In 1987, a stack of letters is delivered to a state attorney general containing possible evidence in the long-unsolved murder case of Bayou. We then flashback to 1937 Hopewell, Georgia, where Bayou first meets and falls in love with Bucket aka Leanne. However, Leanne’s relatives forbid the relationship and when the couple meet again years later, Bayou has become a successful song-and-dance sensation and Leanne married another man…a white man. Their desire is reignited. But, as they conspire to escape and run away together, dangerous secrets from their past threaten to destroy the relationship permanently.
Hands down, this is Tyler Perry’s best cinematic effort to date, It’s a sweeping epic shot through with romance, danger and tragedy, providing a distant departure from the comedic landscape that catapulted Perry to fame. Written over 25 years ago, one recognizes the many elements that would later serve as trademarks for his unique brand of filmmaking, while drawing on his passion for illuminating the Black American experience by applying a fresh, ambitious gaze. A Jazzman’s Blues definitely marks the beginning of his next chapter of storytelling.
The production value of this piece is absolutely breathtaking. Aside from Terence Blanchard’s score, Brett Pawlak’s cinematography draws you into the deep south backwoods of Georgia with every frame . Coupled with Karyn Wagner’s costumes and Sharon Busse’s production design, this film is a visually stunning feast.
At the core of this story is the taboo subject of passing within the Black community. It was believed if your skin tone were lighter than a brown paper bag, passing for white would allow one to live the privileged life not afforded to someone of color. Solea Pfeiffer as Leanne is as beguiling as she is beautiful and her chemistry with Joshua Boone as Bayou is fire! However it s Austin Scott (Willie), Amirah Vann (Hattie) and Lana Young (Ethel) who steal the show. Austin Scott’s portrayal of the insecure, jealous sibling is bananas. He engulfs the screen each time his character arrives on the screen.
Yet, it was not lost on me lines like, “…why does everybody think that white men are racist. I just don’t think it’s fair,” which just illustrates how the white race during that period of time and beyond continue to justify their hatred based solely on the color of one’s skin. Or in a scene with Bayou and Willie’s manager played by Ryan Eggold where they discuss how the Jews and Black have the same plight of being unjustly discriminated against and treated less than human.
A Jazzman’s Blues ebbs and flows in just the right spaces and places leaving fans of this filmmaker wondering what rabbit he will pull out of the box next. It’s a deep one y’all, but if you stay open to the journey, I promise it will be well worth the ride.