#153) Jam Session (1942)

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#153) Jam Session (1942)

OR “Six Ways to Soundie”

Directed by Josef Berne

“C Jam Blues” composed by Duke Ellington

Class of 2001

The Plot: Duke Ellington and his band perform “C Jam Blues” in a bar. That’s it. That’s the whole thing.

Why It Matters: The NFR mentions this film’s designation as a Soundie, described as “a musical film played on jukebox-like devices found in social clubs and bars.” An essay by jazz film expert Mark Cantor gives a thorough history of the Soundies.

But Does It Really?: We’ll get more of Duke Ellington throughout the Registry, but this short gets a pass for its representation of the Soundies. To quote the aforementioned essay “The significance of this film is clear, and its placement on the Registry well warranted!” Yeah, Cantor actually ends his essay with that. The exclamation mark is there too. Go ahead, click the link.

Everybody Gets One: Many of the band members also appear in Duke’s other NFR entry “Black and Tan”, but I’ll give them a shout-out anyway. On violin, Ray Nance! On trumpet, Rex Stewart! On saxophone, Ben Webster! On trombone, Tricky Sam Nanton! On clarinet, Barney Bigard! And on drums, Sonny Greer!

Wow, That’s Dated: “Harlem Cats Eatery”. Plus the halcyon days of the clarinet as a jazz instrument. It was mainly just Barney Bigard and Benny Goodman.

Other notes

  • Did RCM Productions steal their logo from 20th Century Fox?
  • “The Soundies” seems like it should be the uninspired name for a sound mixing award, doesn’t it? How many times has Kevin O’Connell lost that one?
  • Lunch is only 23 cents! That’d be about $3.50 today! It’s a steal!
  • Trombonist Joe Nanton earned the nickname “Tricky Sam” from Duke’s saxophonist Toby Hardwick. The tricky part I get, it’s the Sam part that doesn’t add up. I guess you had to be there.
  • So if I play jazz in a bar, women will randomly show up and fawn over me? Noted.
  • In doing my research, I learned that one of the companies that made Soundies was called “L.O.L. Productions”. As best I can tell the initials stood for the founders, two of which were Arthur Leonard and Sam Oliphant. Oh, where are you, second L?

Legacy

  • While Soundies went out of fashion with the advent of television, it did pave the way for the modern music video. I have an unlimited selection of music video I could link to, but God help me, it’s Mick Jagger and David Bowie’s “Dancing in the Street” that’s calling to me right now.
  • “C Jam Blues” has been covered many times over the years. Lyrics were eventually added and the song came to be called “Duke’s Place”.
  • Director Josef Berne would direct many Soundies, including a few more with Duke. His moment in the sun came when he directed the 1943 short “Heavenly Music”, which won the Oscar for Best Live-Action Short.
  • An animated show where Duke Ellington is an advice-spewing ghost voiced by Jordan Peele? I mean, you’re picturing it, and we’re talking about it…

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