New York Film Festival

Tom Surgal – Fire Music #NYFF

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13 min. and 31 sec.

The history of the free Jazz revolution.

Play Podcast
13 min. and 31 sec.

PODCAST| Samantha Sartori interviews Tom Surgal, director of the film Fire Music.

To listen to the interview, click on the ► icon on the right, just above the picture

At the world premiere of Fire Music at the 56th New York Film Festival, we meet the director Tom Surgal. We talked about his collaboration with John Northrup and Lin Culbertson in the creation of this film about the most innovative moment in music history. 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.

Fire Music: Tom Surgal’s film looks at the astonishing sounds (and sights) of that combustible and wildly diverse moment in music known as free jazz, which more or less began with Ornette Coleman, whose tone clusters and abandonment of strict rhythms opened the floor from under modern jazz. Surgal pays close attention to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Albert Ayler, Eric Dolphy, Sam Rivers, Sun Ra & His Arkestra, and, of course, the recently deceased piano genius Cecil Taylor. Filled with priceless archival footage and photographs, Fire Music is a fittingly wild and freeform tribute to music that makes your hair stand on end.

To discover more about the film, click here.


  • Reporter
    Samantha Sartori
  • Guest
    Tom Surgal
  • Interviewee role
  • Film title
    Fire Music
  • Festival section
    Spotlight on Documentary
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