Tyler Perry Talks ‘A Jazzman’s Blues’ With Stars at NY Special Screening

“This is a 27-year labor of love,” Tyler Perry told a New York audience before a special screening of his new period drama, A Jazzman’s Blues, Thursday evening at the Paris Theater. The event was hosted by Netflix, which is now streaming.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 22: Tyler Perry attends ‘A Jazzman’s Blues’ a New York special screening at The Paris Theatre on September 22, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Netflix)

Perry had just come from doing 14 hours of press and was still bouncing. He was excited to present his passion project to a NY audience where he said he would get an honest, authentic reaction.

 “I have a little bit of grief and a little sadness, but a whole bunch of joy” in having “hung onto this so long and finally presenting” it to the world, Perry said.

The film is intensely personal to the writer, director, producer, and studio head: it is a return to his first screenplay. Tyler made his fame and fortune by creating and expanding space for Black stories and talent. The Madea franchise helped him create his 330-acre studio, which bears his name, and where “A Jazzman’s Blues” was shot. He needed to create his empire before he could take a chance on a period piece.

What he hoped audiences would take away from the film:

“Art should be whatever the artist expresses and whatever someone takes in and feels. So this is my hope— I have to have one — that you feel something that moves you, that inspires you. In my 27 years of waiting to tell this story, thank you Netflix, thank you to this incredible cast, and thank you to all of you people for being here. Enjoy.”

“A Jazzman’s Blues” is about star-crossed lovers Bayou (Joshua Boone) and Leanne (Solea Pfeiffer), who fall for each other as teenagers in 1937 rural Georgia. Outsiders even in their own tight community, recognize in each other kindred spirits. Both suffer from personal traumas and abusive home situations. At nightly clandestine meetings, they talk for hours, pouring out their hearts. Leanne teaches Bayou how to read. He sings to her. She tells him he’s talented. They also tease and flirt. Gradually they fall in love and decide to run off and marry. When Leanne’s avaricious mother (Lana Young) gets wind of their plan, she violently snatches Leanne away. She’s bent on passing her daughter off as white and marrying her to the son of a rich Caucasian family. (A deception that would mean death for both if uncovered.)

Separated for years, Bayou still carries a torch. He writes letters to Leanne that her mother intercepts and destroys. But later a chance encounter rekindles the flame. By this time Leanne is married to a wealthy white man and Bayou has a successful gig singing at a fancy whites-only Chicago nightclub. Despite the danger ahead signals they cannot stay apart. Since Shakespeare’s day, star-crossed lovers have not had happy endings. Add the horrors of racism in the Jim Crow south and things look dicey for the couple, who the audience has now fallen in love with.

 Perry has a talent for launching new talents who later become A-list stars. Both Boone and Pfeiffer, who have roots in the theater, fully embody their roles and are luminous on screen. Pfeiffer, making her screen debut, pulls off a tricky role where she’s not always likable. Boone is charismatic and has a gorgeous singing voice. I missed him every time he wasn’t on screen.

The music is another highlight. The wonderful arrangements of popular 1940s blues numbers are by longtime Spike Lee collaborator Terrence Blanchard. And the terrific dance scenes, set in Southern juke joints and Chicago dance halls, are fabulous as you would expect from the legendary Debbie Allen. The musical interludes are so terrific Perry should consider directing a Broadway musical.

After the screening, Perry and the film’s stars — Boone, Pfeiffer, Young, Amirah Vann, and Austin Scott  —participated in a Q&A.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 22: (L-R) Chris Witherspoon, Tyler Perry, Austin Scott, Solea Pfeiffer, Joshua Boone, Amirah Vann, and Lana Young attend ‘A Jazzman’s Blues’ a New York special screening at The Paris Theatre on September 22, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Netflix)


Asked whether he ever allowed himself when he wrote the screenplay to dream one day he’d build a media empire, Perry replied:

“That wasn’t possible 27 years ago. I would dream as big as I could in that time. Exposure helps you dream bigger, right? This is “bigger than I ever thought it would be. And then there’s a time where you have to surrender, and just be like, “Okay, I don’t know what tomorrow could bring, so that’s when God takes over the dream.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 22: (L-R) Joshua Boone, Solea Pfeiffer, and Tyler Perry attend ‘A Jazzman’s Blues’ a New York special screening at The Paris Theatre on September 22, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Netflix)

Perry said when he wrote the screenplay he wanted to play Bayou. He wanted to cast Halle Berry as Leanne and envisioned Denzel Washington and Howard Rollins in other lead roles.

“I had this whole vision in my head. Time, life, the journey, getting old, all of that stuff changes all those things, so I had to find a new young cast.” 

As to why it took 27 years to bring to the screen: 

“I always said white people in Hollywood, if they have a flop, they might get a few more chances. But if you’re Black in Hollywood, you get one or two, it’s going to be a while. That’s just the way it is. If you look at the pure numbers and the statistics, you know what I’m saying. That’s what it is, right? So I knew that I couldn’t take a chance on a period piece. I had to go with what worked. And what worked was Madea, wide narrative, big laughter… (Madea) helped to build and solidify where I was going, putting my feet firmly down in my studio, building this world. And now I can do things that I’ve always wanted to do.”

Tyler Perry’s films have been critic-proof. Slammed by critics, mainly white, for a lack of artistry, he famously doesn’t read reviews anymore. The moderator noted the positive reviews for “A Jazzman’s Blues” and heard that Oprah called him personally just to read one. What did she say?:

“She’s just like, ”Hey, did you see the Variety review? You need to read it.’ I’m like, ‘No, I’ve been busy… I ain’t going to read it.’ ‘No, you really need to read this one … No no, no, no, I’m going to read it to you.’ When she read the review to me, she got so emotional halfway through when she was talking about Joshua and the performances and what they were saying in the movie and everything. And because she’s always just been a champion of mine, and to have her hear that from other people, what she’s already felt and already known all those years, was really, really moving, and inspiring. I’m grateful for that… But I still won’t read reviews.”

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About Paula Schwartz

Paula Schwartz is a veteran journalist who worked at the New York Times for three decades. For five years she was the Baguette for the New York Times movie awards blog Carpetbaggers. Before that she worked on the New York Times night life column, Boldface, where she covered the celebrity beat. She endured a poke in the ribs by Elijah Wood's publicist, was ejected from a party by Michael Douglas's flack after he didn't appreciate what she wrote, and endured numerous other indignities to get a story. More happily she interviewed major actors and directors - all of whom were good company and cooperative including Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Morgan Freeman, Clint Eastwood, Christopher Plummer, Dustin Hoffman and the hammy pooch "Uggie" from "The Artist." Her idea of heaven is watching at least three movies in a row with an appreciative audience that's not texting. Her work has appeared in Moviemaker, New York Times, showbiz411 and reelifewithjane.com.

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