The Jazz.com Blog
July 13, 2008 · 18 comments
Jazz fans have long enjoyed a love-hate relationship with Hollywood. We appreciate the jazzy soundtracks and are delighted when a famous director gives the nod to a jazz bio-pic. But the end results are never pure enough for the purists, and every fan has a personal gripe or pet project needing urgent attention. (When will George Lucas get off his duff and make that film about Darth Vader's other son? . . . . Working title: The Sun Ra Story.) Into this breach jumps regular jazz.com contributor Walter Kolosky, who offers up a host of fresh ideas in this open letter to jazz’s best friends in the film industry. T.G.
I hope someone close to devoted jazz fans Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen and Bill Cosby reads this blog and sends them here to read it.
Jazz needs a big favor. Clint, Woody and Bill – God bless you all for the support you have given jazz music over the years. I would be hard-pressed to find any other celebrities of your stature who have done as much to bolster a music form they love. But do you think you could take another step even farther and raise a little money and get involved with producing a jazz movie that actually celebrates jazz music? We have seen enough jazz movies tell the story of some drunk or drugged out musician who dies a tragic death. I don’t think depressing jazz movies do a lot to help the music attract more fans. And, let’s face facts – most of the movies are depressing. Looking at some of the most famous ones bears this out.
Bertrand Tavernier’s Round Midnight is one of the best movies ever made about jazz. Saxophone great Dexter Gordon starred as Dale Turner, a falling-down drunk American expatriate jazz legend. The movie would have been even greater if Tavernier had cut 20 minutes and Turner had kicked his habit. His character could have led a musical revolution instead of becoming just another victim of the jazz lifestyle. I don’t care what the book the movie was based on said.
Spike Lee’s Mo Better Blues is another jazz movie more about gambling addiction and thugs than a celebration of the music. I know it ends on a hopeful note but do all jazz movies have to be about suffering? Apparently so.
Frank Sinatra starred in The Man with the Golden Arm. He played a jazz musician with – you guessed it – a drug problem. Steve Allen played Benny Goodman in The Benny Goodman Story. While on the surface this movie wasn’t about drugs or alcohol, Allen’s amazingly sleepy performance indicated he or Benny may have been on downers after all. What the heck did Donna Reed see in that guy? There is also The Glenn Miller Story. They should have stopped that one before the plane crash. And then there is the poor junkie Gene Krupa in The Gene Krupa Story. It just goes on and on.
Clint, you have been a major jazz supporter for many years. Your involvement with the Monterey Jazz Festival has been a great help. But you also directed the drug downer movie Bird about Charlie Parker. It was actually a very well made movie. But, it was so depressing. Years ago you starred as a jazz disc-jockey in Play Misty for Me. Wouldn’t you know it; you are stalked in that movie by psychotic killer Jessica Walter. Clint, you should have known better. I must confess that since that movie I have always associated the classic tune “Misty” with a knife-wielding Jessica Walter kneeling on top of me in my bed. While aspects of that vision still intrigue me . . . it has not made me go buy more jazz music. Clint, I think you may owe us.
Bill you are a great supporter of jazz music. You frequently host the Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. Although I must in all honesty say I think you talk too much over the music at that event; I am grateful for all you have done to promote jazz over the years. In your old Cosby Show you made it a point to sneak your love of the music into many episodes. You got involved in producing a few jazz albums as well. This has all been helpful to the cause.
Woody you are a big fan of the New Orleans jazz style. In your reel life movies you often feature New Orleans jazz music in the soundtracks. In your real life you play a good clarinet in a New Orleans style band and you were in a documentary about the band’s travels throughout Europe. It was quite good. But still, the director didn’t quite go for the exciting and joyous angle I wished she had.
As I write these words there continue to be rumors that movies about jazz superstars, and famous drug users, Miles Davis and Chet Baker are about to be made. The rumor about the Miles movie, this time with actor Don Cheadle connected, has been around for almost two decades now. But no one ever seems to pull the trigger. I can assure you that if these flicks are ever produced – they will not be funfests.
Yes I have some uplifting jazz movie ideas! Some of them are as follows. I will not sue anyone who uses them:
Return of the Jazz Men: Starring Danny Glover, Morgan Freeman and Bill Cosby. Three aging but sober and non-drug addicted black expatriate American jazz musicians return to America in 1973. Morgan Freeman plays the part of God and a mean sax with Echoplex. Fun and hilarity ensue as the trio tries to adjust to jazz-fusion music and the unexpected fame their attempts at playing it garner them. In one particularly funny scene the guys run into a young Ken Burns and ignore him.
Horn of Plenty: Starring John Goodman, Delta Burke, Howard Hesseman, Miley Cyrus and Spike Lee as himself. Trombone player Jumbo Plenty is the mayor of a 1960’s southern town. He metes out criminal and social justice during the day and swings it on stage with his jazz band at night. A young Spike Lee comes to town to film an 8mm project for school. Spike is heavily made-up for the role.
Rebel without a Gig: Starring Woody Allen, Alan Alda, Michael Caine, Harry Connick Jr., Diane Keaton, Barbara Hershey, Carol Kane, Tony Roberts, Shelley Duvall, Dianne Wiest, Gene Hackman, Jessica Walter, Martin Landau, Jennifer Tilly, Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson. Also making guest appearances are Kyle and Alison Eastwood. Woody Allen is a bumbling clarinet player who finally finds his way by channeling the spirit of Sidney Bechet. This film should be directed by Clint Eastwood. Morgan Freeman makes a cameo appearance as God.
Mutiny on the Band Stand: Starring Lil Wayne, Kanye West, Jason Timberlake, Diddy, Branford Marsalis, Donnie and Marie Osmond, Clare Danes and Larry David. A hip-hop group makes millions of dollars sampling the music of Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five. Their manager (Larry David), a closet jazz fan, convinces them to play their own modern jazz music instead. The group becomes destitute but they are happier playing jazz.
Close Encounters of the Third Stream: Starring George Clooney, Charlize Theron, Lucy Liu or Lisa Ling, Jennifer Lopez and Beyoncé. A writer who has just written a blog about how there should be some positive movies made about jazz music is aggressively pursued by four or five amorous international jazz-loving beauties who turn out to be space aliens who want to repopulate their dying world with jazz and classical music fans to please their planet’s new leader, the recently kidnapped Gunther Schuller.
So c’mon Clint and Bill, Woody or anyone else with the money or the ability to raise it, please make a movie that truly celebrates jazz. I know you have given a lot to the cause already. But the jazz community may need you now more than ever. (That is assuming jazz is dying. But that is for another blog.)
This blog entry posted by Walter Kolosky.