Celluloid Improvisations logo Jazz on Film Mark Cantor

Dave Brubeck “The Duke”

Throughout the 1950s, the March of Dimes released a large number of short subjects featuring both classical and popular talent, all to encourage contributions to the charity. It appears that the films were shared both on television and in movie theaters, and the large number of films in the series suggest that they were an effective tool for the organization.

Most of the March of Dimes shorts sandwich two musical performances around a “pitch” by the featured artist. Over the years I have located a number of films in the series, and the array of featured artists suggest not only the eclectic taste of the producers, but also the wide demographic of the audience … that is, the American public. Among the featured performers are the Benny Goodman Trio, Ella Fitzgerald, Jerry Colonna, Carolina Cotton, Hazel Scott, Gogi Grant, The 6 Teens, Lauritz Melchior, Bobby Troup, Lucille Ball and Dezi Arnaz, George Shearing, and many more.

One of the earlier shorts in the series features the original Dave Brubeck Quartet, and from this 1954 outing, probably Dave’s first appearance on film, we feature his very original composition, The Duke. Not only is this a tuneful composition, with a most attractive melody line, but also quite a challenge for the improviser: there are two chord changes in each bar of music, and sometimes three! My print of this short is well-loved and somewhat worn, but there is nothing that gets in the way of a terrific performance featuring Brubeck and his featured sideman, Paul Desmond.

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