How did a writer become a filmmaker? Actually, I started making movies long before I became a jazz journalist.
I graduated from NYU Film School (Martin Scorsese was one of my instructors) and worked in documentaries and industrials for a number of years when I lived in New York. A lifelong interest in jazz led to one article, then another, and before long, I stopped making films, transferring my fiction to the theatre.
Then came the web, most notably Jazz Central Station, which I co-founded in 1994, and three years later, Bird Lives, the first jazz blog.
In early 2004, while producing sites for Sonny Rollins, Joe Lovano and Billy Taylor, I was contracted by Telarc Records to interview the Saxophone Summit, on camera. The interview went quite well but when they sent the finished video six months later, I was appalled. I knew I could do better, even though I hadn’t made a film in decades.
The technology of filmmaking had changed dramatically. Inexpensive HD camcorders and computer editing empowered filmmakers, both professional and aspiring. So in the fall of 2004, I decided to purchase a camcorder and shoot an interview with Joe Lovano for his new Blue Note recording.
That’s how it began; interviewing my clients, Joe Lovano, Sonny Rollins and Billy Taylor, and posting the video on their sites. Then in the spring of 2006, YouTube debuted, offering free global distribution.
Bret Primack isn’t the easiest name to remember so with the help of my grandson, I conjured up Jazz Video Guy and posted “Sonny Rollins, The Bridge” on March 9, 2006. As I write this introduction, in mid-March, 2011, the Jazz Video Guy channel on YouTube has 645 videos posted, which have been seen by nearly 17 million viewers.
My return to filmmaking has been challenging, as I am a one-man band. I do the interview, shoot performances and recording sessions, edit, and then distribute to a global network. And through YouTube and Facebook, I interact with my audience. No wonder I don’t sleep much.
This entry begins a weekly feature on the JazzTimes website, where I’ll be posting video from my archives and new productions. My current projects include performances, workshops and interviews from the recent JEN Conference in New Orleans and the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival; digitizing the late Dr. Billy Taylor’s video archives; my ongoing documentation of Sonny Rollins; and interviews with leading musicians and promising newcomers.
I am now based in Tucson, Arizona and when Chris Potter came out here to work with students in the jazz department at the University of Arizona, we decided to shoot some video in the desert. I’ve known Chris since his days with Red Rodney and wrote the liner notes for one of his Criss Cross recordings.
The idea for the location came from the cover of Way Out West, the 1957 Sonny Rollins recording. Hence the title “Way Out in the Southwest.”
Check it out: