Bebop Spoken Here (as the song title goes) … with “just a little sex” (quote Porter Hall in Sullivan’s Travels). Well, yes and no on both counts.
Soundies never bought into modern jazz, even though it was certainly well established in 1945-47. Yet, there are hints of bebop here and there, and nowhere earlier that this clip featuring the Dallas Bartley band. The group was a Chicago unit led by string bassist Bartley, a fine musician who also spent a great deal of time with Louis Jordan during the mid 1940s. Bartley’s combo was invited to play at the Apollo Theater for a week’s engagement in spring 1945. Someone from the Soundies organization saw the band and felt that they would be fine for the “small screen.” In early May the band recorded five soundtracks; four films would feature the band and one soundtrack would be pulled from the shelf in January 1946 to back a dance routine by Johni Weaver.
John “Flaps” Dungee was a Chicago-based alto saxophonist who was active in both jazz and rhythm-and-blues. He is not present on a lot of recordings and this series of Soundies is his only film appearance. Although the rhythm section plays squarely in the swing idiom – the pianist, James Craig, is particularly unsympathetic – Dungee has been listening to Charlie Parker and plays a few of Bird’s patented phrases in his solo. People who I interviewed did not speak highly of trumpet player Bill Martin – he also is the band’s vocalist – although his work here is fine.
And a little sex? Well, producer and director William Forest Crouch feared that the band alone would not “sell” a three minute short, so a trio of dancers, almost certainly hired through Harlem’s Sun Tan Studios, cavort in the background, in silhouette.
My apology for the quality of the print, obviously a well-loved and frequently screened Soundie.