“Jazz Score,” a five-month film retrospective, gallery exhibition and live concert series, continues through September 15 at MoMA, 11 W. 53rd St., in New York City. Launched on April 16, the wide-ranging, multi-faceted exhibition highlights the best original jazz scores for film from the 1950s to the present. For the most part, Jazz Score–which takes place at the Roy and Niuta Titus Theater, Lobby Galleries 1 and 2–focuses on the vastly uncharted connection between postwar filmmakers and jazz composers, arrangers and musicians. Approximately 50 feature films and a selection of shorts are emphasized in the series, organized by Joshua Siegel, MoMA’s assistant curator, department of film, who also structured the concerts and panel discussions. Siegel and Ronald S. Magliozzi, assistant curator, department of film, are the co-organizers of the gallery exhibition.
Contemporary jazz, which was introduced to film scoring in the mid-20th century, added a hip and novel flair to the cinematic world. Prior to the mid-1950s, jazz had been used mainly as incidental music in film or during show-stopping musical numbers. Following World War II, however, jazz took center stage along with the onscreen drama, adding to both the structure and creative aspects of film.
Highlights of the April program included the opening film of the series, “Mickey One” (1965), directed by Arthur Penn, music by Eddie Sauter, with saxophone solos by Stan Getz; “A Streetcar Named Desire” (1951), with Alex North’s Academy Award-nominated score (which is “generally credited with opening up jazz scoring to a new generation of composers including Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Elmer Bernstein and Henry Mancini”); “Paris Blues” (1961), directed by Martin Ritt, music by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn; and “Odds Against Tomorrow” (1959), directed by Robert Wise, with music by John Lewis and starring the great Harry Belafonte, Ed Begley and Robert Ryan.
The May series began with the always-fascinating “Dangerous Liaisons” (1960), which continues to resonate uniquely for its cutting edge screenplay and musical score almost 50 years later. Directed by Roger Vadim, with music by Thelonius Monk and Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers (who are featured onscreen), the avant-garde French film juxtaposes the fashionable jet set of the late ’50s in an unscrupulous game of wild seduction and “free” sex with the “free form” jazz music of the era.
Other highlights of the earlier part of the May program include: “Dilemma” (1962), directed by Henning Carlsen, with music by Max Roach and Gideon Nxumalo and starring the brilliant South African actor Zakes Mokae.
This month’s program continues on Friday, May 16 with Sweet Love Bitter” (1967), directed by Herbert Danska, with music by Mal Waldron, starring Dick Gregory, Robert Hooks, Don Murray and Dianne Varsi; and “The Cool World” (1964), directed by Shirley Clarke, with music by Mal Waldron and a lineup of Dizzy Gillespie, Yusef Lateef, Aaron Bell and Art Taylor.
Saturday, May 17: “How to Draw a Bunny” (2002), directed by John W. Walter, with music by Max Roach; “Le Depart” (1967), directed by Jerzy Skolimowski, music by Krzsztof Komeda, the Polish trumpeter who helped to establish Eastern Europe’s underground jazz scene in the late 1950s.
Monday, May 19: Live performance–The Tomasz Stanko Quartet with special guest Billy Harper: A Concert Tribute to Krzysztof Komeda.
Friday, May 23: “Blow-Up” (1966), directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, music by Herbie Hancock.
For a complete schedule of the film screenings, concerts and panel discussions for the Jazz Score series and gallery exhibition hours, please visit www.moma.org.