Illustrated lecture; adapted and abbreviated from an essay entitled "Mingus, Cassavetes, and the Birth of a Jazz Cinema" in The Journal of Film Music, and originally presented in this form at the EMP Music Conference, (Seattle), 2008.


"Jazz.. spoke across a nation... it spoke in no matter what laundered popular way of instantaneous existential states to which some whites could respond, it was indeed a communication of art because it said, 'I feel this, and now you do too."

-- Norman Mailer, "The White Negro"

Norman Mailer's remarks in his controversial 1957 essay speak to a collision and melding of the races in popular culture that we still witness today. Yet nowhere are Mailer's themes embodied more fully than in John Cassavetes' seminal independent film of the same year, SHADOWS, which featured an original score by Charles Mingus. This lecture examines the complex and explosive collaboration of Cassavetes and Mingus, two of the United States' leading improvisational artists, at a pivotal moment in the history of independent cinema, jazz, and race relations.

Through an integration of film clips, texts, and still photographs, this presentation examines connections between the film's loose narrative--of three mixed-race siblings living day-to-day in mid-50s New York bohemia--and the film's revolutionary making, which in many ways inverted the plot. In Mingus's score, which Cassavetes edited severely, one finds the truest expression of the film's exploration of cultural identity. The score encapsulates Cassavetes' and Mingus's unique approaches to both improvisation and composition in their respective media, illuminating the oppositional nature of jazz to mainstream cultural production--and in turn, the underbelly of race relations in 1950s America.


SHADOWS (John Cassavetes, 1959): Preserved by the UCLA Film & Television Archive with funding by the Film Foundation Laboratory work by Triage Sound Restoration by Audio Mechanics Sound Transfers by DJ Audio

Thanks to: Brecht Andersch, Nicole Brenez, Ray Carney, William Claxton, Fred Cohen, Lelia Goldoni, Ronald Grant, Jan-Christopher Horak, Martin Humphries, Adam Hyman, Marvin Lichtner, Sue Mingus, Mark Quigley, Jonathan Rosenbaum, William Rosar, Al Ruban, Bud Shank, John Shaw, Joseph Tepperman, Uwe Weiler, Pete Williams and Timothy Wilson

Illustration above of Charles Mingus at the recording session for SHADOWS. Image courtesy photographer Marvin Lichtner.


see list of restored films here

see list of essays and lectures here

see video on the restoration of SHADOWS here