Much like the modern comic book, jazz is a uniquely American invention. And while both are umbrella terms that encompass a wide variety of genres, sub-genres, and movements over the decades, we’re all intimately familiar with their conventions. Like most mediums, too, both comics and jazz are filled with the unsung and unknown figures that may have been innovators at the time, but have since fallen into obscurity. At this intersection of jazz and comics comes Kyle Higgins, Joe Clark, Danilo Beyruth, Igor Monti, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou’s first issue of Deep Cuts and its exploration of some of those forgotten moments in jazz.
New Orleans in April 1917 was a couple of things. It was the center of jazz in the US as the myriad influence of immigrants from Cuba and Sicily and the prominence of African American musicians found in every establishment created the foundation for what would become traditional jazz. It was also where the US military was training and housing soldiers before they would go overseas to fight in World War I. This is where Charles Stewart walks the streets of the city, looking for jazz. He’s a young clarinet player looking for a stage for his talents. But in a city so filled with jazz and people, it’s hard to get noticed until he starts playing through the window of a small club. From there, we see his interactions with Jack Cartier and one way to stand out in the local jazz world. But maybe this isn’t the life that Charles wants—maybe playing with people sometimes for the sake of playing is more rewarding. And, in the case of Jack Cartier, less dangerous.
While we’re not focused on any specific historic figure, it’s the grounding of the story in a specific era that makes this anthology stand out. It’s the people working and creating on the periphery that end up lost to history that may indeed have the biggest effect—we can never know where exactly someone like Louis Armstrong first heard jazz in New Orleans as a child, but it could very well have been a musician like Charles Stewart or any number of jazz locals that kept New Orleans’ music scene flourishing. And that’s ultimately what makes Deep Cuts such a compelling series from its first issue. It’s helping to imagine something that could have existed—we’re given a fiction that’s so steeped in history, that it could be indistinguishable from the real world.
While this is only the first issue of Deep Cuts, subsequent issues will be focusing on different eras of jazz throughout American history, it’s showcasing to us how Higgins, Clark, Beyruth, Monti, and Otsmane-Elhaou are approaching jazz and its mythology. And with the inclusion of original lead sheets at the end of every issue, we’ll be able to listen along to the music while we immersive ourselves into a series that plays with history like any good jazz composition.
Get excited. Get playing.
Drew Barth (Episode 331, 485, & 510) resides in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida.
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