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