Image from Young Man With A Horn, provided by Barbican Centre
From the 13th to the 18th of November, a total of seven films were screened at the Barbican Cinema as a part of the EFG London Jazz Festival. The programme, Jazz and The City, showed a range of films from shorts to musical dramas and documentaries. The shortest of them ran for only thirteen minutes, whereas the longest was almost two hours. Each film explored the role of jazz in cities around the world, including Paris, London, Los Angeles, and New York City.
Directed by George Nierenberg, No Maps on My Taps and About Tap both showcase three tap dancers and their prowess in the largely overlooked art form. They are not only fascinating in the charming exhibit of tap dancing, but also in their brilliant use of storytelling techniques. As the curator described, these documentaries manifest ‘a spectacle and temporary escape from the inequality and social instability of the period.’
Image from No Maps on My Taps, provided by Barbican Centre
The American musical drama film, Young Man with a Horn, is a Hollywood production about the fictionalised life of the jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke. It tells a story of a gifted young man who has a blazing passion for the trumpet, yet is tortured by his pursuit of artistic expression. The film is most notable for its authentic trumpet solos dubbed by the trumpeter Harry James. Who Needs a Heart is another musical drama which explores the history of the British Black Power movement during the period of Michael X. It is composed of micro-narratives and clips of documentaries, performed over soundtracks of some of the greatest jazz luminaries. The film is an interesting presentation of the political and social complexities of 1960s-1970s London.
In my opinion, the most entertaining screenings were the two shorts: Jazz of Lights and When It Rains. The former is a psychedelic runaway, shot along Times Squares. The sonic and visual experience is utterly experimental and enjoyable. Meanwhile, the latter offers a witty episode of how jazz functions as the nexus of a community in South Central Los Angeles.
Overall, Jazz and The City was a well-curated programme. Its diversity in genres, contexts, and themes catered to curious viewers as well as jazz enthusiasts. Indeed, the EFG London Jazz Festival’s screenings entertained both young and old audiences alike.
Young Man with a Horn (35mm) (US 1949, Dir Michael Curtis)
Jazz of Lights (16mm) (US 1954, Dir Ian Hugo)
Paris Blues (35mm) (US 1961, Dir Martin Ritt)
No Maps on My Taps (US 1979, Dir George Nierenberg)
About Tap (US 1985, Dir George Nierenberg)
Who Needs a Heart (UK 1991, Dir Black Audio Film Collective)
When It Rains (US 1995, Dir Charles Burnett)
Edited by Josh Aberman, Music Editor