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Soundtrack to a Legend
Written by Anna Locke   
Sunday, 27 February 2011 23:24

Soundtrack to a LegendLeft - Jack DeJohnette. Photo - Dion Ogust

A biting score of jazz infused rock accompanied a captivating film about black American Boxer Jack Johnson in PIAF’s Soundtrack to a Legend. Jack DeJohnette (former band member with Miles Davis and legendary drummer in his own right) and his band took centre stage in a breathtaking night of live jazz and film at The Astor in Mt Lawley.

Jack Johnson – the Film, is a 1971 documentary about the black American boxer who became the first black World Heavyweight Champion in the early 1900’s. The public reacted negatively, and there was a concerted effort in certain circles to restore a ‘white’ titleholder, including bringing former champion James J Jeffries out of retirement to fight. Jeffries lost to Johnson in 1910, which caused race riots in 50 cities across America.

The film isn’t just about Johnson’s boxing career. It chronicled his life of fast cars and love for white women, the businesses he owned, his love for jazz, and the impact his black public figure had on a white America. With a screenplay by Al Bodian and directed by William Cayton (manager of Mike Tyson), the film mixes newsreel footage and stills through some highly effective editing (John Dandre) to produce a comprehensive, compelling story.

Cayton approached Miles Davis in 1970 to compose the music to Jack Johnson – the Film, and it is his score that DeJohnette and his band played. Energetic, rhythmic, hypnotic, thumping, are all words that aptly describe the score that plays almost continuously throughout.

DeJohnette was joined onstage by Jerome Harris on bass, David Fiuczynski on guitar, Jason Yarde on saxophone (soprano, alto and baritone) and keyboards, and Byron Wallen on trumpet, flute, and keyboards. They traveled well as a band, and there were some cracking solos from Wallen and Yarde (particularly on the soprano sax).

I’ve never seen a film score quite so in sync with the film, or taking such a starring role (although I’m sure if all films had a live band, it would make a difference). The music underscoring Johnson’s fight scenes was spot on, with the drums thumping out the punches with the baritone sax as an accessory, building up to a violent, tumultuous, all instruments humming with energy, finale – emulating the roars of the crowd as Johnson inevitably won again.

This was a fantastic performance, a fascinating documentary accompanied by legends of the Jazz world. Jack DeJohnette and the band are playing at the Becks Music Box on Monday 28 February. I can’t wait.

2011 Perth International Arts Festival
Soundtrack to a Legend
Jack DeJohnette

Venue: The Astor Theatre, Perth
Date: Sat 26 Feb 2011
Duration: 1hr 50min no interval
Tickets: $57.50 - $50.50

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