Indie filmmaker Len Rosen elucidates ‘Gravity 180’ smooth jazz documentary

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Determined Canadian director Len Rosen documents his passion for Gravity 180, a Los Angeles-based trio deftly combining smooth jazz, melodic pop, and classic soul incidentally produced by guitar slinger Nils and Eddie Brown of ’60s gospel folk duo Joe and Eddie. The “Gravity 180” indie documentary also boasts a cameo from NCIS star Pauley Perrette. Seen above is the vibrant African-inspired album cover for “Gravity 180’s” self-titled debut, unleashed on June 10, 2009. Consisting of vocalist-keyboardist Clydene Jackson, founding KC & the Sunshine Band member Oliver C. Brown, and acoustic guitarist-singer Harold Payne, the group issued two earlier albums under the abbreviated band name “Gravity” in 1989 and 1997, respectively. Image Credit: Affinity Records

When Canadian director Len Rosen was searching for his next project, he probably had no idea a childhood infatuation with ’60s gospel folk duo Joe and Eddie held the key. Although Joe Gilbert tragically passed away in a car accident in 1966, musical partner Eddie Brown is alive and very active as a songwriter and record producer in Los Angeles.

After Rosen’s father asked him whatever happened to the duo, the filmmaker located Brown and listened to his latest production work with musical trio Gravity 180.

Comprised of pianist-singer-songwriter Clydene Jackson, guitarist-singer-songwriter Harold Payne, and percussionist Oliver C. Brown, each member has an astonishing musical pedigree. Smooth jazz guitarist Nils also contributes lead guitar schedule permitting.

Duly impressed, Rosen decided to film a 60-minute documentary comprised of original interviews, vintage performances, and music videos — “Moonlight on the Water” and “California Blues” — centering on Gravity 180’s self-titled album “without a corporate fingerprint on it.” Pauley Perrette, star of CBS’s hit police drama NCIS, extolls the virtues of Gravity 180 in a brief cameo.

Each member is given a segment focusing on their unique accomplishments. Jackson unleashes a chilling version of gospel standard “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” on piano in a vacant church. An unassuming but supremely talented performer, Payne improvs a song right on the spot — “I’m risking my reputation for your entertainment.” After he asks the film crew for song ideas, he plays a reggae-inspired ditty about where to find great Halibut and chips in L.A. Of course, it was all due to his lost cat peeking into a seafood store, a nod to Bill Haley’s slightly risqué “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.”

Eddie’s brother Oliver Brown was the last musician to join the band. An original member of KC and the Sunshine Band, the percussionist explains the band’s name as “listening to the music that is the voice and the sound of music to come as well as the music that came before. It is a delightful listen back to the future.” He performs an instrumental on a serene beach as waves come crashing towards him.

Unveiled at the Monaco Film Festival in May 2012, Gravity 180 earned an Honorary Film award but has yet to obtain distribution. The globe-trotting Rosen nevertheless crafted a film that music fans will relish and is well on his way to achieving the goal of becoming a bona fide filmmaker. The young documentarian kindly answered a few questions about the film as well as which epochal directors have influenced his filmmaking in a passionate interview featured below. No two ways about it, Rosen leads a fascinating life.

The Len Rosen Interview

Who is Gravity 180?

Gravity 180 is made up of three terrific musicians. First, Clydene Jackson is a Hollywood first call session singer and keyboardist who has sung on soundtracks including Avatar and with Barbra Streisand [Emotion, 1984], Rod Stewart [Every Beat of My Heart, 1986], and Neil Young [Living with War, 2006]. Ray Charles actually produced her debut album, Fresh [1975].

Harold Payne is an award-winning singer and songwriter whose nearly 40-year collaboration with soul-R&B legend Bobby Womack is still going strong. Peter, Paul and Mary, Rod Stewart, and Patti LaBelle have recorded his compositions.

Oliver C. Brown is a percussionist who has recorded with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson [Pacific Ocean Blue, 1977], Billy Preston, Sly Stone, and Fleetwood Mac. He was an original member of KC and the Sunshine Band. Nils, who is Billboard’s №1 smooth jazz guitarist, also performs with them. He engineered the band’s new self-titled album.

Before they became Gravity 180, their original band name was simply Gravity. They had two albums that were released under Gravity — a self-titled album [1989] and an album called Love Comes Back [1997].

Gravity 180 performs multiple varieties of music, ranging from pop, contemporary, smooth jazz, and Latin. They tour all over the world and the USA.

Harold has a fan page on Facebook that you can visit [Harold Payne Music], while Nils has an official web site [NilsMusic.com]. And of course, my official website [Len’s Miracles] features updates, contact information, and a special page for Gravity 180 for anyone interested.

How did you become acquainted with Gravity 180?

As a little boy, I used to listen to many folk records as my dad was a folk and gospel music fan. One of our favorite records was by a 1960s folk duo called Joe and Eddie [the joyous “There’s a Meetin’ Here Tonite” from 1963 is their most popular recording]. Many years later, my dad asked me what Eddie was doing. We knew that Joe Gilbert had died in 1966 in an automobile accident, but we never knew what happened to Eddie Brown.

I googled Eddie’s name and eventually found his phone number on an old website for Gravity 180 [Eddie serves as their producer]. I called and talked with Eddie and he and I became friends. I put him on the phone with my dad, and my dad looked like he was a schoolboy meeting his idol. It was such a sweet sight to witness.

Eddie sent me a copy of their latest album, Gravity 180, and I fell in love with the music right away. Incidentally, Eddie’s brother, Oliver C. Brown, is one of the members of the band.

What inspired you to tackle their story?

I was finishing post production on my award-winning Chinese film, Fallen Leaves, Golden Sky — Best Screenplay at the 2011 Monaco Charity Film Festival — and I needed a song for the end scene. I chose Gravity 180’s “Moonlight on the Water” with the group’s permission and blessing.

I was so inspired by the music that I quickly asked Eddie about the idea of making a documentary featuring their music and history, both individually and collectively. Everyone loved the idea, and Eddie became my co-producer on the project.

I flew to L.A. from China — where I was finishing Fallen Leaves — and filmed the bulk of the Gravity 180 movie in about two weeks in late June 2011. Oliver kindly let me stay at his home. I then went back to China and edited the film. I returned to L.A. earlier this year for several months of post-production work. Some new scenes were added as we felt fit.

What is the status of the documentary?

Gravity 180 was ultimately entered into the Monaco Charity Film Festival, and it won an award — my second film to win an award. We are currently in the middle of distribution for the film. I will be returning to L.A. soon to continue making films in addition to collaborating with my new extended family and friends that is Gravity 180. Our friendship is surely going to last a lifetime.

You can visit YouTube to see two clips from the film — the music video for “California Blues” and an interview with Nils.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I was originally born in Toronto, Canada. When I was nine years old, I helped my dad film animated shorts on his Super 8 film camera. I eventually purchased my first video camera. In 2009 I released my first documentary entitled Forgotten Faces. It focused on the homeless who live on the streets of Toronto.

I can speak four languages — English, French, Chinese and Hindi. I love to travel the world and have stayed in America, Hong Kong, China, India, and even Saudi Arabia. Some of these places were very remote. Currently, I am working toward my work visa to the USA to set myself in the film industry where I surely belong.

I have met the most interesting people from all types of cultures that I could have ever imagined meeting. I credit my positive views of the world and unique ideas from these experiences. My dream is to film all over the world and collaborate with filmmakers and actors-actresses that I admire.

I want to make films that open eyes and ears to the world and do them with class, respect and dignity. If my films can both entertain and create unforgettable experiences for generations to come, then I will be satisfied.

Which directors have influenced you?

I like to find films that are as far away from the mainstream as possible and be entertained by their uniqueness and realism. However, I will never forget those mainstream films that introduced me to the amazing world of motion pictures in the first place, films such as Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

I love the films of Robert Aldrich, especially What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? [1962]. Aldrich definitely deserves many more accolades and acknowledgment than he has received. He had stunning visuals way before Stanley Kubrick.

The camera angles Aldrich used literally popped the characters out into the faces of the audience. This not only made viewers understand the characters but feel their presence and their emotion in four-dimensions.

I also give thanks to films like Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho that led the psychological thriller genre into wide light in the early 60’s and onward. For Kubrick, The Shining was another great psycho-thriller film that introduced the Steadicam — a smooth gliding camera — to cinema along with its ingenious use of angles for illusionary effect and character enhancement by revolutionary visualization techniques.

Robert Altman truly deserves more praise. His revolutionary approach to overlapping dialogue paved the way for more cinematic realism in conversation as it mirrors real-life dialogue as opposed to running scripted dialogue between characters.

Another great director is Larry Peerce. The Incident [1967] remains one of my favorites. Black and white is still a powerful medium. I would love to do a black and white film one day.

I am influenced by all of these directors in some form or another, but I take my inspiration from them and develop my own unique style. I like viewers to get absorbed and visually enter into my films.

I like to be revolutionary is some form or another. Fallen Leaves, Golden Sky tells the story of a little girl who had left home after the sudden deaths of her mother and grandfather. There is no dialogue, so it is played entirely by facial expressions and physical gestures. This allows the viewers, regardless of nationality, to follow the characters as they develop on screen.

As you can see, I have been passionate about film all of my life. I am determined to succeed to the same heights as Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick.

© Jeremy Roberts, 2012, 2018. All rights reserved. To touch base, email jeremylr@windstream.net and mention which story led you my way. I appreciate it sincerely.

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Retro pop culture interviews & lovin’ someone fierce sustain this University of Georgia Master of Agricultural Leadership alum. Email: jeremylr@windstream.net

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