Putting Fire Music History onto Film

Conceived of, in a way, as a riposte to Ken Burns’ arch-conservative PBS Jazz series, Tom Surgal has directed a film entitled Fire Music, which presents the history of so-called Avant-Garde Jazz purposely ignored in the Burns’ series. Rolling Stone’s Hank Shteamer notes that the documtary is really comprehensive, because it not only focuses on major New York figures involved in 1960s-1970s revolutionary improvised music, but also many of the era’s lesser-known players. Luckily made before some of the interview subjects passed on, Fire Music includes commentary by among others, trombonist Roswell Rudd, trumpeter Bobby Bradford and reed players Prince Lasha, Noah Howard and Sonny Simmons. Although Shteamer faults Surgal for not including the history of equivalent musical experiments taking place in Europe and Chicago, for instance, he admits that the omission makes the film’s narrative much more manageable. And note the story of how Californians Lasha and Simmons immediately decided to head to New York after listening to new Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy LPs in a record store.