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!