Arthur Doyle is a jazz saxophonist and vocalist. Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1944, Doyle moved to New York City where he was part of the school of Jazz’ New Thing in the late 1960s and 1970s. Even among not-so-casual fans of free jazz and experimental music, Arthur Doyle could be considered a marginal figure. The Life, Love & Hate of a Free Jazz Man and His Woman, a new documentary by Jorge Torres-Torres, follows the singular path Doyle has carved for himself on the musical outskirts and offers a strangely engaging portrait of a musician pursuing a completely original and evocative sound. We just learned about the film from Producer Rob Peterson who was nice enough to answer a few questions and share a sneak preview of the film before it hits the film festival circuit.
Jeremy: Aside from the 2009 reissue of Alabama Feeling on vinyl and the Sonic Youth track, “Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream” that came out in 2004, I had not heard much from or about Arthur Doyle recently. When did you shoot the film and what inspired you to follow Doyle on tour and at home?
Rob: We shot the film in the summer of 2012. I met Arthur in May of 2010 but I had seen him perform 2 or 3 times before then and had known of him for a few years before I met him. Friends of mine knew him and booked him to perform on occasion and through them I got to know his noisier and more raw work, not so much his earlier jazz sound, but his later post-Blue Humans work with folks like Ed Wilcox and Temple of Bon Matin. It was interesting to me that an artist could start out in the jazz and soul scene in the 1960s in the south and end up blasting raw furious noise in downtown NYC clubs and so on in the 1980s. The more I thought about it the more I wanted to know about how one finds a trajectory like that and also how one stays on that trajectory, what does that do to one’s life and so on.
After May 2010 when I first met him and got to know him I began to feel that he was an unsung master of American art and letters. There is no one that constructs music like he does. No one writes like he does, no one thinks about performance in physical terms on paper like he does. I wanted to record him, I wanted then and there to work with him to help him put more of his work into the world. The film came about as a direct reaction to almost completely loosing the first recording he did with his most recent band, The New Quiet Screamers, at Issue Project Room in NYC in October of 2011. A series of unfortunate events lead to us nearly losing what was an amazing first show and so I swore that the second time around, July 2012 at the Stone in the Lower East Side, would be well documented.
We enlisted a sound recordist and we also got Jorge Torres-Torres and Jason Banker on board to help us make a short film of the event. Fairly quickly the short film idea turned into a feature and we added dates in New Orleans and Birmingham. His family was having a reunion in New Orleans and so we thought it a natural fit to play there. He’d never been there until this past summer! I almost could not believe it when he told me. I knew that this was the time and the three cities were the perfect framework for the film. NYC where he still has a following and is still ringing ears, New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, a city he’s never been to in all his life, and the birthplace of another little sung hero of American music, Noah Howard with whom he collaborated on the record, The Black Ark, and Birmingham, where he was born and currently lives. It matched up too perfectly to pass up the opportunity to make the film.
Jeremy: Doyle is in his 60s now but still seems fairly active as a performer. Was there a sense of urgency about documenting his story?
Rob: He is nearly 70 and his health is not great but he’s still got a spring in his step for sure. Yes, I would say there was an urgency in my mind, but more because I couldn’t believe that there isn’t something out there about him already. If there is I don’t know of it. The only thing that I’ve found of any gravity about his life and work is an excellent article in WIRE magazine from 2002 by Dan Warburton. The urgency on my part came from a place of wanting to help him extend this period of output late in his life but at a crucial moment where there is still vivacity and energy to do it on his part. There is real pathos in his work at this point in his career. One can hear him calling out with energy and strength, but a different energy and strength than that of an earlier age. I felt deeply that this is a critical moment in the life of a great artist and I wanted to attempt to preserve it.