KBEM radio launches Reel Jazz film series

Kevin Barnes enjoys his jazz -- and a little lobster now and then.
Photo courtesy of Kevin Barnes
Kevin Barnes enjoys his jazz — and a little lobster now and then.

How many jazz films can you name? If I think hard, I can manage a half-dozen:

• “Bird” (about Charlie Parker)
• ” ‘Round Midnight” (starring Dexter Gordon)
• Bruce Weber’s grim “Let’s Get Lost” (about Chet Baker)
• Robert Altman’s “Kansas City”
• “Paris Blues” (with Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier)
• “My Name is Albert Ayler”

The Ayler film was part of Sound Unseen in 2006, the only jazz film in the festival.

Many more films about jazz have been made, but they seldom show in theaters, and good luck finding them at Blockbuster.

Kevin Barnes of KBEM, the jazz and education radio station that broadcasts from North High School, wants to change this. Starting small, dreaming big, he’s launching the Jazz88 Reel Jazz Film Series.

Barnes hosts the radio shows “String Theory,” which airs on Sundays from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., and “Bluesville,” heard on Fridays during the same time slot. His official title at KBEM is underwriting assistant. But he’s really the station’s resident bon vivant and party planner.

Barnes is the brains behind the monthly Gallery Grooves (co-sponsored by the Rake, continuing despite the Rake’s print demise), where lovers of art and jazz convene at a local gallery to view artwork, sample wines, enjoy hors d’oeuvres, and hear recent jazz releases.

He invented the RestauranTour, a fundraiser held each month at a different locally owned restaurant. (This month: Lucia’s.)  For a while, he put together Jazz Cooks classes with local chefs and an occasional food-and-theater evening he called Prospero’s Kitchen.

None of these events is a big moneymaker. All build the KBEM brand and promote a sense of community among the station’s listeners and members. “They give people a chance to connect,” Barnes says.

More than a screening
In signature Barnes style, each Reel Jazz event will be more than just a screening. Held at the intimate Bryant Lake Bowl Cabaret Theater, it will begin with a 30-minute live music set by a high school jazz quartet and end with a discussion, either in the theater or the BLB bar.

The series begins on Thursday, April 10, with the Twin Cities premiere of ” ‘Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris” (2006), a film by Oscar-nominated director Raymond De Felitta, who first heard the singer on the radio in 1991 and was blown away.

Paris’s story sounds like a jazz cliché: meteoric rise in the 1950s, a fall into obscurity in the 1960s, dead in 1977 at age 51. Except he wasn’t dead.

One night in March 2004, De Felitta was scanning the club listings in the “New Yorker” when he saw that Paris was scheduled to perform at the Jazz Standard in Manhattan. He flew out, saw the show and introduced himself.

Filming began a few days later. Paris would live another three months before dying of bone cancer.

The film includes performance footage, previously unreleased recordings, and interviews with George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival; Phil Schaap, New York radio DJ and historian (you may have seen him on stage at Orchestra Hall introducing a jazz performance); and jazz greats Mark Murphy, James Moody and Dr. Billy Taylor. You can watch a trailer here.

“It’s a beautiful film,” Barnes says. “So personal. It’s really about the life of an artist —the challenges, the ups and downs. What is success about? What is life about? You learn about a great jazz singer, but also about life, art, history and timing. And how you handle your regrets.”

“Variety” called the film “magnificent and moving.” The 2006 Kansas City Filmmakers Jubilee named it Best Jazz Documentary, and it was an official selection at Sundance in 2006.

Come early and hear live jazz by the Preston Haining Quartet. Haining, an Edina High School student, has jazz genes; his father, Doug Haining, leads the Twin Cities Seven. Stay after and you just might hear Leigh Kamman, former host of Minnesota Public Radio’s “The Jazz Image,” talk about his interview with Paris in the 1950s. Barnes can’t promise Kamman will show up, only that he’s been invited.

Barnes has scheduled two more films for this spring. “New Orleans Music in Exile” (2006), directed by Robert Mugge, tells the personal stories of musicians affected by Hurricane Katrina including Irma Thomas, Kermit Ruffins and Dr. John. It shows at the BLB on Thursday, May 9. The North High Jazz Ensemble will perform.

June 12 is another Twin Cities premiere: Ron Mann’s “Imagine the Sound” (1981). Many critics consider this one of the all-time great jazz films. Newly restored and presented in HD, it profiles four leaders of the jazz avant-garde in the 1960s: Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Bill Dixon and Paul Bley.

Barnes will give the series the summer off, then start it up again with three more films in October, November and December. From there, who knows? “I’m hoping we can look at a point in the future where we have a true jazz film festival,” he says. “I’ve thought about the festival idea for a long time.”

What: ” ‘Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris”
Where: Bryant Lake Bowl Cabaret Theater, 810 W. Lake St., Minneapolis
When: Thursday, April 10. Doors open at 6 p.m. Preston Haining Quartet plays at 6:30 p.m. Film begins at 7 p.m.
How much: $10. Seating limited to 80. To reserve your tickets, email Kevin Barnes at KevinB [at] Jazz88fm [dot] com or call 612-668-1735.

Upcoming picks
Nellie McKay: Her debut album, recorded when she was 19, won rave reviews and four stars from Rolling Stone magazine. It also carries a parental advisory sticker. To me, McKay is more pop than jazz, but I like her wit and dark humor. The Dakota, 7 p.m. Sunday-Tuesday, April 6-8 ($25).

Jim Rotondi: Trumpeter Rotondi has performed with the Ray Charles Orchestra, Lionel Hampton Orchestra and Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. At the AQ, he’ll play with pianist Phil Aaron on Friday, Bill Carrothers on Saturday; bassist Tom Lewis and drummer Kenny Horst will back him both nights. The Artists’ Quarter, 9 p.m. Friday, April 4 and Saturday, April 5 ($15).

Jazz at the Rosewood: In addition to reviving Jazz is NOW!, former Brilliant Corners club owner Jeremy Walker is co-curating (with Jason Jungbluth) a new jazz series at the swanky Rosewood Room in the Warehouse District, sister club to Visage Nightclub. Plans are to feature area artists every Thursday. Worth checking out. The Rosewood Room, 7 p.m. Thursdays. No cover; one drink minimum.

Find jazz calendars online at Jazz Police. Click on Twin Cities, MN in the black menu bar at the top.

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Bruce Ricker on 04/04/2008 - 05:59 pm.

    As having made such jazz/music films, THE LAST OF THE BLUE DEVILS, THELONIOUS MONK STRAIGHT NO CHASER,
    JIM HALL : A LIFE IN PROGRESS and TONY BENNETT: THE MUSIC NEVER ENDS ( with duo footage of Bennett and
    BILL EVANS ), I would suggest that there are many more JAZZ films than mentioned in the above column.

    One should possibly visit rhapsodyfilms.com to fnd out about some other 30 films about SUN RA, BENNY CARTER, BILL EVANS and ROBERT ALTMAN’S KANSAS CITY 34.

    Best wishes,
    Bruce Ricker

  2. Submitted by Pamela Espeland on 04/05/2008 - 12:04 am.

    Hello Bruce–Thank you for reading, and for your comment. I’m well aware there are many more jazz films than the six I named off the top of my head–that’s kind of the point of this article, and of the new Jazz88 film series. I’ll make sure to pass your comment on to Kevin Barnes, who’s curating the series. Best, Pamela

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