Jazz-Experts: Please help me find great Jazz music in movies!
January 27, 2008 12:59 PM   Subscribe

So, let's just assume I got an internship for this small radio station and I want to start a segment introducing listeners to great Jazz music in movies - can be both specifically written/performed for the particular movie or a song/track that existed previously and was used prominently in the movie.

What I am looking for are of course examples that stand out or even better are associated with the movie. Forgive my lack of English and my poor knowledge, but here are just two rather obvious examples: "As time goes by" in Casablanca and the songs of Nat King Cole in In The Mood for Love.

So it can be any style as long as it can be loosely associated with the genre jazz. Bonus points for recommending any search engine or other internet resource that could help me with this task. IMDB for example does not really help here. Thanks!
posted by waldlaeufer to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Laura is a standard which originated in the film of the same name.
posted by ludwig_van at 1:07 PM on January 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Anatomy of a Murder. Duke Ellington Orchestra, Billy Strayhorn composed the score. Great movie, great soundtrack.
posted by Divine_Wino at 1:15 PM on January 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil...Great soundtrack with a mixture of jazz staple names and some of the actors playing in the movie crooning a few. Surprising level of musical technicality and sincerity.

Sideways....Soundtrack by Rolfe Kent was written for the movie. Great job of creating the tone of the movie with this music. When I want to feel as I did while watching the movie Sideways, the soundtrack can readily transport me. Sideways soundtrack is also a great CD to listen to at work. Not distracting but a creative energy with some of the songs. Best of luck.
posted by boots77 at 1:47 PM on January 27, 2008

Here ya go.

Also, keep in mind that many many jazz standards were written for Broadway shows and then used in a variety of Hollywood films later. Some songs appear in key scenes in numerous films, for example, the Gershwins wrote I Got Rhythm for Girl Crazy on Broadway in 1930. It was originally sung onstage by Ethel Merman and made her famous. Girl Crazy was made into a 1932 RKO film, and then in 1945 it was remade again by MGM. This time the song was sung by Judy Garland. Then later it was sung by Gene Kelly in American in Paris as well as other films. These songs were really recorded and rerecorded and used. Because they were great.

Basically, a great jazz song is like a really solid musical blueprint, it gives a lot to work with to build a house. You're given chords and a melody and lyrics, but the different musicians, tempo, style and context will turn the same song into a completely different one. So they are very adaptable, and there was positive audience recognition with using the great standards. That's why Gene Kelly fought to have An American in Paris be an all-Gershwin score... even though the songs were all familiar to the audience, they were performed in totally new context that fueled the dance scenes. It was a big risk for Gene Kelly to make that film and the Gershwin songs were really important to help it pay off and give an all-dance film credibility.

Okay, I'll stop babbling now. I can go on about this junk.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:05 PM on January 27, 2008

BTW, you should utilize jazzstandards.com to help you research your songs. And if you do a little googling, you'll find further evidence of things like I said above... for example, As Time Goes By was actually written by Herman Hupfeld for the 1931 musical "Everybody's Welcome." Then it was recorded by Rudy Vallee. Then in 1942 it was in Casablanca sung by Dooley Wilson.
posted by miss lynnster at 2:13 PM on January 27, 2008

Jerry Goldsmith – Love Theme from Chinatown
posted by martinrebas at 2:25 PM on January 27, 2008

Miss Lynnster for the win. :-)
posted by mykescipark at 2:33 PM on January 27, 2008

Woody Allen's Radio Days is set in 1940s America and the story revolves around the radio music and personalities of the time. As such, it has some wonderful jazz songs including (from memory, there are many more) Ellington's Never No Lament and Benny Goodman's Goodbye, both brilliant big band jazz songs.

I'll second mykescipark's Ascenseur pour l'echafaud. Miles Davis wrote the score, and though they aren't recognisable standards, the music is wonderfully moody, evocative film noir jazz.

The episode of the Simpsons when Mr Burns woos Grandma Simpson has them dancing to Goodman's Sing Sing Sing, but I don't know if cartoons count for you.

Louis Armstrong's Hello Dolly, surprisingly enough, is from the Broadway musical of the same name. His What A Wonderful World has also been in countless movies.
posted by twirlypen at 3:00 PM on January 27, 2008

I think you also should be careful about calling some songs jazz standards that aren't, though. For example, What a Wonderful World was written in 1967 and was never considered a standard. It was more of a pop song performed a jazz great. It was used in films like Good Morning Vietnam twenty years later, but it wasn't written for a film.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:33 PM on January 27, 2008

OOOOOOF! I linked incorrectly above! Here's the song listing on jazzstandards.com.
posted by miss lynnster at 3:42 PM on January 27, 2008

I confess I haven't seen the movie, but thirding Ascenseur pour l'echafaud from a music standpoint.
posted by juv3nal at 5:12 PM on January 27, 2008

Nthing Ascenseur, and Anatomy of a Murder, for sure.

Soul-jazz organist Charles Earland did the Dynamite Brothers soundtrack, and Herbie Hancock did the score for the first Death Wish movie. There's that Black Orpheus movie, where Antonio Carlos Jobim did the soundtrack, and then Vince Guaraldi, among others, recorded albums that were inspired by the movie.
posted by box at 6:39 PM on January 27, 2008

I'm not a jazz expert, so some of this may not qualify - but I know about movies.

Jacques Demy's 1960s musicals The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort have great jazzy scores by Michel Legrand. Maybe that's too French.

The films of Michael Mann often have popular jazz songs on their soundtracks.

I also heartily second the recommendation of Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows.

Also, here are the hyper-simplified program notes for the "Jazz Cinema" series the film society I work for did a few years ago. I didn't see any of the films, but some of them may fit the bill:

I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Rascal You (1932, Dave Fleisher)
Bettie Boop cartoon with Louis Armstrong.

Stormy Weather (1943, Andrew L. Stone)
Hollywood musical with all-black cast.

St. Louis Blues (1929, Dudley Murphy)
Short film featuring Bessie Smith song of the same name.

St. Louis Blues (1958, Alan Reisner)
Nat King Cole plays the turn-of-the-century blues musician and composer W.C. Handy. Cast includes Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Eartha Kitt, and Mahalia Jackson.

Boogie Doodle (1951, Norman McLaren)
Animated experimental film to music by Albert Ammons.

The Sweet Smell of Success (1957, Alexander MacKendrick)
Film noir with jazz score by the Chico Hamilton quintet.

Short and Suite (1959, Norman McLaren)
Another animated short, this time with music by Eldon Rathburn.

The previously-mentioned Elevator to the Gallows.

Begone Dull Care (1949, Norman McLaren)
Another McLaren short, music by the Oscar Peterson Trio.

Shadows (1959, John Cassavetes)
Soundtrack by Charles Mingus.

Round Midnight (1986, Bertrand Tavernier)
Soundtrack by Herbie Hancock and others.

Let's Get Lost (1989, Bruce Weber)
Biopic about Chet Baker, featuring lots of his music.

Minnie the Moocher, The Old Man of the Mountains, and Snow White (1931-3, Dave Fleischer)
More Betty Boop, with music by Cab Calloway.

A Great Day in Harlem (1994, Jean Bach)
posted by bubukaba at 8:52 PM on January 27, 2008

Robert Altman's Kansas City? The soundtrack to this film is about the only thing I remember, plus one outstanding scene featuring dueling saxophones.
posted by Rewind at 7:08 AM on January 28, 2008

The German art house movie Mostly Martha (recently remade by Hollywood as No Reservations) has a superb soundtrack largely drawn from the work of legendary jazz pianist Keith Jarrett.

The soundtrack for the movie was never released as a CD, but you can find the album attributions for all the tracks used on this Amazon Listmania list.
posted by worldshift at 9:09 AM on January 28, 2008

Response by poster: thanks a lot for all the great suggestions!
posted by waldlaeufer at 6:36 AM on February 3, 2008

« Older Photo Sites That Will Do the Mailing?   |   Did Ferraro cry? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.