Jazz on Film

Jazz found its way into film a long long time ago.. the “talkies” provided a unique form to meld sound of swing with its complimentary physical presence..and Hollywood and other epic-centers of film  found ways and means to fuse the music into their creations.  And the interplay of jazz and the screen took on some incredible forms and fusions.and an interesting variant from India, Bollywood, which we refer to in our film Finding Carlton – Uncovering the Story of Jazz in India.

And the humor that is often inherent in jazz performance was also recognized by the industry,often because an artist or producer was a jazz fan… and here are two timeless examples..

Jerry Lewis in The Errand Boy (1961)

and again in the kitchen scene from “Cinderfella”  done to the Count Basie classic “Cute” written and arranged by Neal Hefti, with a flute solo by Frank Wess, and drum solo by Sonny Payne.

For many of us, jazz on film also  has been the creative expression of some of fine directors..paying homage to this incredible musical form through finely crafted narrative and often dark stories that centered on musicians , the denizens of smoky nightclubs and tortured musical passion.  In recent times, the most well known include Eastwood’s  “Bird” ( 1998) about the troubled life and genius of Charlie Parker; Bertrand Tavernier’s “Round Midnight” (1986) featuring Dexter Gordon, Shirley Clarke’s mindblowing  “The Connection” set deep in the heroin epidemic, and featuring Jackie Mclean., and many more.

(In the spirit of objectivity, here is a another point of view from The Guardian, somewhat appropriately titled!!)

Then there are the jazz histoires that document the music in a studied and persuasive archival tone..tracing the evolution of the form or a musician or an era..the most well known being the epic work by Ken Burns – “Jazz” written by  Geoffrey C. Ward  (Geoff is also a friend of Finding Carlton).

Stepping away from the narratives of Hollywood and epic history,  The vast majority of non-fiction Jazz film might  fall into the category of visual and aural documentation of a performance.  The subject is the performer or the event and there are many finely crafted films that are  fascinating and endearing.  They also preserve a legacy for the jazz afficianados and they capture a rich history of performance and artists who have gone on to the Great Gig in the Sky.

Gary Key’s documentary on Ellingtons tour to Mexico is worth the watch

But only a few documentary  film makers have truly found the essence of jazz in the world around their subjects.. interestingly,  there only a few films that approach jazz as subject matter outside of a performance,  i.e where the film is more than the mere visual documentation/ recording of a performance, albeit with interesting interviews and contextual subject matter.

Bruce Webers (1988) film “Lets Get Lost  – Chet Baker” engages the realm of the jazz musician, as does Ken Levis meaningful documentary  “Jackie McLean on Mars

And of course , there is the masterpiece that conclusively sought jazz , and found it the world that surrounded the music…Bert Stern’s 1958 masterpiece  Jazz on a Summer’s Day

Where,  one may well ask, would you find the other masterpieces of  the treasure trove of Jazz on Film. ?

Go to the masterful assemblage of information on Jazz on Film .and find them all !!!  …curated by “Joe” Spibey – JAZZ ON FILM, the most comprehensive and uptodate listing of jazz on film..anywhere..We thank Brian for listing Finding Carlton and honoring us in this assemblage.

Finding Carlton is a film about Jazz.. and how the universal language and story of jazz is reflected in a culture that is far away from its original home.  And with its completion,  it is now in the glorious company of jazz films,…… Jazz on Film..


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