if It’s Too Cold to Venture Out, Stream Some Jazz
Updated: Jan 6
If the snow, cold or pandemic keeps you hunkered down indoors this month, there’s a chance to catch some jazz and blues on that 42” screen that’s been keeping you company all winter. Seems like the streamin’ services have discovered jazz; and these three movies may be worth checking out (I recommend them in this order):
MA RAINEY’s BLACK BOTTOM (Netflix) Oscar winner Viola Davis plays the “Queen of the Blues” in this terrific adaptation of August Wilson’s first Broadway hit. Tony Award winner George C Wolfe directed, Branford Marsalis produced the music and Maxayn Lewis, an alum of Ike and Tina Turner’s band, voiced Ma Rainey. It’s a difficult movie to watch—all about the tensions between Black musicians and the music establishment that ripped off their songs. Ms Davis growls thru the film as a mean-spirited, seen-it-all diva; but it’s Chadwick Boseman, in his last screen performance, who mesmerizes with tragic tales of growing up in the South and the irreparable damage done to this talented young musician. Some violence.
SYLVIE’S LOVE (Amazon Prime) They could have called It “Lush Life,” this classic Hollywood romance transported to the homey, leafy thoroughfares of 50s and 60s Harlem. Tessa Thompson stars as Sylvie, who dreams of becoming a television producer while helping her Dad run his record shop. She and tenor sax hopeful Robert (Nnamdi Asomugha) meet cute when he stops in to pick up the latest Monk (“Brilliant Corners,” in this case). Jazz suffuses their story—he sounds like Coltrane, his group covers a Mingus tune, they meet by chance outside Town Hall, where Nancy Wilson is headlining. Written and directed by Eugene Ashe, Sylvie’s Love has beautiful clothes, cars and characters who care deeply about jazz.
SOUL (Disney Plus) The first Pixar film built around an African-American character, this big budget pic-- its $150 mil price tag is probably twice what the other two movies cost combined—features the music of Jon Batiste with input from, among others, Herbie Hancock and Terry Lynn Carrington. It’s about a high school band teacher who dreams of becoming a professional jazz pianist. He gets that chance, but falls down a manhole on his way to the gig. I won’t bog you down with all of the metaphysics, but his soul finds its way back, helping a few lost souls on the way.