On four weekends in June, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, presents the fifth edition of Jazz on Film. Organized by returning guest curator Peter Lucas, this year’s Jazz on Film series includes eight films highlighting jazz soundtracks and legendary musicians.
I Want to Live! (Directed by Robert Wise, USA, 1958, 120 min.)
Saturday, June 3, at 7 p.m.
Based on a true story, I Want to Live! stars Susan Hayward as Barbara Graham, a wisecracking thrill seeker and petty criminal who plunges into despair when she is convicted of murder. The film’s score by Johnny Mandel features West Coast jazz players including Jack Sheldon, Frank Rosolino, Bill Holman, Red Mitchell, and Shelly Manne. In addition, saxophonist Gerry Mulligan's combo performs jazz themes in the scenes taking place in the bar. This social drama became one of the top-grossing movies of 1959, with Hayward’s performance winning an Oscar and the popularity of the two soundtrack albums spawning a rush for jazz scores in Hollywood movies.
Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser, preceded by Dizzy Gillespie
(Directed by Charlotte Zwerin, USA, 1988, 90 min.)
Sunday, June 4, at 5 p.m.
In celebration of the centennials of jazz giants Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie, these screenings capture performances and candid footage. Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser is a fascinating documentary by director Charlotte Zwerin that mixes unearthed 1968 footage of the enigmatic pianist and composer with interviews from those who knew him best. The film will be preceded by the 22-minute Dizzy Gillespie, directed by Les Bank, focusing on the renowned trumpet player, who along with Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, and others, sparked the change from traditional jazz to bebop in mid-1940s America.
Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story
(Directed by N. C. Heikin, USA, 2014, 84 min.)
*There will be a post-screening conversation with Jazz on Film curator Peter Lucas and Angela Morgan, sister of Frank Morgan Saturday, June 10, at 7 p.m. By 15 years old, alto saxophonist Frank Morgan was playing with the likes of Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday. But as his notoriety grew, so did his heroin addiction and his criminal schemes to support the drug habit. Morgan spent nearly 30 years of his life in and out of prison, and for much of that time he performed in the famously talent-filled big band at San Quentin State Prison. Sound of Redemption offers a frank look at the ups and downs of Morgan’s life and captures a recent tribute concert held at San Quentin honoring the jazz legend.
Elevator to the Gallows (Ascenseur pour l'échafaud)
(Directed by Louis Malle, France, 1958, 91 min., in French with English subtitles)
Sunday, June 11, at 5 p.m. The directorial debut of French filmmaker Louis Malle, Elevator to the Gallows is an atmospheric thriller that features actress Jeanne Moreau, rich black-and-white cinematography by Henri Decaë, and a largely improvised musical score by jazz great Miles Davis. This classic film signaled a turning point in French cinema, and its legendary score signaled new musical directions for Davis. In the film’s most famous scene, Moreau’s nocturnal wanderings through the shadowy Paris streets are paired perfectly with what jazz critic Phil Johnson called “the loneliest trumpet sound you will ever hear.”
Paris Blues (Directed by Martin Ritt, USA, 1961, 98 min.)
Friday, June 16, at 7 p.m.
This film stars Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier as American jazz musicians living in Paris. The arrival of Diahann Carroll and Joanne Woodward sparks romance, but also brings to the surface issues of race, freedom, relationships, and dedication to one’s art. Paris Blues features an unforgettable performance by Louis Armstrong and an Oscar-nominated score by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.
(Directed by Thomas White and Allan Zion, USA/Belgium, 1966, 73 min.)
Saturday, June 17, at 7 p.m.
Shot in rural Belgium by filmmaker Thomas White and members of the New York-based experimental performance troupe Living Theater, this experimental film follows a group of psychiatric patients as they escape from their keepers and create their own antic society in an abandoned building. The loose and mercurial improvisations of the performances and camerawork are energized by the innovative score by Ornette Coleman with bassist David Izenzon and drummer Charles Moffett.
Chasing Trane: John Coltrane Feature Documentary
(Directed by John Scheinfeld, USA, 2016, 99 min.)
Saturday, June 24, at 7 p.m., and Sunday, June 25, at 5 p.m.
This inspiring new documentary celebrates the life, work, and lasting cultural impact of jazz artist John Coltrane. Chasing Trane follows the saxophonist’s story from his childhood to early music gigs, young marriage and fatherhood, struggles with drugs and alcohol, and finally to his great personal and artistic growth in the 1960s. Director John Scheinfeld worked with the Coltrane’s family, collaborators, and a number of high-profile admirers to shape this compelling story of redemption and musical innovation.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Caroline Wiess Law Building / Brown Auditorium Theater 1001 Bissonnet Street
Admission is $9 for the general public and $7 for MFAH members, students with ID, and senior adults. Visit www.mfah.org/films for more information or to purchase advance tickets.