The Best Documentaries about Jazz that will Get your Soul Grooving

Jan. 1, 2023

Jazz is a genre of music that has had a profound impact on popular culture and the arts for over a century. Its roots can be traced back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when it emerged from a fusion of African American and European musical traditions. Since then, it has evolved and diversified, incorporating elements from a wide range of musical styles and influencing the development of numerous other genres.


Deeper Into the Jazz

Documentaries about jazz offer an opportunity to learn about this rich and complex history, and to gain a deeper appreciation for the music and the musicians who have shaped it. These films often feature interviews with some of the most important figures in jazz history, as well as performances of some of the most iconic pieces of music in the genre. They provide an intimate and personal look at the lives and careers of these musicians, and offer insight into the creative process and the challenges they faced in their work.

In addition to providing an educational and entertaining experience, jazz documentaries can also be a source of inspiration and motivation for aspiring musicians and music fans. The stories of the musicians featured in these films often involve struggles and challenges overcome through hard work and dedication to their craft. These stories can serve as a reminder of the power of passion and perseverance, and can encourage viewers to pursue their own artistic goals and passions.


From Where Did Jazz Emerge?

Furthermore, jazz documentaries can offer a window into the social and cultural context in which the music was created and performed. Jazz has often been associated with resistance and rebellion, and has played a role in social movements such as the civil rights movement. Documentaries about jazz can help to shed light on these connections, and provide insight into the ways in which jazz has been used to express political and social ideas.

Overall, watching documentaries about jazz can be an enriching and educational experience for anyone interested in music, history, or culture. Whether you are a seasoned jazz aficionado or a newcomer to the genre, there is likely to be something of value and interest to be found in these films. They offer an opportunity to delve deeper into the music and the people who have made it, and to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the rich history and enduring influence of jazz.


Which documentaries about Jazz can I watch right now?


A Great Day in Harlem

This documentary tells the story of the famous photograph taken by Art Kane in 1958, which featured 57 of the biggest names in jazz gathered together on a single stoop in Harlem. The film interviews several of the musicians who were present at the photo shoot, including Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, and Quincy Jones, and tells the story of the making of the photograph and its lasting impact on the jazz world. In addition to featuring interviews and performances by the musicians who were present at the photo shoot, the film also includes interviews with Kane's assistants and other people who were involved in the project.


Jazz on a Summer's Day

This documentary captures the excitement and energy of the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, which took place on July 3 and 4 of that year. The film features performances by some of the biggest names in jazz at the time, including Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, and Mahalia Jackson, as well as appearances by other notable musicians such as Chuck Berry and Jackie Wilson. The film is notable for its beautiful cinematography and its ability to capture the laid-back, festive atmosphere of the festival. It also offers a glimpse into the social and cultural context of the time, with scenes of festival-goers enjoying the music and the beautiful setting.


Ken Burns' Jazz

This documentary series, directed by Ken Burns, traces the history of jazz from its roots in African American culture to its present-day status as a global art form. The series features interviews with many of the genre's most important figures, including Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald, as well as performances of some of the most iconic pieces of music in jazz history. The series is structured around a chronological narrative, beginning with the emergence of jazz in the early 20th century and covering key developments and events in the genre's history, such as the rise of swing, the bebop revolution, and the civil rights movement.


Maxine Sullivan: Love to Be In Love

This film is a lyrical film portrait of the once famous, and now, vastly forgotten jazz vocalist Maxine Sullivan. Sullivan won fame in the 1930s with swing interpreations of traditional songs like “Loch Lomond” and “Annie Laurie.” By the late 1930s Sullivan became one of the foremost women in jazz. A black, female vocalist in America, she inspired a generation of young musicians like Ella Fitzgerald. Though largely absent from the jazz scene in the 1950s, she returned to perform in the late 1960s, at one point releasing an album every three months. She never retired and continued to work until her death in 1987.

Bop Apocalypse: Jazz, Race, the Beats, and Drugs

This documentary explores the relationship between jazz, the Beat movement, and the counterculture of the 1950s and 1960s. The film traces the influence of these movements on each other and on American culture as a whole, and examines the role that race and drugs played in shaping their development. The film features interviews with scholars and writers who were part of the Beat movement, as well as musicians who were at the forefront of the jazz scene during this time.


Tiny & Ruby: Hell Divin’ Women

Profiling legendary jazz trumpeter Tiny Davis and her partner of over 40 years, drummer-pianist Ruby Lucas, “Tiny & Ruby: Hell Divin’ Women” interweaves rare jazz recordings, vintage photographs, live performances, and narrative poetry by Cheryl Clarke. The film records Tiny Davis’ contribution to jazz history in an informal, intimate style in which the 78-year-old shows that her chops and humor were both quite intact for the filming of this treasure trove of stories, sounds and images.


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