Tag Archives: cinema verite

HOLD ON TIGHT: “JAZZ DANCE” (1954): A FILM BY ROGER TILTON and RICHARD BRUMMER

Thanks to Joep Peeters for pointing out that this fascinating piece of cultural / musical anthropology is available on YouTube.  Without exaggeration, there is no film remotely like it:

This twenty-minute film documents what it was really like at New York City’s cavernous Central Plaza, with a band made up of Jimmy McPartland, cornet; Jimmy Archey, trombone; Pee Wee Russell, clarinet; Willie “the Lion” Smith, piano; Pops Foster, string bass; George Wettling, drums — heroes! — as they proceed through a slow blues, a medium-tempo BALLIN’ THE JACK,  ROYAL GARDEN BLUES, and the SAINTS.

Here’s the fascinating commentary about how the film was shot:

Matrixx Entertainment is pleased to present the 1954 classic, JAZZ DANCE, produced and directed by Roger Tilton, edited by Richard Brummer.  Special appearance by Al Minns and Leon James.  Music by Jimmy McPartland (trumpet), Willie (the Lion) Smith (piano), Pops Foster (bass), Pee Wee Russell (clarinet), Jimmy Archey (trombone), George Wettling, (drums). Filmed at the Central Plaza Dance Hall in New York City.

This high quality version was digitized by John Fellers from Dick Brummer’s 3/4-inch video tape struck from the original 35mm black and white master, the only 35mm print in existence in San Diego with Pat Tilton, the wife of Roger Tilton who passed away in 2011.  Dick Brummer, mentor of James Jaeger and a stockholder of Matrixx Entertainment, granted permission to post JAZZ DANCE to this channel.  Below are some excerpts from letters and technical notes on how this pioneering film was made.

It might be of interest to note that Roger made many visits to the Central Plaza Dance Hall in the weeks before production and drew pictures of things he saw happen there.  These were given to the cameramen before the shoot with instructions to try to get these shots if they happened.  The two cameramen worked in such a way as to cover the same action from two angles when possible so that I could have the material I needed for synchronous action cuts when I edited the film.  JAZZ DANCE was shot with two 35mm hand-held WW 2-type cameras called Eyemos plus a 35mm Mitchell high up in a balcony. There were 2 cameramen with an assistant each.  When they ran out of their 100 foot loads (about 1 minute) the assistant ran out with another can of negative. Dupont 3 was used, the fastest film at the time.  Roger had been told that he would need arc lights and a generator in the street with big sound cameras to do the job but my associate at the time and I had a different idea.  We had arranged for the use of new lights just developed by GE that were the first PAR cans ever used on a film.  They plugged into the existing power.  The Eyemos were wild, but shot at 24 frames per second. My sound equipment also ran at 24 fps.  I did the sync later on a Movieola.  The crowd was told that, by signing a release that night, they would get in free.  I used 3 mics and a third hand-held when needed through a mixer.  The film is noted for being one of the first cinema verite films to take the audience into an event as participant.  The audience hardly noticed the cameras because they looked like amateur equipment.  The cameramen shot from behind shoulders and from the hip.  Ricky Leacock and Bob Campbell were the two cameramen.  For the JAZZ DANCE shoot, the cameramen used 100 foot loads and several cameras so that, when signaled, the assistants would give the cameramen a loaded camera and take away the camera with the exposed film to unload it and load a new 100 foot load.  This was done away from the crowd in black loading bags.  The cameras were spring-wound, but set by the cameramen to run at 24 fps, the same speed I was running my 17 and a half mag recorder (which was plugged in to the wall behind the band).  The entire dance was shot in about four hours.  Solving the logistics of the shoot, as I discussed above, was one thing, but documenting what actually went on at the Dance Hall every Saturday night on 35mm, with both sound AND picture, set a new standard for a “you are there,” cinema verite film.  The well-known documentarian, Mura Dehn, had shot footage of jazz dancers, including Minns and James, before, but such shoots were always staged and without sound (what we call MOS). This was true even when she shot at the Savoy Ballroom. You can see Dehn’s work on YouTube in the series is called “The Spirit Moves.” By the way, I worked with Mura on a documentary she made on modern jazz music where she DID record live music — but there was no dancing.  So JAZZ DANCE is the first to combine many techniques.


Almost sixty years later, this film captures an exuberant scene in exuberant ways.  I had not known of the one-minute film limitations, but now it explains the hectic energy of the finished product, cutting from one scene to another with restless rapidity.  The music speaks for itself: as I’ve been pointing out with advertising cards, bands such as this — at this level — assembled regularly in these huge downtown New York catering halls in the late Forties onward.  So JAZZ DANCE presents a wild audience responding without restraint to the music they hear.  It is also an amusing corrective to those who yearn for an imagined Golden Era when audiences sat silently, rapt, attentive . . . I suspect that hot jazz always provoked such energetic response.

May your happiness increase.

Advertisements

MARTY GROSZ LIKES IT HOT!

Since the mid-Seventies, when I first saw him as an integral part of Soprano Summit, Marty Grosz has been one of my heroes — although I know he would have something mildly comic to say about this.  I find his particular brand of hot jazz exquisitely moving in every meaning of that word: his ballads get at the heart of the lyrical sentiment allied to the jazz he loves, and his swinging creations have their own delightful momentum.

Thus I was once again thrilled to see him at the 2009 Jazz at Chautauqua — allotted a brief set (among several) on Saturday afternoon to pay tribute to one of his heroes, the singer / musician Red McKenzie.  People either adore McKenzie or his particular brand of “hot” and Irish sentimentality eludes them entirely.  But Red worked with the best musicians, got jobs and record contracts for them as well (if memory serves, he not only got Eddie Condon that pioneering 1927 date but also took Jack Kapp down to to the Apex Club to hear Jimmie Noone).  Although Marty is, in person, reasonably unsentimental, McKenzie’s brand of feeling appeals to him — balanced against the prevailing strain of mockery that has some of its roots in his own worldview and some in the music of Fats Waller.

This afternoon, Marty was surrounded by his greatly talented friends: Vince Giordano, keeping the beat and playing lovely melodies on bass sax and string bass; Andy Stein, doubling violin and baritone sax; Dan Block, alternating between clarinet and bass clarinet, and James Dapogny, calling up several dozen pianistic worlds with ease.  They performed three numbers in honor of Red McKenzie.  Each one has a certain on-the-spot quality (head arrangements getting worked out then and there) which leads to occasional tentativeness, but I didn’t care then and I don’t now.  As if to follow suit, my cinematography is much more experimental than usual — which is a polite way of saying that I found myself hemmed in between the light on top of the piano and a music stand . . . but there are some (to me) rewarding closeups, and I captured musicians smiling at each others’ solos, always reassuring.

‘WAY DOWN YONDER IN NEW ORLEANS began the set . . . with some stern leadership about when to stop (when the lyrics say “Stop!”) but no one was hurt.  And Dan Block swung out on his bass clarinet:

Then, a real jewel, even with a slightly uncertain beginning — I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME, a song that gets performed at a quick bounce these days but began life as a yearning ballad.  And Dan Block throws himself into it body and soul:

Finally, FROM MONDAY ON, a cheerful remembrance of McKenzie, early and later:

As a coda: I would have my readers listen closely to the interplay within this group — Andy Stein’s lyrical baritone and pizzicato violin passages; Vince’s wonderful bass playing and lyrical bass sax solos; Dapogny’s “Spanish tinge” Morton-inspired passage on the first song; Marty’s delightful stage presence, and Dan Block, who has music flowing through him as if it were his soul’s electrical current.  A priceless band, I think, with each of its members an anointed prophet of Hot.