Though this is definitely not a complete list of movies and films about jazz, this is what I have seen and recommend personally to anyone loving jazz music. It can always be debatable to what extent the story about the life of musician is reflecting the reality (fiction vs non-fiction), but still it gives you a good insight into the jazz world and behind the scene area.
Bird – 1988
A movie about one of the greatest jazz musicians – saxophone players – Charlie Parker. Little movie trailer available here.
This movie is not a biographic story of one particular musician, but it is story about Bleek following him through his childhood years when he was forced to play trompet while his friends were playing games outside till his adulthood, when he becomes a professional jazz musician and goes through all kinds of challenges.
Denzel Washington is playing the main role.
Here is the tune ‚Mo Better Blues“ as an episode from this movie.
Jazz – 2001
If I have to name the best, most comprehensive, educational film about jazz, then my choice is this Ken Burns‘ film Jazz. A series of 10 films in a chronological order takes you through the jazz from its very beginnings back in the 18th century during the age of slavery up to the modern times giving an excellent insight into the birth of jazz and its continuous development. I like that the musicians here are shown not only as individual artists but as a part of the time they were living in and all the socio, economic and political context within which they lived and formed their art and expressed their ideas through music.
Here you can get a taster. Also, it was a true pleasure to find Wynton Marsalis as an excellent jazz story teller and interpretator and, I would even say, historian of jazz.
Lady Sings the Blues – 1972
This movie is a biographic story about Billie Holiday, legendary blues singer, the rise and fall of her career. Her late childhood, stint as a prostitute, early tours, marriages and drug addiction are featured. Billie Holiday was played by Diana Ross, who herself is a singer.
Here Lady Billie sings the blues.
Kansas city, Robert Altman, 1996
The story line of this movie has not much to do with jazz therefore at least to me it was a bit difficult to watch this movie. However, there is always jazz in the background featuring such great players as Joshua Redman, for example. An episode from the movie is here.
Round Midnight, 1986
This is also probably one of my favorite jazz movies, where Dexter Gordon, one of my favorite sax players, is playing the main role. Extremely real visualization of musician’s life on and behind the scene. Here is a trailer of this movie.
„John Coltrane is easily one of the key innovators, visionaries, and virtuosos of American Jazz. Coltrane’s spiritually influenced and challenging music not only turned the jazz world upside down in the 1960s, but directly impacted all modern music for decades to follow. It is this relationship between music and spirituality that is the core of John Coltrane: The World According to John Coltrane. Produced with his wife’s cooperation, The World According to John Coltrane is truly a heartfelt documentary on his work and influence on the music community. The bulk of the 60-minute documentary focuses on Coltrane’s eastern spirituality/musical direction in the 1960s as told through the voices of friends, fellow musicians, and admirers. Perhaps the most impressive aspects of this documentary are its live footage clips. Listening to Coltrane is extremely powerful, but watching him pour his heart and soul into his sax is absolutely awe-inspiring. These clips will leave you yearning to see the entire performances, unedited.“
The Glenn Miller Story – 1954
This is a biography of Glenn Miller and many episodes are authentic performances of Glenn Miller and his big band. This movie comparing to other jazz movies seem to me a bit too ‚white‘, but maybe it is just normal as the white-black aspect was always part of the jazz world.
A bit of this movie can be seen here.
Rhapsody in Blue – 1945
this is a sort of biographic film about George Gershwin which highlights his striving for success and the line of relationship with a singer Julie.