THE CRY OF JAZZ, a semi-documentary film, was completed in 1958 in
Chicago by KHTB Productions. Long before the concept of Black Culture
existed, THE CRY OF JAZZ argued that Black American life shared a
structural identity with jazz. It is one of the earliest documentary
films made by Black Americans. Shot on a very low budget, the film
was entirely financed from the paychecks of the filmmakers. Some 65
people worked on the film for free.
British drama critic
Kenneth Tynan called THE CRY OF JAZZ a historical document
because it marked the first time that Blacks openly challenged
Whites in film. London Observer, February, 1960.
THE CRY OF JAZZ is
structured in seven parts. Parts 1, 3, 5 and 7 consist of dramatic
scenes in which the significance of jazz and Black American life is
discussed by an interracial cast. Sandwiched between these
discussions are parts 2, 4 and 6, in which the structure, history,
and future of jazz and Black American life are presented in
documentary form, along with a jazz soundtrack. Most of the music is
composed and performed by the late jazz great Sun Ra and his
Arkestra. The music is vintage Sun Ra from his '50s Chicago years.
KHTB Productions was
formed by composer Ed Bland, urban planner Nelam Hill, novelist Mark
Kennedy, and mathematician Eugene "Titus. The films were produced by
Ed Bland and Nelam Hill, directed by Ed Bland, and written by Ed
Bland, Nelam Hill, Mark Kennedy, and Eugene Titus. All except Ed
Bland are deceased.
Through 50 years of its
existence THE CRY OF JAZZ has been shown at film festivals,
art museums and universities throughout the United States and
The Hip Hop periodical,
waxpoetics, published an article about the making of
THE CRY OF JAZZ
in issue #21 Feb/Mar 2007, pages 80-86. (www.waxpoetics.com)
One comment among the
thousands we've had:
"It is a rhetorical tour de force. You successfully blended music,
image, musicology, history, philosophical and dramatic elements,
into arguments of great convincing strength.
The historical and the musicological structural analyses of jazz
combined to create a driving, relentless argument, which seemed to
have nearly the force of a mathematical proof. The argument struck
me as high Tragedy, that a musical from which allows creative
spontaneity/improvisation as its essence, should yet be doomed by
structural limitations, so as not to allow further evolution of the
form itself. The poignant statement that "Jazz? Jazz is dead!"
carried the Neitzschean shock of "God is dead." The argument then
reasserted itself at an even higher pitch and as relentlessly as a
Jazz then seemed doomed to triviality, still retaining a few
valuable uses, among them the education of the white culture. An
ironic and disturbing tragedy."
Ed Bland Responded:
"There are at least two simultaneously
competing values at work in a jazz situation. One is the idea
of swinging and vitality, another is spontaneity, and another is
improvisation. Often these values are interchanged and at
times confused with one another.
Improvisation can occur in any musical
style or genre. In fact the most adept improvisers are protestant
church organists, one of whom was Bach.
Improvisation doesn't mean that the results are good, only that a
certain portion of the piece was supposedly created on the spot. Its
value is primarily a musical political one and not a statement of
Spontaneity is a quality of performance and also can be a quality
inherent in the composition. It is usually considered a desired
quality. One of the charms of jazz and most Black American popular
music is a high degree of vitality and spontaneity.
Big band ensemble jazz from the mid twenties to the mid 50s was very
written out. With more time given to the ensemble reading their
written parts than the time given to the improvised solos. Yet
those bands were famous for their swing and vitality.
So swing and vitality are not at all necessarily connected to the
improvisatory nature of jazz.
sense of swing seems to be of the essence of what makes jazz and all
Black American music attractive (Ragtime Blues, Funk, Gospel, Soul,
R&B, Jazz, and Hip Hop).
The objective basis for the swing is based on the conflict between
two types of rhythm, namely of stress and of length. This conflict
makes for rhythmic structures that are polymetric.
Except for a small work by Charles Ives CA 1919, polymetric
structures did not exist in western music prior to the infusion of
Black American music into the West.
The aesthetic gain from the swing created, is an emphasis on the
celebration of the nowness of existence. This emphasis is evident in
West African Drumming and the attendant Pagan religious ceremonies.
By the virtue of the importation of the slaves into the Americas. A
different way of coping evolves or another way of putting it another
culture is formed.
Thus the basis for the cultural warfare that Pat Buchanan and Harold
The warfare really became evident with Ragtime until now the whole
world is captured by Hip Hop and funk."