Various Artists: Crime Jazz: Music in the First Degree; Crime Jazz: Music in the Second Degree
The hard-boiled television and movie crime drama had its heyday from about 1950 to 1965. These mostly forgotten B-movies and early TV series were usually set in a gritty urban landscape, and revolved around a cop or private dick who was violent when he needed to be, and suave and romantic when he wanted to be. The names of these characters alone evoke a nostalgic, if testosterone overdosed, image of the romantic Hollywood tough guy. Mike Hammer. Johnny Staccato. Peter Gunn. Frankie Machine (Frank Sinatra's role, a junkie jazz drummer, in The Man with the Golden Arm ). The music that played in these characters' rundown apartments, and at the seedy nightclubs and dive bars they frequented, was, naturally, jazz.
Some of the best of this "crime jazz" has been collected on two highly entertaining CDs by those purveyors of musical mayhem at Rhino. These albums feature themes and incidental music from dozens of obscure and well-known films and TV shows. Along with familiar selections from Perry Mason, Peter Gunn, Mission: Impossible, and West Side Story (via Stan Kenton), are cuts from classic films like The Hustler, Touch of Evil, and The Wild One, and TV shows like Naked City, 77 Sunset Strip, and Mr. Lucky.
Although Hollywood has never been particularly friendly to jazz, this temporary fad for jazz-based soundtracks did put a lot of good musicians to work. The compositions and arrangements here, mostly for big band and orchestra, are by some of Hollywood's best: Elmer Bernstein, Henry Mancini, Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones. Most selections are dominated by brash, hard swinging horn sections with a modicum of soloing. Along with tastes of West Coast cool, early rock 'n' roll, Latin jazz, even cha cha, we get appropriately cheesy music for strip joints, prison breaks, and street fights. While everything here is slickly produced, there is some excellent playing by such noted jazz stars as Stan Getz, Shorty Rogers, and Kai Winding.