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10 great films about jazz

Jochen Kürten eg
June 7, 2017

As the film "Born to Be Blue," based on Chet Baker's life, opens in Germany, here are 10 movies that have captured the true essence of jazz.

Film still - Born to be Blue with Ethan Hawke
Image: Alamode Film

The first feature film with a soundtrack to be released commercially was "The Jazz Singer," in October 1927. At the time, it was a sensation to hear the voice of the lead actor of the film, Al Jolson, right when he moved his lips. The recorded music score was also a new phenomenon. Until then, silent films were accompanied by live orchestras.

The history of different jazz styles in film

In "The Jazz Singer," Al Jonson depicts a Jewish singer who defies his family's traditions to follow his aspirations and become a Broadway star.

USA Theater Schauspiel Al Jolson als der Jazz-Sänger Minstrelshow
Al Jonson in "The Jazz Singer," the first feature-length film with a musical soundtrackImage: picture-alliance/akg

Addressing not only the conflicts between traditional values and modernity, the 1927 film also deals with the clashes between those who believe music should be restricted to religious purposes and those who want to entertain with it - reflecting debates that still exist to this day.

In the Oscar-winning film "La La Land," the struggling jazz pianist Sebastian Wilder (Ryan Gosling) has to position himself between classic jazz and the more popular genres that emerged from those standards later on.

The Netflix series "The Get Down" also portrays the conflict between an aspiring musician and her religious father. Those issues were already covered in "The Jazz Singer."

Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker in 'Born to Be Blue'

Later on, filmmakers started exploring the lives of jazz greats, whether in documentary films or motion pictures.

"Born to Be Blue," which now opens in German cinemas, is only the most recent one. In many cases, these films combine a strong soundtrack and cinematic aesthetics, pleasing both movie and music lovers. 

Whether Forest Whitaker as Charlie Parker in Clint Eastwood's "Bird," Dexter Gordon in Bertrand Tavernier's captivating film "Round Midnight" or Ethan Hawke as Chet Baker in "Born to be Blue," these films transmit the true spirit of jazz onto the big screen.

Click through the gallery above to discover more films that do so.


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