Film & TelevisionMusic

Five Jazz Musicians with Interesting Stories in Documentary Films 


Music lovers and film buffs all over the world consider this month of April  as special because annually it is celebrated as Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM). So, we jam, naturally.

To be sure, this is one month that’s recognised by public law. Records show that it was launched by the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History in April 2002 to preserve the music legacy of some of the world’s most iconic singers in the genre.


As you wonder what to do to ease off the stress of daily living, you may want to include the following jazz musicians in your list of music documentaries to see this month. You will gain insight into the culture and temperament of the period that they lived and hopefully, you’ll appreciate jazz a little more than you do now.


Ella Fitzgerald 

Ella Fitzgerald
Credit: Getty Images

In 1958, Fitzgerald made history as the first African American woman to win a Grammy Award. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammys in total and sold more than 40 million albums. Her multi-volume “songbooks” on Verve Records are among America’s recording treasures.


The 1950s and 1960s were the peak of her critical and commercial success and she earned the moniker “First Lady of Song” for her mainstream popularity and unparalleled vocal talents. Her unique ability to mimic instrumental sounds popularised the vocal improvisation of scatting- her signature technique.


Nat King Cole 

Nat King Cole
Credit: All About Jazz


This American musician is regarded as one of the best and most influential pianists and small-group leaders of the swing era. Cole attained his greatest commercial success, however, as a vocalist specialising in warm ballads and light swing.


Cole’s popularity allowed him to become the first African American to host a network variety program, The Nat King Cole Show, which debuted on NBC television in 1956. The show fell victim to the bigotry of the times, however, and was cancelled after one season; few sponsors were willing to be associated with a Black entertainer.


Nina Simone

American Singer, Nina Simone
Credit: Britannica

Nina Simone was a singer, pianist, songwriter, and civil rights activist. Mostly known as a jazz singer, her music blended gospel, blues, folk, pop, and classical styles. No popular singer was more closely associated with the Civil Rights Movement than Simone. Simone took the struggle against racism a little more personal-even at the risk of her life and career.


Billie Holiday

Jazz singer, Billie Holiday performs at the Club
Downbeat 1947 in New York City, New York.
(Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Holiday enjoyed mainstream success on labels such as Columbia and Decca. By the late 1940s, however, she was beset with legal troubles and drug abuse. After a short prison sentence, she performed at a sold-out concert at Carnegie Hall. She was a successful concert performer throughout the 1950s with two further sold-out shows at Carnegie Hall. Owing to her personal struggles and an altered voice, her final recordings were met with mixed reaction but were mild commercial successes. Her final album, Lady in Satin, was released in 1958. Eventually, Holiday died of heart failure on July 17, 1959, at age 44. 


Louis Armstrong 

Louis Armstrong
Credit: Britannica


Armstrong was one of the first popular African-American entertainers to “cross over” to wide popularity with White and international audiences. He rarely publicly discussed racial issues, to the dismay of fellow African Americans, but took a well-publicised stand for desegregation in the Little Rock crisis. He was able to access the upper echelons of American society at a time when this was difficult for Black men. 


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