Jazz on Film: Beat, Square & Cool
Again presenting eight film scores spread across five discs, packaged in a gorgeous box and enclosed with a beautifully illustrated and comprehensively notated booklet, the Moochin' About staff (who are also the force behind the excellent British magazine Jazzwise) have returned with their second installment of noir and near-noir jazz movie music. As with their previous five disc volume, Film Noir, Beat, Square, and Cool anthologizes dark, moody "crimejazz" film scores coming from composers from both outside and within the relative mainstream of mid 20th century jazz. This series means business. These sets aren't cheap. Also, much of this music has been on compact disc at some point before, so arguments for buying it this way start with superior sound quality and that Moochin' About's editions wherever possible include more of the music from the film than has been previously available.
My review of the previous Film Noir set goes into the history and aesthetic of crimejazz and its close cousins, so this review will skip the history and go right to the music. This set takes a wider stylistic view, from Leith Stevens' Kentonesque Wild One score (which is an intellectual masterpiece) to 1960s hard bop. As previously, Duke Ellington is represented, this time with Paris Blues, which may well be his best writing for film. The film stars Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier as expatriot American musicians living in Paris. Newman is a trombonist trying to make the jump from jazz to "serious" music, and the main title theme is exactly the type of Ellingtonia that sums up that aspiration and illustrates its impressionistic nobility. Throughout, the score acquits itself perfectly both as jazz and film score. This can be a bit of a tightrope, but Ellington's cinematic tendencies coupled with his discipline as a composer made him perfect for the job. Paris Blues is one of his most undersold 1960s albums, and shouldn't be.
Charles Mingus' score for John Cassavetes' Shadows is less a true film score and more a Mingus album. Which, in fact, it mostly was. Save for the opening "Untitled Percussion Composition," these tracks are most of an album that has been alternately issued as Jazz Portraits and Mingus Wonderland. It's great stuff (pianist Richard Wyands is especially good), but this music has not been particularly hard to get, great though it is.
The real jewel of this set is Johnny Mandel's Oscar-winning score for the powerful I Want To Live!, which starred Susan Hayward as a party girl framed for murder and sent to the electric chair. Live! claims the distinction of being the first motion picture to use modern jazz written by a card-carrying modern jazz composer/arranger. Mandel's resume at that point included composing, arranging, and playing on the West Coast scene that evolved in the late 1940s (most notably ultramodern bebop work for Woody Herman). I Want To Live! established him in one fell swoop as a giant, and he lived up to it as both an arranger and film composer. Recently, he penned arrangements for Paul McCartney's standards disc. His compositions include "The Shadow Of Your Smile," "Emily" and "Theme From MASH (Suicide Is Painless)."
Live! is the goods. The quality of the composing is staggering, and the players on this scoreincluding drummer Shelley Manne, percussionist Larry Bunker, bassist Red Mitchell and baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulliganturned in some of their most inspired work of a decade. The popular, critical, and artistic success of this score gave Hollywood the grand idea of hiring real jazz composers to compose jazz scores, hence Ellington and others writing for film. This one is a watershed. However, in this edition, the producers resequenced the track order, and some of the impact was lost by doing this. It's a minor gripe, but a real one.
Andre Previn's score for the film adaptation of Jack Kerouac's novel The Subterraneans is too often overlooked, and why its lone vocal tune, "Coffee Time" (sung here by Carmen McRae), is not a standard is a mystery to me. Previn still had one foot firmly on jazz terrain, and he turned in a score that is authentic and atmospheric, one that punctuates the film gorgeously. Although a few cuts were included in Rhino's wonderful Hollywood Swing And Jazz set some years back, the complete score has been out of print since the early 1990s. Its return is most welcome.
Series producer Harris Selwyn is to be commended. The Jazz On Film series is so far equal parts fantastic packaging and intelligent, substantial programming. These sets are coffee table books for the ear.
Track Listing: CD1: The Wild One: The Wild One; Blues for Brando; Windswept; Chino; Lonely Way; Beetle; Hotshoe; Scramble; Bewildered; Black Rebel’s Ride; Prelude to a Rumble; Drag For Beers. Crime in the Streets: The Plot; The Crime; The Celebration CD2: I Want To Live: Theme from I Want to Live; Black Nightgown; Night Watch; Frisco Club; Barbara’s theme; Life’s a Funny Thing; Main Title; Poker Game; San Diego Party; Henry Leaves; Stakeout; Barbara Surrenders; Trio Convicted; Trip to Corona; Peg’s Visit; Gas Chamber Unveiling; Nightmare Sequence; Preparations for Execution; Letter Writing Sequence; The Last Mile; Death Scene; End Title. CD3: Les Tricheurs: Les Tricheurs; Clo’s Blues; Phil’s Tune; Mic’s Jump; On the Alamo; Get Happy; Sweet Georgia Brown. Paris Blues: Take the A Train; Battle Royal (aka Big Bash); Birdie Jungle; Mood Indigo; Autumnal Suite; Nite; Wild Man Moore; Paris Stairs; Guitar Amour; Paris Blues CD4: The Subterraneans: Main Title (Film Version); Bread and Wine; Things are Looking Down; Red Drum Blues; Should I ? Coffee Time; Source No. 1 (Guido’s Blackhawk); Source No 2; Balloon; Main Title (Leo and Mardou); Alarm Clock (Raising Caen); Spaghetti Factory; Roxanne at Ariel’s; Togethernes; Look Ma No Clothes; A Rose and the End; Analyst/I'm Leo/Yuri and Leo; Two by Two/Leo and His Mama. CD5: Shadows: Untitled Percussion Composition; Nostalgia in Times Square; Alice’s Wonderland; Self Portrait in Three Colours.
Record Label: Moochin' About