On April 15th, overlooking New York City's Columbus Circle and Central Park in the Frederick P. Rose Hall, Jazz at Lincoln Center will premiere the first episode of a four-part series titled Icons Among Us: jazz in the present tense that the Documentary Channel will broadcast exclusively beginning April 20th. The series, filmed at various locations including New Orleans, New York, Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Portland, and Seattle--through a partnership between Paradigm Studio and Don Q Rum in association with Rums of Puerto Rico--will air Monday nights at 9pm ET/PT, and it will feature artists such as Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard, Ravi Coltrane, Jason Moran, Wayne Shorter, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Charlie Hunter, Soulive, daKAH Hip Hop Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis, and The Bad Plus as well as other icons of the genre. The point of the project is to capture spontaneity and improvisation at the moment it happens in performance, that being executive producer and filmmaker John W. Comerford's mission for filming it from various angles and locales.
What started as a documentary covering up-and-coming contemporary jazz artists evolved into a celebration of the roots of the creative process. "Robert Fripp once described improvisational music as 'the assumption of innocence in the context of experience,'" Comerford states. "For jazz, it's the meeting of the childlike ability to be 'in the moment' with the experience associated with heritage." The filmmaker came to this conclusion over years of exploring his passion for music, having been drawn to acts such as Grateful Dead and experimental music of the '80s." After thoroughly submerging himself in the environment, Comerford concluded what most musicians have verbalized about the experience of spontaneity--that no matter what the genre, all music is intertwined since all creative impulses draw from the same well. He continues, "That energy is being created in an exponential way when it comes from that source. And it speaks to the American character and capacity for reinvention found in our culture, be it in our architecture or even our constitution. It's a huge part of our US identity."
Happy to pick up where Ken Burns' Jazz left off, Comerford--working with co-director/filmmaker Michael Rivoira, co-director/director of photography Lars Larson, and co-director/filmmaker Peter J. Vogt--captured the numerous performances (sometimes guerrilla-style) in small rooms, local venues, jazz clubs, and performance halls. "While I was perched up on the bar filming Stanton Moore (Galactic drummer), B-3 player Robert Walters (Greyboy Allstars), and guitarist Will Bernard, I had the bartender hold my ankles," Comerford remembers. "The intensity of the revelry at that bar created a great connectivity between the audience and the performers." It is this attention to everything surrounding the moment of musical spontaneity that the team was determined to preserve, and there were even bigger implications that were derived from the experience. "You have this amazing inter-connectivity that dissolves the barriers between generations," Comerford continues. "The bigger 'agreement' is that we're deciding to visit something new while looking at what's already been made musically as a thematic starting point. In the context of jazz and any kind of improv, we're also discovering that it is something 'living.' Jazz is so powerful as a medium, and it's a dialogue between different age groups, a transmission of musical knowledge from one generation to another...like how the standard 'Camptown Races' can evolve into something very different than its original intent. You're in that sacred space where the true meaning of a song moves through time."
This inter-connectivity between the older and younger generation of players, and between the musician and listener, creates the hybrid, that experience that is bigger than the sum of the parts. And Icons' creators feel that the documentary's viewers will never look at jazz in the same way. Comerford explains further. "Other than Hollywood movies, there isn't much out there that can draw an inter-generational audience. They're all getting a 'hit' of what they're observing. The jazz musician is discovering something in the 'dialogue' (playing with the group) and 'monologue' (solo), so every feeling that the musician is experiencing, the audience experiences too. When the 'loop' is created, the discovery is utterly authentic and extremely powerful. It communicates 'meaning,' something people need more now than ever." Though not truly experiencing the precise, spontaneous musical dialogue that was filmed, as mentioned, everyone will get the chance to enjoy Icons Among Us: jazz in the present tense in their own way this April 20th on the Documentary Channel. But for those lucky enough to purchase a ticket for the April 15th Jazz at Lincoln Center event, following the premiere of the doc's first episode, there will be a short intermission, and then a live performance by the jazz group Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band for those in attendance to experience their own inter-connectivity.
To view the exclusive HuffPost clip of Icons Among Us: jazz in the present tense, click on the below:
Artists and other contributors to the making of Icons Among Us: jazz in the present tense...
The Bad Plus
Paul de Barros
Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe
Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Dave Douglas and Brass Ecstasy
Garage a Trois
Garfield and Roosevelt High School Jazz Bands
Donald Harrison, Jr.
Harry Bu McCage
Ali Jackson & Ted Nash
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey
Medeski, Martin, and Wood
Jovino Santos Neto
Huub van Riel
Johnny Vidacovich, George Porter, & Eric Krasnow