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Jazz Film Uncovers Washington, D.C. Jazz Treasures


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Stefan Immler has taken Washington’s love for jazz to new heights with his seminal documentary Oxygen for the Ears: Living Jazz. This full-length documentary, which took the German-born jazz lover more than three years to make, reveals many surprising new facts about jazz in the nation’s capital.

Immler’s film will be the opener for the Third Annual Reel Independent Film Extravaganza (RIFE), October 12 at West End Cinema in Georgetown in Washington, D.C. The film tells the story of jazz from its inception in New Orleans to its migration to the District and expansion to Harlem. Most importantly, it captures the past, present, and future of the Washington, D.C. jazz community. View the film trailer: http://www.oxygenfortheears.com/

Oxygen for the Ears is the first documentary to zero in on the story of the vibrant D.C. jazz scene and it's grabbing attention far and wide. “Just getting accepted in a film festival is a great honor,” says Immler. “They get hundreds of submissions, and select only a handful. We’ve been selected for 13 festivals, and have won awards already.” These awards include Best Music Documentary in the World Music and Independent Film Festival in the District, merit awards in the Lucerne International Film Festival in Switzerland and Indie Fest in California. It also was a runner-up in the People's Choice Award at the San Francisco Black Film Festival, and was a finalist for Best Music Documentary at the Park City Film Music Festival in Utah.

In June dozens of jazz musicians and enthusiasts previewed Oxygen for the Ears at the Atlas Theater, on historic H Street in Northeast. The audience was thrilled by fascinating new facts, small and large, presented in the 93-minute film: Duke Ellington began booking bands from a sign painting company; Jelly Roll Morton, who was playing jazz as early as 1902, ventured North in 1935 and ran the Jungle Inn nightclub (next to Ben’s Chili Bowl) on U Street.

University of Maryland music history professor Patrick Warfield (formerly of Georgetown University) was interviewed in the film and attended the preview. “We forget that the Harlem Renaissance, in many ways, began in the District of Columbia,” Warfield says. “Duke Ellington, Alain Locke and Langston Hughes had careers here in the District before they moved to Harlem.”

Washington’s Bernard Demczuk is another historian interviewed in the film. He said, “Before there was the Apollo, there was The Howard Theatre.” Since the early 1900s that’s where the greatest African American artists in the nation performed. Blair Ruble, director of the Keenan Institute, explained, “U Street is one of those places where the sounds of 20th Century America was being invented.” The film depicts countless jazz treasures, demonstrating that District artists and venues were prominent historically and are part of a burgeoning jazz scene today.

Narrated by the familiar voice of Erik Dellums, known from hit TV series The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Streets, Oxygen for the Ears begins its story in the late 1800s. Photographs, recordings, performance clips, and interviews tell the story. Elder statesmen, such as Butch Warren and Buck Hill make appearances with young bloods like saxophonist Brian Settles and vocalist Akua Allrich. Fortunately, Dr. Billy Taylor, Gene (Joe) Byrd, and Jimmy "Junebug" Jackson, were interviewed for the film before their passing. The film’s title came from Jackson, who said, “Music is a powerful thing…fresh air for your life. You need jazz to breathe. It’s just like oxygen.”

The film includes a riveting clip of renowned bassist Esperanza Spalding performing at the White House for jazz lovers President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle. Prominent clubs, such as the HR-57 Center for the Preservation of Jazz and Blues, Bohemian Caverns (originally opened in 1926), and Twins Jazz are featured, along with brand new venues and historic jazz spots whose doors have long been closed.

Stefan Immler, executive producer and director of Oxygen for the Ears, is by day an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. The co-producers are Tom Abel (a professor for Cosmology at Stanford University) and Cathy Abel (an editor and writer). The associate producer is folklorist and ethnographer Thomas Walker. The film is presented by Giganova Productions, LLC.

Oxygen for the Ears is one of a dozen films to be shown at the Third Annual Reel Independent Film Extravaganza (RIFE), October 12-18, at West End Cinema. The October 12 events related to Oxygen for the Ears include a Meet and Greet with the filmmakers at 7:00 p.m., a film screening at 8:00 p.m. and an after party at 10 p.m. at MOCA DC, a gallery located in Canal Square at 1054 31st Street, NW. Saxophonist Antonio Parker will perform.

RIFE presents the best of independent films in a variety of categories from around the world in an environment designed to provide a networking experience with film industry professionals.

This story appears courtesy of The Phillips Agency.
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