Filmmaker Daniel Kraus has just released Musician, the second installment in his WORK series. Musician features Chicago jazz musician Ken Vandermark, who can be seen most Wednesday nights at the Empty Bottle. The film presents the life of a jazz musician as one part artistry, one part cagey hustle, and one part pure drudge work. Vandermark is one of the city's top musicians in any genre, but he still has to devote a lot of psychic energy to managing his thin cash flow. Kraus keeps an anthropological eye on his subject as Vandermark gently nudges out a composition, expounds on the virtues of atonal music, and performs his blistering music on stage. Kraus, who thankfully avoided choosing yet another indie rocker to represent the travails of professional musicianship, clearly feels an affinity with Vandermark. Kraus says in an interview with ReelChicago.com,
Ken's work ethic is inspiring, but in truth it's a lot like mine. We're ambitious, prolific, to some extent control freaks, and we're both searching for new models that allow our work to function in more efficient, secure, and financially stable ways.
Musician can be read as a gloss on the life of an independent director as well. Some of the idealism of documentary filmmaking dictates the choice of subject matter for the series. The first installment was Sheriff, and future films in the WORK series include Truck Driver, Messenger, Professor, Preacher, Social Worker, and Cemetery Groundskeeper. There's something quaintly retrograde about the titles; except for preacher, these are job titles that could have been included in the WPA. They recall a time when labor, either intellectual or manual, had still had dignity and meaning in itself—concerned, in one way or another, with the real, like documentary filmmaking itself.