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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.