Jazz legend Duke Ellington once professed: “Music is my mistress and she plays second fiddle to none.” But in Tyler Perry’s recently released Netflix film, A Jazzman’s Blues, music does indeed come second to our protagonist Bayou’s deep love and adoration of Leeane, a light-skinned woman whose mother—initially unbeknownst to Boyd—is hellbent on her and her daughter passing for white in order to afford them a chance at a better life outside of 1937, racism-fueled Georgia.
That aforementioned drive will prove central to our star-crossed lovers plight on a myriad of fronts throughout the film; once in the beginning, when Leeane (played by a convincing Solea Pfeifer) is whisked away from Bayou (played by a magnetic Joshua Boone) by her mother and taken up North once the pair’s secret courtship has been found out. The other time is when Leeane returns down South years later to put down new roots as the wife of a racist white man running for mayor ( suffice to say her passing works, but only in the eyes of white people) though she’s still harboring a longing for Bayou. The third, and arguably the most pivotal time, is when—in an attempt to keep Bayou and Leeane apart for good—Leeane’s mother lies on him to her racist in-laws subsequently driving him out of Georgia.
The somewhat shy and despondent Bayou ends up accompanying his heroin addict of an older brother Willie Earl, who previously left Georgia in the hopes of becoming a famous jazz musician years before, and his stage manager back to Chicago. There, he becomes the star of the show and the main attraction at the prestigious Capital Royale instead of his brother, thanks to his velvety-smooth vocals. And this is where the film lightens up the most—showing Bayou’s newfound success and his song and dance numbers, impressively brought to life by Terence Blanchard and Debbie Allen (which if you know, you know they’re both nothing short of amazing).
But Bayou’s heart still aches for Leeane. And it’s because of that, the latter ending of the film dives right back into those feelings of despair and misfortune that were present at the onset for these two who were doomed to live out the rest of their days in internal longing for a love and life that’s never fully actualized. (This fact comes to an infuriating head at the film’s climax that I, personally, will be ruminating about for the next two days.) At this point, saying any more about the film would give way to more of the emotional plot points that at times are both strikingly painful and beautifully tender. Yet, they’re all weaved together to create a sweet yet sad love story reminiscent of those of yesteryear.
What does need to be said here, however, is that the film is an overall satisfying watch. Like many, upon the trailer’s initial release, I was a bit skeptical as to just how Perry would bring to life a period piece focused on two lovers set in the Jim Crow-era South. Despite this film not being his first foray into a movie that’s not Madea-centric or laced with the usual suspects who’ve consistently starred in his films over the years, there was something about this trailer that felt...different. And my expectation for it, in turn, felt different, too.
That’s not to say that I wasn’t still hesitant or had certain reservations going in. But it is to say that even for someone as annoyingly predictable as Perry, it’s still always possible to be surprised. And if you’re able to watch this film without the lens of whatever preconceived notions or feelings you have towards him or his work, I have no doubt you will be. Maybe, just, maybe A Jazzman’s Blues signifies the start of something new for Perry. Here’s to hoping audiences give him a chance to do just that.
A Jazzman’s Blues, starring Solea Pfiefer, Joshua Boone, Amirah Vann, Austin Scott, and Milauna Jemai Jackson, is available to stream now on Netflix.