Jazz joy at the Oscars but disappointment along the way

JK Simmons 'Best Supporting Actor'

Jazz scored movies Birdman and Whiplash share Oscar wins but not without their own controversies.

‘Birdman’ was the big winner at last nights 87th Academy Awards in Los Angeles. The film stars Michael Keaton as a former blockbuster action movie star trying to restore credibility to his career with a Broadway play whilst plagued by his alter-ego and character, Birdman.

Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu it’s notable for appearing to be shot with one continuous scene throughout nearly all of the movie. It’s also a winner for jazz as prominent throughout the movie is the improvised solo drumming of Mexican jazz drummer Antonio Sanchez. Sanchez has played extensively with Pat Metheny as well as a leader in his own right. His recent album ‘Three Times Three’ has received much attention on Chris Philips’ The Blueprint and Mike Chadwick’s The Cutting Edge on Jazz FM. 

The ‘Birdman’ soundtrack, although widely lauded, was not without controversy though. Sanchez was saddened that the Academy disqualified it’s inclusion in the awards. Sanchez said, “It was an honour to work on this wonderful film and collaborate with a brilliant director like Alejandro González Iñárritu on ‘Birdman.’ I’m deeply disappointed that the music branch of the Academy did not recognize my score as eligible, even after receiving a detailed cue sheet, a letter from the president of music at Fox studios, and a description of the process from both Alejandro and myself."

“The disqualification seems to stem from the perception that my score was diluted by the incidental music on the film. I strongly disagree with this idea. The music that people remember after watching the movie is the sound, originality, character, and strength of my score, which seems to be the reason it continues to receive attention, nominations, and awards, which I’m deeply humbled by. Some of the finest composers are members of the Academy, and I’m saddened my score didn’t resonate with the decision makers.”

Jazz drumming was also the subject of the first Oscar handed out during the evening for actor JK Simmons’ Best Supporting Actor role in ‘Whiplash’. Simmons plays a sadistic music teacher who bullies a talented student, played by Miles Teller, who aspires to be a great jazz drummer. 

This film has also been the subject of some controversy, rejected by some elements of the jazz musician community who believe it portrays the teaching of jazz as a joyless experience, far from the truth. However Jon Newey, editor of Jazzwise Magazine points out, “it’s about bullying, not jazz. Jazz’s portrayal in the film is a little frustrating... I hope it doesn’t put people off because jazz has a tough enough fight as it is. We’re always trying to get young people in.”

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