Review: The Eddy

Is it possible to depict the jazz scene in a drama in an authentic way? What ''authentic'' is can mean many things. Leaving the fantasy (gangsters, murder, mayhem) element of the plot to one side it's worth remembering that the ''authentic'' side of …

Published: 11 May 2020. Updated: 17 months.

Is it possible to depict the jazz scene in a drama in an authentic way? What ''authentic'' is can mean many things. Leaving the fantasy (gangsters, murder, mayhem) element of the plot to one side it's worth remembering that the ''authentic'' side of a jazz club is really not that interesting as drama. It is more bookers on the phone talking to musicians, stocking the bar, shifting tables, conducting soundchecks, people filing in, customers lingering. That kind of authentic is documentary.

What's good here by contrast and so while not authentic in that documentary sense as a backdrop the stage set-club actually you can believe is quite real has trappings enough. The last time a significant TV drama based around jazz was in 2013 and Stephen Poliakoff's Dancing on the Edge, a period drama a world away from the contemporary Parisian times of The Eddy and this is far better. But Jack Thorne who created The Eddy I think has learnt a lot from greats like Poliakoff in the way he structures his drama and adds serious societal layers. It compares probably better to Treme the 2010-13 series set in New Orleans.

Character is at its heart and there are strong performances here. André Holland as club owner Elliot is excellent as too is Amandla Stenberg as his daughter Julie just to name two strong and pivotal roles. The series is good at depicting a big city multi-racial milieu and does not shy away from difficult issues. The episode focused on bassist Jude played sensitively by Cuban bassist Damian Nueva, struggling with addiction, is really well caught and not at all sensational and the series is good at stepping back from being at all judgemental or intent on shock. It thrives on picking away at what drives relationships and the internal conflicts that inform them.

If you compare this depiction of Paris in a jazz drama to say Bertrand Tavernier's brilliant but much more nostalgic film Round Midnight (1986) that starred Dexter Gordon then you get a very different overview of jazz. Nostalgia actually hardly gets a look-in in this film although Elliot might wistfully mention Duke Ellington or we see the cover of a sleeve of a record where Elliot in the heyday of his playing career performed at the Village Vanguard.

The drama will do a lot for the profile of pianist Randy Kerber who plays a pianist in the house band. The fact that the actors playing musicians are quite often musicians definitely helps. Kerber was also recently on the fine Robbie Robertson score for The Irishman and comes over as the kind of player you want to catch up on and hear live if there ever is a live scene again that is. The tunes the band play when they stick to instrumentals are sometimes stronger than the often quite saccharine songs but of the original songs 'Bar Fly' stands up best. On the use of music itself significantly it is given time to breathe in the series and is not cut to shreds as is so often the case in dramas or reserved for the credits. Joanna Kulig who plays Maja as a singer grows on you as you listen and she has a very expressive way with her, her voice can do lazy bluesiness very well and her role is significant as the series develops. Overall verdict, definitely recommended even if the final episode is a little bit of a mess however. But that hardly ruins the spell and certainly the piece succeeds in creating a fictional world with a jazz club at its centre that holds and rewards your careful attention. SG

Julie (Amandla Stenberg) and Elliot (André Holland) top in The Eddy. Photo: Netflix

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If we had a jazz club scene The Eddy might do it a bit of good

Watching the first episode of The Eddy as the bar tender flings ice into an ice bucket in the Parisian club, a female singer backed by a hard bop band just about keeping our attention as the camera unveils an authentic looking place, the label guy …

Published: 8 May 2020. Updated: 12 months.

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Watching the first episode of The Eddy as the bar tender flings ice into an ice bucket in the Parisian club, a female singer backed by a hard bop band just about keeping our attention as the camera unveils an authentic looking place, the label guy who came to check out the band not fussed as it turns out, musicians unhappy in the dressing room as pianist-owner Elliot (André Holland, above left) looks on even more miserably given the low turn-out and how badly the band are playing he thinks, before moving bad to worse getting beaten up by Serbian heavies who arrive after-hours looking for money (he'e even more miserable by then), this really contemporary good looking French and English dialogue drama ironically could do the jazz club scene a lot of good given that loads of new people will watch it on Netflix and I'm already getting decent wannabe Bertrand Tavernier vibes (Tavernier made one of the best ever evocations of jazz in recent decades on Round Midnight also set in Paris). That irony is it might do if we had a jazz scene any more given that everything's closed. Bummer eh? But maybe people will somehow post-Lockdown think hey that Eddy thing was a bit corny but OK: let's find a jazz club for the first time.

It doesn't escape me that if a new jazz album rather than a drama got half as much hype as this series has got in the media in the build-up to today's premiere then we could be living in a more savvy world where jazz actually gets exposure rather than as is the reality is instead habitually ignored by the dumb culture pages who prefer to laud some piece of braindead trivia with a backbeat that disappears oh two seconds after you hear it but happens to be pushed by big companies who flog it to death as if it were a tube of, what they don't realise, much more interesting toothpaste. The whole Eddy thing trades on updating the mystique and that invisible magic is just one of the elements we are all missing about not hearing jazz in a club at the moment and which makes it so important from a social point of view as well a musicial point of view place of creation, and for ideas crossing boundaries to stir the imagination. Everyone gets ideas and inspiration in a jazz club whatever your background is and I think this drama tries to make sense of all that but keeps it human amid all the dreaming and however much it gets it right or wrong. SG

Photo Lou Faulon/Netflix