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Landmark Jazz Film Produced by Montclair Professor Debuts in Detroit this Weekend

Posted in: School of Communication and Media News

A graphic of a jazz band playing on a stage in black and white.

Roberta Friedman, who is a Professor in the School of Communication and Meida’s (SCM) Film and Television program, is the producer of a landmark film about jazz in Detroit that premieres Saturday, April 13 at the Freep Film Festival in The Motor City.

The Best of the Best: Jazz from Detroit is the first documentary film to explore the dynamic story of the city’s innovative and influential jazz musicians, and in addition to Professor Friedman’s work, the film has other ties to Montclair State University and the Montclair community. Dan Loewenthal, who is Director and Editor of the film, taught Film Editing at SCM for over 17 years, and Bill Lacey who teaches Post-Production Sound at SCM, is the Sound Editor and Audio Mixer for the film. Oscar Perez, who is the Coordinator of the Jazz Studies Program and a Clinical Faculty member in the Cali School of Music was interviewed for the film, and Professor Steve McCarthy, who teaches journalism and documentary production at Montclair and is an Emmy Award winner, shot parts of the film. Montclair Alumni who also assisted with the film include Allison Davidoff, Kyra Moretta, Cooper Martin, Danny Rinaldi, and Amelia Spitler.  

In addition, Montclair resident Christian McBride plays a significant role in the film. He is a world-renowned bassist, composer, arranger, educator, curator, administrator, and a five-time GRAMMY Award-winner. He is also the Artistic Director for JAZZ HOUSE KiDS, the only community arts organization in New Jersey exclusively dedicated to educating children through jazz.

The film is inspired by Mark Stryker’s award-winning 2019 book Jazz from Detroit. Stryker is also the writer/co-producer of the film. The feature-length film makes the case that storytelling about the history of jazz isn’t possible without closely examining ties to Detroit. Set within Detroit’s dramatic rise and fall as an industrial power and the struggles and triumphs of its African American community, the documentary weaves a compelling historical and cultural tapestry through the 20th and 21st centuries. From legends like Elvin Jones, Yusef Lateef, and Ron Carter to today’s stars like Karriem Riggins and Regina Carter, scores of world-class jazz musicians from Detroit—nurtured by a profound legacy of mentors such as Barry Harris, Marcus Belgrave, and Rodney Whitaker- are highlighted in the film. The Best of the Best: Jazz from Detroit reminds audiences that Detroit remains a mecca of Black musical excellence, and that jazz is central to the soundtrack of the city’s renaissance.

“The film has been called ‘a love letter to Detroit,’ and that’s something I’m extremely proud of,” said Professor Friedman. “It’s been an amazing 3 1/2-year journey putting this film together about the history of a city so central to the history of America and to the story of jazz, and I am grateful to have worked alongside so many talented Montclair colleagues and other amazing professionals who are passionate about film, jazz and the city of Detroit.”

Although the premiere on Saturday, April 13 is nearly sold out, the film is already receiving excellent reviews from those who have screened the film. “The way Dan and Roberta wove in the deepest threads of African American history — from the great migration to the urban renewal programs and its aftermaths is pure genius,” said Dr. William Turner, educator, scholar, historian, and award-winning author.

The Montclair community should keep an eye out for screening and other campus events surrounding the film.


About the School of Communication and Media: The School of Communication and Media offers a range of dynamic programs in communication and media to a talented and diverse student population of over 1,800. Offering degrees in film and television, social media and public relations, advertising, journalism and digital media, sports communication, communication and media studies, animation and visual effects, and an MA devoted to strategic communication, the School prepares the next generation of communication and media practitioners and leaders. The School houses award-winning student programs that include WMSC RadioThe Montclarion newspaper, Hawk Communications Agency, the Red Hawk Sports NetworkHawk+ OTT streaming platform, and News Lab, as well as the Center for Cooperative Media, which serves the public by working to grow and strengthen local journalism. Student projects and programs have recently received national recognition from PRSSA’s Bateman Competition, an Edward R Murrow Award, several Marconi Award nominations, and a College Television Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

Story by Keith Green, SCM

Media contact for the film:

Mark Stryker