It’s taken several decades, but it’s finally happening: a documentary about the African Jazz Art Society & Studio (AJASS), who have the earliest documented contributions as an organization to what people now recognize as the Black Arts Movement. The artist collective formed in 1956 on Kelly Street in the South Bronx, with the agenda of preserving jazz music as an African art form, at a time that many saw it being wrestled away by white interlopers.
Filmmaker Louise Dente, of Cultural Caravan, will debut her documentary on AJASS at the Dwyer Cultural Center on Sunday, May 15. It is very appropriate timing since May 15 has been declared AJASS Day by New York State Sen. Cordell Cleare. She will provide proclamations recognizing members of the historical organization at the intermission of the film.
It’s the first, but surely not the last, film to focus on AJASS. There are other documentaries that have mentioned significant contributions by AJASS, with the most notable being the EPIX four-part series that was successful enough to garner the NAACP Image award for its director, Keith McQuirter in 2021. McQuirter included some significant highlights about AJASS in his four-part docuseries entitled “By Whatever Means Necessary: The Times of Godfather of Harlem.”
The documentary focused on the music and cultural activism during the life and times of Bumpy Johnson, the Godfather of Harlem. Filmmaker Louise Dente’s documentary will look at the birth of the Black is Beautiful Movement and celebrate 66 years, from AJASS’s 1956 founding date to the present day.
Last year, Community Board 2 in the South Bronx voted to recognize and honor the historical organization with a street co-naming recognizing its Kelly Street birth and contributions to the cultural development of the Bronx. Unfortunately, this honor has been delayed as City Councilman Rafael Salamanca’s office was slowed by COVID restrictions and delays, so paperwork was delayed. Now the honor should happen this year. New Yorkers will continue to hear more about the AJASS organization and its terrific members as an exhibit by the New York Historical Society hits town on Aug. 23. The exhibit focusing on the photography of AJASS co-founder Kwame Brathwaite is entitled “Kwame Brathwaite: Black is Beautiful.” The exhibit will run for six months down the museum mile on 5th Avenue, and New Yorkers will get a chance to see and learn about AJASS global contributions through the photographic lens of one of its founders.
VIP ticket buyers will begin festivities at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 15, and general ticket holders will commence at 3:50 p.m. for this highly anticipated film documenting an important history that some are just beginning to understand the impact of. For tickets go to Eventbrite and type in AJASS.