Jazz Odds & Ends

Jazz and Disney

Jazz and Disney

Disney is associated with many things, including exceptional animation, fantastic amusement parks, and, of course, music. At various times, Disney films, shows, and cartoons have dabbled in practically every music genre, ranging from classical music in Disney movies like Fantasia to hip-hop in Let It Shine to Disney’s theme song “Wish Upon A Star.”

Jazz and Disney have also long gone hand-in-hand, with the genre not just making its way into various films but distinctly playing a role in the overall narrative. Here’s a look at the world of Disney jazz.

When You Wish Upon A Star
Jesse Collins, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Jazz Music in Disney Movies and Cartoons

As mentioned above, music plays a significant role in the world of Disney. Walt Disney was a known fan of the genre, with many stating he was a lifelong lover of jazz.

Since that was the case, it shouldn’t be surprising that there’s been a long connection between jazz music and Disney creations. Whether it’s the ambient music in sections of the Disney parks, jazz songs from Disney movies, or sources of inspiration for animated shorts, jazz played a far greater role in the company’s entertainment development than many people realize.

When it comes to examples of jazz in Disney, there are likely far too many to list. However, some serve as essential highlights, making it easy to see the genre’s impact on the company. Here are some of the best examples of jazz music in Disney movies and cartoons.

Walt Disney with Mickey Mouse drawing
Harris & Ewing, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Soul is an Academy Award-winning film that tells the story of Joe Gardner, a jazz pianist. The score features an array of original jazz songs that don’t just entertain and entrance the audience; they also play a critical role in the broader story. The movie secured the Oscar for Best Original Score, and most who’ve watched the film would adamantly agree with that decision.

An interesting fact about the jazz in Soul is that it wasn’t just the music that was authentic to the genre. The animation team also studied the movements of performers’ hands – including Jon Batiste, a Grammy-Winning pianist who contributed to the songs – to ensure the animation was as accurate as possible.

After the release of Soul, Disney launched an exhibit called “The Soul of Jazz: An American Adventure,” which was featured at Epcot. Along with highlights from the world of jazz and its history, it showcased much of Disney’s use of jazz throughout the years, showing just how much the company appreciates the genre.

The Princess and the Frog

While The Princess and the Frog is subject to some controversy, it remains a strong example of the use of jazz in Disney films. It’s set in New Orleans, the undisputed jazz capital of the world, and features music that aligns with the Big Easy setting. You hear plenty of classic jazz instruments, and there are even references to jazz legends like Sidney Bichet and Louis Armstrong in some of the dialogue.

The Aristocats

The Aristocats is a feature film about a group of cats with clear musical talent. It was released in 1970, and it introduced many children to the world of jazz. Primarily, the music was akin to French jazz in the 1910s, often featuring swing elements in many of the songs. However, the film doesn’t purely feature jazz, as other songs dive into different genres to give various characters a unique vibe.

As with many Disney works released decades ago, The Aristocats is controversial, especially when viewed through a modern lens. This is particularly true when it comes to the Siamese cat, that depiction of Asian people is broadly considered racist.

Lady and the Tramp

If you had to categorize the music from Lady and the Tramp, it’s broadly considered to fall into the classical blue jazz category. As a result, the film – released in 1955 – contains one of the best examples of Disney’s early commitment to the genre. “He’s a Tramp” is a standout number with a slinky, smooth feel featuring Peggy Lee, an outstanding jazz vocalist, and songwriter.

The Jazz Fool

Released in 1929, The Jazz Fool is a Disney animated short featuring Mickey Mouse. While the short is light on plot, it’s brimming with music. Additionally, though Mickey Mouse doesn’t have much in the way of dialog, the animated expressions convey plenty of emotions, particularly when he’s playing the piano. Ultimately, it’s one of the black-and-white Disney cartoons that definitely showed Walt Disney’s appreciation of jazz.

Steamboat Willie

While Steamboat Willie – the 1928 animated short featuring Mickey Mouse – doesn’t generally feature jazz, it was inspired by a film that heavily featured the genre, 1927’s The Jazz Singer. After seeing The Jazz Singer, Walt Disney was dedicated to producing a cartoon with fully synchronized sound. Ultimately, Steamboat Willie resulted from that commitment, and it was the first animated feature to include an entirely post-produced soundtrack, giving the short another unique feather in its cap.

Dixieland at Disney

old style video camera

Dixieland at Disney was an annual event that ran starting in 1960 and continued through the 1970s. During the celebration, jazz often took center stage. Musicians came in to play live on the grounds, and a Mardi Gras floating parade down the Rivers of America often featured jazz music.

The event features performances from many jazz greats over the years, including Louis Armstrong. The celebration was also part of Walt Disney’s broader vision. He felt that music was a critical part of the Disney experience and believed that Dixieland and New Orleans jazz were a major part of the success equation.

Jazz Legends Paying Homage to Disney Music

Just as Disney loves jazz, many jazz greats adored Disney music. As a result, some chose to record albums using Disney music while applying their own style to the songs. Whether the song originally had jazz flare or was part of a completely different genre, these albums ensure that jazz is the foundation of the new recordings. As a result, many jazz fans greatly appreciate the original music.

Another benefit of these albums is that they can make jazz feel more accessible to those unfamiliar with the genre. Disney songs are broadly known due to the popularity of the films. As a result, different renditions of the tracks have a familiar quality, even if they’re performed in completely new ways.

Ultimately, a variety of music artists in jazz world have covered Disney songs, including classic tunes and more modern releases. However, some releases are stronger examples of jazz legends putting their spin on Disney music than others. Here’s a quick overview of some jazz greats that have paid homage to Disney songs through cover albums.

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong

One of the most widely known and beloved examples is Disney Songs the Satchmo Way, the Louis Armstrong Disney songs album. It was released in 1968, during the era of the Dixieland at Disney celebrations. In fact, the album contains the last trumpet recordings of the jazz legend, giving it a unique position in music history.

Walt Disney personally asked Armstrong to create the album in 1966, though the album wouldn’t end up released until after Disney’s death. In the Louis Armstrong Disney album, he covered classics like “Whistle While You Work” from Snow White, “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo” from Cinderella, and “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio.

Critically, the album got a warmer reception than many might expect, considering it featured covers of Disney songs. Still, many felt that Armstrong’s vocals and playing were uplifting and that he elevated the material significantly. Plus, the mix of selected tracks expressed a range of emotions, making the collection engaging.

Duke Ellington

duke ellington
Associated Booking (management), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Another example of jazz legends paying homage to Disney music is the album Duke Ellington Plays Mary Poppins by Duke Ellington. A genuine titan in the world of jazz, Ellington was a renowned pianist, bandleader, and composer. He applied his unique style to the tunes in the classic Disney film, truly making the songs his own and delighting jazz fans worldwide.

As with Louis Armstrong’s musical venture into the world of Disney tunes, the overall critical reception was warmer than most would expect. Many jazz fans feel that the result is surprisingly striking, bringing something unexpected to the table compared to the original versions of the songs.

Modern Disney Jazz Albums

A more modern example, Jazz Loves Disney, features the musical stylings of jazz musicians like Jami Cullum, Melody Gardot, and Gregory Porter. It was released in 2016 and includes a mix of classic and modern Disney tunes. Whether you prefer Cinderella-era songs like “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” or newer favorites like “Let It Go” from Frozen, this album likely puts a jazz twist on a song that will resonate with you.

Modal Jazz Loves Disney is a similar effort by multiple musicians and ensembles, uniquely blending modal jazz and Disney to the delight of listeners. Released in 2008, it also features a mix of classics like “Baby Mine” from Dumbo and some later – though not necessarily modern-era – songs like “A Whole New World” from Aladdin. Again, this makes the album highly accessible to jazz and Disney fans alike, so it can serve as a solid introduction to modal jazz to those interested in exploring the genre.

Jazz at the Cinema

jazz at the cinema

The world of movies covers nearly any topic imaginable. When it comes to jazz at the cinema, you can find a range of intriguing documentaries, inspiring fictional tales, and anything in between. In some cases, jazz music takes center stage. In others, jazz is used to set a tone or to help define a character. Regardless of the degree of focus on the music, the end result is often incredibly moving, leading to a fantastic film experience.

Ultimately, there are a surprising number of incredible jazz films, whether you just want to watch a good film or you are a lover of jazz. If you want to explore jazz in the cinema, here are eight examples of jazz at the cinema that serve as excellent starting points.

8 Examples of Jazz at the Cinema

1. Jazz on a Summer’s Day

Easily one of the best jazz films ever, Jazz on a Summer’s Day is a documentary that chronicles the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, drawing attention to one of the most intriguing periods in jazz history. Overall, the Newport Jazz Festival is considered iconic, with many live albums recorded during the event.

While the film only captures a small number of the musicians present that year, it does an excellent job of capturing the feel of the event. Concert footage is intermixed with shots of the crowd and the other features of the festival. When it comes to performances, you’ll see segments featuring greats like Louis Armstrong, Thelonious Monk, and many others.

One benefit of seeing Jazz on a Summer’s Day today is that a restored version is on the market. As a result, the video and audio quality is top-notch, making it even more enjoyable to watch this critically-acclaimed film.

Louis Armstrong and Willis Conover
Louis Armstrong and Willis Conover, Newport Jazz Festival, 1958 Michael Williams, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

2. Bird

Often considered one of the best jazz movies of all time (winning an Academy Award for Best Sound), Bird is a biopic film released in 1988 that chronicles the life of Charlie “Bird” Parker, a jazz legend. The movie is directed and produced by Clint Eastwood and stars Forest Whitaker, who plays Charlie Parker in the movie. The film features various scenes depicting key moments in Parker’s life, ranging from childhood to his passing at age 34.

The movie isn’t entirely chronological, instead shifting a bit on occasion to show how various events tie together. In Bird, there’s an exploration of Parker’s relationships with others, including his connection to his wife and other jazz musicians, such as Dizzy Gillespie.

Whitaker’s performance is nothing short of outstanding, particularly considering some of the harsher realities of Parker’s life depicted in the film. There’s also plenty of incredible music, which most consider vital for any biopic focused on a jazz legend. For his performance, Forest Whitaker won the Best Actor Award at the 1988 Cannes film festival.

charlie parker
Charlie Parker taken by William P. Gottlieb, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

3. The Cotton Club

When it comes to jazz in the cinema, no list is complete without mentioning The Cotton Club, an incredible film by Francis Ford Coppola. It focuses on The Cotton Club, a Harlem jazz venue that’s considered a quintessential part of the jazz scene in that area.

Coppola’s film itself is a crime thriller, using the jazz scene in New York as a functional backdrop to the narrative. Starring Richard Gere and Gregory Hines, the rest of the cast is nothing short of outstanding in their roles.

While the story is a work of fiction and not all depictions within it are accurate for the time or are stylized, there are still many authentic aspects of jazz culture. Plus, jazz music does feature prominently in the movie, which adds an enjoyable element to anyone who appreciates the genre.

filming a movie

4. Soul

One of the more modern examples of jazz in the movies and a highly family-friendly film, Soul is an animated Pixar/Disney feature film that follows a New York jazz pianist who suddenly finds himself stuck between his life on Earth and the afterlife.

The main roles are voiced by acting greats Jamie Foxx and Tina Fey, and the supporting cast is exceptional at imbuing emotion and ensuring every character resonates with the audience. The narrative focuses on the concept of finding and following one’s passions in life.

As one would expect, the movie features plenty of jazz music. The songs are used to convey feeling as the story unfolds, allowing it to almost serve as its own character. Overall, it’s joyful, sorrowful, and nearly everything in between at some point in the film, but the ending ensures the emotional journey pays off.

5. Cabin in the Sky

Cabin in the Sky is a 1943 film featuring an all-black cast, and it’s considered the most successful film featuring only black actors of its era. Originally a Broadway musical, the film adaptation features plenty of jazz.

While Ethel Waters, one of the stage performers, was also part of the movie, the film recasts many of the others. Eddie Anderson took on the role of “Little Joe,” and Lena Horne played “Georgia Brown.” Louis Armstrong also makes an appearance in a minor role. Duke Ellington is also part of the film and is part of one of the standout musical numbers.

As for the story, Cabin in the Sky is essentially a Faustian-style tale. After Little Joe is killed due to his gambling debts, he has an opportunity to save his soul before it’s condemned. As a result, the film encompasses a range of emotions, from poignant to uplifting, making it an incredible journey.

Cabin in the Sky, 1943
Cabin in the Sky, 1943

6. Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser

Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser is a documentary film about one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. The movie features a mix of live performances and interviews with family members and friends, making it intriguing both musically and when it comes to learning about Monk as a person and artist.

One part of the film that generally stands out is the uniqueness of the footage. While there are wider shots of Monk and his band, you also see closeups of his hands on the piano. That makes it easier to appreciate his unconventional positioning and technique.

Additionally, Monk was known for being relatively reserved. The film, however, is a fairly intimate portrait, shining a brighter light on who he was as a person and artist.

Thelonious Monk
Thelonious Monk, Minton’s Playhouse, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947 (William P. Gottlieb)

7. Miles Davis: The Birth of Cool

A more recent documentary chronicling the life of one of the most influential and widely recognized jazz musicians throughout the genre’s history, Miles Davis: The Birth of Cool was released in 2019 to much critical acclaim. Along with photographs and film clips of Miles Davis, the movie includes interviews with a variety of people who knew him, as well as scholars who’ve studied him as an artist and a person.

Ultimately, the film is an excellent introduction to the artist for anyone interested in learning more about the jazz genre’s greats. There is also archival footage that wasn’t included in anything prior to the movie’s release, as well as studio outtakes and not-widely-viewed photographs.


8. Passing Through

Another fictional film that focuses on a jazz musician, Passing Through features a compelling narrative, strong performances by the cast, and, of course, excellent music. The story focuses on the main character – Eddie Warmack, played by Nathaniel Taylor – attempting to regain his footing as a jazz performer after incarceration and focuses heavily on finding ways to avoid predatory practices in the music industry.

While the movie is outstanding, finding opportunities to see it is difficult. Filmmaker Larry Clark never intended for the film to have a home release, instead feeling that it should only be viewed in a movie theater. As a result, it doesn’t typically make its way to streaming services or cable channels, and you won’t see legitimate physical disks available on the market. However, special showings of the film do still occur.

vintage theater

9 Gifts for the Jazz Lover

9 gifts for the jazz lover

The holiday season is upon us, causing many people to start building their gift lists for the upcoming season. If you have a jazz fan in your life, jazz-themed gifts are an excellent option.

Along with showing how well you know the person, there are plenty of incredible – and even some unconventional – gifts for jazz enthusiasts available. If you aren’t sure where to begin, here are nine gifts for the jazz lover to add to your list.

9 Gifts for the Jazz Lover

1. Vinyl Record Collector Logbook

Many jazz lovers prefer vinyl when they play music. A Vinyl Record Collector Logbook is an ideal gift if you have a family member or friend with a growing vinyl collection, especially once they’ve already acquired the best jazz albums!

This is one of the best gifts for jazz fans because it lets them track their album collection. They can easily list the genre, artist, title, release year, and date of purchase. Plus, they can add a personal review, allowing them to note their favorites or discuss the general vibe of the record.

Another benefit is this gift helps your jazz music lover avoid accidentally buying a duplicate. It’s a quick and easy tracking option with an analog feel that seems appropriate for vinyl collectors.

2. Historic Photos of New Orleans Jazz

Historic Photos of New Orleans Jazz is another one of the fantastic gifts for jazz music lovers. It includes a collection of rare photographs features in the Jazz Collection at the Louisiana State Museum, serving as a visual record of jazz in New Orleans.

Along with stunning images, there’s information about the history of jazz music in the region. Plus, it discusses the various artists, making this a solid choice for long-standing jazz fans or those who are just starting to explore the genre. Featuring 200 pages of images and text, this book is sure to contain pictures and facts that are new to the reader, allowing them to discover more about the music they adore regardless of their existing knowledge.

3. Maison Martin Margiela Replica Jazz Club Eau De Toilette

One of the great gifts for jazz lovers who also enjoy unique scents is the Maison Martin Margiela Replica Jazz Club eau de toilette. The various scent notes are designed to align with aromas classically associated with the Brooklyn jazz clubs of yore. You’ll pick up the scents of vanilla and musk, coupled with tobacco aromas reminiscent of cigars. There are also hints of cocktails and leather.

This is a potent eau de toilette, so a little goes a long way. Plus, the scent lingers after application, so there’s little need to reapply during the day. While the scent profile leans masculine, it can also be appropriate for women who enjoy the scent profile.

4. The Jazz Experience Coloring Book for Adults

Coloring is often a meditative, relaxing experience, which led to the rise in coloring books designed for adults. If you’re looking for gift ideas for jazz lovers, Jazz Experience Coloring Book for Adults is a must. It features a variety of images, including some focused on instruments and others featuring performers.

One nice feature of this coloring book is that the back of each coloring page is black, reducing the odds of ink bleeding if the recipient uses markers or pens. There are 20 images to color, and depending on the result, pages could be removed and framed to create art for their home. Couple the book with a nice set of colored pencils or markers, giving the recipient everything they need to enjoy the gift.

5. Louis Armstrong Poster

One of the best jazz-related gifts for a family member or friend who enjoys displaying jazz-oriented art is the Louis Armstrong poster. This concert poster reflects the era’s style, but since it’s a fresh print, it doesn’t show signs of age. The 8×10-inch size also means it’s easy to fit into small spaces or could work as part of a photo collage wall.

While the color palette is striking, thanks to the large amount of reddish-orange, it isn’t overwhelming either. The rest of the poster is black and cream, adding enough neutral elements to create balance. Put the print in a classic black frame, and you have an outstanding gift.

6. Vintage Jazz Musician Photo Set

Another one of the best gifts for jazz lovers looking for wall décor is this Vintage Jazz Musician photo set. It includes four separate images featuring Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday, each printed in black and white.

The photos are 11×14 inches, so it’s easy to find suitably sized frames. Since the images are black and white, you can choose classic black frames or opt for more color. Matting is also an option to draw more attention to the photographs.

Since two of the photos are landscape and two are portrait, it’s easy to hang the photos to make them form a square. However, they can also be integrated into a photo collage wall, making them versatile.

7. Victrola 8-in-1 Bluetooth Record Player & Multimedia Center

One of the more unique gifts for jazz lovers that combines current technology and vintage vibes is the Victrola 8-in-1 Bluetooth Record Player & Multimedia Center. It allows the jazz fan in your life to listen to their favorite music in nearly every format. This solution not only plays vinyl; it also has a CD player, cassette player, radio, USB drive input, and Bluetooth connectivity. Speakers are also built-in for added convenience and sound quality.

However, the player maintains the classic Victrola feel even with all the media options. It features genuine wood construction and traditional features, giving it a vintage vibe. Plus, it allows people to record from vinyl to mp3s (with the required software included), allowing the recipient to create digital music files of their favorite albums.

8. Brass Alto Saxophone Ornament

If you’re looking for simple but stylish Christmas gifts for jazz lovers, the Brass Alto Saxophone Ornament by Broadway Gifts is an outstanding option. The design is classic and vibrant, guaranteeing it’ll be an eye-catcher on any Christmas tree. Plus, it’s highly detailed, making it almost look playable even in its 5-inch form factor.

Along with brass, this ornament features genuine wood and other metals, improving the overall look. Plus, it comes boxed, making it highly giftable. The company also produces ornaments based on a wide array of other instruments using the same high-quality materials, giving you the option to gift additional companion pieces or even an entire band’s worth of instruments.

9. Metal Sax Wine Rack

If you’re on the hunt for jazz gift ideas that also work for wine lovers, the Metal Sax Wine Rack is a perfect choice. The wine bottle holder is a wire-based design that resembles a saxophone.

The rack features metal components and has a slight avant-garde feel, which feels particularly appropriate for a jazz-themed gift. Plus, it’s sturdy and well-balanced, so the recipient doesn’t have to worry about the wine bottle causing it to tip.

Another benefit is that this wine bottle holder looks excellent when holding wine or empty. Plus, it’s easy to take this gift up a notch by including a bottle of the recipient’s favorite wine, allowing them to enjoy the piece and an excellent bottle of wine in a single gift.