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- 1Forest Whitaker in the title role of this 1988 film as saxophonist Charlie "Yardbird" Parker is awesome on top of awesome. Director Clint Eastwood gets all kinds of kudos for putting the entire project together. But Whitaker makes you feel what it was like to be a musical talent of Parker’s caliber caught between the demands of his art, drug issues, and the racial factors of the times back in the Jazz Age.
- 2Billie Holiday is considered one of the greatest female jazz artists of all time and Diana Ross did a decent enough job playing her in this movie that she got nominated for an Oscar. Sound track for the film is bitchin’ for days. It gets extra points for comic genius Richard Pryor as Piano Man.
- 3This film in 2004 got a lot of props for Tom Hanks as a Russian living temporarily in the JFK airport terminal and Catherine Zeta Jones as the beauty he kind of falls in love with. The driving plot behind the comedy and romance though was Hanks’ character’s attempt to complete a collection of autographs by famous jazz musicians all included on a classic photograph. The character near the end gets to kick it with legendary jazzman Benny Golson.
- 4This is a 1946 classic that makes you feel like you were there dancing, swinging, and hanging with all these cool people. Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington give up some seriously good vibes.
- 5Mo' Better Blues is a Spike Lee Joint with Denzel Washington as jazz trumpeter Bleek Gilliam. It works because it’s Lee and Washington with an amazing soundtrack by Branford Marsalis and Terence Blanchard.
- 6"Jazz on a Summer’s Day" is a concert film of the Newport Jazz Festival in 1959 and a lot of the music in it is not jazz at all. It does have some giants like Louis Armstrong and Eric Dolphy. It also has the world’s most famous gospel singer at the time, Mahalia Jackson, and rock ‘n roller Chuck Berry. Everybody seems to play and sing their hearts out and that brings it all together.
- 7"Round Midnight" was based on the lives of several famous jazzmen and stars Dexter Gordon as a black musician living in Paris. Europe and black American jazz musicians have had some kind of thing going on since the 1920s and this film dramatizes it in a sometimes sweet and sometimes too-much kind of way. It’s the real deal though and the music’s always slammin’.
- 8"The Man with a Golden Arm" in 1955 has superstar Frank Sinatra playing a role similar to "Bird" later on. The big obvious difference is Sinatra being white and a drummer, but jazz seems to have always been one of the most integrated musics. Frank Sinatra in fact is on the 2012 Jazz Appreciation Month poster. This one’s got another killer soundtrack.