It takes no great research pains to find out that Woody Allen loves jazz. He scores most of his movies with the music, never failing to include it at least under their signature simple black-and-white opening titles. He has worked jazz as a theme into some of the films themselves, most notably Sweet and Lowdown, the story of a dissolute 1930s jazz guitarist who heads for Hollywood. He plays the clarinet himself, touring with his jazz band as seen in the documentary Wild Man Blues. He makes no secret of his admiration for fellow clarinetist (and also saxophonist) Sidney Bechet, after whom he named one of his daughters.
Allen has publicly discussed a dream project called American Blues, a movie about the very beginning of jazz in New Orleans seen through the careers of Bechet and Louis Armstrong. He acknowledges that a story of that scale would require a far larger budget than the more modest films he makes just about every year, and so, in light of the unlikelihood of his commanding that budget, he has evidently contented himself with infusing the work that does come out with as much jazz as possible. You can hear almost two and a half hours of it in the Youtube playlist at the top of this post, which includes cuts from not just Bechet and Armstrong but from Tommy Dorsey, Billie Holiday, Django Reinhardt, Glenn Miller, Lester Young, Jelly Roll Morton, and many other respected players from prewar and wartime America. You can find a list of the songs featured in the jazz playlist, complete with timestamps, in the blurb beneath this YouTube clip.
Even apart from what film scholars would call the non-diegetic jazz in Allen’s pictures (i.e., the jazz we hear on the score, but the characters themselves presumably don’t) he also includes some diegetic jazz, as in the ending of Stardust Memories, when Allen’s character puts on a Louis Armstrong record. And isn’t now just the right time to revisit the sequence from Midnight in Paris just above, a montage celebrating life in the City of Lights set to Sidney Bechet’s “Si tu vois ma mère”? After that, have a look at the clip below, in which the man himself plays with the Woody Allen and Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band at New York’s Cafe Carlyle — where you can catch them every Monday night through December 14th.
Colin Marshall writes elsewhere on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, and the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future? Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.