Turning Jazz into Film. On Roger Tilton’s Documentary “Jazz Dance” (1954)

A Joint paper by Cornelia Lund (fluctuating images, Berlin) and Holger Lund (DHBW Ravensburg) presented at the Documenting Jazz 2020 conference at the Birmingham City University, Curzon Building, 4 Cardigan Street, Birmingham, B4 7BD
January 16-18, 2020

In the history of documenting music, Roger Tilton’s short film “Jazz Dance” (1954) is an outstanding experimental approach to early direct cinema. Filmed at Central Plaza Dance Hall, New York City, this film, one could argue, turns jazz into film by specific documentary means and by establishing certain relations between the musicians, the music and the dancers through cameras, lights, and means of post-production such as cutting and editing. The genuinely audio-visual, non-staged, multi-angled recording was new at the time and opened up new ways of capturing what happened between the participants of the event as well as it was capable of placing the spectators of the film among these participants.
In our paper, we would like to discuss the means and techniques used by Tilton and his collaborators, their power to let the spectator feel the spirit and the energy of hot jazz in the medium of film, making the film jazz itself by transferring the musical language of jazz into an adequate audio-visual, filmic language.
Furthermore, we will discuss Tilton’s film in relation to other direct or experimental cinema approaches to documenting music, especially jazz music, such as Klaus Wildenhahns films on Jimmy Smith (1965/66) or Shirley Clarke’s film on Ornette Coleman (1985) as well as situate it in the wider context of audio-visual productions and documentary practices relating music, film, and dance, a field we have been working on for several years.

http://documentingjazz.com/