Monday, March 27, 2006

Sun Ra's Cry of Jazz

Last week I found a copy of the film Cry of Jazz ( 1959) made in cooperation with Sun Ra and his Arkestra. As the playing time is only 30 minutes I wondered if it is worth having it, so I didn't buy it. Can someone tell me where the film is all about? And if it is a documentary about Sun Ra or a film with Sun Ra in the sound track.
Information says it's a semi-documentary film about Blacks in the US and I wonder if it is worth having it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The content and context for this film is covered in the Szwed biography, but in a nutshell, this is a very 60's film that has to be seen in the context of its day, but it is also an earnest film.

It is not about Sun Ra; the Arkestra members provide the (excellent) music and appear in many guises as musicians of various types of jazz bands (to avoid union rules), so in that respect, it is worth having in your Ra collection (many file-trading mashups and documentaries like the BBC's use music clips from this film).

The film states a case that Jazz could only have been invented by the American Negro because of the unique history and current circumstances in which they now (then) live. They assert that Jazz is a striving for freedom and beauty in a moment by moment existance that is bounded by the inflexible constraints of folk-form and endlessly repeated harmonic changes. Sounds a little like House, don't it ...

Needless to say, the film presents slanted view, with anecdotal evidence strung ad-hoc like what today might be done by a certain anti-9/11 anti-NRA director ;) And like those modern films, I don't think the director is completely without a point, it's just that it is not so simple. Could only the American Negro invent it? Bill Evans calls jazz a 'rediscovery' of what had been lost due to printed music. Can only the Negro (their term) play jazz because of their suffering? Sun Ra himself said there are (in his Birmingham accent) "all kinds of niggras, black niggras, jewish niggras, italian niggras ..." (his words, not mine) and it is ironic the film uses Sun Ra to illustrate how "Like the Negro's life, Jazz repeats the same patterns over and over"; of all the Jazz composers, Sonny was least likely to ever do anything of the sort. Also, while Sonny did let the Black Panther's house the Arkestra and would play for their benefits, he never joined them -- his colour was about a more Universal 'blackness'.

Nonetheless, whatever your own ethnicity and view on this question, you would do well to screen this one if only to shake up your preconceptions a little; it's a great little period conversation piece.

10:07 PM  

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