Elizabeth Rhodes
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Let Loose: Jazz on Film at MFAH

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Nina Simone in “The Amazing Nina Simone.”

Leon casino,  

For the fourth year in a row, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston presents Jazz on Film, a festival dedicated to exploring the musical medium through film. From John Cassavetes to Nina Simone, the museum will host screenings of seven thoughtfully-curated films as part of the festival — organized by guest curator Peter Lucas — which runs from June 3 through June 24.


Programming features two films from groundbreaking director John Cassavetes, including Shadows (1959), his directorial debut. The film, shot in Beat-era Manhattan with a nonprofessional cast and crew, pairs its improvisational tone with musical interludes featuring bassist Charles Mingus, tenor saxophonist Shafi Hadi, and drummer Dannie Richmond. Additionally, Cassavetes’ second film, Too Late Blues (1961) features Bobby Darrin as a jazz pianist with a predatory booking agent, as well as a soundtrack composed by David Raskin.


The following weekend’s screenings feature two documentaries, including The Jazz Loft According to W. Eugene Smith (2015), a documentary about a photographer who documented living within a community of New York’s best jazz musicians in the 1950s. The other documentary, Lady Be Good: Instrumental Women in Jazz (2014), uses rare archival footage to highlight the contributions of American female jazz musicians from the 1920s through the 1960s.


The Case of the Three-Sided Dream (2014), which screens on Friday, June 17, details the life of visionary jazz musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk, who campaigned for a wider appreciation of jazz while fighting tirelessly against racial injustice. All Night Long (1962), screening on Saturday, June 18, is British director Basil Dearden’s updated take on Othello, set in the mod-jazz scene of the early 1960s. The film also features on-screen performances by a number of American and British jazz musicians, including the likes of Dave Brubeck and Charles Mingus.


The life of much beloved singer Nina Simone is the central focus of the festival’s final screening with the documentary The Amazing Nina Simone (2015). The film illustrates Simone’s story through accounts from musicians, friends and family and delves into her reasoning for her eventual departure from the U.S.


The Jazz on Film Festival will take place at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston Law Building (1001 Bissonnet) between June 3 and 24 on Fridays and Saturdays at 7 pm and tickets to each screening are $9 for general admission.