Sunday, February 27, 2011


No Oscar night party can be complete without the perfect soundtrack, right?  Here's a keepsake compilation of scene-stealing jazz music contributions to film history.

"St. Louis Blues" - Bessie Smith (from "St. Louis Blues" - 1929)
Bessie Smith's only feature length appearance of any kind; she is, as you might expect, unforgettable. 

"I'll Be Glad When You're Dead You Rascal You" - Louis Armstrong (from Betty Boop Cartoon - 1932): Armstrong and his Orchestra provided the soundtrack for the 7 min short; Armstrong actually has a brief appearance as a "menacing" figure chasing down 2 of the cartoon characters.  Betty Boop cartoons frequently used jazz music and musicians for accompanyment and appearances; Cab Calloway and his Orchestra contributed to several Boop features as well, including 1933's "The Old Man And The Mountain" , Minnie The Moocher, St. James Infirmary and Snow White. And while we're on the subject of Calloway, check out the film International House - it features the "Hidee-Ho man" performing "Reefer Man", a classic to say the least.

"Drum Boogie" - Gene Krupa Orchestra (from "Ball of Fire" -1941)
Of course everybody knows drummer Krupa could guarantee an energetic performance, but on a box of matches? Check it out. And while you're at it, look for the sparkling trumpet break from the great Roy Eldridge, in his first and only appearance in a feature film.  Barbara Stanwick lip-syncs to the voice of swing-era singing star Martha Tilton. By the way, the screenplay was co-written by the incomparable Billy Wilder, who would later direct several classics including 1959's jazz-flavored "Some Like It Hot" .

"Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans" - Billie Holiday (from "New Orleans" - 1947): Lady Day's first and only feature film appearance - and the only time you'll ever see her in a subservient role on or off the screen - she played a maid. It's also the only time you'll see Holiday play the piano, which she does while singing this creole-flavored love song.  Louis Armstrong and The Woody Herman Orchestra also appear.

Various Performances from "A Song is Born" - 1948
This film is an updated version of Howard Hawks' aforementioned 1941 film "Ball Of Fire"; Hollywood icons Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo are joined by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman,Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet and Lionel Hampton.

"Jam Session" - Lionel Hampton, Steve Allen, Teddy Wilson, Gene Krupa (from "The Benny Goodman Story" - 1955) : Lionel Hampton steals the show...

"Jazz Club Scene" - Chico Hamilton Quintet (from "Sweet Smell of Success" - 1957)Drummer Chico Hamilton (still performing today at age 90) leads a group that plays it cool in a very intense and heartbreaking film noir starring Burt Lancaster,Tony Curtis, Susan Harrison and Martin Milner (of "Adam 12" TV fame). Milner plays a guitar that is dubbed by Jim Hall

"St. Louis Blues" -Eartha Kitt (from "St. Louis Blues" - 1958)
A stunning climax to this film about W.C. Handy which also starred Nat King Cole as Handy; in addition Eartha sings "Chantez les bas" , "Love Can Be Careless" (w/Cole) and Yellow Dog Blues. The film featured rare screen appearances by a cadre of west coast jazz icons including Barney Bigard, Red Callendar, Lee Young, Teddy Buckner, George Washington and a 12 year old Billy Preston.

"Black Nightgown" - Johnny Mandel Orchestra (from "I Want To Live" - 1958): Two versions - one, as a music cue in the film and the other from the original soundtrack recording. Both are remarkable. Among the outstanding musicians featured - Gerry Mulligan, Shelly Manne, Art Farmer, Red Mitchell. This is one of two films on our list that was directed by the legendary Robert Wise; the other is 1959's "Odds Against Tomorrow" (see below).
"Florence Sur Le Champs Elysees" - Miles Davis (from "Ascenseur pour l' echafaud" - 1958)This was Miles' first film score, written for Louis Malle's 1958 film about criminal lovers whose perfect crime begins to unravel when one is trapped in an elevator. Miles only saw the film once, then went to his hotel and wrote basic harmonic sequences. The band recorded music without any pre-composed theme, while edited loops of the musically relevant film sequences were projected in the background. 

"Beat Out Dat Rhythm on a Drum ("Gypsy Song")Peal Bailey, Max Roach  (from "Carmen Jones" - 1958) One of the many priceless moments from the Otto Premminger/Oscar Hammerstein adaptation of Bizet's opera. Bailey and Roach are joined by an outstanding cast including Dorthy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte.  

"Club Scene" - Harry Belafonte (from "Odds Against Tomorrow" - 1959The film's score was composed by John Lewis of The Modern Jazz Quartet and features MJQ along with Jim Hall and Bill Evans. Belafonte sings and plays vibes ( actually it's Milt Jackson dubbing vibes for Belafonte) in this scene; Look for James Earl Jones' father Robert Earl Jones and Richard Bright ( "Al Neri" in "The Godfather" films).

"Wild Man Blues/Battle Royal" - Louis Armsrong & Duke Ellington Orchestra (from "Paris Blues" - 1960)An all-star cast (Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Joanne Woodward, Diahann Carroll) but the critical reception was less than stellar; the music more than makes up for any cinematic shortcomings.  Ellington's Mood Indigo was also featured in the film. Canadian born trombonist Murray McEachern dubbed Paul Newman and sax player Paul Gonsalves dubbed Sidney Poitier. Adding to the on-screen drama was a torrid off-screen affair between Poitier and Carroll, who had fallen in love while filming "Porgy and Bess" a couple years before. The two came close to ending their marriages in order to be together but ceased their relationship by the time the film was released. 

"It's A Raggy Waltz" - Dave Brubeck  (from "All Night Long" - 1962)Set in London's jazz scene of the early 1960's, the film is an updated version of Shakespeare's Othello; the performances are similarly epic, featuring Brubeck, Charles Mingus and John Dankworth among others.

"The Girl From Ipanema" - Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto (from "Get Yourself A College Girl" - 1964): Although the lip sync is a bit askew, it's a rare opportunity to see the Getz/Gilberto team it's peak. Jimmy Smith and his trio also make an appearance in this film, playing a funky version of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."

"Alfie's Theme" - Sonny Rollins (from Alfie/Album- 1966): Rollins' work is equal to and at times exceeds the brilliance of this film; Oliver Nelson arranged and conducted the performances, which included contributions by JJ Johnson, Kenny Burrell , Jimmy Cleveland and Roger Kellaway

"The Man I Love" - Diana Ross (from "Lady Sings The Blues" -1972)Ross' star turn as an actress is magnetic; her world-renown attributes as a singer are almost a bonus here. Richard Pryor is mesmerizing in the role of "Piano Man"; in fact, he pretty much steals the show whenever he appears.

"Three Days of the Condor" - Dave Grusin - (from "Three Days of the Condor" - 1975)"Fiesta" - Dave Grusin (from The Milagro Beanfield War- 1988): Grusin has the midas touch; he is without doubt one of America's most successful and prolific composers of movie music; he won an Oscar for the "Milagro" score - the film was directed by "Three Days of the Condor" star Robert Redford, who also directed Havana; Grusin's score for that film was Oscar nominated. The same honor went to his scores for The Firm, On Golden Pond, Tootsie, Heaven Can Wait, The Fabulous Baker Boys and The Champ.  Grusin has written music for at least 50 films, among them - The Graduate, Tequila Sunrise, Bonfire of The Vanities and Selena.

"As Time Goes By" - Dexter Gordon (from Round Midnight" - 1986) :Wow....A performance that will bring tears to the eyes of even the most jaded observer. Gordon, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance is joined by Herbie Hancock, (whose score for the film won the Oscar), John McLaughlin, Billy Higgins and Pierre Michelot.   

"We Three Kings of Orient Are" - Miles Davis, David Sanborn, Marcus Miller, Larry Carlton, Paul Schafer (from "Scrooged" - 1988)  Although this clip is from The David Letterman Show, all five musicians appeared in the film, which starred Bill Murray.

"Lover Man" - Charlie Parker (from "Bird" - 1988): Painful but riveting, this clip features the actual sound of Parker's playing, which was electronically isolated from an original recording given to director Clint Eastwood by Parker's widow Chan. Forrest Whitaker's performance makes you feel the pathos and the tortured beauty of Charlie Parker the man and the artist.

"Mo Better Blues" - Terrence Blanchard/Branford Marsalis (from "Mo Better Blues - 1990): Denzel Washington stars as an arrogant jazz trumpeter who gets his comeuppance in this Spike Lee "joint"; Blanchard plays the trumpet parts and would go on to write the score for every Spike Lee film afterward. Marsalis ghosts for Wesley Snipes' saxophone playing character.

"Chill" - Joshua Redman - (from "Vanya On 42nd Street" - 1994)
The centerpiece of a brilliant score written for the Louis Malle film by Redman and performed by his quartet; the soundtrack is hard to come by but you can find an outstanding version of "Chill" on his 2008 release "Moodswing."

"Tickle Toe"  - Geri Allen, Joshua Redman, Christian McBride, Victor Lewis, James Carter, Mark Whitfield, Don Byron (from "Kansas City" - 1995): The film wasn't a rousing critical or financial success but director Robert Altman's artistic chops are of the highest order. This is one of the swingin'-ist jazz performances ever filmed; Lester Young (the song's composer) would've been proud to see this group of "young lions" - well, at the time they were considered "up and coming" - interpret his music with such aplomb. The same holds true for "Yeah Man", which is the film's big finale.

Beautiful E - Bill Frisell ( from Finding Forrester -2000)

"Limehouse Blues/Mystery Pacific" - Bucky Pizzarelli (from "Sweet And Lowdown" -2000) Director Woody Allen, who is a fine jazz clarinetist, is known for taking great care with the soundtrack to his films. This time the music gets the star treatment in a story about a wayward jazz guitarist portrayed beautifully by Sean Penn. There are marvelous performances by Pizzarelli, who ghosts for Sean Penn's character Emmett Ray. By the way, Woody's musicianship goes front and center in the fine documentary "Wild Man Blues" ,which chronicles Allen's 1996 European tour with his New Orleans Jazz Band.

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