At the Jazz Band Ball
features rare, archival film clips from 1925 to 1933 that showcase a wonderful potpourri of musicians, bandleaders, singers, dancers, and entertainers that characterized the best of the Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz Age. The range of this collection represents early 20th-century Americana, from the hometown charm of the Boswell sisters performing the jazz-scat classic "Heebie Jeebies" to the Al Jolson-like antics of Charly Wellman's take on "Alabamy Snow." Of course, jazz is the heartbeat of this pre-World War II time and it's manifested in many ways. There's the classical sophistication of Paul Whiteman's orchestra rendition of "My Ohio Home" with the young trumpet pioneer Bix Beiderbecke, and the elegant and enduring Duke Ellington swinging like mad on "Old Man Blues" with baritone saxophonist Harry Carney, and an imaginative medley consisting of "The Duke Speaks Out," the evocative "Black Beauty," and Cotton Club Stomp" in which the lovely dancer Fredi Washington--and the innovative mirror shots--steal the show.
There's also the "Empress of the Blues," Bessie Smith, with her sorrow-song version of W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues." But Louis Armstrong, the first major jazz improviser and vocalist, is the prince of this era, as evidenced by his down-home trumpet solos, stage charisma, and gravel-like vocals on "I Cover the Waterfront," the fast and furious "Dinah" (as seen on Ken Burns's Jazz), and "Tiger Rag." Add the dapper Dorsey Bros. Band, the tap-dance wizardry of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, and Ben Burnie's burning big band treatment of the Harlem Globetrotters' theme "Sweet Georgia Brown" and you know the exuberance and artistry of this brilliant chapter in American history. --Eugene Holley Jr.
From the Back Cover
At the Jazz Band Ball
brings together some of the greatest hot music, song, and dance captured at the height of the jazz age and in the early days of sound film (1925-1933). Included are some of the giants of the period in their very best early performances: Duke Ellington's Cotton Club Orchestra in clips featuring solos and a floor show, an exuberant, youthful Louis Armstrong, Harlem's "Bo Jangles" Robinson doing his famous step dance, Bessie Smith's only screen performance, a rare clip of the Boswell Sisters harmonizing on a Louis Armstrong classic, and an instrumental from the Dorsey Brothers Band with superb solos from Tommy and Jimmy. From L.A.-based Fowler Studios comes film of radio star Charlie Wellman, Tessie Maize (a featured artist at Frank Sebastian's Cotton Club) and black-faced performer Ruby Darby. Among the many other clips included is an early (1925) De Forest sound film of Ben Bernie's Orchestra in which under-appreciated reedman Jack Pettis contributes what is probably the first jazz solo on film.
And from the newreels for the week of May 18, 1928, the title card can read: JAZZ KING TEARS UP NEW OLD CONTRACT. On stroke of twelve Paul Whiteman starts his first recording for Columbia Phonograph Co.... as Paul Whiteman's Orchestra moved from Victor to Columbia Records. Long considered lost, this newsreel story contains the only appearance of jazz legend Bix Beiderbecke in a sound film as Bix stands up and plays through an ensemble brass passage. 60 minutes.
1. Get Out and Get Under the Moon (Dorsey Brothers Band) (1929)
2. Old Man Blues (Duke Ellington and His Orchestra) (1930)
3. Heebie Jeebies (Boswell Sisters) (1931)
4. Sweet Sue / Tiger Rag (dance contest with James Barton, the Harlem Lindy Hoppers, and Chick Webb's band) (1929)
5. I Cover the Waterfront / Dinah / Tiger Rag (Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra)
6. My Ohio Home (Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra with Bix Beiderbecke) (1928) (2 transfers: 1st normal, 2nd with closeups)
7. Swanee River (Bill Robinson in his famous step dance) (1932)
8. Medley: The Duke Steps Out / Black Beauty / Cotton Club Stomp (Duke Ellington and His Orchestra with Fredi Washington) (1929)
9. Alabamy Snow (Charlie Wellman) (1930)
10. Chinatown, My Chinatown / High Society (Louis Armstrong and His Orchestra) (1931)
11. St. Louis Blues (Bessie Smith)
12. Someday Sweetheart (Tessie Maize and Her Darktown Strutters) (1930)
13. Who Is It? Who? / Tommy Christian Stomp (Tommy Christian and His Orchestra) (1928)
14. Whistle and Blow Your Blues Away / Mandy (unknown tap duet with band) (1931)
15. Sweet Georgia Brown (Ben Bernie and His Orchestra) (1925)
15. Tell the World He's Mine (Ruby Darby) (1930)