Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Third Annual New York Jazz Film
Festival Living Up to Its Promise

-- Harlem based festival creates opportunities for jazz musicians
to act on screen  --

Black Jazz News Staff

Director Andre' Joseph (right) and tenor saxophonist/actor Beavin Lawrence (left) for Best Film
The Saxophonist at the 2018 NYJFF held at Paris Blues in Harlem on Sunday, August 26, 2018.

Three years after the Jazz Times’ piece “First Annual New York
Jazz Film Festival Coming This November” was published, the
Third Annual New York Jazz Film Festival which presented its
awards at the historic Harlem jazz club Paris Blues this past
Sunday, has kept its promise to “put jazz back in the streets and
showcase jazz musician-actors”. NYJFF, the first of its kind to
exclusively screen films related to jazz, fills a void of a music long
abandoned not only by Hollywood, but by the African-American
public at large who once cultivated the once popular music it
created; a national treasure and the forefather and foremother of
Rock & Roll, R&B and yes, Hip Hop.

NYJFF founder and celebrated jazz musician
Gregory Charles
Royal has been an advocate for preserving instrumental music,
particularly jazz in the Black community, for over a decade with
American Youth Symphony, producers of NYJFF which he runs
with his wife, non-profit activist
Sue Veres Royal. AYS has
produced television, theatrical, and film projects with the
assistance of celebrated musicians such as
National Symphony
violinist Marissa Regni; clergy such as the legendary
Dr. James A. Forbes Jr.; and celebrities such as
actress Frenchie Davis and CNN/FOX/et al. contributor,
Love and Hip Hop star Dr. Jeff Gardere . The purpose of
these projects is to present jazz in popular culture to a generation
who has grown up on a diet of electronic sounds and to a Black
generation who often views singing and rapping as their only
musical options.

Enter the
Third Annual New York Jazz Film Festival where after
two prior years of the Royals preaching on the importance of the
jazz musician, particularly the Black jazz musician, to embrace the
film medium as actors and to bring jazz back into the mainstream;
two projects,
The Saxophonist, which won this year's Best Film
honors and the NYJFF 2018 Landmark Project
Giant Steps -- a
dramatic comedy television series -- have lit a spark.

The Saxophonist, conceived and written by Brooklyn native Andre’
Joseph, casts a vibrant young jazz musician, Beavin Lawrence, as
the lead with a roughly 35 person cast. The film’s tagline reads “a
struggling young jazz saxophonist is torn between love and
career”. The conscience choice by Joseph to tell his story in this
manner is crucial as there have been dramatic jazz films in the
past, they featured actors impersonating musicians. There is
something intangibly unique and curious about experiencing the
story and the artistry from a single person.

Giant Steps ( which morphed from
a 2017 pilot test sitcom to a 2018 dramatic comedy about Black
rival New York Jazz musicians, evidences the jazz 'mainstream'
itself catching onto the idea. Originally featuring legendary bassist
Mickey Bass, Royal, and Lauren Hill saxophonist Brent Birckhead,
the first year found many musicians shying away from the
opportunity to be cast. After testing on Amazon Prime and the
positive reaction and a subsequent
controversy (http://www.
white-college-students-rant/#.W4bKBc4zrIE) on social media, the
2018 reworking had no problem with top musicians signing on.
They included
Mark Gross ; James Zoller ; the Johnson Brothers
Billy and Mark; Anthony Wonsey; and Bobby Lavell -- all veteran
New York musicians with extensive resumes -- who Royal says
were naturals, having worked with them over decades in the
bands of Duke Ellington,
Broadway shows and other projects.

More telling is that the project caught the eye of acutely aware
social luminaries such as Wendy Oxenhorn of the
Foundation of America
and television personality Dr. Jeff Gardere
who as a native jazz loving New Yorker, with a bona fide Harlem
presence as Assistant Professor and Course Director of
Behavioral Medicine at
Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine
in Harlem, signed on as a producer and was cast in a principal role.

These TV/film projects absolutely normalize the existence of a
jazz musician in a scripted program as was the Black comedian in
the early 1990’s with
Def Comedy Jam; the jazz musician can
expand his/her horizons and comfort zone to bring their talents to
screen. Oddly, the 'jazz-actor' is merely a lost concept as it was
common in the Golden Age of Hollywood with artists such as Duke
Ellington, Louis Armstrong and many others.

(L to R) Dilip Varma, Gregory Charles Royal, Dominique Varma. John Ochs and Andre' Joseph.

Two other films received awards at the presentation: Swingtime in
-- Posthumous Documentary Award, and Piano Jazz
Chicago Style!
-- Historic Documentary Award. The films pay
homage to the historic contributions of an advocate of jazz and of
jazz styles.

Swingtime in Limousin, Directed by Dominique and Dilip Varma is
about the contributions of
Jean-Marie Masse who died in 2015
after 75 years of promoting jazz and musicians, including
American musicians, in France . The Varmas, who travelled from
France to accept the award, also offered words in the Q&A with
other filmmakers on the state of streaming film distribution. They
cited the dilemma that although many of the streaming platforms
have made it accessible for filmmakers to show their work, the
platforms have not shared a commensurate amount of revenue
with filmmakers to remain viable.

Piano Jazz Chicago Style!, directed by John Ochs, a long time
jazz program producer out of Seattle, Washington, is a
performance/narration about the various Chicago jazz piano
styles and personal experiences with the musicians who
performed them through the eyes and fingers of pianist
Skjelbred. The filmed performance by Mr. Skjelbred was recorded
live and mostly unedited.

The NYJFF 2018 Official Selections included the following jazz

The Sound of Selflessness directed by Nelson Salis-- is about the
musical approach of saxophonist John O’Gallagher.

George Garzone: Let Be What Is directed by Theron Patterson
and Can Kozlu -- is about the influence and teachings of the
eponymous saxophonist.

The Stars of American Jazz in Astana directed by Arsene
Bayanov and Produced by Askar Alimzhanov -- is about the
vibrant burgeoning jazz scene for American jazz performers in
Astana, Kazakhstan.

Sting of the Cactus directed by Bekky O'Neil -- is a fun-filled
animated music video about singer-songwriter Ori Dagan's journey
in jazz, from the streets of Toronto to the world stage.
Dagan also performed a selection at the presentation.

The films are available to view FREE online until August 31, 2018
at the New York Jazz Film Festival’s Facebook Page @NYJFF.
Copyright 2018 Black Jazz News/ SVR & Associates. All rights reserved.
Official News Site of the
Giant Steps TV Show