Jason Orr is a passionate man, personally tasked with preserving soul music for the masses. His documentary about the movement he and so many other creatives are devoted to upholding, FunkJazz Kafé, has been documented by Orr into the moving documentary FunkJazz Kafé: Diary Of A Decade (The Story Of A Movement), which makes its New York debut at the 3rd annual New Voices in Black Cinema, the four-day film festival produced by ActNow Foundation in association with BAMcinematek in Brooklyn.
With appearances in the movie by a plethora of talent including Jill Scott, Cee Lo Green, Roy Ayers, Raphael Saadiq, George Clinton, Stic.Man of Dead Prez, Caron Wheeler, N'Dea Davenport, Doug E. Fresh, Anthony David, Jamie Foxx, Janelle Monae, and so many more you'll be bopping your head and dancing in your seat as you learn more about the story of a cultural legend and evolution of the FunkJazz Kafé Arts & Music Festival as told by the innovators of this important, and in some cases overlooked, era in Black culture. The film itself spans the late 1980′s through to the early 2000′s asthis story goes deep into the fabric of soul music, it’s definitions, it’s pioneers, it’s offspring, it’s movements, and the challenges with the “mainstream” industry as a music and artistic renaissance movement born out of Atlanta’s diverse musical and cultural arts heritage. FunkJazz Kafé: Diary Of A Decade also explores the question of how we got to live soul bands being non-existing in the commercial music landscape of the 21st century when there once was a plethora of soul and R&B bands since the creation of recorded music. The documentary is also narrated by Public Enemy's Chuck D.
Here are important things about the movie and the man himself told from the FunkJazz founder and documentary director's perspective:
In your own words tell us what the FunkJazz Kafé movement is all about?
The FunkJazz Kafé as a movement is about cultural sustainability, cultural evolution, the preservation of Soul music, R&B, Jazz, Funk (a lot of people can play music but it doesn't mean that they're "FUNKY") and Hip Hop (it's unimaginable that one would have to think about preserving this but today it's necessary). It's about inspiring artist[s] of the future and sustaining artist[s] that have inspired their own communities and the world (visual artists, film makers, fashion designers, digital designers, cultural performers, healers of the sacred arts, comedians, poets/griots, etc.). It's about art as a community service and sharing our natural gifts and talents in a unique way.
What made you want to bring FunkJazz Kafe’s story to the screen?
"FunkJazz Kafé: Diary Of A Decade (The Story Of A Movement)" has been in the development stages since 1996, in the days when there wasn't [any] digital cameras. I thought it was extremely unique and phenomenal that we have been able to have a few thousand people at our festivals without announcing (or focusing on) the musical talent. We didn't want to pigeon hold our cultural evolution in a time when Soul artists were becoming less a focus in commercial music (yet still very important to the world) and soul bands were basically evaporating out of the mainstream focus. So both stories of our evolution with FunkJazz Kafé Arts & Music Festival and what was happening in commercial music in this decade of the 1990's to the early 2000's, in particular, are stories that should be told in order to understand how we got in the condition we're in currently with commercial music. Especially if you came from an era in music where there were soooo many R&B, funk, rock and soul bands that it would take you all day to mention them all to this era where it's hard to list ten of them. The movie's opening statement says it all, "You can always tell the condition of a people by what is reflected in their music".
What are your favorite films – the ones that inspire you to do what you do?
There are several… everything I see is an inspiration weather it's good or bad. The good ones inspire me for obvious reasons and the bad ones inspire me to stay away from what was bad about them and to go deeper. To name some though, there's Godfather II, Snatch, Fight Club, Jazz (Ken Burns' documentary), What Dreams May Come, Bamboozled, Inventing David Geffen, Requiem For A Dream, Darwin's Nightmares, When We Were Kings, William Klein's rare French documentary: "Muhammad Ali, The Greatest" (I styled our trailer after this one)…too many to list.
Is there a passion project that you can share with us that you’d love to get off of the ground?
I'm developing a treatment for a documentary on the positive contributions of James Brown from the perspective of his daughters, Deanna Brown Thomas and Yamma Brown. Shining light on his legendary achievements in music, life as a father with his family and accolades in society with his community contributions like saving Boston from riots after the King assassination, having his own radio stations, chain of restaurants, his own food stamps, etc. I think it would be a good balance to the film script that's floating around out there now. I want to see James Brown celebrated as great contributor to the good of the world, as he should be seen. I was always on my best behavior around him because he demanded that from you. He was by no means an average person. I know that there are challenges with his estate so we'll have to see how that goes.
Who would you love to work with – either in music or film – that you haven’t?
So many people!!! I would love to surpise the audience at FunkJazz Kafé Arts & Music Festival with a Prince or Stevie Wonder appearance. That's always been one of my dreams for the festival. I would love to pair up Al Jarreau with Bilal or Bobby McFerrin with Omar at the festival as well. Sly Stone with Van Hunt or D'Angelo. Too many funky, magical pairings still out there.
What’s next for you?
The FunkJazz Kafé Arts & Music Festival will continue, it will be 20 years next year! Also planning the FJK Documentary Film Festival & Music Conference for the Fall of 2013. On the music side, I'm one half of the music group, Soul Of Earth (who scored the film), we are releasing our albums, "Electromagnetic" and "UniverSouLovers" that includes songs with Caron Wheeler (Soul II Soul), Dionne Farris, Omar (UK Soul legend), Lady Alma, N'Dea Davenport (Brand New Heavies), CC Sunchild (she also scored the film), Wes Felton, Carl McIntosh (Loose Ends) and Vinnie Bernard as well as releasing Wes Felton's album "Ellington International" and producing songs for his duo group with Raheem DeVaughn, "CrossRhodes". I'm also revamping our webisode series, "Musician Life" on our YouTube channel (youtube.com/FunkJazzKafeChannel) by adding more features. I'm also developing a TV program with dePasse Jones Entertainment to give another platform to experiencing music on TV other than the contest driven shows out there that are won by amateurs. I'm always doing something.
FunkJazz Kafé: Diary Of A Decade (The Story Of A Movement) screens at BAM Rose Cinemas on Saturday, February 16th at 9:15pm. Go to bam.org/NewVoicesinBlackCinema for more information.
Thanks to Cherrelle Dixon for her assistance with this article.