Amazon Prime Video and Netflix each put out some of these sweet little historical romances that flew under the radar last year. Though I guess “sweet” isn’t what you immediately think of about a “romance” set in the Jim Crow south. But A Jazzman’s Blues (2022) does manage to be wistfully sweet, without cloying, while addressing some of the realistic problems that such a romance might encounter in that time period.
The movie was a passion project for writer-director Tyler Perry, who made millions with the broad comedies of his Madea franchise and created his own film production studio in Atlanta. He first wrote the screenplay in 1995, and told CNN that the themes reflect things he’s experienced:
“When I started writing Bayou’s character, played by Joshua Boone, his father despised him [and it] kind of took me to my own father and and some of the problems that my father had with me is because I was a brown child. His favorite child was they very fair child. My father grew up in the Jim Crow south and they do it a whole lot of things. So there was this mentality of the lighter your skin, the better you were and that lived on and still lives on today.”
That sets the tone for the story, which opens with a murder cold-case in 1987 and quickly flashes back to the 1930s. There isn’t a huge mystery to unfold for the audience, but the way it happens is lovely to watch none-the-less. Joshua Boone as Bayou is all heart and can’t help but immediately fall for Leanne as played by Solea Pfeiffer. Behind everyone stands his mother, Hattie Mae (Amirah Vann), who elevates the cliche of “strong Black woman” with her humor and sultry jazz.
The title is almost a misnomer, because it’s more of a jazz woman’s blues that we get up-close with throughout the movie. The soundtrack features Amirah Vann as much as Joshua Boone, and I found her songs far more bluesy and catchy than his. The scenes at Hattie Mae’s juke joint are terrific fun with the whole crowd dancing, and a good contrast to Bayou’s performance at a Chicago nightclub for a whites-only audience.
The costumes by Karyn Wagner, who also designed Underground (2016-17), are appropriately simple but do have nice period details. The prints on Leanne’s outfits in the early part of the film are particularly charming and feel right for the ’30s.
Ten years later, Leanne wears more ladylike suits, hats, and gloves that show her change in status.
Bayou’s big brother Willie Earl (Austin Scott) returns home wearing a flashy zoot suit, since he’s a big-city big shot with a big problem.
And there’s even a little bit of a ’40s floorshow.
Have you tuned in to A Jazzman’s Blues on Netflix?