Various Artists Jumpin' & Jivin' Volume 1 Acorn Media
The majority of the items in this wonderful nostalgia fest are "soundies" recorded 1941-1945, augmented by clips from movie shorts made in the late 1940s and early 1950s. There are 27 tracks, comprising swing, jump bands, jazz-inflected vocal quartets, boogie woogie, novelty tunes and big band, bop-for-the-people outings. The collection captures jazz at a time when it was an integral part of American mainstream musical entertainment, before the breakout tradition born of the bop revolution. It's goodtime music from start to finish, and 60 and more years later has lost none of its power to raise a smile and make you want to dance.
Precursors of today's music videos, soundies were three-minute 16mm films which, through an ingenious construction of mirrors, were rear-projected on coin-operated jukeboxes known as Panorams. The machines were installed in bars, restaurants, nightclubs, roadhouses and factory diners all over the US. Beginning in 1940, by the time production ceased in 1947 over 1,800 soundies had been made, taking in every form of popular music from light classical to hillbilly.
Some of the films on Jumpin' & Jivin' Volume 1 are imaginatively staged, with dancers and showgirls acting out the song lyrics through little dramatic vignettes, but most are simple though professional one-camera affairs featuring the musicians on reconstructed club bandstands. A few, like Dizzy Gillespie's "Oop Bop Sh'Bam," have all the finesse and subtlety of skin movies from the era. Sound synchronization isn't always great, and everything, of course, is in black and white. But whatever the filmic quality, the music and the musicians are a delight.
Standouts among the more fully produced items are Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'," "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Your Feet's Too Big," Louis Jordan's "Honey Chile" and Count Basie's "Take Me Back Baby." The Waller tracks feature an uncredited but astonishingly beautiful and honey-voiced female singer, who plays the role of Waller's put upon girfriend. The Basie item features singer Jimmy Rushing as a saxophonist who nods out on the bandstand and in a dream sequence pleads with his girlfriend to let him in the door, before Basie shakes him awake and prods him into action.
Many of the tracks feature professional dancers, and two jump-going-on-rock 'n' roll items by the vocal quartet The Treniers include some of the most compelling jazz dancing I've ever had the pleasure to watch. There were four Trenier brothersClaude, Cliff, Milt and Buddyand all of them could move, but one of them (probably Claude or Cliff, the group's founders) dominates the action so completely that you barely take your eyes off him. Effortlessly and elegantly powerful, he's the very incarnation of rhythm and fluidity.
Much of the music plows an uncomplicated feelgood groove, but a few of the tracks venture further out. Singer Lena Horne, accompanied by pianist Teddy Wilson's orchestra and boogie woogie pianists Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons, is riveting on "Unlucky Woman." The Gene Krupa Band's "Let Me Off Uptown" is the swing-era hit featuring a spirited vocal duet by Anita O'Day and trumpeter Roy Eldridge, who demonstrates why he's been called the "missing link" between Pops and Diz with a fine swing-to-bop instrumental solo. Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady" memorably showcases Harry Carney on bass clarinet. Billy Eckstine's "Rhythm In A Riff" has tenor saxophonists Gene Ammons (son of Albert) and Frank Wess in roaring form, urged ever onward by drummer Art Blakey.
Most of the material on Jumpin' & Jivin' Volume 1 comes from the home library of Mike Minoie, a civil servant for the city of Boston, who began collecting soundies in the 1950s. Other sources include the Library of Congress and the archives of Universal Media, a musical history consultancy with links to the Smithsonian Institution. There is plenty more where these first 27 tracks came from. Roll on volume two.
Tracks: Cab Calloway: Minnie The Moocher; Louis Jordan: Honey Chile; Fats Waller: Ain't Misbehavin'; Count Basie Orchestra With Jimmy Rushing: Take Me Back Baby; Teddy Powell: My Little Cousin; Gene Krupa With Anita O'Day & Roy Eldridge: Let Me Off Uptown; Delta Rhythm Boys: Take The A Train; The Treniers: Rag Mop; Louis Jordan: Tillie; Will Bradley: Basin Street Boogie; Fats Waller: Your Feet's Too Big; Dizzy Gillespie: Oop Bop Sh'Bam; Lionel Hampton: Ding Dong Baby; Lena Horne: Unlucky Woman; Billy Eckstine: Rhythm In A Riff; Teddy Powell: Sans Culottes; Duke Ellington: Sophisticated Lady; Cab Calloway: Blues In The Night; The Treniers: It's Rock, It's Roll, It's Swing; Louis Jordan: Buzz Me; Fats Waller: Honeysuckle Rose; Pete Johnson & Albert Ammons: Boogie Woogie Dream; Will Bradley: Boardwalk Boogie; Ralph Flanagan: Dixie Jump; Al Donahue: The Anvil Chorus; Lionel Hampton: Airmail Special; Artie Shaw: Class In Swing.