Jazz on Film: Hands-Down One of Houston's Best Film Festivals

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As time has continued its forward lurch, the heroes of jazz – of late, Ornette Coleman, Joe Sample and Paul Bley – have fallen.

Instead of posthumously worshipping the genre’s legends, Peter Lucas, curator of the highly regarded Jazz on Film festival, says the event is a way to normalize and humanize some of the most creative musicians the planet has ever see.

“It’s pretty easy to have a distanced respect for great jazz artists, but film allows us to experience the music in context and to relate to artists as individual human beings. I think that’s the best celebration of a creative life,” says Lucas. “For instance, I’ve been a fan of Ornette Coleman’s music for a long time, but when he passed away last June, it struck me more deeply for having recently seen two Coleman films we’d shown.”

“I felt close to him, and I'd like to think that Houston audiences had a deeper, shared appreciation of him through having those cinematic experiences,” continues Lucas. “The great Rahsaan Roland Kirk passed decades ago, but a new documentary that we're showing this year is able to transport us to his world and to the front row of some fantastic concert performances. There's something really special about seeing these films on the big screen with audiences that connects us personally.

The fourth annual edition of the monthlong program, which Houston Press named “Best Film Festival” in 2015, will present seven jazz-centric films, including a 35-millimeter print of John Cassavetes’s Shadows, which features the music of Charles Mingus.

“The film itself reflects the spirit of jazz in its look and tone, its movement, its setting, its story, and the unique combination of structure and improvisation through which it was made. Shadows is really a work of ‘jazz cinema’ for more reasons than its music,” says Lucas, who, in his spare time, listens to Fats Waller, Oliver Nelson and Miles Davis with equal passion.

The festival will also screen Too Late Blues and All Night Long, two rarities from the early 1960s, and The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith, who was a famed New York City-based photographer.

“The film pieces together his countless photos and music recordings made there, and shows a fascinating little history of unlikely creative intersection, placing a number of different musicians, composers, photographers and painters all under the same roof in the flower district of Beat-era New York,” says Lucas.

Jazz on Film kicks off with a 7 p.m. screening of Shadows on Friday, June 3, at Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet. The festival continues through the end of June; it costs $7 to $9 per film. Call 713-639-7300 or go to mfah.org.

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