In Spanish: Jazz has long been a source of fascination for Hollywood, motivated by the artistry and hardships of its practitioners. Lee Daniels (Precious, Lee Daniels’ The Butler) directs The United States vs. Billie Holiday (Feb. 26, Hulu) a biopic of Lady Day starring Andra Day and written by Suzan-Lori Parks. There are eight terrific jazz movies to choose from, whether you’ve been a fan of the music your whole life or are just getting started (and check out the iconic cut from each on Spotify).
1. Young Man With a Horn (1950)
One of the earliest Hollywood portraits of a tortured musical talent, Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall as his love interest, and Doris Day as the big-band vocalist who introduces them were all included in this picture. An orchestra led by Harry James re-creates Douglas’ trumpeting in order to make the soundtrack “the very spirit of this picture,” as described by The New York Times.
2. Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1960)
If you’ve been missing out on live music, this concert footage will take you back to the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958. Photographer Bert Stern skillfully directs an all-star cast that includes Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, and Thelonious Monk. You may get your hands on a newly repaired version right now.
3. The Cotton Club (1984)
Francis Ford Coppola released a “encore” cut of this 1930s Harlem jazz criminal drama starring Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, and Diane Lane in 2019. More of the Black artists’ stories, including tap-dancing portions starring brother combo Gregory and Maurice Hines, have been incorporated into the current version.
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4. Bird (1988)
This Clint Eastwood-directed biopic stars Forest Whitaker as Charlie “Yardbird” Parker. The saxophonist’s interactions with his wife Chan Parker and fellow musicians Dizzy Gillespie and Red Rodney are central to the film’s narrative. Extracted Parker’s solos from previously recorded material for the soundtrack, cleaned them up, and then recorded them anew.
5. Chico & Rita (2010)
In this Oscar-nominated, animated love story, jazz pianist Chico and vocalist Rita go from Havana to New York to Hollywood in pursuit of their musical goals and a stormy romance. On the basis of Bebo Valdés, a Cuban pianist and bandleader, Chico’s life is depicted in the form of a fictional character.
6. I Called Him Morgan (2016)
Helen Morgan, Lee Morgan’s common-law wife, fatally shot him at a Manhattan jazz club during a February 1972 blizzard. Acclaimed documentary features Morgan and Helen (who nursed him through a heroin addiction) as well as his colleagues in New York jazz, all depicted in a cinematic style.
7. Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes (2018)
Blue Note Records, one of jazz’s best-known labels, is the subject of this documentary. Beginning with the label’s establishment in 1939 by German refugees who had escaped the Nazis, the film also examines how the label’s broader influences on current hip-hop can be traced back to Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, and Norah Jones.
Us3’s “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia),” the first time a Blue Note sample was used in hip-hop, is an iconic cut.
8. Soul (2020)
A middle school music instructor and struggling jazz pianist, played by Jamie Foxx in the first Disney-Pixar film, is attempting to reconnect his body and soul before his first big performance. Pixar animators researched Jon Batiste, the Late Night With Stephen Colbert bandleader and one of the film’s music advisers, in order to accurately animate the jazz performances.