally a spirit of progress---jazz can provide a bridge between countries, cultures, and communities,? added Chazelle. ?At its foundation it's an indigenous American art form, but it also has real reach across the world. You can find cutting-edge jazz in Denmark, Egypt, Japan. That's what the music is really about.?

New on our website: the NEA is soliciting applications for a cooperator to manage AFI Project 20/20.

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