The Sound of Jazz

1957

Dir. Jack Smight , Sound 00:12:00

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Description

Made by CBS Television, taped on 12/8/1957. Different from the rehearsal take issued on Columbia Records, the film is a unique opportunity to view many greats performing together. In order of appearance we see Billie Holliday (chorus 1), Ben Webster (chorus 2), Lester Young (3), Billie (4), Vic Dickenson (5), Gerry Mulligan (6), Billie (7), Coleman Hawkins (8) Roy Eldridge (9 and 10)a nd Billie (choruses 11 and 12). The rhythm section included Mal Waldron (piano), Danny Barker (guitar), Milt Hinton (bass), and Osie Johnson (drums). There is a second trumpet player, Doc Cheatham, and he may play some of the obligattos behind Billie. Technically, The Sound of Jazz gave the appearance of being very (as they say on the Avenue) 'primitive.' You knew that you were in a studio and that these people were being televised. If it sounded better to have a microphone right in front of a man's face, there the microphone would be; and if one cameraman got in another's way he didn't scurry ashamedly out of it. But this impromptu effect, of course, took a deal of contriving. The musicians couldn't believe at first that hats were really okay, and Billie Holliday had to be persuaded to appear in slacks and pony tail instead of the gown she has specially planned on ... Producers Jack Houseman and Robert Herridge found two jazz critics with some ideas, Whitney Balliet and Nat Hentoff, and after the usual round of conferences and memos, gave them complete artistic control. Balliet and Hentoff, from the start, had the kind of program in mind that they eventually produced - one that would concentrate on music. When I asked Balliet at what point they had decided in favor of visual realism and informality, he thought a moment and said, 'I don't think it ever occurred to us to do it any other way.'
[Source: Filmforum program notes, 2/14/77]