And now, from the “You Couldn’t Write It This Way” Department….
In the days before videotape and the Internet, “movie nights” at my home were a frequent event. Among the guests over a period of many years were such luminaries as Artie Shaw, Mannie Klein, Henry Nemo, Jimmy Rowles, Dave Frishberg, Page Cavanaugh, Johnny Gimble, Charlie Watts, Tim Hauser, Joe Farrell, Benny Powell, Shorty Rogers, Hank Penny, Jim Kweskin and dozens more. While I loved sharing films, I also used the evenings to gather memories, and the identities of musicians on screen.
One evening, March 6, 1984, a special group assembled for films and talk and history. Guitarist Kenny Burrell had brought along a friend, dancer Tommy Thompson. Also present were guitarist John Collins and dancers Howard “Sandman” Sims and Clarence “Frenchie” Landry.
Midway through the night, someone requested a film with a vocal harmony group. I seem to recall that it was Dottie Bigard (Barney Bigard’s widow), and that she had the Mills Brothers in mind. But more handy was a print of Jumpin’ Jack from Hackensack, a Soundie by the Chanticleers, a group well known in 1943 from radio and the variety stage. Midway through the film, Mr. Thompson started making loud sounds that brought fears of a heart attack to those in attendance. But before anyone could call for an ambulance Tommy pointed to the screen, to the character “Jumpin’ Jack”: “That’s me, that’s me.” Tommy had little memory of the film until he saw it forty years after its production, and even then his pride of performance brightened the room.