Here is a list of ten jazz artists who showcased their acting skills in film and/or television throughout their career.
Saxophonist Dexter Gordon appeared in a number of films, none more iconic than Bertrand Tavernier’s film Round Midninght (1986). For his memorable performance as Dale Turner, the lead character of this film, Gordon became the first jazz musician to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role.
Pianist and singer Dooley Wilson is most fondly remembered as Sam from Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942), in which he famously plays “As Time Goes By.” He also played supporting roles in such films as My Favorite Blonde (1942) with Bob Hope and Stormy Weather (1943) with Lena Horne.
Smoky-voiced Julie London of “Cry Me a River” fame released 32 jazz albums in her career and starred in many movies, including The Fat Man (1951) with Rock Hudson and Man of the West (1958) with Gary Cooper. She is also remembered as Nurse Dixie McCall in the 70’s TV series Emergency! (1972-79), in which she appeared with her husband Bobby Troup and that was produced by her ex-husband, Jack Webb.
Cinema never truly took advantage of Louis Armstrong’s talents as an entertainer. However, he appeared in more than a dozen Hollywood pictures, usually as a bandleader or musician. Famously, he plays the bandleader and narrator of High Society (1956), has a cameo in Hello Dolly! (1969), and appeared as himself in the ill-fated New Orleans (1947), a film that chronicles the demise of the Storyville district and the ensuing exodus of musicians from New Orleans to Chicago in which he was originally meant to have a much bigger role.
During the 80’s, trumpeter Miles Davis began to appear in a number of films and TV shows. He had a small part as a street musician in Scrooged (1988) with Bill Murray and played the lead in Rolf de Heer’s film Dingo (1991), in which he stars as a jazz musician that lands with his band on a remote airstrip in the Australian outback and perform for the surprised locals.
Peggy Lee’s career as singer and actress spanned six decades. Most the films she starred in made good use of her singing talents, beginning with the 1952 version of The Jazz Singer. She earned an Oscar nomination playing an alcoholic blues singer in Pete Kelly’s Blues (1955) and did several speaking and singing voices for several characters in Disney’s Lady and the Tramp (1955).
Sinatra was the most successful of all jazz and trad pop artists to forge a career as a film actor. After winning an Academy Award for his supporting role in From Here to Eternity (1953), he went on to deliver celebrated performances in such dramas as The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and musicals as Guys and Dolls (1955).
Harry Connick Jr.
Modern-day crooner Harry Connick Jr. began his acting career as a tail gunner in WWII film Memphis Belle (1990). His first role as a leading man was in Hope Floats (1998) with Sandra Bullock, and his filmography now includes such films as Basic (2003) with John Travolta and P.S. I Love You (2007) with Hilary Swank.
Norah Jones made her film debut as the lead character of My Blueberry Nights (2007), directed by the celebrated Wong Kar Wai of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain fame. She has seldom appeared in a film since, apart from the little-seen Wah Do Dem (2009) and a cameo as herself in Ted (2012).
Regarded as the first multimedia star, from 1931 to 1954 Bing Crosby was a leader in record sales, radio ratings, and motion picture grosses. He won an Academy Award for Best Actor for his role as Father Chuck O’Malley in the 1944 picture Going My Way and, among other works, notably co-starred with Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in seven Road to musical comedies between 1940 and 1962.