A couple of months ago, while checking my email inbox I found a little article called Why Do Jazz Movies Have To Be Depressing?.
At first glance I thought it was a generalization but after a small research I realized that almost all the jazz movies I have recently seen are quite far from being joyful.
In the article are mentioned Whiplash, Miles Ahead and Born to Be Blue, but also Round Midnight by Bernard Tavernier and Let’s get lost by Bruce Weber are characterized by a deep melancholy feeling.
So… is this question reasonable? Here’s the article!
Why Do Jazz Movies Have To Be Depressing? In the past year or so, three jazz movies have hit the screen, “Whiplash,” “Miles Ahead” and “Born to Be Blue.” The first was a fictional account of a “Fame”-type New York school for aspiring musicians where a very talented, yet tormented drummer rose, fell and then rose again in his pursuit to be a jazz drummer, all the while enduring the maniacal tyranny of his instructor. Though entertaining, the flaws and distortions in depicting the rigors of the aspiring jazz musician make it difficult to identify or empathize with the film.
“Miles Ahead” and “Born to Be Blue” are biopics of the lives of Miles Davis and Chet Baker, respectively. Notice we said “respectively” for the films were certainly not “respectfully” created. In each, more time, much more time, is given to the drug abuse issues in the lives of these men rather than their music. In “Miles Ahead,” the movie is virtually devoid of music by Miles. A Miles Davis movie without his tunes is like going to the finest restaurant in the world and ordering a glass of water. Though the saddest thing about the movie is the legacy. For many people, their first notion of Miles Davis is that he was a violent junkie. That is true, but hardly the point or even close to the point.
“Born to Be Blue” certainly has more music, but the focus is on Chet Baker’s vocals. Though wonderful, again, they are not the whole story or even the most important part of the story. The music world is replete with amazing musicians known mostly for their vocals. Nat King Cole, George Benson, Dianna Krall, even Louis Armstrong fall into this category. Hear their names and you hear their voice, not their instrument.That is a shame, as well as the fact that most of the movie focuses on the “boy meets drugs”, “boy loses drugs” and “boy finds drugs for good” scenario.
All of which begs the question, do all jazz movies need to be depressing? What about the joy and love that our music brings to folks and the dedication of those who have chosen jazz as their profession? Then there are those who perform, write, teach and more. What about them? Maybe those movies would not do well at the box office, but it would be nice to see one movie about jazz that isn’t so sad.