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The 19th annual Library of Congress jazz film series (aka Jazz Film Fridays) includes such notable moments as: a young Warren Beatty as a comic on the run from the mob with Stan Getz’s sax acting as his alter ego; documentary footage of the late trumpeter/composer/ conductor Lawrence “Butch” Morris; free jazz filmed in D.C.; and an appearance from the recently deceased poet Amiri Baraka.
The four-film series, curated each year by Library of Congress staffer and WPFW DJ Larry Appelbaum, kicked off last week in the intimate Mary Pickford Theater with a screening of Arrows Into Infinity, the 2012 documentary about sax and flute player Charles Lloyd. Up tonight is the 1965 Arthur Penn-directed feature Mickey One, which stars Beatty.
Appelbaum writes in an email that when choosing the lineup each year, he has “always preferred to screen films that are compelling but not widely seen or readily available.” He says he’s seen all of this year’s schedule except The Breath Comes Through Us, a new documentary by Alan Roth about the New York Art Quartet (with Roswell Rudd, John Tchicai, Reggie Workman, Milford Graves, and Amiri Baraka) that’s double-billed with Roth’s 2001 Inside Out in the Open, which includes Joseph Jarman, Other Dimensions in Music, and William Parker’s quintet In Order To Survive. “We’re honored that Alan chose us to present the U.S. premiere on the 31st,” Appelbaum says. “Based on the subject matter and Alan’s previous work, I’m convinced that fans of adventurous music in general and these artists in particular will want to see it.”
For viewers concerned that these films will just be free-jazz instrumentalists improvising cacophonous music without form or structure, Appelbaum clarifies that “I’m not sure I’d call the conductions of Butch Morris (the subject of January 24th’s ‘Black February’) free jazz. Morris was a brilliant cornettist and theorist who developed his own language and process to express his vision. He passed one year ago and I wanted to pay tribute and let people know there is something that now exists beyond just the recordings.”
Appelbaum has also invited WPFW DJs to introduce each Friday’s offerings. Tim Masters is introducing Mickey One, described by many as Penn’s attempt to create an artsy French new-wave film. Masters says that “Getz was chosen for his ability to play anything, to express a desired sound, to reveal the feeling of each dramatic expression projected in the story… and this story, in particular, called for a wide variety of playing styles and techniques, everything from Polish polkas to 1950s rock ‘n’ roll-style saxophone. Getz, who was going through all kinds of personal turmoil at the time he was working on this project, agonized over his role/involvement.”
Director Alan Roth says that in his new film, The Breath Courses Through Us, “Baraka appears as part of the reunion of the New York Art Quartet. Back in 1964, he not only performed his poem ‘Black Dada Nihilismus’ on their first LP, but also read his poetry with the same group in performance in many alternative spaces and on WBAI radio. He did the same in performance with the group at the 1999 reunion concert. He is seen reading one of his poems without an audience, off-stage, alone with bassist Reggie Workman, then, later, reflecting on ‘Black Dada Nihilismus.'” Regarding the format of the film, Roth says, “While there are interviews, I do not consider this a talking-heads film on jazz (similar to Ken Burns). The editing is more lyrical and nonlinear in a more free form, somewhat reflecting the musical ideas being presented.”
All films will be shown at 7 p.m. in the Mary Pickford Theater on the third floor of the Library of Congress James Madison Building, 101 Independence Ave. SE. Doors open 30 minutes before screening. No tickets required. For information call (202) 707-5502. Mickey One will be shown Friday Jan. 17 at 7 p.m.