About this project
We need you to get involved! FIRE MUSIC, a documentary that tells the criminally ignored true history of the Free Jazz revolution, has been fully researched and has been shooting for over 4 years. Over 300 hours of footage has already been shot.
“Free Jazz is liberation, is the excitement of the new and now,” says Thurston Moore, executive producer of FIRE MUSIC. “It is with respect, passion and knowledge that Tom Surgal captures the significance of it. His work, like its subject, shines for the collective call of beauty and unity.”
FIRE MUSIC, directed by Tom Surgal and produced by Dan Braun with Executive Producers Thurston Moore and Nels Cline, reveals the story behind the irrepressible art form that has inspired generations of fans the world over.
Free Jazz is one of the original outsider art forms. Spearheaded by legendary mavericks like John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor, it is the cultural precursor to all the seminal musical protest scenes that followed, such as Punk, Hardcore and Hip Hop. It gave voice to a disenfranchised generation galvanized by the burgeoning civil rights and anti-war movements. Free Jazz broke all the rules, challenging the very notion of music by jettisoning conventional melodic structure and traditional timekeeping in favor of collective improvisation.
Writer / director Tom Surgal is known for directing a series of groundbreaking music videos for leading alternative bands like Sonic Youth, Pavement and the Blues Explosion. Tom was a teenage protégé of Brian DePalma and has worked in a wide range of film production jobs, including production design, casting and writing. Tom is also a musician who performs regularly with Nels Cline (Wilco), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Jim O'Rourke and Mike Watt (Minutemen, The Stooges) and is co-leader of the improvisational ensemble White Out. He is also a curator who has programmed celebrated music series at various downtown New York venues, including an entire month of shows at John Zorn's hallowed performance space The Stone.
Tom is recognized as a leading authority on Avant-Garde Jazz and boasts one the world's largest collections of Free Jazz recordings.
Executive producers are musicians Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth) and Nels Cline (Wilco), ranked respectively #99 and #82 in Rolling Stone' s rating of "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
Dan Braun, co-president of Submarine Entertainment, a top documentary production and sales company, is the producer of the project. Dan was executive producer of the award-winning documentary Kill Your Idols, and on the upcoming base-jumping documentary Sunshine Superman and was executive producer and music consultant on the No Wave film documentary Blank City. Dan is a Producer on the upcoming documentary Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict.
Dan's company, Submarine Entertainment has represented and sold the Oscar winning documentaries Citizenfour, Searching for Sugar Man, 20 Feet from Stardom, Man on Wire and The Cove. Other films in the company's portfolio include NAS: Time is Illmatic, Muscle Shoals, Tales of the Grim Sleeper, Keep on Keepin' On, The Great Invisible, Blackfish, Cutie and the Boxer, Winter's Bone, Bill Cunningham New York, Tiny Furniture, Queen of Versailles, Chasing Ice, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, and Super Size Me.
Veteran filmmaker Ron Mann whose credits include Comic Book Confidential, Grass, Imagine the Sound, Tales of the Rat Fink and most recently Altman will serve as spiritual adviser and Executive Producer.
FREE JAZZ IN CONTEXT
In the late 1950s, when the Abstract Expressionists took the art world by storm and the Beats forever changed the face of literature, a new radical form of Jazz erupted from New York's Lower East Side. This new music was a far cry from the toe- tapping, post-Bebop sound of the Jazz mainstream popular in the day. This was an angry form of Jazz that mirrored the more turbulent times in which it was being played. The young mavericks who pioneered this movement came to create some of the the most unconventional sounds ever heard. They eschewed every preconceived notion of what music was, abandoning melody, tonality, set time rhythms, the very concept of composition itself, creating new songs spontaneously, on the fly.
This coming together of these like-minded artists, iconic figures such as Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Eric Dolphy and Pharoah Sanders, was one of those remarkable phenomena that rarely occur in the course of history. Like the Dadaists, the Lost Generation and the Italian Neo-Realists before them, the early progenitors of the Free Jazz scene were initially met with skepticism and outright disdain. They were accused of being anti-Jazz, and the music they played was dismissed as being pure noise. Undeterred by their critics, they soldiered on in relative obscurity and in the process created one of the most influential bodies of work of the contemporary age.
Turned away by nightclubs and ignored by the mainstream media, these cutting edge trailblazers were driven to create their own subculture. They self-released their own albums and found unconventional places in which to perform, like coffee houses and lofts, eventually forming their own communally-run venues.
The '60s was a politically charged era, and no music reflected the tenor of the times better than Free Jazz. The resounding cries of atonal saxophones and the spastic pounding of drums reflected the growing indignation of a youth in revolt.
As the '70s wound down, America embarked on a new era of conservatism. As Reagan assumed power, a new breed of musician lay claim to the Jazz idiom. These young Turks denigrated the great Free Jazz innovators who had preceded them, and sought instead to champion a revisionist brand of Jazz, what fabled soprano saxophonist Steve Lacey dubbed “Re Bop.”
With the advent of popular Jazz becoming even more mainstream, an already marginalized form became even more pushed to the outer fringe. But avant-garde Jazz persevered. As the '80s progressed, a new development started to occur. The Post-Punk enthusiasts who comprised the whole Alternative Rock Nation discovered their kindred souls in the sonic blasters of the Free Jazz scene. The music actually enjoys a larger audience today than it ever has.
This is the story of an irrepressible art form that has inspired generations of fans the world over. The originals that bucked convention in order to forge their radical sound must have their story told, for their fire will never be extinguished.
FIRE MUSIC will stand as the first serious attempt to capture the sights and sounds of one of the most innovative movements in music history. The intensity of the music and the outlandish personalities of the artists who played it make for a compelling story.
FIRE MUSIC has been in production for over four years documenting the key musicians of the Free Jazz movement including Ornette Coleman, Sam Rivers, Wadada Leo Smith, Oliver Lake, John Tchicai, Roswell Rudd, Noah Howard, Dave Burrell, Marshall Allen, Prince Lasha, Sonny Simmons, Bobby Bradford, Sirone, Rashied Ali, Gato Barbieri, Evan Parker, Gunter Hampel, Han Bennink, Peter Brotzmann, Barry Guy, Paul Lytton, Keith Rowe, Gunter Baby Sommer, Trevor Watts, Tristan Honsinger, Joseph Jarman, Barry Altschul, and renowned Jazz historian and six-time Grammy winner Gary Giddins.
We have shot live, high-quality sound, multi-camera performance footage of:
• John Tchicai
• Peter Brotzman / Han Bennink
• Dave Burrell
• Gunter Baby Sommer / Urlich Gumpert
• Paul Lytton / Ken Vandemark
• Evan Parker
• Gunter Hampel
• Marshall Allen
Here is a sneak peek of one of the live performance clips, the immortal Marshall Allen (current leader of the Sun Ra Arkestra) shot at the Arkestra House, Sun Ra's legendary compound, in Philadelphia.
WHY WE NEED YOUR HELP AND HOW WE'LL USE THE MONEY
Up until now this project has been entirely self-financed. We have been boot-strapping, calling in favors and relying on the generosity of friends in helping to get this made. We are now at the point where we need help from YOU, the music community, to help take this important film to the next level. You can be the catalyst for getting FIRE MUSIC into a finished form that can then be submitted to film festivals and screened for distributors. The film could then be evaluated for any additional funding that we would need for the sound mix, music, photo and clip clearance rights and final output costs. We will primarily use the proceeds from this campaign to bring on a full-time editor, one of the most important creative components in the production of any documentary film. Next we will bring on researchers to dig up additional unseen footage, rare photos and other essential visual materials. Much of the archival footage is hard to find and is contained in libraries or personal collections that are not readily available on YouTube and/or may be expensive to license. Lastly, we will collaborate with visual artists and graphic designer/animators to create animated and art transitions that will enhance the film. That will help us make FIRE MUSIC as visually arresting and revolutionary as the musical movement we are trying to capture.
OUR GOAL IS $37,000, WHICH IS OUR MINIMUM. BUT WE REALLY NEED MORE, SO BE GENEROUS AND GET US PAST OUR GOAL!! Even an extra $3,000 - 5,000 would make a huge difference in terms of us being able to afford critical elements like superior motion graphics and animation, music licensing, and archival stills and clips. These key ingredients will combine to vastly improve the overall quality of the film.
WHAT WE WILL NOT BE USING THE MONEY FOR
Any money that you donate will go toward what you'll end up seeing on the screen. We are not taking personal fees on this. We want whatever amount you chose to contribute to go directly toward improving the quality of the film, and not end up in somebody's pocket. Your contributions will help MAKE THIS FILM A REALITY, not pay our Con Ed bills. (Though we might have to set aside $15 to get Tom a haircut.)
THE BOTTOM LINE
Our goal is to put together a rough cut that we can then submit to major film festivals such as the Sundance Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival, SXSW and the Toronto International Film Festival. Your help will be unbelievably appreciated and vital as this has been a passion project that we have thoroughly devoted ourselves to. We have now reached the point where we really need your help to continue. If you do indeed lend us your support, you will have played an integral role in making this film a reality.
Check out the rewards on the right and see how our approach is very inclusive. If you do choose to contribute to our cause, we want you to consider yourself to be part of the team that has made this happen. In most levels of rewards there is an interactive component enabling you to screen intermediate cuts of the film and then give us your feedback. Nothing could be more valuable to us than your attention and feedback. Even if this subject is new to you, we propose that this project will open you up a whole new vibrant world of creative expression. And if you already know about it, then you understand the importance of getting this film made and should be even more motivated to contribute. So find the reward you can best afford, and then consider digging a little deeper and upgrading to the next level. You won't regret it! We look forward to you becoming a member of our team. And tell a friend!
THE FINAL FINAL
There has never been a filmic attempt to tell the full story of Free Jazz. Ken Burns' otherwise exhaustive documentary Jazz, surprisingly, breezes over the subject as if it were an afterthought. FIRE MUSIC is intended to be that missing link that will set the story straight. We will preserve the history and the music of a criminally ignored art form that has gone cinematically undocumented for far too long.
Risks and challenges
Making any film is difficult and laborious, and music-based documentary films are typically even harder to make. In many instances, the rights to the music can be difficult to secure and time consuming to track down, and very often the entities that do own the rights can be indifferent to the filmmaker's needs and consequently slow to respond. So in order to proceed, it takes patience and diligence and an absolute "we won't take no" attitude. The director, Tom Surgal, has committed himself over the last four years to capturing testimony and live performances from most of the major contributors to the Free Jazz movement, six of whom have passed away since shooting began. The interviews documented in FIRE MUSIC represent their last, and in some cases, their only commentary on the very mode of expression they helped to create.
Time is the enemy, as many of the musicians who pioneered this form are in their twilight years. Luckily, we have already shot 90% of the musicians that we consider essential to the story. So that is one challenge that has been mostly overcome. Still, there remains a handful of musicians we haven't yet been able to capture. With additional funding, we will be able to travel in order to document these remaining few historic figures.
Distribution is the biggest challenge for any independent film, once it has been completed. Producer Dan Braun runs one of the most successful film sales companies and has extensive knowledge of the distribution industry. He can guide the project through the rocky world of independent film distribution, which will give it a better chance than most to find distribution and ultimately be seen by the world.
The presence of executive producers Thurston Moore and Nels Cline, virtual musicologists and two of the most knowledgeable authorities on Avant-Garde Jazz in the world, lend this project a higher profile that will enable it to stand out in the always-overcrowded arena of independent film. Their creative input and instincts will help elevate this film into being the best that it can be.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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