Jazz Score

Apr 17–Sep 15, 2008


Paris Blues. 1961. USA. Directed by Martin Ritt

Comprising a film retrospective, a gallery installation, live concerts, and a panel discussion, Jazz Score celebrates some of the best original jazz composed for the cinema from the 1950s to the present. The film retrospective opens on April 17 with a weeklong theatrical run of Arthur Penn’s Mickey One, and continues with fiction features, experimental and animated shorts, and documentaries from countries as far ranging as France, Brazil, Japan, South Africa, and the U.S.

In 1951, Alex North’s music for Elia Kazan’s A Streetcar Named Desire opened up jazz scoring to a new generation of composers, including Elmer Bernstein, Duke Ellington, Bernard Herrmann, Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini, and Lalo Schifrin. Significantly, this jazz renaissance coincided with the breakup of the Hollywood studio system and the emergence of independent film directors, including John Cassavetes, Shirley Clarke, and Herbert Danska. These directors experimented not only with diverse film styles and techniques, but also with more improvisational forms of jazz like hard bop, modal jazz, and Afro-Cuban jazz. This was equally true of European and Japanese New Wave filmmakers in the 1950s and 1960s—Jean-Luc Godard, Louis Malle, Roman Polanski, and the American expatriate Joseph Losey among them—who enlisted such legendary artists as Gato Barbieri, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis and the Modern Jazz Quartet, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, and Tôru Takemitsu. Jazz continues to be used in diverse ways in contemporary cinema, whether to evoke a writer’s paranoid fantasies in David Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch (1991; music by Howard Shore and Ornette Coleman) or the tragic devastation of the city that gave birth to jazz itself in Spike Lee’s When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006; music by Terence Blanchard).

Organized by Joshua Siegel, Assistant Curator, Department of Film.

The exhibition is made possible by The Friends of Education of The Museum of Modern Art and by the Nicholas Martini Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Polish Cultural Institute, New York, and by the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.

Subtitling services provided by Sub-Ti Ltd.


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