Jazz In The Mainstream: Boardwalk Empire Season 5 “Devil You Know” (plus Whiplash and Keep On Keepin’ On)

By Sam Griffith,

I’ve been tracking jazz’s presence in mainstream media (or at least attempting to), specifially on TV. I know there are lots of small instances where jazz is mentioned or showed, but I’ve attempted to just limit myself to media where jazz plays a significant role. Boardwalk Empire is a great example of a show that uses jazz in a variety of ways. I have written a series of posts starting from the first episode of season 5 that highlight Empire’s use of jazz. Today’s post will discuss a little bit of Empire, in addition to two recently released movies that feature “jazz” – Whiplash and Keep On Keepin’ On.“Devil You Know” is a fantastic episode that begins the process of tying up loose ends two weeks before the series finale. We are treated to several classic (and/or new) renditions of common jazz songs in this episode.

During a bar scene, Nucky is drunk and causing mischief. On a jukebox in the background, several Louis Armstrong tracks are played – “Lazy River” and “Walkin My Baby Back”. At this point in Season 5 we have heard very little from Louis Armstrong, a bit bizarre given his popularity and relevancy to the other music we hear in the show.

During a rather intense scene with Capone, Van Alden and Eli, Capone has his men turn the radio up. Typically in these moments, a track is selected that presents some irony or dark humor to the scene. In this instance we have a fairly unexciting performance of “Heebie Jeebies” that may or may not add anything to the scene…other than background noise for the events that happen.

Finally, the scenes with Chalky are also scored with jazz. Early in the episode, in a scene with Chalky and his daughter, we hear an early Ellington arrangement of George Gershwin’s “Sam & Delilah”. This is an interesting selection because both Gershwin’s song (from the musical Girl Crazy) and the bible story “Samson & Delilah” do not have good endings for the male leads (perhaps some foreshadowing?). Finally, at the conclusion of the episode we also hear an arrangement of “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” that could be intended to be Chalky’s daughter singing. (Also an interesting jazz-note, Chalky’s daughter mentions that she is having a difficult time making it as a singer because she is being blacklisted in Chicago and Kansas City(!), not New York!).

A list of the music used in this episode can be found here.


A few months ago one of my friends sent me a link to this scene from a new movie in which a drummer is being destroyed/humiliated/embarrassed by his ensemble director. While very confused by a number of things (the 5,6,7 count-off , a conductor only giving 3 beats and being pissed that the drummer isn’t locked into the time, and whatever type of music they are paying?), my curiosity was perked in regards to a film being made about a jazz drummer. The full movie trailer also seems very interesting, and as soon as it is released close to me, I will see it and discuss it here. I’m sure there will be a lot of Bobby Knight references. If you have seen it, you should tell us how it is!

Keep On Keepin’ On

Finally, this movie. I’m not sure I’ll ever be emotionally prepared to see this. But I will see it as soon as I can. Clark Terry is an incredible trumpeter and hopefully this movie will accurately portray his musical spirit. It has yet to be released nationally. Hopefully it will be available on Google Play or iTunes soon.

Jazz in Mainstream is a series of posts discussing the role of Jazz in mainstream media. Find out more about Sam at http://www.samuelgriffith.com


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