JAZZ & CINEMA (PART 1)

The reference book, 'Jazz in Cinema' published in London in 1981 names 3,724 films in which jazz music is played. These included feature films, short films, documentaries, animated and television films. In the 25 years since then there have obviously been more publications of this type. Although jazz music and cinema are different forms of art, there are aspects they have in common.



The two art forms were established at around the same time. This is why we can say they are contemporaries. The Lumiere brothers' first film was shown in 1895, while jazz chronology usually begins from 1917. At that time the 'Original Dixieland Jazzband' Studio made its first jazz record. By the way, in those days 'jazz' was written as 'jass'



We should not forget that ragtime was very popular at the end of the 19th century - you will no doubt agree that it is hard to imagine the spirit of jazz without ragtime. There is a feature common to the early periods of both cinema and jazz: the aesthetes of the period could not see the literary merits of either form and relegated them to the lower ranks of art.



The collaboration between these two forms began within the era of silent movies. The role of music was not simply to illustrate in sound what was seen on the screen. It also helped to drown out the mechanical noise made by the film projector. Every cinema had its piano. The tapper (a musician who could improvise) played while looking at the screen. In this way we can say that cinema halls were a good training ground for many jazz pianists.



One of the best examples was Fats Waller; in the swing period he became one of the highest paid musicians and was second only to Louis Armstrong in popularity. In the early 20s, jazz was already the musical symbol of the new century (in art the beginning of the twentieth century is dated from the end of the First World War). It was impossible for this to go unnoticed by American cinematographists. The period produced films such as: 'Jazz Monkey' (1919), 'Girl with a Jazz Heart' (1920) and 'Children of Jazz' (1923) among others, which embraced the spirit of jazz.


It might have been expected that, with the arrival of sound on film, the "big, silent film" would slip into oblivion; but this wasn't the case. In recent years, "silent" films have returned as a focus for jazz players, among them the more prominent jazz modernists. John Zorn and Vladimir Tarasov are examples of musicians playing to silent films. In 1996, in Yekaterinburg (in Russia), there was a unique festival, "Silent Film - Live Music".



The most valuable and fruitful period of cooperation between cinema and jazz began with sound films. On October 6th 1927, one of the first of these films premiered; symbolically called 'The Jazz Singer'. It is interesting that the main role was played by Al Jolson, originally from the Baltic region.



Some years later, director Dudley Murphy introduced audiences to two films with jazz musicians in the main roles: the film 'St Louis Blues' starred Bessie Smith and 'Black and Tan' featured Duke Ellington and his orchestra. In the 1930s, director John M. Anderson made 'The King of Jazz'; Paul Whiteman and his orchestra were in this film. As a leading commercial jazzman, Paul Whiteman aroused the interest of the cinema world with his debut. Gradually, all the outstanding jazz musicians found their way onto the silver screen. Of course, Louis Armstrong took his rightful place among them; unfortunately, directors forgot that they were working with a great trumpeter, and concentrated on displaying his voice.
In the 1930s, when Hollywood became the centre of the American film business, musical and entertainment films became most popular with audiences. By this time 'Swing' had conquered America. Leading the way were the big bands.



Each of the popular jazz orchestras made their mark on the cinema: Duke Ellington's orchestra's playing in the films 'Belle of the Nineties' (1934), 'Cabin in the Sky' (1943) helped boost their popularity and led to many more screen appearances. Benny Goodman, deserved holder of the title 'King of Swing', was also popular with film-makers. The film 'Hollywood Hotel' (1937) played a special role in the career of this great clarinettist and his band. But in the swing era, Glenn Miller's orchestra was the main screen star. Two musical films made by him, 'Sun Valley Serenade' (1941) and 'Orchestra Wives' (1942) became classic examples of this genre.



In 1942 there was a conflict between the recording studios and the musicians' union and this led to more appearances by jazzmen in the cinemas. After this event a number of record labels were boycotted. For most jazz musicians cinema became the focus of their activity. 'Jivin' in Bebop', filmed in 1945, ensured everlasting fame for Dizzy Gillespie and his orchestra. On this occasion, they weren't playing swing. The film guaranteed classical status for their style embodied on tracks like, 'Ornithology', 'Night in Tunisia' and others.

To be continued