Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story


Rebroadcast on THIRTEEN’S Great Performances

During Black History Month

In conjunction with Black History Month in February, Great Performances presents a special encore telecast of Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story. Inspired by historian William A. Shack’s book by the same title, this performance-documentary tells the story of a varied group of African-American musicians and entrepreneurs who transported jazz music to Paris and ultimately the rest of Europe between the two world wars.

Beloved American jazz singer and bandleader Cab Calloway once said, “You hear about the Duke Ellingtons, the Jimmy Luncefords, the Fletcher Hendersons, but people sometimes forget that jazz was not only built in the minds of the great ones, but on the backs of the ordinary ones.” While far from ordinary, Harlem in Montmartre tells the story of the long-forgotten “extraordinary ones,” who left America to create the jazz age in Paris between the First and Second World Wars.

After peace was signed at Versailles, many black Americans remained in Europe rather than return to the brutal segregation and racism of America. Over the next two decades, they formed an expatriate community of musicians, entertainers and entrepreneurs, primarily congregating in Paris’ hilly Montmartre neighborhood. Some achieved enduring fame, while others faded into history.

Since its initial broadcast in August 2009, Harlem in Montmartre has received noteworthy national and international acclaim. Syndicated writer Kam Williams calls it “an important film not to be missed, paying tribute to the trailblazers responsible for an all but forgotten chapter of African-American history in Europe.” The documentary has been selected to compete in the prestigious Festival International de Programmes AudioVisuels (FIPA), Festival International du film sur l’art (FIFA), and invited to compete in the France Noire – Black France Film Festival. Harlem in Montmartre: A Paris Jazz Story will be rebroadcast as part of THIRTEEN’S Great Performances series on PBS on Sunday, February 7th at 10 p.m. (check local listings). The documentary is a co-production of THIRTEEN for WNET.ORG, Vanguard Documentaries, Inc., Ideale Audience SAS, ARTE France and Independent Television Service (ITVS).

Utilizing rare archival material from both France and America, this remarkable performance- driven documentary features the stories and music of such key figures as James Reese Europe, Josephine Baker, Sidney Bechet, Bricktop, Eugene Bullard, Django Reinhardt and more. Vanguard Documentaries Executive Producer Charles Hobson says, “The French were the first people in the world to respect jazz as serious art form, and it all began in Paris with the arrival of the Harlem Hellfighters, a military band.” Directed by Dante J. James, with performance sequences directed by Olivier Simmonet, and written by James and Simmonet with Allan Miller, the production was co-produced by Smilow with Hobson and Helene Le Coeur; S. Epatha Merkerson narrates.

GREAT PERFORMANCES is funded by the Irene Diamond Fund, the National Endowment for the Arts, Vivian Milstein, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, public television viewers and PBS. Harlem in Montmartre has been made possible, in part, by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Because democracy demands wisdom. Major funding was also provided by the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, Hugh M. Hefner, Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, the Vital Projects Fund, the Grand Marnier Foundation, The Paula Vial Fund, the Price Family Foundation and Ann Phillips. For Great Performances, Bill O’Donnell is series producer; David Horn is executive producer. Visit Great Performances Online at www.pbs.org/gperf for additional information about this and other programs.

About WNET.ORG New York public media company WNET.ORG is a pioneering provider of television and web content. The parent of Thirteen, WLIW21 and Creative News Group, WNET.ORG brings such acclaimed broadcast series and websites as Worldfocus, Nature, Great Performances, American Masters, Charlie Rose, Wide Angle, Secrets of the Dead, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Visions, Consuelo Mack WealthTrack, Wild Chronicles, Miffy and Friends, and Cyberchase to national and international audiences. Through its wide range of channels and platforms, WNET.ORG serves the entire New York City metro area with unique local productions, broadcasts and innovative educational and cultural projects. In all that it does, WNET.ORG pursues a single, overarching goal – to create media experiences of lasting significance for New York, America and the world. For more information, visit www.wnet.org.

Kam Williams is a popular and top NewsBlaze reviewer, who gives his unvarnished opinion on movies, DVDs and books, plus many in-depth and revealing celebrity interviews.