Celluloid Improvisations logo Jazz on Film Mark Cantor

The Chanticleers Tommy Thompson “Jumpin’ Jack From Hackensack”

The Chanticleers is a relatively obscure vocal harmony group, one that performed together for many years but was mentioned only occasionally in the trades. The group does not appear to have recorded commercially, and there are no extant radio broadcasts or transcriptions that feature their work.

I suspect that while the group was popular with members of the black community, they never found a more general audience because their sound is somewhat “old fashioned.” Their rhythmic sense is largely vertical and “on the beat,” and as a result they do not swing with the relaxation or intensity —not necessarily mutually exclusive attributes— of the Mills Brothers, early Ink Spots or Delta Rhythm Boys.

In 1943 The Chanticleers appeared in six SOUNDIES, probably recorded and filmed in two separate sessions. A personnel for the group is noted in the July 24, 1943 edition of The Pittsburgh Courier, just six weeks after the first session was produced, and it is unlikely that there had been any changes in the personnel in that time, especially since the article celebrates the fact that the group had been performing for 12 years!

  • Daniel H. Lackey, tenor and leader
  • Williams Hurd, second tenor and lead
  • Ralph Graves, baritone
  • John Bunn, bass

Back in the 1980s, before the advent of videotape and the Internet, I used to host regular “film nights,” which included friends and special jazz guests. One night one of the guests was Tommy Thompson, who was brought to our gathering by jazz guitarist John Collins. Someone requested a vocal harmony group, and I grabbed “Jumpin’ Jack From Hackensack,” mainly because it is accessible, sitting on the top of a box of other films. Soon after the film began, Mr. Thompson began making sounds that brought fear of a heart attack to the assembled group. But before we could dial for an ambulance, Tommy pointed to the screen, to the character of Jumpin’ Jack: “That’s me, that’s me.” A wonderful coincidence, to say the least, and a reason that this SOUNDIE has a special place in my heart!

In addition to the vocal group, there are some dancers of interest. During an instrumental chorus we spot solo dancer Jackie Lewis, seen to the right of the screen. There are also two jitterbug dance couples. While the female dancers are unidentified, the males are Warren Patterson and Al Jackson, who were at the Filmcraft studio the same day for sideline photography of their three SOUNDIES.

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