Celluloid Improvisations logo Jazz on Film Mark Cantor

Count Basie and his Orchestra “Air Mail Special”

The Count Basie orchestra appears in only two SOUNDIES, which is unusual since four film shorts was standard practice for this period. Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Lucky Millinder and others all appeared in four-SOUNDIE sessions. Perhaps the band was too expensive to appear in two additional films; the band’s popularity was certainly not an issue, nor was the cost of clearing the two songs, $75, versus a 5 cent per print royalty, pretty much the same for all songs used in SOUNDIES.

The soundtracks were recorded at the R.C.A. Studios in Manhattan the week of October 27, 1941, probably the 27th, or perhaps slightly earlier. Sideline photography was completed the same week. The recording band returned for sideline photography without change or substitution, and here is who we see on screen in this film:

Count Basie and his Orchestra (Count Basie, piano and leader; trumpets, left-to-right: Buck Clayton, Ed Lewis, Al Killian, Harry “Sweets” Edison; trombones, left-to-right: Eli Robinson, Dickie Wells, Robert Scott; reeds, left-to-right: Buddy Tate, tenor sax; Tab Smith, Earl Warren, alto saxes; Jack Washington, baritone sax; Don Byas, tenor sax; Freddie Green, guitar; Walter Page, string bass; Jo Jones, drums)

While the tune, AIR MAIL SPECIAL, is credited on production documents to Charlie Christian, Benny Goodman and Jimy Mundy, the work is probably Christian’s alone, with bandleader Goodman getting a piece of the composer’s royalty. Jimmy Mundy is along for the ride as arranger for the big band interpreattion of the song.

There are a number of SOUNDIES regulars, all from Harlem, who appear here as sideline extras. Winnie Johnson appears as Jimmy Rushing’s dance partner. The other dancers are as follows:

Ernest Wilson, Smalls Boytis, Jackie Bass, Jimmie Robinson, Verna Smith, Cissy Bowe, Pettir Beasly, Esta Washington, Rosetta Davis, Louise Patterson, Jimmy Mitchell, King Johnson, Douglas Holmes, Jeanne Bayer, Hilton Hixson, Amos J. Laing. (Dance director Charlie Curran signed the sideline contract; although white, he might just be there, hidden amongst the high energy movements of the other dancers.)

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