I am well aware that I have not yet done my “Best of 2020” list. I usually do it in the two weeks before the Oscars, which gives me a lot of time this year, but this week will include some previews.
Ma Rainey’s jazz band plays a 1927 tent show in rural Georgia, then some theaters in Chicago. Ma is annoyed at the showboating of trumpeter Levee. Later, Levee and the other musicians, led by a trombonist named Cutler, gather to record some records.
Why Levee might be hard to identify with: The material is stagey and obviously shot on sets. The monologues are a little too monologue-y to seem like reality.
- The other three musicians arrive together, but he arrives separately, making him stand out.
- He’s bursting with personality. His first line: As two girls walk by, he says “Hey, hey! Good morning, Chicago!”
- He’s a man of rarified tastes: He’s bought himself some $11 shoes (which he loves a little too much)
- He has a goal: “I’m gonna get me a band and make me some records.”
- Cutler cuts him down to size: “Just play the piece, [expletive deleted.] Look, you want to be one of them, uh, what you call it, virtuosos or something, you in the wrong place. You ain’t no King Oliver or Buddy Bolden. Just an old trumpet player, come a dime a dozen.”
- He’s cocky, he doesn’t look when he crosses the street and expects the cars to stop for him.
- Only he cares about “art” of jazz. One of the musicians replies, “What’s drawing got to do with it?”
- The white boss sees him as having more talent, “Where’s that horn player, the one that gave me those songs? Is he gonna be here today? I wanna hear more of that sound.”