Harlem releases documentary on African Jazz Art Society & Studio (AJASS)


It took several decades, but it’s finally happening: a documentary about the African Jazz Art Society & Studio (AJASS), which has the earliest documented contributions as an organization to what people now recognize as the Black Arts Movement. The artists’ collective formed in 1956 on Kelly Street in the South Bronx, with the aim of preserving jazz music as an African art form, at a time when many saw it being ripped off by white intruders. .

Filmmaker Louise Dente, of Cultural Caravan, will present her documentary on AJASS at the Dwyer Cultural Center on Sunday, May 15. The timing is fitting as May 15 was declared AJASS Day by New York State Senator Cordell Cleare. She will provide proclamations acknowledging members of the historic organization at the film’s intermission.

It is the first, but certainly not the last, film to focus on AJASS. There are other documentaries that have mentioned significant contributions from AJASS, the most notable being the four-part series EPIX which was successful enough to win the NAACP Image Award for its director, Keith McQuirter in 2021. McQuirter included some important highlights on AJASS in his four-part docuseries titled “By Any Means Necessary: ​​The Godfather Era of Harlem.”
The documentary focused on music and cultural activism during the life and times of Bumpy Johnson, the Godfather of Harlem. The documentary by filmmaker Louise Dente will look at the birth of the Black is Beautiful movement and will celebrate 66 years, from the date AJASS was founded in 1956 to the present day.

Last year, Community Board 2 of the South Bronx voted to recognize and honor the historic organization with a street co-naming recognizing its birth on Kelly Street and its contributions to the cultural development of the Bronx. Unfortunately, this honor was delayed as Councilman Rafael Salamanca’s office was slowed down by COVID restrictions and delays, so the paperwork was delayed. Now the honor is expected to arrive this year. New Yorkers will continue to learn more about the AJASS organization and its wonderful members as an exhibit from the New York Historical Society comes to town on August 23. Black is beautiful.” The exhibit will run for six months on the museum mile on 5th Avenue, and New Yorkers will have the opportunity to see and learn about AJASS’s global contributions to through the photographic lens of one of its founders.

VIP ticket buyers will begin the festivities at 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 15 and general ticket holders will begin at 3:50 p.m. for this highly anticipated film documenting an important story whose impact some are only just beginning to understand. For tickets, go to Eventbrite and type AJASS.

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