Jazz Across the Arts

Saving it Twice: Preserving Jazz in Documentaries, Compilation Films, and Short Subjects


Even the best jazz artists were not filmed under the circumstances they themselves might have chosen, since commercial entertainment was often the overriding concern of film producers. Nevertheless, jazz enthusiasts should be grateful for any film of jazz musicians, if only because so little of it exists. Much can be learned from those bits of film that preserve the images of the artists along with their music. Our pleasure in these images can be greatly enhanced when we know where they come from and why there were made.

Jazz and Film: A Bibliography

Altman, Rick. The American Film Musical. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1989.

Attali, Jacques. Noise: The Political Economy of Music, trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1985.

Baldwin, James. The Devil Finds Work. New York: Dial, 1976

Berg, Charles Merrell. "Cinema Sings the Blues." Cinema Journal 17.2 (1978): 1-12.

------.[as Chuck Berg] "Jazz and Film and Television." The Oxford Companion to Jazz, ed. Bill Kirchner. New York: Oxford UP, 2000. 706-721.

Jazz on Film


Columbia University

African-American Studies, Anthropology, and Film

Fall 2006

Course Requirements

1) Regular attendance and participation

2) Attendance at film showings

3) Read all assigned texts

4) 1-page paper on each week's film, due in class the week of the showing, beginning Sept 19

5) A short classroom presentation on one of the scheduled films or related material

6) Final paper of 15-20 pages (based on a topic that has been discussed with the instructor)

Required Reading

Evidence: Monk as Documentary Subject


Monk's image in various cinematic biographies is puzzling and contradictory. Gabbard argues that films on Monk tell us as much about the inherent difficulties of documentary filmmaking-particularly with respect to jazz-as they do about Monk's life and music. In addition, he suggests that, like many African-American artists, Monk successfully "held up a trickster's mirror to his observers," allowing them to see precisely what they wished to see.

Review—Appel, Ellington, and the Modernist Canon


Appel's book views mid-20th century jazz through a modernist lens and finds it a worthy part of that "great tradition" in the arts. Lewis believes that this approach, while valid in its intent, overlooks the unique features of jazz that make it most compelling as art. He argues that European modernists and African-American jazz musicians had different understandings of apparently similar themes, such as a primitive African "utopia", or of techniques such as collage.

You've Got to Be Jazzistic

This resource is the Introduction to Locke and Murray's edited volume "Thriving On A Riff." The editors note that there is "a distinction between the study of jazz itself (in a nuts-and-bolts musicological sense) and the study of things that are jazz related" and that "Thriving on a Riff belongs to the latter category and sharpens its focus further to examine two of the many cultural forms affected by African American music: literature and film." The Introduction surveys the contributions found in the full volume.

The Literary Ellington

A prevalent view in writings about African-American culture holds that music has been superior to other art forms, and that to attain similar achievements black literature, dance, and theatre should model themselves on black music. Edwards' aim is to counter these assumptions with reference to the literary influences and aspirations of none other than Duke Ellington. 

To view the complete resource, download it as a PDF.

Seeing Jazz: Introduction


Seeing Jazz refers to both visualizations of jazz and to understanding it: to get hip and then hipper, to say “yes, I see.” Modernist painters, sculptors, photographers, poets, novelists, and essayists have plied their own materials to evoke their experience of jazz in visual or verbal terms. This book illustrates how the music has made its cross-disciplinary mark.

Jazz Music in Motion: Dancers and Big Bands


This article surveys the role of dance in black entertainment and its relation to the development of jazz in the first half of the 20th century. Malone finds that leading jazz instrumentalists gained formative experiences accompanying dancers, especially tap dancers. Musicians accordingly viewed dancers as practicing a sophisticated and influential form of jazz, and interaction between dance and music performance was seen as a vital sphere of improvisation.


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