What do you do when there is a trombone solo on the soundtrack, but no trombonist in the studio sideline combo? Why, have the trumpet player pretend to solo, even if his trumpet now sounds like a trombone on film. Yet, despite this obvious disconnect, there is so much to recommend this Soundie, The Pollard Jump.
We’ve spoken of producer and director William Forest Crouch before and noted that he had a genuine affinity for black people and their music. Like all Soundies directors, he worked with a very restricted budget, although he usually was able to fill up the screen and make things look just a little more “opulent” than the budget might suggest. But there were always exceptions to the rule and The Pollard Jump is one of them.
Much of the black talent used by Crouch came from Harlem’s Sun Tan Studios, an unfortunately named talent agency run by former African-American football star “Fritz” Pollard. From the studio, Crouch hired dancer Nicki (spelled “Nickey” on screen) O’Daniel and used the studio name for the ad hoc jazz combo we see on screen, the Sun Tan Four. This group merely sidelines and we don’t hear them at all, but it gives us a chance to see Joe Keyes, trumpet player with Blanche Calloway and Count Basie in the 1930s, and Fritz Pollard, owner of the Sun Tan Studio, on piano. Little is known about alto sax player Allan Jackson, save that he led a small jazz combo that was booked at various Manhattan venues in 1944. The drummer is unknown. Any thoughts, boys and girls?
The soundtrack is something special, however: Jazz historians take note. For the music heard in the Soundie, Crouch reached onto the shelves and pulled a soundtrack recorded a year earlier by Leo “Snub “Mosley and his Sextet. Mosley was a Harlem favorite, the inventor of the slide saxophone, and a top-notch trombonist. The tune “The Pollard Jump” is credited to Mosley, although it was named at the time the film was released. Although it is a rather simple 12-bar blues, it features four highly creative choruses by Snub. Will Johnson has his say on alto sax, as does Bob Carroll on trumpet … but remember, it is Allan Jackson and Joe Keyes whom we see on screen.
What did patrons think when they saw a Soundie where the soundtrack did not match the visuals? In this case, I don’t think they cared much at all. The music is in a tight and swinging groove, and the solos are uniformly strong. Or maybe they just didn’t notice the musicians at all because their eyes were on Nikki O’Daniel, a gorgeous chorine and showgirl whose dancing does not hurt a bit! This is one of those Soundies where over-analysis leads in the wrong direction. Enjoy the dance, dig the music, and get another dime ready so you can watch again.