Joe Marsala and his Orchestra, featuring Adele Girard
Introduction: Soundies and The Birth of the Music Video
Long before we became a nation of fast food addicts we began applying the concept of “fast, easy and abbreviated” to our language. Ignoring a product’s actual origin we began referring to all facial tissue as “kleenex.” A photocopy was “a xerox,” and the soft drink of choice was simply a “coke.” Likewise, in the world of film, the term “soundie” fell prey to the same imprecise language that plagued the makers of “Band-Aids” and “Q-tips.” Today any short musical item, regardless of source, is often referred to as a soundie. This seems to be the case whether the origin is a feature film, a short subject, a television kinescope .... indeed, a short musical film from almost any source whatsoever. This is unfortunate since the soundie, like all film genres, has its own unique history to relate, its own story to tell. And that story is more fascinating (and certainly more varied) than most!
Having noted above what a soundie is not, it seems reasonable to offer an accurate definition of this somewhat elusive film form: A soundie is a three-minute film, created by any number of different production companies, copyrighted and released by the Soundies Distributing Corporation of America specifically for use in the Mills Novelty Company presentation mechanism called the “Mills Panoram.” These films may have been produced specifically for the Mills Novelty Company, or may have been produced earlier for theatrical release, or release on competing jukebox presentation systems and later picked up for re-release as a soundie.
Dating soundies has always been a guessing game among researchers who have unfortunately relied far too often on copyright date. Here again some precise information is necessary: The earliest soundies that were produced expressly for Panoram distribution were recorded during June 1940 and filmed-to-playback shortly thereafter; the first release of a reel of soundies to jukebox owners was January 1, 1941. The last soundies were produced during October 1946, with the final reel of films distributed the week of March 10, 1947. While soundies from the 1930s do exist, they are actually excerpts from previously released short subjects and feature films. Many of these earlier films were picked up by the Mills Novelty Company during the American Federation of Musicians recording strike (1942-44) when musicians were banned from recording soundtracks for soundies.
It is important to note that the copyright date of any given soundie often bears little relationship to the film’s production date. While the soundtrack recording, sideline photography, and release dates are often closely related, there are many exceptions. For example, the soundtrack for “Tuxedo Junction,” was recorded on January 23, 1940, with Lillian Randolph’s vocal accompanied by Victor Young’s radio orchestra. Sideline photography was not completed until two and a half years later, with Edna Mae Harris appearing on screen miming to Randolph’s soundtrack. The soundie was finally released on January 18, 1943!
Soundies distribution was incredibly complicated, and will be dealt with in detail in my forthcoming book on jukebox shorts. Again, the abbreviated version: The owners of bars, hotels, restaurants, pool rooms, recreation centers .... anyplace where people might congregate .... purchased the viewing mechanism (The Mills Panoram) from the Mills Novelty Company for roughly $600.00. Each week they were provided with a reel or 8 soundies, for which a rental fee was paid; alternately, they could “custom order” a reel of 8 films using a catalogue of available shorts. Each soundie was screened on the Panoram for a dime, and that income went directly to the Panoram owner, who could hopefully pay for the weekly rental, as well as amortize the cost of the machine.
The Panoram “enterprise” was, if nothing else, a great populist experiment, and the films were intended to appeal to the widest possible audience. Hence soundies reflect any and all popular music forms of the 1940s: jazz, dance bands, popular vocalists, novelty bands, ethnic music (Irish, Hawaiian, Russian, etc.), country music, Western Swing, standup comedy, dance routines, vaudeville, sports performance, illustrated “song stories,” .... all were represented on the Panoram screen.
Among the most unexpected and significant soundies from the period 1945-46 is a series of four short films featuring Joe Marsala and his Band, and one additional surprise: a combo from the band focusing on the harp artistry of Marsala’s wife, Adele Girard. Little has been written about this band, and a great deal of misinformation about the personnel has been published over the years. Here, for the first time, is the story of the Joe Marsala soundies!
Soundies Background - The Production Companies
The earliest soundies were put together by Globe Productions, a Hollywood enterprise headed by Jimmie Roosevelt, the son of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (In addition to 24 soundies, all released within the first four months of 1941, the company also produced the 1941 feature film “Pot O’ Gold” starring Jimmy Stewart and Horace Heidt and his Orchestra.) However, Roosevelt and his partners at Mills Novelty Company immediate recognized that Globe alone would be unable to supply the weekly release commitment of eight films. Over the next six years a large number of sources (ultimately 48 in total) were either developed “in house” by Mills, or contracted externally, to provide the soundies “product.”
The production of the three-minute musicals is a fascinating story in itself. Some companies were directly related to Mills Novelty Company, including Minoco (which derived its name from the first two letters of each word in “Mills Novelty Company”), R.C.M. Productions (Roosevelt, songwriter Sam Coslow and Gordon Mills .... no relation to Irving, incidentally) and Filmcraft Productions, which was ultimately the most prolific of soundie producers. Other companies were tied peripherally to Mills: Triumph Productions was headed by Filmcraft musical direction Jack Shaindlin, and Century Productions by R.C.M. Productions director Josef Berne. Mills Novelty Company also contracted with independent producers (ie, L.O.L Productions), purchased jukebox shorts produced earlier by others (ie, Television Corporation of America), and reissued shorts subjects and feature excerpts from the previous decade (Educational Films, Joe Rock Productions, etc.). On occasion they even bootlegged films produced by major studios (MGM). The result was an amazing degree of variability in terms of production quality, and incredible variety in terms of the music presented on screen.
On August 1, 1942, instrumentalists belonging to the American Federation of Musicians commenced a recording strike, demanding that record producers pay a royalty for each commercial disk sold to the public. Union members were further prohibited from recording soundtracks for jukebox shorts. Recordings of soundies’ soundtracks was therefore halted on July 30 of that year. Soundies producers turned to non-union bands, pre-recorded music, and occasional bootleg recording sessions. Although documentation is lacking, Gordon Mills, president of Soundies Distributing Corporation of America, was obviously speaking with union head James Petrillo throughout late 1943, since union-sanctioned recording of soundies began again in January 1944. After such a long layoff, however, a new production company was called for since a great deal of product would be needed as quickly as possible. While R.C.M. Productions continued its work on the West Coast, Mills decided that their publicity manager, William Forest Crouch, was just the man to head their East Coast operations.
Crouch apparently had little previous film making experience, which is surprising since he became the most prolific of soundie producers and directors. (In addition to producing and/or directing more than 550 soundies, Crouch directed a number of black cast short subjects and features, most notably those starring Louis Jordan and his Tympany Five.) William Forest Crouch first began soundie production in Chicago, under the banner WFC Productions. In February 1943 he moved to New York City, where Filmcraft Productions began what would become a series of almost 500 soundies, most of which bore the credit “produced and directed by William Forest Crouch.” The company was headquartered at 2826 Decatur Avenue in the Bronx, at a studio previous owned and operated by Thomas Edison.
Throughout his production tenure William Crouch developed a workable, somewhat generic, but highly successful approach to mass film production. Unlike earlier producers he tended not to stockpile large numbers of soundtracks, later matching them with sideline musicians, vocalists and dancers who were not present when the soundtrack was recorded. While there were many exceptions, of course, Crouch tended to bring his recording groups directly to the Bronx, record four to six soundtracks, and then schedule the sideline photography within a week or so. Due to this fact we can often infer that the personnel listed on a recording contract is often similar (if not identical) to the artists who appear on screen.
Crouch was not an inventive director. Unlike others who directed soundies --- Reginald LeBorg, Dave Gould and Roy Mack, for example --- Crouch did not have a great deal of previous film making experience. He did not employ fancy complicated visual effects (as did Neil McGuire), could not edit his own product (John Primi directed and edited his films), and was uncomfortable with large numbers of sideline artists (Fred Waller routinely worked with large groups on screen). Apart from his tendency to include images of scantily clad, well-developed women whenever possible, the hallmark of most Crouch soundies is their straight forward, non-cluttered visual presentation.
Joe Marsala and Adele Girard
Clarinetist Joseph Francis Marsala will be familiar to all who appreciate and enjoy classic jazz. Born January 4, 1907 in Chicago, Marsala was a late-bloomer in terms of his musical studies. In fact, the Grove Dictionary of Jazz notes that it was not until 1925 that Marsala began playing clarinet. During the next decade Joe Marsala performed in many groups around the Midwest, including stints with a circus band, and later with bands led by Ben Pollack and Wingy Manone. It was with the latter that Marsala made his recording debut in July 1935. Marsala recorded regularly with Manone over the next four years, soloing in a style that showed his deep indebtedness to Jimmy Noone, an appreciation of Benny Goodman, and and a rapidly evolving improvisational style of his own. It was also during his tenure with Manone that Joe Marsala first played The Hickory House in New York City, one of the more important and long-lived clubs on 52nd Street. When Manone left the club in 1936 Marsala formed a band of his own and, despite continued recordings with Manone through 1938, led his own combo at the Hickory House on-and-off for more than a decade!
In 1937 Marsala married jazz harpist Adele Girard who became a regular part of the Marsala performing and recording group. Girard had played and recorded with Harry Sosnik’s orchestra in the mid-1930s, but it is with Marsala that we get to hear her amazing jazz chops. Classically trained, Girard was the first of a long line of female jazz artists who specialized on the harp, a list that includes Dorothy Ashby, Kitty White and Corky Hale. Her unique sound and sense of swing is a delight to hear, and even more so to see; she handles this difficult instrument with skill, poise and aplomb! Always an inventive musician, her “Harp Boogie” (described below) is a primer on how the harp can be adapted to jazz!
The Joe Marsala Soundies - Production Details
Early in the spring of 1946 it was decided that Joe Marsala’s combo was “right” to perform in a series of soundies for Filmcraft Productions. The size of the group --- six men and one woman --- meant the the films could be made on a slender budget. In fact, the entire band was paid only $750.00 for their recording and sideline efforts for the four or five soundies detailed below. (It is not clear if this sum includes the effort by the Adele Girard Trio, recorded and filmed along with the other soundies in this series, or if a separate payment was made to the trio.)
The size of the group, and the fact that it was an established performing combo, had other advantages. At least three of the five songs the group performed (Millennium Jump, The Boy and the Girl From North and South Carolina [henceforth “The Boy and the Girl”] and Southern Comfort) were part of the regular band book, and no additional arrangements would be necessary; the fourth number, the trio effort, (Harp Boogie) was an improvised piece, and again no additional arranging costs would be required. The last number, Don’t Be a Baby, Baby, was a minor popular hit during this period, and was probably familiar to the group; they may have been playing it in club performance during this period.
The band met at the RCA recording studios in New York City (R.C.A. Studios, 411 Fifth Avenue) on April 29, 1946, and the five soundtracks were probably recorded during a standard three-hour session. However, string bassist Emil Powell recalls that “the singers and certainly the dancers weren’t around when we recorded the music.” This statement substantiates production file materials that suggest that some or all of the vocals were overdubbed at a later date, possibly during the week commencing May 10.
Two weeks later, on May 14, the band reassembled in the Bronx for the sideline session. (The one exception is Southern Comfort, which was probably filmed somewhat later, during the week commencing June 3, 1946.) Although sideline documents are lacking, it is almost certain that the soundies were filmed at Filmcraft Studios. With filming completed, editing began in earnest and the first soundie from the series was released to Panoram owners in July 1946.
Not much thought was given to to the scripts for these films, if the word “script” can even be applied in some cases! Sideline photography for Millennium Jump and Harp Boogie was a standard “shoot the band and dancers on the bandstand” affair. The remaining soundies featured vocalists and sideline actors in what were termed “song stories.” Interesting enough, Southern Comfort, which participant Emil Powell notes “was a song we played a lot in public” (and which the band recorded for Musicraft May 4, 1945, without the vocal chorus), does not feature the band at all on screen; rather, vocalist Earl Oxford performs the song on screen to the recorded accompaniment of the Marsala band.
Joe Marsala and his Band
Problems with this series of soundies, and the band’s personnel in particular, have dogged researchers for many years. While drummer Buddy Christian provided important background information about the films, it was not until October 22, 2000 that a conversation with bassist Emil Powell finally allowed all of the puzzle pieces to be put firmly in place.
Because many of the sideline performers were not the musicians generally associated with Marsala during this period (ie, Marty Marsala, Joe Thomas, Charlie Queener, etc.) it was long assumed that the sideline performers were either “actors,” or members of the New York musicians union who were not necessarily related to the Marsala group; this would have been a requirement of the American Federation of Musicians, although it was not always adhered to by soundies producers. In any case, these two scenarios proved to be totally spurious.
According to the group’s drummer, Buddy Christian, the Marsala band played extended engagements at the Hickory House (52nd Street) and the Hotel Dixie during this period. Emil Powell points out this “edition” of the band played many other venues as well, and that this is obviously not the “Hickory House” band fabled in jazz lore. (The earlier band that played at the Hickory House and Hotel Dixie is well known, and rightfully so, including either Joe Thomas or Marty Marsala on trumpet, Charlie Queener or Gene DeNovi, piano, Chuck Wayne, guitar, Artie Shapiro, string bass and Buddy Rich, drums ..... this in addition to Joe Marsala and Adele Girard.) However, as Emil Powell points out, there were important changes in the band’s personnel over the years, and by spring 1946 there had been a great deal of turnover in the group.
Buddy Christian was able to identify only Marsala, Girard and himself from what he termed the “regular band”; he recognized string bassist Emil Powell, but thinking about the earlier Hickory House combo did not recall Powell as a “band regular” in mid 1946. Buddy did not recognize the trumpet, piano and guitar on the band, and felt certain that this was a “pick up group.” However, time will play tricks with memories! Emil Powell clearly recalled the band and his participation in the production of the soundies, and stated that this was “the regular working band from this period, although this band was not together for very long.” Much of what we know about the band’s personnel comes from Emil Powell and Buddy Christian; to a large extent we’ll let them do the talking!
Joe Marsala and his Band: the Sidemen
trumpet: Quentin Thompson
I have not been able to locate any printed information about trumpet player Quentin Thompson, and he is one of scores of musicians whose story has been largely lost to time. He is not recalled in any jazz history, nor does he appear to have made many recordings. Virtually all that we know of Thompson comes from Emil Powell! “Now Quent Thompson,” begins Powell, “there was a Tom Sawyer sort of a guy, turned out to be an alcoholic, I guess, but I ran into him playing Dixieland on the Coast many years ago, and he was playing as good as ever. I heard that he ended up in Seattle, a derelict ... almost a street person. Really sad sort of ending! [Emil is probably confusing Quentin Thompson with Lucky Thompson, whose wanderings on the Seattle streets is spoken of often.] During the war Quent was shot down over Berlin and became a POW, and the Germans almost shot him because he was always joking, never took things seriously. But he was a great player!”
“Quent didn’t have any formal training,” continues Powell, “and he carried his trumpet around in a paper bag. He wasn’t much of a reader, but he learned the routines quickly. But he was nothing short of a genius. He didn’t do a lot of recording so he just didn’t get to be well known. Later he went with Claude Thornhill [no known recordings] and I recall being with him in Bobby Byrne’s band after we left Marsala.” Powell is correct, and he and Thompson are present on a broadcast from New York’s Commodore Hotel on June 25, 1947 (AFRS One Night Stand 1486). I have not been able to audition this material and do not know if Thompson has any chance to solo.
Powell concludes, “I remember that he was one of the few musicians I knew who never used profanity, and about the worst word he would use was ‘hell.’ As far as I am concerned, he was one of the best, a Bix Beiderbecke sort of guy in style and sound. The copies of the soundies you sent me give an idea of what he could do, but they don’t really do him full justice”
piano: Lou Bredice
Lou Bredice also left no recordings or mention in jazz literature. Yet he is among the more accomplished and polished members of the Marsala group. Powell recalled him fondly: “Ah yes, Lou! He was very good, too, and played a little like Jess [Stacy] or Dave Bowman. He played a lot around the New York area .... yes, he was on the scene for a while, and I used to see him around, but I just lost touch with him.”
guitar: Salvatore Mancuso
“Salvatore Mancuso ... he later changed his name to Scott Miller though we knew him as “Prof”... he was a fine guitar player. He just played rhythm and chords and didn’t do much as a single-string soloist. He played with Bobby Byrne, Ziggy Elman and Jack Jenney, and passed away several years ago.” There are no known recording by Mancuso/Miller with any of these three bandleaders.
string bass: Emil Powell
Much of the band’s superb rhythmic pulse is provided by Emil Powell. “Me? It seems like I’ve been with everyone. Around the time these films were made I played with many bands, and was with Bobby Byrne, Jack Jenney, Dean Hudson, Sonny Dunham, Johnny McGee, Eddie Condon, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Bobby Hackett, Tony Spargo at Nick’s, the famous dixieland spot in New York. I wasn’t on record as much as some of my other friends, but I was pretty much constantly working. Later I also worked with Lester Lanin and Stanley Melba on the weekly TV show ‘The Christophers’”
Funny thing about these soundies.... I was with Sonny Dunham’s band, and we were in New Orleans, playing the Blue Room at the Hotel Roosevelt. I’m walking down Barone Street, and I hear music, and then I realize, ‘Hey, I’m on that record.’ I look up and, right there above a little popcorn stand is the screen, and there I am, playing string bass on the soundies machine.”
drums: Buddy Christian
Born October 26, 1917 in Nyack, New York, where he lives to this day, Howard “Buddy” Christian has had a long and distinguished career, and speaks of the mid 1940s with obvious fondness: “There was so much happening at the time ..... Swing, bop, the older New Orleans guys who had been rediscovered. You could jam 7 nights a week if you wanted.”
Buddy played his first gig at the very tender age of 8. During the 1930s Buddy worked with Eddie Sauter’s first band, Bob Sylvester’s orchestra, and in 1939 joined the formidable Red Norvo/Mildred Bailey aggregation. The following decade found Buddy working with orchestras by Bobby Parks, Charlie Spivak, Teddy Powell, Ina Ray Hutton, George Auld and others; he also worked the “Downbeat” on 52nd Street with Ben Webster. Throughout this series of soundies Buddy provides the solid beat that has characterized his work for more than seven decades. His wife Norma relates, “Buddy was the quintessential ‘sideman.’ He never wanted to be a leader or a ‘star.’ Playing drums behind a good band, keeping good time, but never getting in the way ... this is what he wanted to do. He is a living example of how doing what you want keeps you young and active. As of 2002, at age 84, he is still performing.”
The Joe Marsala Soundies - Supporting Performers
By 1946 William Crouch had long since realized that the straight presentation of music on screen was not always sufficient to hold the interest of most viewers. Singers, scantily-clad dancers, “song stories” and such were often needed to augment the musical performances. The supporting players in this series of soundies are rather obscure, although a little information has been gleaned from contemporary sources.
Vocalist Earl Oxford is perhaps the most familiar name among the support performers, if the term “familiar” can be used about a singer who has not been discussed in print in almost 70 years. Oxford was a radio veteran, having performed in that medium since the late 1920s; the baritone singer with the wide vibrato appeared on WEAF in 1929, and on the NBC series “Broadway Lights” in 1929-30. Oxford can also be seen in a handful of films, usually in “bit roles,” including Cat and the Fiddle, Riptide and Sadie McKee (all MGM 1934). He also appeared in the classic Ernst Lubitch feature The Merry Widow (MGM, 1934), and auditioned for the role of Tom-Tom in Babes In Toyland (Hal Roach, 1934), losing out to Felix Knight. His last feature film appearance is the 1943 Warner Brothers extravaganza This Is the Army. Earl Oxford was sufficiently known to audiences of the time, however, to warrant a soundie series of his own, which was produced shortly after the Marsala films under discussion.
In light of the problem with soundtrack vocal work described in the next section, it should be noted that Oxford’s vocal participation has been confirmed; it is clearly the same vocalist on Southern Comfort who later records the soundtrack for the Earl Oxford series of soundies.
Of Ahmed Rai (possibly Ahmed Vaal Rai) very little is known beyond what can be seen on screen. A darkly handsome performer, Rai was probably discovered while Crouch was filming a series of soundies with Dean Hudson’s orchestra in Miami Beach. Rai was paid $100.00 for his participation in two soundies in this series. Whether or not Rai sings on soundtrack, however, is in doubt. The Dean Hudson soundies were filmed in Miami on April 22, 1946, and that certainly gives Rai enough time to get to New York City in time for the April 29 Marsala recording date. However, the existing contract material points to Rai’s participation as sideline only, and one must conclude that the vocalist here is unknown, and that “possibly Ahmed Rai” is as close as we can get to the truth at this late date.
This series of soundies appears to be Betty Underwood’s screen debut, the beginning of a short “run” in the film industry. Ms. Underwood appears as a sideline extra only. Underwood later appeared in bit parts in late 1940s features, including Dangerous Profession, Strange Bargain (both RKO, 1949), The Girl from Jones Beach (Warner Brothers, 1949) and Storm Over Wyoming (RKO, 1950).
Eileen Clarence, Judy Bakay and Rusha Holden
Eileen Clarence is credited on screen in The Boy and the Girl From North and South Carolina, although her work is limited to playing the “girl from South Carolina”; at least she warrants credit, since the boy (from North Carolina, of course) appears anonymously. Of dancers Rusha Holden and Judy Bakay, presumably two New York club performers, nothing can be found in print.
The Joe Marsala Soundies - Filmography, Description and Analysis
In the filmography that follows each soundie is assigned a specific catalogue number; the Soundie Featurette number refers to the weekly release of eight soundies in which the soundie was featured. The production number in a complicated matter that will be fully dealt with in a future article; it is used to identify the production company, a specific production series, and quite probably the order in which the soundie was completed and made ready for release. The soundies are listed below in catalogue order, which is also the order of release.
session production information:
William Forest Crouch, producer and director
session recording date and place:
April 29, 1946 (R.C.A. Studios, 411 Fifth Avenue, New York City);
it is quite possible that Earl Oxford’s vocals were overdubbed during the week of May 10, 1946
session sideline date and place: May 14, 1946; unknown location,
possibly Filmcraft Studios (2826 Decatur Avenue, Bronx, New York City); while it is possible that Southern Comfort was filmed
during the week of May 13, it is more likely that the filming
was completing the week commencing June 3, 1946
session personnel: Joe Marsala, clarinet and leader; Quentin Thompson, trumpet; Adele Girard, harp, save for “The Boy and the Girl, ” where Girard appears as a vocalist; Lou Bredice, piano; Salvatore Mancuso (Scott Miller) guitar; Emil Powell, string bass; Buddy Christian, drums
session arrangements: unknown, almost certainly Joe Marsala and/or members of the band
Don’t Be a Baby, Baby
composer credits: Buddy Kaye; Howard Steiner
credits: Joe Marsala and Orchestra
Ahmed Rai and Betty Underwood
catalogue number: 24801 (Soundies Featurettes #1248)
production number: 1046-6-340
copyright date: July 22, 1946
release date: July 22, 1946
soloists: Joe Marsala, clarinet; Quentin Thompson, trumpet; Adele
Girard, harp obbligatos
vocal: unknown, possibly Ahmed Rai
sideline vocal: Ahmed Rai
other performance: Betty Underwood, female lead (“the baby”)
catalogue description: “Joe Marsala and orchestra, recording now for Musicraft, do a terrific job along with Betty Underwood and Ahmed Rai.”
description and evaluation: A harp introduction by Adele, and then we’re off into a typical pop song of the period, with a strong vocal by an unknown performer, possibly Ahmed Rai; Betty Underwood, on the other hand, has nothing to do but look pretty. Marsala gets an entire chorus to himself, playing a relaxed solo full of inventive twists and turns. Marsala’s fluid phrasing and breathy sound are exactly what we have come to expect from this clarinet master. Quentin Thompson's chorus is also casual, and his muted solo recalls as much Buck Clayton and Harry James as Bix. The rhythm section is especially well recorded, and the steady 4/4 of Mancuso’s guitar, along with Christian’s steady brushwork, helps the band swing through a not-so-inspired composition.
composer credit: unknown, almost certainly Adele Girard
credits: The Adele Girard Trio
catalogue number: 25101 (Soundies Featurettes #1251)
production number: 1046-3-343
copyright date: August 12, 1946
release date: August 12, 1946
arranger: Adele Girard
soloist: Adele Girard
dance: Rusha Holden
catalogue description: “Adele Girard beating out hot boogie with her harp plus the dancing of Rusha Holden.”
description and evaluation: This is, along with the soundie that follows, not only the the most satisfying film in this series, but also one of the most unique and important of all soundies. For a full three minutes, through eight chorus with only guitar and string bass support, Adele Girard improvises on the basic blues. Using chords, single note runs and arpeggios (and moving through one change of key), Girard shows what can be done on this most difficult of instruments. The dancing of Rusha Holden does not get in the way as we marvel at Girard’s relaxed sense of swing as she moves from theme, theme variation to pure improvisation based on the standard twelve bar blues chords. This is an outstanding film, worthy of study despite the fact that sound and finger movement don’t always match perfectly.
composer credits: unknown, possibly Joe Marsala and/or Adele Girard
catalogue number: 25303 (Soundies Featurettes #1253)
production number: 1046-6-342
copyright date: August 26, 1946
release date: August 26, 1946
soloists: Joe Marsala, clarinet; Quentin Thompson, trumpet; Adele Girard, harp; Lou Bredice, piano
dance: Judy Bakay
catalogue description: “Judy Bakay does a very jivey dance to the torrid tempos of the Marsala "rebop" group.”
description and evaluation: Despite the composition’s futuristic title, the reference to “rebop” in the catalogue description, and the hope that Marsala’s appreciation for bop might be represented on film, this is a standard Swing riff tune based on George Gershwin's “Lady be Good.” The soundies production files do not provide composer credit for this number, although Emil Powell recalls that Joe Marsala or wife Adele Girard might have penned the composition. This is certainly the most satisfy of the set from a jazz point of view, with Marsala featured prominently on his clarinet, fashioning a wonderful serpentine solo. Quentin Thompson does not necessarily live up to the expectations established by Powell, although he is a fine “second tier” trumpet stylist. While there is little hint of a Bixian influence, Thompson does falls among the Armstrong influenced trumpet players of the Buck Clayton school. His legato phrasing is certainly worth a careful listen. Lou Bredice’s piano solo is excellent, recalling a relaxed Jess Stacy or perhaps Gene Schroeder. Adele Girard does battle with the harp, and once again is victorious in bringing swing, improvisation and a great deal of rhythmic variety to this most difficult of instruments. The rhythm section again shines, pushing the group with a relaxed urgency that ably supports the soloists.
The Boy and the Girl From North and South Carolina
composer credits: unknown
credits: Joe Marsala
with Eileen Clarence and Ahmed Rai
catalogue number: 25607 (Soundies Featurettes #1256)
production number: 1046-6-344
copyright date: September 16, 1946
release date: September 16, 1946
soloists: Joe Marsala, clarinet
vocals: unknown male vocalist, possibly Ahmed Rai + unknown female
vocalist, probably Adele Girard
sideline vocals: Ahmed Rai and Adele Girard
other performance: Eileen Clarence, the “girl from South Carolina” +
unidentified male sideline extra, the “boy from North Carolina”
catalogue description: “ The outstanding Joe Marsala band features
Eileen Clarence and Ahmed Rai in this number about the boy from North Carolina and the girl from South Carolina.”
description and evaluation: A Latin beat, repeated later in the performance, introduces this title. Framed as a soundie “song story,” this film is interesting from a number of perspectives, including the probability that the female vocalist on soundtrack is Adele Girard; if so, this would be the only example of her singing voice on film or record. Interestingly enough, Ahmed Rai receives credit, and appears on screen singing with Girard. Eileen Clarence is also credited, appearing as the “girl from South Carolina.” The leaves the “boy from North Carolina” alone and uncredited to this day. The clarinet solo by Marsala is set up by a wonderful break, which leads to a bluesy chorus in the middle and upper register of his instrument. (It should be pointed out that Marsala works very little in the lower register of the clarinet, for which he was noted at the time.)
The fact that the two vocalists sing in close harmony suggests that whoever they may be, they were seasoned professionals; they either read the score by sight, were able to harmonize by craft, or possibly knew the song already ... remember that Powell noted that this song was a part of the band’s book. This leads to the possibility that the “unidentified voice” to which Rai mimes might possibly be a member of the group. A topic for further thought, to be sure.
composer credits: unknown, possibly Joe Marsala and/or Adele Girard
(perhaps a collector who has the Musicraft 78 can advise me of
the actual label credit)
credits: Earl Oxford
catalogue number: 26701 (Soundies Featurettes #1267)
production number: 1046-6-350
copyright date: December 2, 1946
release date: December 2, 1946
soloists: Quentin Thompson, trumpet
vocal: Earl Oxford
sideline vocal: Earl Oxford
sideline extras: Betty Underwood, to woman to whom Oxford is singing; unidentified black sideline extra, the “serving man”
catalogue description: “Full voiced EARL OXFORD teams with alluring BETTY UNDERWOOD to bring this novel ballad to the Panoram.”
description and evaluation: This is in some ways the least interesting of the series since the Marsala band does not appear on screen. Still, the film has many areas of interest, not the least of which is the fact that the Marsala band recorded this piece for Musicraft as an instrumental! Here Earl Oxford, on both soundtrack and screen, sings to Betty Underwood. Neither Underwood (nor the unidentified black sideline extra who serves the drinks) have much to do. A close listen to the soundtrack, however, leads to fine piano accompaniment of the vocal, and a good trumpet solo, bolstered by Buddy Christian’s strong background drumming.
Far too many viewers and listeners of soundies are disturbed with the fact that sound and music are not “in sync” in most of the film shorts. This was the way soundies were produced, a fact that is also true of almost all band shorts and feature films released from 1932 onward! This is a shame since both elements are certainly “authentic,” but with a little patience and imagination any discomfort can be replaced with the thrilled and enjoyment of seeing a wonderful jazz performance on screen.
The Joe Marsala series of soundies, despite the presence of unwanted (and from a modern perspective unneeded) vocalists and dancers, has a great deal to offer. Marsala’s clarinet is strong throughout, although you can sense his desire to continue the improvisations for perhaps another chorus or ten. Adele Girard is a positive revelation in her trio number, and provides attractive support to the other films in the series. Quentin Thompson’s contribution is strong, making one wish there were more recordings of him; perhaps extended choruses would allow him us to hear the talent that so impressed Emil Powell at the time. The rhythm section must be credited with enthusiasm since they provide a strong and forceful beat which allows the front line to work well within the confines of the three minute musical performance.
Most important of all, however, these soundies allow us a glimpse of two important jazz musicians whose music has captivated many of us for years. Apart from an appearance by Marsala and Girard on a Dorsey Brothers “Stage Show” telecast in 1956, these are our only screen images of Joe and Adele, for which we should be thankful and appreciative. Great things indeed often come in small three minute packages!