JazzTimes 10: Jazz on Film

Ten great examples of what happens when jazz goes to the movies—and the movies go to jazz

10. Jam Session (1942)
It’s three minutes long, and if you wished to be sardonic, you could say that its title is oxymoronic. But as Anton Chekhov knew—and certainly Duke Ellington too—there are all kinds of ways in this world for something to be long, well beyond the temporal. Emotionally long, spiritually long, packed and deep. This is all of that. In those three minutes, we see the Duke, Ray Nance, Rex Stewart, Ben Webster, Joe Nanton, Barney Bigard, and Sonny Greer—oh, is that all?—performing “C Jam Blues.” Ellington’s stabbing—but softly stabbing—piano notes take possession of you before the title cards have even been gotten out of the way. The musicians assemble as the music plays, then each gets a cut-in to feature them, with their name on the screen, music and image now synched—well, sometimes. Drummer Greer’s closeup is my favorite part, with body movements and music not in time but conjoined in some larger sense, like we are, as watchers, as listeners, of this film. The jazz movie dance—it never moved freer.

Originally Published

Colin Fleming

Colin Fleming writes fiction and nonfiction on myriad topics—art, film, music, sports, literature—for a wide range of publications. He also talks regularly on the radio for the likes of NPR and Downtown with Rich Kimball. His most recent book, Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls (Tailwinds), was published in 2019, with an entry in Bloomsbury’s 33 1/3 series on Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club to follow in 2020. Find him on the web at colinfleminglit.com (where you’ll also find his unique online journal, the Many Moments More blog) and on Twitter @colinfleminglit. He lives in Boston and has contributed to JazzTimes since 2006.