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JazzTimes 10: Jazz on Film

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

3. Black and Tan (1929)
The Duke Ellington band played jams longer than this 19-minute film, but it unfurls like one of his greatest concertos. It’s also perhaps the prime visual touchstone of the Harlem Renaissance, the Duke’s celluloid assertion that “we are here, we are not going anywhere, we make art to change the world.” It’s also kind of like Powell and Pressburger’s The Red Shoes, in which a ballerina dances herself to death. Only here that “ballerina” is Ellington’s pretend wife, who loves her man, has a heart condition, but can’t stop dancing to his music. Thus she collapses at a club rocking out to “Cotton Club Stomp”—which begs the question, “Exactly how is one not supposed to dance hard to ‘Cotton Club Stomp’?”—and then succumbs for good to Duke’s new one, “Black and Tan Fantasy,” which he’s rehearsing in his apartment with his bandmates. Lovely way to go, I suppose, if there is one.

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Originally Published

Colin Fleming

Colin Fleming writes fiction and nonfiction on myriad topics—art, film, music, sports, literature, current events—for a wide range of publications, and talks regularly on radio and podcasts. His most recent books are an entry in the 33 1/3 series on Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963, a volume about the 1951 film Scrooge as the ultimate work of cinematic terror, and the story collection, If You [ ]: Fabula, Fantasy, F**kery, Hope. Find him on the web at colinfleminglit.com (where he maintains the unique online journal, the Many Moments More blog) and on Twitter @colinfleminglit. He lives in Boston and has contributed to JazzTimes since 2006.