Here’s a lift beyond the same old changes: "Reel Jazz," a Sunday film series (7 p.m.) at Ann Arbor’s Bird of Paradise, presents great and unusual flicks (often one and the same) foregrounding the music we can’t ever get enough of. Jazz onscreen hasn’t always fared well, particularly in Hollywood productions, but the folks at the Bird are picking movies with the same care as their band bookings. The April schedule is a promising start:
On April 7, ’Round Midnight, Bertrand Tavernier’s exquisite treatment of American musicians expatriating in Paris, kicks things off. Released in 1986, it features tenorman Dexter Gordon in a role drawn from the lives of Lester Young and Bud Powell. The film luxuriates in onscreen performances by musicians such as Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Bobby Hutcherson, Billy Higgins and Cedar Walton. Gordon is a terrific actor too.
April 14’s Dingo (1992), is a reputedly lightweight affair from Australia, but with music by Miles Davis and Michel Legrand; it’s Miles’ only acting stint.
On April 21, Calle 54 (2001) features Latin jazz kings Chucho Valdés, Jerry González, Paquito D’Rivera, the late Tito Puente and many others. Fernando Trueba directed this sizzling tribute to a passionate culture.
Wrapping up the month April 28 is Louis Malle’s 1958 film-noir classic, Ascenseur pour l’échafaud (Elevator to the Gallows, in French with subtitles), starring Jeanne Moreau and Maurice Ronet. Now you can hear Miles’ famous jazz track — existential cool and smoky — and see what it set the mood for.
The movies are free with a one-drink minimum, and get you a $1 reduction on the $3 price of the 9 p.m. jam that follows, along with dizzy atmospheres to savor. The Bird of Paradise is at 312 S. Main St., Ann Arbor. Call 734-662-8310 for more info. —George Tysh
You’ve got films about jazz, and films with jazz sound tracks. But what about jazz played to films? Around the country, players are giving a way off-center update to the piano- and organ-playing accompanists of the silent era.
Seattle guitarist Bill Frisell made waves in the mid-’90s with shows and records that made his avant-Americana trio collaborators with Buster Keaton’s on-screen antics. (Check out Go West and High Sign / One Week on Elektra/Asylum.) Bassist Mark Dresser’s trio tour recently stopped by Kerrytown Concert House to toss musical curve balls at films and videos including the Buñuel-Dali classic Un Chien Andalou.
Later this spring Detroit’s Blue Dog plans to release music improvised to accompany Jean Cocteau’s Blood of a Poet. (Look for live gigs too.)
"When you’re doing jazz, you’re reacting to each other’s sounds and each other’s colors through the structure," said Blue Dog drummer Alex Trajano.
"But doing it to a film … it was almost like the film became like the lead soloist."
Bassist Hakim Jami and his trio at Detroit Art Space Gallery are making similar discoveries making on-the-spot reactions to archival film clips: from a bit of Fellini to industrial and training films. "It’s just as new to us as it is to the audience," said Jami. The trio repeats the experiments April 19-20 and the third weekend of the following three months. (The gallery is located at 101 E. Baltimore, Detroit. Call 313-875-9981.)
Now all we need is a film of the improvisers reacting to film — and bands to improvise on that. —W. Kim HeronE-mail Jazz Messengers at firstname.lastname@example.org