Unseen: Jazz in shorts (Part 5: 17-20)

17. Hermann Slobbe (Johan van der Keuken, 1966)

Archie Shepp

When making a film about blind children a few years earlier, Van Der Keuken became so fascinated by a particular boy that he returned to make him the central subject of his next film.

Herman Slobbe is a blues fanatic, a decent harmonica player and - if his impersonation of a drag car engine or observations on the fun fair are anything to go by - a great listener too.Diagetic sounds and Herman’s sensitivity to them are everything in this film, and Van Der Keuken clearly aimed to avoid over-sentiment in his depiction of Hermann, so his choice of music, both in a practical and conceptual, sense had to be on the money, and it is.

Shepp’s “Les matin des noire”, lifted from his, “New Thing at Newport”, is used only twice: First when the 4 scouts trawl through the sand then again at the end, and on both occasions the sounds seem to sprout organically from Herman’s world. Something I’d mainly attribute to the atypical sonics of Hutcherson’s morose vibes playing (Andrew Hill’s “Alfred” is the only other recording where he sounds so opaque.) underneath Shepp’s raspy nasality.

18. Lucebert, Tijd en Afscheid (Johan van der Keuken, 1962/2008)

John Coltrane

I arrived at Johan Van Der Keuken not through “Lucebert.” or any other film, but from one of his photo books, “New York”(1997), published some 40 years after his first book “Yvonne”. Two starkly different books, allied only in the stylistic impermanence of the pictures contained within their pages, and the more I see and read, the more convinced I become that his films are more distinguishable than his books.

Van Der Keuken racked up 3 films about his friend, Dutch artist-poet Lucebert, all of which in tone, rhythm and visual style are immediately attributable to him. The first one uses an extended collage to reveal Lucebert’s creative process , the second is mainly concerned with the origins of the work, and this - the third – combines archive footage from the previous two with Van Der Keuken’s modern day search (which begun shortly before Lucebert passed away) for the man the filmmaker says was his biggest creative influence.

Happily, for this thread, Van Der Keuken is a big jazz listener. Almost all of his previous work has been scored by saxophonist Willem Breuker (one in collab with Ted Curson) who used to play in Gunter Hampel’s band. He is also on record as saying that Coltrane's solos on Miles Davis' “Straight, No Chaser” and “Milestones” are also big influences. For this one, he calls upon Coltrane’s swarming “Chasin the Trane”, from the Village Vanguard record. If you didn’t already know, It was Christened “Chasin the Trane”by producer Bob Thiele because engineer Rudy Van Gelder had to follow the overzealous Coltrane around the stage with his mic.

19. Birdland: Night In Tunisia (Jannick Hastrup, 1995)

Dizzy Gillespie

20. Birdland: Over The Rainbow (Jannick Hastrup, 1995)

Art Tatum

“It has never been my ambition to make art or works of art. I make cartoons.”

Jannick Hastrup

Hastrup played trumpet as a young teen and had for many years believed he’d become a professional jazz musician. Not sure what happened there, but it’s not hard to recognise his love of the music: almost every one of his works is showered in be-bop.

These selections are parts two and four, respectively, of Hastrup’s animated television series “Birdland – A History of Jazz”. “Night in Tunisia” - played out to the rhythm of one of Dizzy’s Latin-ized Night In Tunisias – is about a crotchety parrot who can’t sleep for two flamingos getting their Diz-on. “Over The Rainbow” is titanic Tatum laying down his rubato thing, while 2 birds flee their cages to do some living, head back home, before soaring over the rainbow again. All before Tatum closes out the solo.

...and what a solo. Tatum’s unanticipated tempo adjustments and those frenzied runs he favours at the end of a bridge are as suited to Hastrup’s expressive animation as Guaraldi’s lyrical style was to Schulz’ “Peanuts”, which was always more about “the expressiveness within the simplicity”.

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