This fall from September 30 to November 25, Hot Docs is streaming the new Tom Surgal film Fire Music: The Story of Free Jazz, which explores the birth of free jazz from the late 1950s to the late 1970s. Presented in-person for one screening at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto on September 29 and now available for at-home viewing through the Hot Docs website, the documentary outlines the early years of a genre that Hot Docs describes as full of “emotion, fire and fury.” Whether you’re a die-hard free jazz fan, a bebop enthusiast, or an occasional jazz patron, Fire Music is not to be missed.
I was glad that the filmmakers didn’t bite off more than they could chew: Fire Music demonstrates some initial outgrowth from the free jazz scene, but predominantly outlines on the establishment of the genre, focusing on the contributions of Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, and Albert Ayler. One of the film’s assets, however, is that it also features voices who have not traditionally been in the spotlight, such as Joseph Jarman, John Tchicai, Ingrid Sertso, and Sam Rivers. One of the most special moments is in the section “The Big Apple Reckons,” where we get to hear stories from saxophonists Prince Lasha and Sonny Simmons. Their 1963 album The Cry was a new and welcome discovery for me. Extensive historical footage from Don Cherry, Eric Dolphy, and Rashid Ali brings us the film’s greatest strength: the capturing of an oral history. Stories that are slowly being lost are retold here—and better yet, they are told from the mouths of artists who were present, anywhere from Paris in 1968, from the Loft Scene, or playing at the Five Spot Café.