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Night Lights Classic Jazz

Jazz In The Postwar French Cinema

French culture in the postwar years was strongly influenced by both jazz and the growing American genre of film noir.

Miles Davis’ score for the 1957 French movie Elevator To The Gallows.

In the late 1950s young French movie directors turned to jazz artists such as Miles Davis, Art Blakey, and Thelonious Monk to provide the music for Elevator to the Gallows, Breathless, and other moody, cutting-edge movies. On this edition of Night Lights we’ll hear music from those musicians and others and talk with film scholar James Naremore about the historical and cinematic context in which these recordings were made.

There was a strong American expatriate jazz community that formed in France after the end of World War II, and in this program we’ll primarily hear American musicians, though there were many French jazz musicians who composed and performed for these films as well. French culture in the postwar years was strongly influenced by both jazz and the growing American genre of film noir, the moody, crime-ridden movies that fit in well with the rise of existentialism as a postwar philosophy. Eventually French filmmakers would fuse both jazz and noir together, culminating in movies such as Louis Malle’s 1957 Elevator To The Gallows, which featured a soundtrack by Miles Davis, who improvised as he watched rushes of the film, and Jean-Luc Godard’s classic 1959 French new-wave film Breathless, which utilized a score by pianist Martial Solal.

Film scholar James Naremore discusses the expatriate culture that emerged in France in the wake of World War II, why French film directors were attracted to jazz scores for the films that they were making, how jazz was used in Elevator To The Gallows and Breathless, and a little-remembered but key figure in the postwar French jazz and cultural scene, writer Boris Vian. We’ll also hear music from Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Barney Wilen.

Watch Miles Davis recording the score for Elevator To The Gallows:

Music Heard On The Program

New York Herald Tribune
Martial Solal — A bout de souffle (Breathless) (Universal France, 1959)

Merlin
Art Blakey — Des femmes disparaissent (The Girls Vanish) (Fontana, 1958)

La Divorcee de Leo Fall
Art Blakey — Des femmes disparaissent (The Girls Vanish) (Fontana, 1958)

Nuit Sur Les Champes-Elysees
Miles Davis — Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) (Fontana, 1957)

Sur l’autoroute
Miles Davis — Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (Elevator to the Gallows) (Fontana, 1957)

Au bar du petit bac
Miles Davis — Ascenseur pour l’echafaud (Fontana, 1957)

L’amour, la mort
Martial Solal — A bout de souffle (Breathless) (Universal France, 1959)

Poursuite
Martial Solal — A bout de souffle (Universal France, 1959)

Pierre et Beatrice
Art Blakey — Des femmes disparaissent (The Girls Vanish) (Fontana, 1958)
Notes: Break music.

“No Problem #2”
Art Blakey — Les liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liasons) (Fontana, 1959)

By And By
Thelonious Monk – Les liaisons dangereuses (Saga, 2017)

Generique
Alain Goraguer — Jazz in Paris: Jazz & Cinema V. 1 (Universal France, 1959)
Notes: From the film I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVES, based on the novel by Boris Vian.

Blues de Memphis
Alain Goraguer — Jazz In Paris: Jazz & Cinema V. 1 (Universal France, 1959)
Notes: From the 1959 film I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVES, adapted from the Boris Vian novel.

Melodie pour les radio-taxis
Barney Wilen — Jazz In Paris: Jazz & Cinema V. 1 (Universal France, 1959)
Notes: From the film Un temoin dans la ville.

Three Windows
Modern Jazz Quartet — The MJQ Plays No Sun in Venice (Atlantic, 1957)

Special thanks to James Naremore.

Music Heard On This Episode

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