Tag Archives: jazz on film

MARK CANTOR’S CELLULOID IMPROVISATIONS (JAZZ ON FILM)

celluloidimprovisations

The renowned (diligent but never stuffy) scholar of jazz on film, Mark Cantor, is also a generous fellow, and he has launched a new website.

There, you can see and hear Fats Waller, Joe Marsala and Adele Girard, Louis Armstrong, Mary Lou Williams, the Washboard Serenaders, Andy Secrest, Benny Carter, Connee Boswell, Red Nichols, Lionel Hampton, Harry James, Dave Brubeck, Punch Miller, Lady Will Carr, Ethel Merman and Johnny Green, the Max Fleischer team of surrealists, Leo Watson, Teddy Bunn, Ray Eberle, Sidney Bechet, Thelma White, Buck and Bubbles, Maude Mills, Gerry Mullingan, the MJQ, Jack Teagarden, Buddy Rich, Oscar Peterson, Bill Robinson, Louis Jordan, Joe Williams, as well as groups and musicians we might never have heard about — the daring Sandra among them — and a few mysteries: unidentified players just waiting for you to recognize them. (If you are interested in footage of “the girls in the band,” you will find some here as well.)

Some of these films and excerpts are familiar, but many are rare: offered here for your viewing in the best available prints with good sound and clear images.

May your happiness increase! 

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CANTOR’S CELLULOID CAVALCADE IS COMING! (March 23, 2013 in San Francisco)

Mark Cantor, jazz film scholar, is one of those rare beings animated by knowledge and generosity in equal portions.  I’ve never met him in person, but I’ve been delighted by what he knows about jazz and popular musicians of the last century in their often uncredited film appearances . . . and by his willingness to share, not only data but the films themselves.  Evidence of the latter can be found right here on his YouTube channel.

On Saturday, March 23, 2013, at 8 PM, Mark will be offering another one of his famous jazz film programs — this one so rich with material it has a double title: STOMPIN’ AT THE SAVOY / SWING, SWING, SWING.  Mark’s films will concentrate on the great bands and singers who either performed at Harlem’s famed Savoy Ballroom or who should have: Louis, Ella, Chick, the Savoy Sultans, Erskine Hawkins, Basie, Duke, BG, Bob Chester, and some rarities that can’t be seen elsewhere.  The place is the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco’s Kanbar Hall, 3200 California St., San Francisco, CA 94118 (415-292-1233).  For ticket information, click here or here.

The Beloved and I will be there, smiling at the screen and at Mark.  Come join us!

Just in case you’ve never heard of Mark, and wonder whether his collection is worth a trip from your apartment, I present here two of his (annotated) short films that I love.  Neither will be on the March 23 bill, which is all the more reason to share them here.

SONG SHOPPING (with Ethel Merman, Johnny Green, the bouncing ball and the usual absurdist / violent Max Fleischer cartoon antics — 1936:

THE CAPITOLIANS (directed by Walt Roesner, 1928) — a must-see for anyone who likes spectacle or hot jazz / dance music or both:

And here’s a happy review of Mark’s 2012 show.

May your happiness increase.

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.

TAKE ANOTHER LOOK AT THE IAJRC: THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF JAZZ RECORD COLLECTORS

The IAJRC — the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors –is worth investigating.  Record labels come and go; jazz magazines and clubs surface and vanish, but the IAJRC keeps rolling on.

I have to say that I’ve always found the IAJRC’s title a little misleading.  “Jazz record collectors,” to some, are gentlemen of a certain age who prefer the great indoors; who can rattle off matrix numbers of obscure Argentinian Odeons — the objects of satire, puzzlement, even pity.

The IAJRC members I know don’t fit that stereotype.  More than a few are women.  Many are employed, have families and spouses;  go out in daylight; can have conversations about subjects beyond the unissued LITTLE BY LITTLE.  So if you are reading this post and feeling interested . . . but worried that you will become a swing-Stepford-wife . . . have no fear of collector-contagion.

Seriously, the IAJRC and its members do so much more for and about the music than just acquire these precious artifacts.  Yes, they collect “records,” but that means everything from early ragtime to free jazz, from cylinders to film and video.  And their aim is ultimately to shed light on the accomplishments of the artists they (and we) admire.

And (here I quote), the IAJRC aims “to advance the cause of jazz music by creating more recognition of the great jazz musicians, by creating an atmosphere favorable to increased public acceptance of jazz as a great American art form, and by attracting more young musicians, listeners and patrons of the art into the field of jazz music.”

They accomplish this in several ways — publishing the quarterly IAJRC JOURNAL and other monographs; encouraging various kinds of research; holding meetings where the members can exchange ideas, information, and hear live jazz.

By the way, the IAJRC has a lively new website: here

And they have a Facebook page:  here.

The 2012 IAJRC Convention is being held in New Orleans — in a four-star hotel at the corner of Canal and Bourbon (a sufficiently atmospheric location for the jazz GPS).   It will take place on September 6-8, and will be full of presentations (scholarly / swinging), good friendship and live music.  (My friend Tom Hustad will be giving a presentation on Ruby Braff, complete with video from Ruby’s final recording session — something remarkable!)

The 2011 Convention, by the way, featured creative hot jazz from groups led by our own Mike Durham and the talented Digby Fairweather; the 2010 Convention had the West End Jazz Band with our young hero Andy Schumm.

I have the most recent issue of the JOURNAL — over a hundred large-format pages — and I’ve been reading and admiring it for the last week.  There are serious extended research essays on Jimmy Joy’s Orchestra (complete with the band’s itinerary and rare photographs) and a study of “Black Europe” — early African-American musicians venturing beyond the United States — or the photographs of Camarillo State Mental Hospital, where Charlie Parker recuperated.  More: pages of enthusiastic record reviews, spanning the whole spectrum of recorded jazz.  A chapter of “life-on-the-road” fiction by the venerable Don Manning, and rare advertisements reproduced from old jazz magazines . . . the eye goes from one thing to another, and I found a splendidly balanced mix of information and pleasure.  In the center of the issue I read four pages of (free) classified ads from IAJRC members — some offering to sell records, others looking for information.  Late in the pages there is a large photograph of Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon, grinning, with baton raised at a serious angle: the caption is “FAN IT!”  What more could anyone want?

For three dollars, you may have a sample issue sent to you — details here: journal/samples.

Dues for an individual living in the United States or Canada are $45 / year; $55 outside those areas — and one can pay through PayPal on the website.  That’s the cost of three compact discs — and although it’s a paradox to encourage people to join an organization of record collectors by not buying three discs . . . a year’s membership in the IAJRC will give much more pleasure, and you will be part of an enterprise devoted to helping jazz flourish.

P.S.  And if you feel CD-deprived in this transaction, know that the IAJRC has produced splendid discs of its own — previously unheard material featuring Al Cohn, Lucky Thompson, Joe Venuti, Joe Haymes, Buck Clayton, Horace Henderson, Bobby Hackett, Vic Dickenson, Ed Hall, Dick Wellstood . . . which are available to members at seriously discounted prices.

JAZZ VIDEO DOCUMENTARIES (February 2010)

I just received an email from Lauren Kesner O’Brien, the founder of a “video magazine,” (a site that shares new video documentaries on a variety of subjects) called www.telegraph21.com, — telling me that this week the site will be offering documentaries on jazz.  In particular, she told me about THE SOUND AFTER THE STORM, a film focusing on Dr. Michael White and Lillian Boutte and their experiences in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.  You can see an eight-minute segment from the documentary here: http://www.telegraph21.com/video/the-sound-after-the-storm.  I’m glad to see new documentary filmmakers turning their lenses on jazz: it never gets enough attention!

ADRIAN ROLLINI ON FILM, 1948

The song is THE GIRL WITH THE LIGHT BLUE HAIR — I assume a play on THE MAID WITH THE FLAXEN HAIR — performed by Rollini, vibes and tubular bells (on which he demonstrates great dexterity), Allan Hanlon, guitar; George Hnida, bass.  It comes to us through the courtesy of “lindyhoppers” on YouTube, who is indebted to the late Tom Faber, Dutch discographer of Rollini.

Musically, I admit it wouldn’t be my first choice — Rollini on bass sax in 1934 is impressive although brief, and I’d rather have seen him in a hotter context.  But this will have to do until more of the real thing surfaces!

JAM WITH DAN! (October 16, 2009)

DAN BARRETT’S EAST COAST TOUR (Part Three)

This installment in the Barrett Chronicles 2009 takes us to what was once called Roth’s Westside Steakhouse (Columbus Avenue at 93rd Street in Manhattan) on October 16, 2009. 

The fun and frolic began with a series of duets between Dan and Ehud Asherie.  Roth’s gets high marks for encouraging jazz, but it is a typical restaurant: dishes and silverware crash, the bar patrons were especially excited by some sports event on television, and there is a good deal of loud oblivious chatter.  On the other hand, Roth’s is the only jazz event I’ve ever attended where the governor of my home state — in this case David Patterson — came in late in the evening.  Whether he was in the groove or merely addressing his dinner I was too preoccupied to notice, but if he missed out on the music he missed something special.

Not incidentally, I’ve been admiring Dan’s recorded work since 1987, and have seen him live a number of times (with Becky Kilgore and Rossano Sportiello, at Jazz at Chautauqua, and at a series of concerts put on by Joe Boughton, where his colleagues included Vince Giordano, Duke Heitger, and Kevin Dorn) . . . as well as an early-Eighties Newport in New York tribute to Billie Holiday directed by Ruby Braff.  But this gig and his appearance at Smalls have given me an even greater admiration of Dan’s creativity, because no one else was in the way.  I was reminded often of hearing Vic Dickenson play — with Mike Burgevin and Jimmy Andrews — in 1974.  The same swing, the same full understanding of what this music is all about.  But on to the videos!

Here are Dan and Ehud caressing THAT OLD FEELING, a ballad everyone knows but few jazzmen actually play.  Who could be insensitive to the beauty of Dan’s pure sound?  And Ehud accompanies him perfectly — then launches into his own ruminations, which embody the whole history of swinging jazz piano, delicate and pointed at once:

And a Barrett original (his lines have the same bounce as his solos), WITH’EM, which will reveal its roots in a flash.  At first, when I didn’t recognize the line, I thought it was something written by Don Byas or Johnny Hodges, evidence of its authentic pedigree:

Another fine neglected Forties tune (courtesy of the Ink Spots) at a jaunty tempo, without recitative, IF I DIDN’T CARE.  The crowd was getting a bit more noisy, but I didn’t care:

And a slow-motion DON’T GET AROUND MUCH ANYMORE, its mournful tempo getting at the loss that is at the heart of the lyrics,  Savor Dan’s lovely opening cadenza, a composition on its own (while the dishes clatter):

Who else would have the musical wisdom to offer up IF YOU WERE THE ONLY GIRL IN THE WORLD, a fine song to improvise on:

And (for me) the piece de resistance — a genuine Hollywood-style jam session.  Lovers of jazz on film will know what I mean.  The model comes from the 1947 film THE FABULOUS DORSEYS, where the scene begins with the briefest clip of Art Tatum playing in a club . . . we know this because there’s a sign outside saying so.  Then, as if by magic, a whole host of jazzmen appear — their horns at the ready — as if from nowhere.  No one has to warm up, adjust a reed, or use the facilities: they just spring into action.  Well, it happened at Roth’s.  Attillo Troiano was there with his clarinet, to the left; Jon-Erik Kellso rose from his dinner, ready for action, and Luigi Grasso, seated to the right, just happened to have his alto saxophone with him.  And someone called HIGH SOCIETY — which resulted in what Dan, at the end, said was “really jazzy,” and then started to laugh.  It has the wonderful swagger of the Blue Note Jazzmen, transported to the Upper West Side, with all the strains in place, everyone knowing the right melodies and countermelodies. 

It was a privilege to be there, and I don’t write these words casually.  I won’t forget this evening!