Californian Mark Cantor is the finest jazz-film scholar around, a careful devoted researcher for decades. He loves the marriage of music and film and is fierce in his pursuit of the correct answers, when they can be found. And, not incidentally, a gracious witty down-to-earth fellow, eager to share knowledge.
Mark has a book in the works, and I asked him to write something about it for us:
Today it is not unusual to hear people say, “My nose is running, I need a kleenex.” Or, “I need to xerox the document.” Of course, “Kleenex” and “Xerox” are corporate product names that have taken on a generic meaning. The same is true of “soundie” – note the lower case spelling – which is used to refer to any short musical clip, regardless of origin. In reality, the term “Soundie” – not beginning with a capital letter – refers quite specifically to a three-minute film short distributed by the Soundies Distributing Corporation of America (a subsidiary of the Mills Novelty Company) for use on a Mills’ audiovisual projection devise, the Panoram. Between January 1941 and March 1947 more than 1,880 Soundies, films emanating from many sources, were released to those who owned or leased a Panoram machine.
The actual musical content of the Soundies output was democratic to the extreme, meant to appeal to all segments of American society. Today many of us value most the jazz and big band performances, but there were Irish ballads, Hawaiian tunes, country-western music (and Western Swing), novelty performances and “korn,” dance of all styles, vaudeville routines, and just plain “popular music” among the releases.
The history of these films, and a listing of releases, was released by two good friends, Ted Okuda and Scott MacGillivray, some years ago. They are still the foundations of all Soundies research. But I am proud to announce that a follow up work, one tentatively titled The Soundies: A History and Catalogue of Jukebox Shorts of the 1940s, will be published next year. A more than a million words, it will cover the development and collapse of the industry, and will also include an extensive listing for each Soundie. For the first time, a researcher or fan will be able to discover such information as recording and sideline dates, recording and on-screen personnels, arrangers, soloists, vocalists and a lot more.
To promote the book, but also the films for those who might not need this book in their library, I have set up a Facebook page called “The World of Soundies.” You are all cordially invited to click on the page and join the musical adventure. I generally post one Soundie each week, along with an full background and description of the film in question. Here‘s the link.
Any further questions? I am always around and available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It would not be a JAZZ LIVES post without music — and in this case, two Soundies . . .
and a less familiar one, but with Dorothy Dandridge:
Having read Mark’s research for years, I can wholly recommend this book — and it’s not just going to be for collectors of arcane film: there’s musical treasure and otherwise-unknown social and cultural history. Mark has found out what the third altoist had for breakfast, but the fascinating details never interfere with the greater stories. And there are photographs! (Easier than trying to find films and a home Panoram, I am sure.)
May your happiness increase!