Music, Movies, Meanings and Markets: Cinemajazzamatazz. By Morris B. Holbrook. (Routledge Interpretive Marketing Research, 14.) New York: Routledge, 2011. [xxiv, 382 p. ISBN 9780415893138. $125.] Bibliography.
The eminent consumer psychologist-jazz pianist Morris Holbrook has given us a wonderful new book that not only informs and entertains, but also philosophizes and criticizes the several roles of jazz in the movies. This book should be in every library. It is a multipurpose work that will appeal to a number of different audiences:
*readers seeking a reference work that catalogs most of the movies that have either had jazz musicians as the subject or had jazz as an important on-screen presence;
*readers interested in the back stories of jazz movies;
*jazz historians and media scholars investigating trends in the image of jazz that has been portrayed by cinema and television;
*philosophically minded readers intrigued by the tension between art and commerce;
*jazz fans who may enjoy learning the personal pleasures and gripes of a fellow jazz fan who is particularly insightful and articulate;
*film makers and journalists who are fascinated by discrepancies between the intents of script writers and movie directors, and their works' effects on viewers;
*American literature students examining how themes such as the American Dream of Horatio Alger are used in biopics;
*readers seeking a compact explication for the psychology of background music;
*jazz buffs who like movies;
*movie buffs who like jazz.
As jazz fans well know, most movies about musicians have been weak. In fact, most attempts to portray jazz musicians have been disastrous, even in the hands of such esteemed directors as Martin Scorsese (New York, New York), Robert Altman (Kansas City), and Clint Eastwood (Bird ). Holly - wood ordinarily takes a few dramatic moments in a musician's life, such as tragedies and romances, and then revolves most of the movie about those incidents, instead of addressing more representative aspects of the artist's creativity. Moreover, the scripts that Hollywood selects are usually laughable. It is a shame that young musicians, especially those who may become jazz players, learn about the world of jazz by such accounts.
These facts raise important questions. If we are usually disappointed by jazz movies, why bother seeing any films about musicians? More importantly, why would anyone write an entire book about them? The answer to the first question is that jazz fans thirst for any taste they can get of the music and any tidbits of insight into its players and the world they inhabit. They are compelled to see every new movie about jazz and every film reputed to have any jazz in it. They clutch at every opportunity because jazz is rarely presented on television or cinema.
Holbrook's book offers multiple answers to the second question. First, the bad ones warrant being criticized. In fact, his book offers criticisms of the disasters with insightful commentaries that are often hilarious. Some are so entertaining that that they could have been published in The New Yorker or Vanity Fair. Second, Holbrook actually enjoys a few of the movies that are about jazz. For example, he appreciates, on a number of levels, the remake of High Society that features Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong, finding that it offers a casual introduction to jazz in the context of a romance. Third, he finds legitimacy in some movie accounts of jazz lives. For instance, The Benny Goodman Story is mostly true, and it has good footage of the historic musicians. The film The Five Pennies honors Red Nichols, a neglected trumpeter-bandleader of the 1920s, and his combo. Paris Blues clearly portrays the philosophical tension between art and commerce.
Among the wide assortment of offerings contained in Holbrook's book is a fortypage chapter that provides an elaborate background for the song "My Funny Valentine. …