Every film collector knows the awful feeling of opening a can of 16 mm film after the passage of time and discovering that the film has succumbed to acetate decomposition, better known as Vinegar Syndrome.
This happened recently when I went to transfer a Soundie that I really wanted to share with this group. The film was no longer projectable and ended up heading to landfill. I was forced to find it on YouTube. The quality suffers a little, but not the music!
Johnny Long – the white musician, not the African-American bandleader of the same name – led a very popular dance band during the 1930s and 40s. Long’s name turns up constantly in the trades, more than one would expect for a band that did not include great soloists or a highly personal sound. Still, his music was eminently danceable, and the public enjoyed the band’s glee club which recorded such hits as “A Shanty in Old Shanty Town.”
Like many leaders of sweeter dance bands, Johnny moved to a more swinging approach during and just after the war. Occasionally, he would set the boys loose and allow them to work out on an up-tempo number. Such was the case with It Must Be Jelly. The band’s alto sax soloist, Alvin Bohms, told me, “This was my only experience playing in what you would call a name band. I joined the band in Hutchinson, Kansas, in June of 1945. They were at the beginning of nineteen one-nighters. Those made for a strenuous life—playing until 2 a.m., then boarding the bus and heading for the next job. The band was playing hotter music than some of Johnny’s earlier outfits, but musically I preferred my first band, Bill Sawyer’s band. Johnny was a left-handed violinist, not a jazz musician at all. I recall him holding his violin more than playing it.”
While the Soundies production papers credit the lyrics and music to George “The Fox” Williams and J. C. (Chummy) McGregor, this blues tune, and the simple lyrics by Sonny Skylar, are just variations on earlier patterns. Long-term Tommy Dorsey string bassist Sid Bloch was doing a great deal of arranging for the band at this time, although it is more probable that this chart is by George Williams.
Dancer Doris York was a New York–based dancer who appeared in nightclubs and stage revues but was most active on Broadway. In the 1940s she appeared in no fewer than seven productions. York brought in a bit of extra income by appearing in Soundies as a dancer or sideline extra during this period.
This Soundie was released on March 18, 1946. The reel included an Irish ballad, a cowboy tune, a Hawaiian melody, some sweet music, and a couple of novelty shorts. This one was for the swing fans, and I suspect that the hepcats were more than satisfied.