Wonderful Tunes Provided By Friends. Wild Tangents Provided By Me.

Posts tagged ‘Black’

Bill Evans And My Unexpected Level Of Sophistication

Here’s Bill Evans with the theme some for the movie “The Americanizaiton Of Emily”

“The Americanization of Emily” is a Julie Andrews movie that I’ve never seen! I’ve probably mentioned it like 8000 times but it bears repeating. I LOVE Julie Andrews! I found the movie streaming online so I’ll definitely be watching it this week.

I love the Bill Evans version of this song. Johnny Mercer, who I also love, wrote beautiful lyrics for it so I also really like the Tony Bennett version. Sinatra also sang the song but I think Bennett sounds more besotted and this is definitely a song that requires a bit of moony eyed passion.

I love the trivia I pick up writing in this blog. I thought it was interesting that this clip was from 1970 but it was in black and white. It turns out most of Europe didn’t get color TV until the mid-seventies.  The mid seventies was also when we traded our old black and white set for a new (to us) color set. I always thought we were just sorta broke because my mom was young and just starting out. But it turns out we were just “continental!”

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Al Jolson and I’ll Let You Guess What I’ll Comment On.

According to Wikipedia, in his time, Al Jolson was a superstar. He was, apparently, the first person to make a stage show “spectacular.” He built runways off the stage so he could get closer to the audience and he worked the crowd like a rock star. Well, I guess it’d be more appropriate to say rock stars work the crowd like Jolson.
 
The movie “Hallelujah I’m a Bum” is from 1933. I don’t have TCM and the movie’s not streaming anywhere so I doubt I’ll ever see it. I have no idea if Al is wearing blackface in this movie but it was his trademark so I imagine they shoehorned it in there somewhere. Here’s a clip from the movie. It’s Al singing the title track. It’s a pretty catchy tune.

I hear the masses cry out, “Oh sweet mother, please tell me she’s not going to talk about blackface again!” I think I’ve worn through at least seven soapboxes and absolutely everyone’s patience on that subject. And yet, here I stand dusting off trusty soapbox number eight. Don’t worry though, it’s flimsy wood and I’m no fly weight so I’ll probably bust through it and have to stop before this little post becomes a 62 chapter dissertation.
 
Even though blackface performances are racist, I do not think most folks who did it in the movies were deliberately trying to be offensive. I doubt they gave much thought to how the people they were portraying might feel about it at all. They were just doing a bit that was popular with White audiences at the time.

I’ve seen a couple Jolson’s blackface routines. He does not appear to be broadly mocking stereotypes like Bing did in his “Abraham” number from the movie “Holiday Inn.” Nor does he seem to be giving anyone a well meaning but misguided tribute like both Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell did with their individual tributes to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. He’s just a showman who knows what his audience likes and expects from him and he does it. On my patented Beautiful Offense-O-Meter he ranks dead center. Translation: I would never go out of my way to see it but it doesn’t tick me off much when I do.

Ellington’s Blanton-Webster Band and Reconciling Stereotypes

Saxaphonist Ben Webster and bassist Jimmy Blanton both played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra during the period between 1940-1942. Most critics call these years “the golden era” for the orchestra. The video is a 1942 soundie of “C Jam Blues.” The bassist is uncredited in this video. He’s hard to see but I doubt it’s Blanton who died of tuberculosis in July of that year.

I love Ellington’s soundies! I love soundies in general but he made some particularly fine ones. Duke Ellington also did quite  a few feature films. He was in “Cabin In The Sky” with Ethel Waters, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, and Lena Horne to name a few. I haven’t seen it in years but I remember it being full of the stereotypes you expect from a movie of that era. But it also had some fantastic performances by an amazing all star cast. Now that I’ve been reminded of it, I think I’ll buy that one along with “Stormy Weather” which I love and which was released the same year.

Ethel Waters is also in that little clip of young Sammy Davis I put up a few posts ago. While I was reading up on Duke I took a bit of a tangent to locate the source of that clip. It’s from a 1933 short film called “Rufus Jones For President.” In it Sammy plays Rufus, a young boy who falls asleep and dreams he is president. That tap numer you see is his first act in office. I watched this one last night and all I could say was “wow!” Mainstream Hollywood movies of this era almost always contain offensive stereotypes but… “WOW!” This thing is hilariously offensive. They actually appoint ministers of fried chicken and watermelon and then it REALLY gets rude! The only non-insulting moments in the whole thing are the musical numbers. During the height of the civil rights movement people used to get really angry about the stereotypes perpetuated in films like this one. Personally I think in 1933 when many Americans were out of work and struggling, a cast of 20 or so Black actors and heaven knows how many crew members got to take home a paycheck. They created a film that features 3 great Ethel Waters songs and a song and dance by young Sammy Davis who, at that point, had already been working in show business more than half his life. If I ever find this one on DVD I will pick it up too for the great music and for the historical significance.

PS I may get disbarred from the Fraternal Order Of Black People for saying this, but a lot of Black people, myself included, really do enjoy fried chicken and watermelon. Sue me for spilling the secret but that’s just dang good eatin’ right there!

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