FIRE MUSIC is a feature-length documentary film currently in production that tells the definitive history of the Free Jazz Revolution.


Fire Music trailer for the upcoming film.

About the Project

FIRE MUSIC will stand as the first serious attempt to capture the sights and sounds of one of the most innovative movements in music history. The intensity of the music and the outlandish personalities of the artists who played it make for a compelling story.

The FIRE MUSIC Kickstarter campaign was successful! We will have the funds to help us complete the documentary and bring the project to film festivals and theaters for fans to enjoy worldwide.

“Free Jazz is liberation, is the excitement of the new and now,” says Thurston Moore, executive producer of FIRE MUSIC. “It is with respect, passion and knowledge that Tom Surgal captures the significance of it. His work, like its subject, shines for the collective call of beauty and unity.”


Free Jazz in Context

In the late 1950s, when the Abstract Expressionists took the art world by storm and the Beats forever changed the face of literature, a new radical form of Jazz erupted from New York’s Lower East Side. This new music was a far cry from the toe-tapping, post-Bebop sound of the Jazz mainstream popular in the day. This was an angry form of Jazz that mirrored the more turbulent times in which it was being played. The young mavericks who pioneered this movement came to create some of the the most unconventional sounds ever heard. They eschewed every preconceived notion of what music was, abandoning melody, tonality, set time rhythms, the very concept of composition itself, creating new songs spontaneously.

This coming together of these like-minded artists, iconic figures such as Albert Ayler, Sun Ra, Eric Dolphy and Pharoah Sanders, was one of those remarkable phenomena that rarely occur in the course of history. Like the Dadaists, the Lost Generation and the Italian Neo-Realists before them, the early progenitors of the Free Jazz scene were initially met with skepticism and outright disdain. They were accused of being anti-Jazz, and the music they played was dismissed as being pure noise. Undeterred by their critics, they soldiered on in relative obscurity and in the process created one of the most influential bodies of work of the contemporary age.

Turned away by nightclubs and ignored by the mainstream media, these cutting edge trailblazers were driven to create their own subculture. They self-released their own albums and found unconventional places in which to perform, like coffee houses and lofts, eventually forming their own communally-run venues.

The ’60s was a politically charged era, and no music reflected the tenor of the times better than Free Jazz. The resounding cries of atonal saxophones and the spastic pounding of drums reflected the growing indignation of a youth in revolt.

As the ’70s wound down, America embarked on a new era of conservatism. As Reagan assumed power, a new breed of musician lay claim to the Jazz idiom. These young Turks denigrated the great Free Jazz innovators who had preceded them, and sought instead to champion a revisionist brand of Jazz, what fabled soprano saxophonist Steve Lacey dubbed “Re Bop.”

With the advent of popular Jazz becoming even more mainstream, an already marginalized form became even more pushed to the outer fringe. But Avant-Garde Jazz managed to persevere. As the ’80s progressed, a new development started to occur. The Post-Punk enthusiasts who comprised the whole Alternative Rock Nation discovered kindred souls in the sonic blasters of the Free Jazz scene. The music actually enjoys a larger audience today than it ever has. This is the story of an irrepressible art form that has inspired generations of fans the world over. The originals that bucked convention in order to forge their radical sound must have their story told, for their fire will never be extinguished.

John Tchicai at The Local 269, NYC
Tom Surgal with Ornette Coleman ©Dan Braun Feature
Tom Surgal with Elvin Jones Feature

The Team

Writer / director Tom Surgal is known for directing a series of groundbreaking music videos for leading alternative bands like Sonic Youth, Pavement and the Blues Explosion. Tom was a teenage protégé of Brian DePalma and has worked in a wide range of film production jobs, including production design, casting and writing. Tom is also a musician who performs regularly with Nels Cline (Wilco), Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Jim O’Rourke and Mike Watt (Minutemen, The Stooges) and is co-leader of the improvisational ensemble White Out. He is also a curator who has programmed celebrated music series at various downtown New York venues, including an entire month of shows at John Zorn’s hallowed performance space The Stone. Tom is recognized as a leading authority on Avant-Garde Jazz and boasts one the world’s largest collections of Free Jazz recordings.

Dan Braun, co-president of Submarine Entertainment, a top documentary production and sales company, produces the project. Dan was executive producer of the award-winning documentary Kill Your Idols and was executive producer and music consultant on the No Wave film documentary Blank City. Dan is also an Executive Producer on the upcoming project Miles Davis in Paris, directed by Alex Gibney, and on the upcoming base-jumping documentary Sunshine Superman.

Submarine Entertainment has represented and sold the Oscar winning documentaries Searching for Sugar Man, 20 Feet from Stardom, Man on Wire and The Cove. Other films in the company’s portfolio include NAS: Time is Illmatic, Muscle Shoals, Tales of the Grim Sleeper, Citizenfour, Keep on Keepin’ On, The Great Invisible, Blackfish, Cutie and the Boxer, Winter’s Bone, Bill Cunningham New York, Tiny Furniture, Queen of Versailles, Chasing Ice, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, and Super Size Me.

Executive producers Thurston Moore ( Sonic Youth ) and Nels Cline (Wilco) are virtual musicologists and two of the most knowledgeable authorities on Avant-Garde Jazz in the world. They are rated 34 and 82 respectively in Rolling Stone's list of "All Time Greatest Guitar Players".


Kickstarter Campaign

FIRE Music is a feature-length documentary film currently in production that tells the definitive history of the Free Jazz revolution. Directed by Tom Surgal and produced by Dan Braun with Executive Producers Thurston Moore and Nels Cline. You can visit our Kickstarter page for more information about the project and to view updates about our progress.

There has never been a filmic attempt to tell the full story of Free Jazz. Ken Burns' otherwise exhaustive documentary Jazz breezes over the whole subject as if it was a mere afterthought. FIRE MUSIC is intended to be that missing link that will set the story straight. We will preserve the history of a criminally ignored art form that has gone cinematically undocumented for far too long.

  • Interviews

    Over 25 interviews with leading exponents of the Free Jazz style.

  • Live Performance

    Live multi-camera high quality sound footage of artists live in concert.


Photos from the archives.
Eric Dolphy

Would you like to know more?

Visit our Kickstarter page for more info and updates.

Questions? Comments?

Contact us now