Dec 3, 2010
I'm two days late with my wishes, but Woody Allen just celebrated his 75th birthday. Other than Clint Eastwood, filmmaker and musician Allen has done more for jazz music in film than any modern director. No Allen film seems complete without classic jazz tunes (many from his personal collection) playing in the background or being part of the plot line. Click here for a wonderful article detailing twelve of the best tunes featured in Woody Allen films.
His 1999 film Sweet and Lowdown is one of the few comedies to feature a jazz musician as the center of attention, as Sean Penn starred as a struggling but immensely talented guitarist in the 1930's. The film took almost 30 years to reach fruition, as Allen had originally come up with the idea after his first film, Take the Money and Run. Originally titled "The Jazz Baby", it was a historical drama rather than a wild comedy. Considering the work too ambitious at the time, Allen shelved it. He revived the project in 1998, re-writing the script, taking away some of the darker aspects of the film, and casting Penn in the lead (Johnny Depp turned down the role, being involved in other films). Penn and Samantha Morton earned Academy Award nominations for their roles.
Award winning documentarian Barbara Kopple recorded Allen's musical tour of Europe with his New Orleans-style jazz band in 1996 in the film Wild Man Blues. While not always a flattering portrait of Allen ( that flap over his domestic issues had not yet blown over at the time), there are some wonderful segments of Allen discussing music and playing his clarinet.
Allen featured Duke Ellington's "Take the 'A' Train" in his homage to the 1940's, Radio Days. This version is the 1941 studio take, featuring Ellington on piano, leading a 15-piece band featuring Ray Nance (trumpet), Jimmy Blanton (bass), and Sonny Greer (drums). The song, of course, was written by Ellington's favorite collaborator, Billy Strayhorn.