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The New Yorker: Getting Jazz Right in the Movies

Photograph by Daniel McFadden / Sony Pictures Classics / Everett
Photograph by Daniel McFadden / Sony Pictures Classics / Everett

By Richard Brody
 

Movies about musicians offer musical approximations that usually satisfy in inverse proportion to a viewer’s devotion to the actual music behind the story. Few, if any, fictionalized musicians are played onscreen by real-life musicians of their calibre. (Dexter Gordon, in “’Round Midnight,” is perhaps the best; Jackie McLean and Freddie Redd, in “The Connection,” don’t do as much acting, but their music is brilliant.) Most good music in movies is played by musicians playing themselves, whether it’s Little Richard in “The Girl Can’t Help It,” Louis Armstrong and Lionel Hampton in “A Song Is Born,” the Rolling Stones in “Sympathy for the Devil,” or Artur Rubinstein in “Carnegie Hall.” Yet I’m not bothered by musical approximations and allusions in dramas, as long as the drama itself has the spirit of music. The mediocre jazz in Damien Chazelle’s new film, “Whiplash,” the story (set in the present day) of a young drummer (Miles Teller) under the brutal tutelage of a conservatory professor (J. K. Simmons), isn’t itself a problem.

Source: The New Yorker

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