Let’s take a look at a shortlist of good-to-great films with jazz as its central theme (excluding documentaries…):
“Mo’ Better Blues”
“Sweet And Lowdown”
“Sweet Love, Bitter”
“Tune in Tomorrow…”
“St. Louis Blues”
“The Benny Goodman Story”
“The Glenn Miller Story”
“Young Man with a Horn”
“Lady Sings the Blues”
“The Gene Krupa Story”
Alright! I’ll add the Showtime original movie “Lush Life,” a drama about two best friends who play jazz in night clubs starring Jeff Goldblum and Forest Whitaker. Oh, 1993, you were so long ago…
But here’s something: Don Cheadle has a part in “Lush Life.” Now that’s just craziness.
The truth is that this category isn’t exactly overflowing with titles to choose from. We’re not talking best romantic comedies of all-time here. “His Girl Friday,” anyone?
Now, films featuring a jazz score? Sure, we have plenty of wonderful choices: “Anatomy of a Murder” featuring Duke Ellington, “Ascenseur pour l’échaffaud” with the music of Miles Davis, Alex North’s music for Elia Kazan’s “A Streetcar Named Desire,” any number of Woody Allen and Spike Lee films and so on…
In researching jazz music in films I happened upon the official site for the Museum of Modern Art, which is currently running an exhibit through September 15 titled Jazz Score.
Comprising a film retrospective, a gallery installation, live concerts, and a panel discussion, Jazz Score celebrates some of the best original jazz composed for the cinema from the 1950s to the present.
I highly recommend checking out the information on the website as it provides an excellent retrospective on some of cinema’s finest product with an eye on the jazz music associated.
A ‘happy marriage’ is how this New York Sun headline describes jazz music and film in their review of the MoMA exhibit.
It’s an insightful declaration when you consider the many superb films over the years that include jazz music in the score, as part of the story or musical device to elicit a specific emotion or atmosphere.
The website for the retrospective provides a great filmography; definitely a nice trip down cinema-memory lane.
So back to the original point: I’ll go ahead and say if the Miles Davis biopic comes out as well as I am expecting, I would slot it immediately at #1 on the all-time best movies about jazz list – no offense to “Bird,” “Round Midnight” and a few others.
Honestly a Miles Davis film is long overdue for the big screen treatment, but legal issues and music rights are often the culprit in slowing down the development process when it comes to putting a real life on the screen.
And to think Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane and Sarah Vaughn also are without a big screen adaptation, as far as I know.
A new Billie Holiday biopic wouldn’t hurt either. I admire Diana Ross’ performance in “Lady Sings the Blues,” but the overall film was just good, not great – in my opinion.
I was just about to add another favorite artist of mine, Nina Simone, to the list, but then I realized there is an “Untitled Nina Simone Project” on the books, so I enthusiastically await the movie version of one of the greatest American singer/songwriters.