The Will Cowan musical shorts produced by Universal are an amazing collection of films that spotlight some of the finest musical talent from the 1940s and 1950s. These 16-18 minute short subjects always featured a headline band or performer whose name would be known to all viewers. The supporting acts — singers, dancers, acrobats, comedians, impersonators and such — would often be “secondary talent.” They were always seasoned professionals, but did not always have the name recognition of the featured performers.
The 1950 entry titled SARAH VAUGHAN AND HERB JEFFRIES opens with Jeffries leading a band composed of some outstanding black musicians, including Britt Woodman, John Anderson and Henry Tucker Green. The problem is that the soundtrack was recorded by the Universal studio orchestra, not the Jeffries band. For the opening instrumental number Cowan dipped way back in the vault to Cookie Fairchild’s composition “Jazz,” first composed, recorded and used five years earlier in the noir mystery feature THE CRIMSON CANARY. It is also the Universal studio band, not Herb’s orchestra, that aurally backs Sarah Vaughan, Herb Jeffries and The Treniers in their performances. Only Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Band recorded their own soundtrack for the short.
In June 1922 “Spike’s Seven Pods of Pepper,” a nom-de-recording for Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra, recorded two sides for the Los Angeles-based Nordskog label. “Ory’s Creole Trombone” and “Society Blues” are the first examples of authentic New Orleans music, performed by African American musicians, to be found on record.
By 1950 Kid Ory had become a fixture on the West Coast, playing long engagements in both Los Angeles and San Francisco. During this period the Ory band was well recorded, and the musicians with him in this film clip were familiar with his style, and with the songs that he played. In this case it is Ory’s most famous composition, “Muskrat Ramble.” The band personnel is as follows:
Kid Ory, trombone and leader
Teddy Buckner, trumpet
Joe Darensbourg, clarinet
Lloyd Glenn, piano
Ed Garland, string bass
Minor Hall, drums