Music Videos at the Museum of the Moving Image

The Museum of the Moving Image, located conveniently a stone's throw away from where I'm living this summer, has had an ongoing exhibit about the fascinating genre of the music video. I had a chance to spend some time there on the last day of the exhibit, where I saw an inspiring range of videos that ran the gamut from art house surrealism to traditional linear narrative to interactive audiovisual installation. One of the highlights was seeing Bjรถrk's "Wanderlust" video for the first time, which is meant to be viewed in 3-D:

Unsurprisingly, jazz was scarcely represented; considering the financial means needed to produce music videos pre-YouTube, not to mention the challenge of coordinating visuals with music that's generally far less repetitive than most pop music (at least within a given song), I didn't come to the exhibit expecting to see any music from this tradition. I did, however, see one swinging video: Nina Simone performing "My Baby Just Cares For Me," featuring Tootie Heath on drums and Jimmy Bond on bass. The track was recorded in December 1957 for her first record as a leader, Little Girl Blue, but the music video was made in 1987 by the same studio that would later create other stop-motion works like Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run. From some brief web research, I think what happened was that Simone's song became popular briefly after it was used in this Chanel No. 5 commercial:

After this, Peter Lord directed a video to go with the re-release of the track as a single:


Of course, as swinging as this performance is, it's also basically an easy-to-follow pop song with lyrics. The shots of the hammer movements and the sweeping shots along the keyboard during Simone's piano solo in the middle of the track are just one approach to coupling instrumental passages with a visual counterpart. The museum's exhibit grouped series of videos with major approaches to negotiating the challenge of mixed media: character-driven narratives, craft-based video techniques, dance and choreography-focused videos, surrealist or non-traditional narratives, stop-motion, interactive videos, video sampling, traditional animation, and so on. I can't think of many other animations or moving image works that coexist with jazz recordings, although one does come to mind: Michal Levy's "Giant Steps" (2001), which depicts the gradual creation of a standing structure and its rapid disintegration at the end.

Maybe a better question to ask than, "Why doesn't jazz have more music videos?" is "Why should jazz have more music videos?" If the notion of getting a younger and broader audience for jazz is a pipe dream, maybe the answer is still basically artistic: because by collaborating with artists in other media, jazz artists can benefit creatively by expanding their artistic visions beyond self-imposed limitations in a given medium. I think it's fair to say that most music videos primarily serve commercial, rather than artistic, ends, but having checked out a number of works at this exhibit that seem to have artistic intentions at their heart, I think it's possible to reject an easy dismissal of jazz music videos. I don't know what a great one would look like, but it's out there somewhere.