15 Jamming Jazz Movies Films
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15 Jamming Jazz Movies

Jazz has been around longer than rock, hip hop, rhythm and blues, reggae and a lot of other tune styles so it’s great to see how the Smithsonian Institute every year promotes April as Jazz Appreciation Month. It seems to be one of those kinds of music that people either love or hate, or go from neutral where it’s concerned to acquiring a nonstop taste for it. It’s become such a butt-kicking powerful tradition that loads of books, films, and world-class events have been inspired by it. A lot of movies use jazz as background music but these could be called heavy hitters that give you people who made and lived the music. This list is some of the better ones I’ve found so far but I’m leaving it open for added suggestions. It contains feature films and a few documentaries.

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    Forest 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.

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    Billie 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.

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    This 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.

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    This 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.

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    Mo' 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.

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    Jazz on a Summer's Day


    "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.

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    "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’.

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    "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.

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    "The Cotton Club" is a fun movie with a lot of talented people like tap dancer Gregory Hines and Richard Gere as a jazz cornetist. Picture Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, and hot babe dancers at the famous Cotton Club in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance.

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    "Paris Blues" with black icon Sidney Poitier and white icon Paul Newman was radical for when it came out in 1961 but for modern times it’s just pretty cool. Plus Duke Ellington did the score.

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    Listen Up! The Lives of Quincy Jones


    "Listen Up! The Lives of Quincy Jones." Most modern music lovers know Jones as the man who put the word "super" in Michael Jackson’s star when he produced Jackson’s Thriller album.

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    Woody Allen has used a lot of jazz in a lot of films. "Midnight in Paris" won him an Academy Award for best original screenplay and just every review of this movie has talked about the jazz score featuring music by Sidney Bechet. Since the film is about a man who goes back in time to the Jazz Age and Allen himself plays jazz, it makes sense that the music is a big part of the story.

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    This is one of the best biopics on a jazz great that anybody might ever want to check out. The love and passion that director Charlotte Zwerin had for her subject is obvious. 90 Minutes of straight-up bliss.

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    If you like So You Think You Can Dance or any of the hit STEP UP movies, you wanna check out these jazz-dancing originals.

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    "Stormy Weather" is a major classic with Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, and gorgeous Lena Horne delivering sweet Golden-age Hollywood tunes for the masses.

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    Not one of Alman's best, though it does feature a menacing turn by Harry Belafonte as a gangster, the music is outstanding...including Fathead Newman, Joshua Redman, Ron Carter, Cyrus Chestnut and many more contemporary (at least in 1996) jazz giants.

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    Another Woody Allen film, this salute to self-aggrandizing, fictional jazz guitarist Emmet Ray is light and funny and features some killer jazz guitar songs (including a few nodes to the celebrated career of Django Reinhardt.)

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    Rob Marshall's big-screen adaptation of the long-running stage play brings the Jazz Age to colorful new life.

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