Celluloid Improvisations logo Jazz on Film Mark Cantor

Charlie Barnet and his Orchestra “Cherokee and Redskin Rhumba”

In the latter half of the 1930s, and into the 1940s, white bandleaders began integrating with more confidence and regularity. Benny Goodman, always ahead of the swing, so to speak, hired Charlie Christian, Cootie Williams, Sid Catlett and others. Billie Holiday sang briefly with Artie Shaw, and June Richmond did the same with Jimmy Dorsey. In the early 1940s fully one third of Charlie Barnet’s orchestra was black!

I used to visit Charlie in the Palm Springs area and I would bring films and a projector. Charlie would identify sidemen, and share stories about the band. Some said that Barnet, who was quite wealthy, “could afford to be liberal”; I knew Charlie and I do not think that was the case.

The film studios were, of course, more sensitive to so-called “public tastes,” and far less progressive than the bandleaders. When the Charlie Barnet band appeared in the 1944 Columbia Pictures feature JAM SESSION, the full orchestra recorded the soundtrack, but when the film was photographed to playback, the black musicians were replaced by whites. In one sequence we hear a black trumpet player on soundtrack. Three of the four trumpets on the band were black, and I think we hear Al Killian, yet we see Paul Cohen miming to the solo on screen. This pattern continued well into the 1950s when Universal-International routinely camouflaged the integrated jazz bands of Count Basie, Woody Herman, and others by replacing black musicians with white, or white musicians with black.

“Cherokee” was Barnet’s breakout hit, and “Redskin Rhumba” followed a few years later. They are combined here in this wonderful outing by the Barnet orchestra in which Charlie is featured on both tenor and alto sax.

Explore More