Jazz in Film Music – Pt.2


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jazz in film music

Cover Photo by Donald Giannatti

Jazzing Up the Screen: Jazz in Film

Few genres of music capture the raw energy and soul of human experience quite like jazz. With its improvisational nature, infectious rhythms, and captivating melodies, jazz has long captivated audiences worldwide. It’s no surprise then that this vibrant musical style has found its way onto the silver screen, enriching films with its unique energy and contributing to unforgettable cinematic moments.

“Its improvisational nature allows it to respond to the action on screen, creating a sense of immediacy and spontaneity.”

From Silent Films to Modern Masterpieces:

Jazz’s presence in cinema dates back to the silent film era, where ragtime and early jazz scores provided lively accompaniment to the action on screen. Films like “The Jazz Singer” (1927), featuring Al Jolson’s iconic performance, ushered in a new era of sound and solidified jazz’s place in film history.

Throughout the decades, jazz continued to flourish in cinema, evolving alongside the art form itself. From the swinging big band sounds of “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952) and “Guys and Dolls” (1955) to the cool and introspective jazz of “Round Midnight” (1986) and “Bird” (1988), jazz has provided the perfect soundtrack to countless stories and emotions.

Singing In The Rain – Thilo Wolf Big Band feat. Gaines Hall and Swing Sisters

Depth and Emotion

More than just providing background music, jazz often plays a vital role in shaping the narrative and character development in films. Its improvisational nature allows it to respond to the action on screen, creating a sense of immediacy and spontaneity. Additionally, the diverse range of emotions expressed through jazz music can add depth and complexity to characters and their relationships.

Casablanca (1942)

Dooley Wilson’s soulful rendition of “As Time Goes By” has become synonymous with the film’s timeless romance and bittersweet ending.

Truck Turner (1974)

The Groovy Sounds of Jazz in 70s and 80s Hollywood Films – The 1970s and 1980s were a golden age for film music, and jazz played a significant role in shaping the sound of the era. From the cool, laid-back sounds of blaxploitation films to the high-energy scores of action movies, jazz added a touch of sophistication and excitement to countless Hollywood productions. Films like “Shaft” (1971), “Super Fly” (1972), and “Truck Turner” (1974) featured powerful and funky jazz scores. These scores often incorporated elements of funk, soul, and R&B, creating a new and exciting hybrid sound that was unlike anything heard before. Composers like Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye, and Curtis Mayfield became household names, thanks to their work on these iconic films.

Annie Hall (1977)

Jazz also found its way into romantic comedies and dramas throughout the 70s and 80s. Films like “Annie Hall” (1977) and “When Harry Met Sally…” (1989) featured sophisticated jazz scores that added a touch of elegance and charm to the narratives.

Malcom X (1992)

With its strong sustained notes in the strings, an underlying repetition of brass ostinato, and a conversational counterpoint, this piece is such a gem for studying various theory concepts. Composed by *Terrence Blanchard.

*To explore additional compositions by Terence Blanchard, check out our recent article, ‘Jazz in Film – Terence Blanchard,’

Whiplash (2014)

Justin Hurwitz’s electrifying score, featuring intense drumming and driving rhythms, flawlessly complements the film’s relentless pursuit of perfection and the emotional toll it takes on its characters. It’s a thrilling musical ride that leaves you on the edge of your seat, heart pounding in sync with the relentless rhythm.

La La Land (2016)

Damien Chazelle’s modern tribute to classic Hollywood musicals features a stunning original score by Justin Hurwitz that blends traditional jazz styles with contemporary pop influences, resulting in a vibrant and unforgettable musical experience. Hurwitz’s score perfectly complements the film’s narrative, seamlessly blending elements of jazz, pop, and classical music. The result is a soundtrack that is both nostalgic and contemporary, transporting listeners to a world of romance and ambition.