Series takes cinematic, muti-campus approach to jazz

Andrew Schiller

Not too many campus events have a reception afterward with a dessert table, punch, a jazz band and cushy chairs, but “Looking at Jazz: America’s Art Form” did.

The six-part film discussion series explores the cultural and social history of jazz in America. Each weekly event will feature speakers from all over the country followed by a documentary film that deals with jazz.

All events begin at 7 p.m. and are free and open to the public.

• New Orleans and the Origins of Jazz

Feb. 7 at Stark campus, Main Hall auditorium

• The Jazz Age and Harlem as Center for Jazz

Feb. 21 at Trumbull campus, Technology Building Room 117

• The Jazz Vocalists

March 7 at Kent campus, Carol A. Cartwright Hall

• The Swing Era

March 21 at Stark campus, Main Hall Auditorium

• Jazz Innovators: Bebop, Hard Bop, Cool and More

April 4 at Trumbull campus, Technology Building 117

• Latin Jazz and Jazz as an International Music

April 18 at Kent campus, Carol A. Cartwright Hall

For more information go to

“A lot of the mission of this project is … (to include) huge documentaries that really also evoke an era and explain a lot of what people were going through during this time period,” said project curator Jeanne Houck.

The film discussion series is a project of Re:New Media — an organization that creates screening and discussion events that promote audiences for independent films — in partnership with the American Library Association and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

This is the first Re:New Media series that has included universities, Houck said, and the first that covers a “cultural art form.”

Kent State is one of 50 different public and university libraries around the country that will host the series over the next three or four months.

As part of the project, Re:New Media bought the performance rights to the films and gave them to the Kent State library, giving the library free performance rights for future use, Houck said.

The first film Ken Burns’ Jazz, Episode One: Gumbo, Beginnings to 1917 will be shown Feb. 7 at Stark campus.

“‘Gumbo‘ does a great job of looking at the mix of New Orleans that produced jazz, and the circumstances,” she said

The second film session will be at the Trumbull campus on Feb. 21 and will provide a unique look at the Harlem Renaissance.

“This, I would say, has the most amazing performances — full performances — you can see of Harlem Renaissance music,” Houck said. The film has a lot of three minute performance shorts called ‘soundies’ that “were almost the first MTV,” she said.

Krin Gabbard, a professor of comparative literature at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, talked about the value of the cultural and historical context surrounding jazz.

“I love the idea of looking at jazz, because if you look at the music, you get a much better sense of what it’s all about. Otherwise, we tend to see the music as just a stack of records,” Gabbard said. “The music exists autonomously, and the musicians never had to make a living, or play for dancers, or play for movies, or, for that matter, play for themselves. The great thing about this series is … that there’s a whole culture that you begin to understand.”

The event gave a pretty good preview of what to expect in the rest of the series, said Matthew Henderson, a graduate musicology student.

“It’ll be better next time when they can give more substance,” he said.

The series will return to Kent State March 21 at 7 p.m. at Carol A. Cartwright Hall.

Contact libraries and information reporter Andrew Schiller at [email protected].