PERFORMING ARTS

Play the Way You Feel: The Essential Guide to Jazz Stories on Film

Oxford Univ. May 2020. 392p. ISBN 9780190847579. $34.95. F
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This unusual guide takes a tour through almost 100 years of films that incorporate jazz. A critic for NPR’s Fresh Air, Whitehead (Why Jazz? A Concise Guide) has an at times overwhelming encyclopedic knowledge; some of the film summaries feel as long as the films themselves. Yet readers who keep going will be rewarded by insights from an author of discerning taste with a deep understanding of his subject, who yields fresh perspectives on even well-known films. It’s less a guide on what to watch than why, with commentary on musical, cultural, and racial politics. As jazz music itself has waxed and waned in the cultural consciousness, it has been the subject of detailed biopics, a catchphrase for music that was seen as anything but (The Jazz Singer is a case in point), background music used to set a mood (Whitehead has some things to say on how it came to serve as a proxy for the seedy and underground), and a vehicle for metaanalysis (the discussion of the recent Miles Ahead is a notable example).
VERDICT Jazz fans will find much of interest

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