Tuesday, June 18, 2013

5 Favorite Jazz Films, Illustrated

Jazz on a Summer's Day
Me and my super-talented friend Naiel Ibarrola have our five favorite jazz films on display on Keyframe in graphic form. Apart from drawing the key characters and musicians related to that particular film, each illustration is devoted to exploring major concept in films about jazz. The colors used allude to how each musician sounds and how those films feel, and frames within the frame, more or less, reflect the filmmaker’s very specific way of handling the compositions or the overall feeling of the film in terms of mise-en-scène and narrative. That’s why Black and Tan (Dudley Murphy, 1929) is made out of one big extensive frame and much abstract and transforming content within it, whereas All Night Long (Basil Dearden, 1962) features eight classically structured frames within the bigger picture, all in accordance with this Shakespearean story told in jazz and its unity of time and space. Some of the concepts regarding jazz and film in these illustrations have been discussed before in my chat to Jonathan Rosenbaum here.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Jazz Mirrors Iran#4: An American in Tehran

photo by Reza Hakimi
In the fourth installment of my ten-week series exploring Iran through the world of jazz, I've looked at Iranian music through the melodies of one its most dedicated ambassadors: Lloyd Miller.

Lloyd Miller is no typical fan boy. If there’s one thing to know about him, it’s that he doesn’t like mainstream music, likely most of the stuff on your iPod. Groupie he is not, calling most of today’s new hits “jumpy ugly obnoxious rock junk that has permeated the whole world like leprosy destroying everyone’s musical tastes and minds.” You could write him off as an aging music snob, but then you’d be missing out on one of the edgiest pioneers in building the musical bridge between East and West.

                                  Segah – Lloyd Miller                                 

If there’s a more important thing to know about Lloyd Miller, it’s his love of Persian music. Born in 1938 to a ballet dancer and a professional clarinetist, he began learning piano at the age of three. By his early teens, he taught himself banjo, clarinet and cornet. There is scarcely a single instrument today that he hasn’t mastered or at least experimented. In 1957 his father, now a professor at the University of Southern California, was invited to Iran in order to oversee the creation of University of Tehran’s business school. Nineteen-year-old Lloyd, already a staple in the American jazz scene, came along, mostly so that his parents could keep him away from a drug culture that permeated into many music circles. Miller himself looked at the trip as a spiritual quest, searching for a new musical language that he found partially in traditional jazz and the more modern Bop, but still felt incomplete.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Jazz Mirrors Iran#3: Iranic

Vank Cathedral in Iran [photo by Reza Hakiminejad]

Two weeks ago I began a ten-week series (that now I might extend it to 12!) exploring jazz that reflects a part of Iran, both as an actual place on the map and as a pure creation of art. This is Iran according to American and European jazz musicians of the 20th century. In the third installment, I look at the "ironies" shared between a culture and a musical form.

From the Shahs of Sunset to the Mullahs of Qom, Iran stands a Catch-22 waddling to find its way between Bravo and Basij, Marxist and Muslim, youth and establishment, sincerity and tar’ruf. Sound confusing? Welcome to Irani irony, a culture where expectations are implied but never stated, perhaps the only one where you’ll find yourself politely chastised. To navigate in it is an improvisational act of its own, an interplay where actions depend on relational anticipation. This is the game of Persian life.

.                         Iranic by Jimmy Giuffre                        .        

The emergence of free-form jazz in the 1950s, pioneered amongst others by composer and multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Giuffre, was no less a paradox than the musical form's emergence itself, challenging the limitations of established bebop, hard bop and modal, breaking down standards that characterized traditional jazz. Where bebop treated musicians as interpreters, free jazz placed them at the forefront as the tune's dominant voice. Framework from jazz charts gave way to improvisation. Professionals, in their experimentation came off to the naked ear as amateurish, as if they were students doing their best to sound good. Not so confident to play constantly and seamlessly, they pause, wait, look at each other, and think deeply for what they should play for the next chorus.