It is truly unfortunate that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has disqualified Branford Marsalis’ compelling original score for the Netflix-based adaptation of August Wilson’s play. Ma Rainey’s black background. AMPAS ‘current rule is that music for a film should be 60% of the original score, and apparently this 1920s jazz and blues love letter falls within that quota. Marsalis’s fingerprints are everywhere in the film, from organizing jazz standards to delivering a big note to Viola Davis (scroll down to listen).
Not only does Marsalis create rowdy rhythms here, but he emotionally supports the serious monologues on the African-American experience with some nuanced musical touches; a know-how in the face of a great drama which should be praised and recognized rather than being blocked by small AMPAS rules. I really hope Netflix challenges the Academy and lands My Rainey on the original score shortlist. The good news is that Marsalis’s score is still in consideration for BAFTAs.
We talk with Marsalis about his childhood in a musical dynasty in New Orleans, his rise in the music world, his work with Spike Lee, his days as a conductor on Tonight’s show with Jay Leno, Chadwick Boseman’s cornet plays and teams up with filmmaker George C. Wolfe on My Rainey. The film represents the second time that Marsalis has provided music to a piece of Wilson’s work; the composer who marked the revival of Broadway in 2010 Fences.