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Duke Ellington on Film / Cohen at the BFI Southbank

CMCI Lecturer Dr Harvey G. Cohen will host a “Duke Ellington on Film” day at the BFI Southbank on 7 April 2011, featuring a lecture and a screening. The event will be based on the film-related portions of his internationally acclaimed book Duke Ellington’s America (University of Chicago Press, 2010). Quoting from next month’s edition of the BFI Guide, Cohen’s 11:00AM lecture will focus on how “Duke Ellington was portrayed more respectfully and appeared more often in US films than any other black artist of the period…see how this giant of African-American culture created a positive public image for his community, through his music, performance and, of course, his films.” Several short Ellington-starring films from the 1930s will be screened as part of the lecture. Cohen will also introduce a special screening of director Otto Preminger’s Anatomy Of A Murder (1959) on the same day at 2PM; Ellington had a role in the film, and his score for the film won a Grammy Award. The lecture and screening are free for seniors over the age of 60.

Duke Ellington’s America is reviewed at length in the current issue of Downbeat, probably the premiere jazz magazine in the world:

“Jazz biographies tend to be catalogs of performances, assembled in the hope that a person may emerge out of the work. But Ellington was much more than a travelling musician. He was a brand, a corporation, a composer and a publisher…such careers generate great paper trails to tempt ambitious biographers, and often, great biographies.

This may be one of them. Cohen, who teaches at King’s College, London, has drilled into the vast Ellington collection of the Smithsonian and produced a work that presents Ellington as the outcome of a pragmatic business plan, a unique product of American marketing and advertising that created a black cultural hero specifically, for white consumption; one that accommodated, challenged and helped alter the Byzantine racial codes of mid-century America.”

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