Best Movies About Jazz

With jazz being as popular as it is all over the world, it’s not strange that there are a lot of Hollywood movies about it. The modern movies, and even the ones from the past few decades, seem to capture the essence of jazz and tell great stories about the lives of famous musicians of the genre. 

If we wanted to give you the list of all the good movies about jazz, this article would take forever to read, so we’ll focus our attention to a few great ones and try to give you a context of what you can expect from each of them.

Bird (1988)

Directed and produced by Clint Eastwood, this movie pays tribute to the music and life of a famous saxophone player, Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker. This wonderful movie tells a story about Charlie Parker’s life from his early childhood to his death at 34 through a montage of scenes. It revolves around his relationships with famous musician Dizzy Gilespie, Red Rodney (a bebop trumpet player), as well as his wife Chan Parker.

The screenplay by Joel Oliansky really brings to life this masterpiece and gets us closer to the period of history when Parker lived.

Mo’ Better Blues (1990)

Set in 1969 Brooklyn, New York, this movie is a musical drama about the life of a fictional jazz trumpet player Bleek Gilliam. The protagonist’s career and relationships are put on the line after a series of bad decisions. With Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes and Spike Lee in the main roles, the movie focuses on the themes of honesty, loyalty, friendship and, in the end, salvation.

The movie is dedicated to the memory of Robbin Harris who passed away just five months before the movie’s release and it was his second final acting role.

Cabin in the Sky (1943)

Based on a 1940 Broadway musical of the same name, this American film tells a story of a fictional man called Little Joe. When Little Joe is killed over gambling debts, he gets resurrected by angels and is given six months to become worthy of entering Heaven and redeem his soul. 

With Lena Horne as the leading actor and her co-stars Ethel Waters and Eddie ‘Rochester’ Anderson, this movie was a huge gamble for MGM, as most American theatres at the time refused to screen movies featuring black actors.

Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1960)

Moving away from musical movies, Jazz on a Summer’s Day is a concert film. Set in Rhode Island, at 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, the movie lacks narration or dialogue, except for occasional announcements by emcee Willis Conover. 

The movie features amazing performances by musicians such as Jimmy Giuffre, Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong and Chuck Berry, among others. It mixes the images of performers and the audience at the festival with the images of the city and water. The United States National Film Registry selected this movie for preservation in 1999 for being culturally, historically and aesthetically significant.

La La Land (2016)

You’ve probably heard of this one even if you aren’t an avid jazz fan. This movie had seven nominations at 74th Golden Globe Awards and won all of them, among many other nominations and wins at other major award shows.

La La Land, directed by Damien Chazelle, tells a story of a jazz pianist who meets an aspiring actress and falls in love with her while chasing his dreams in Los Angeles. With wonderful performances by fantastic actors like Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in the starring roles, this movie is a must-watch for all musical fans.