I wanted an attention-grabber for today’s music clip, and it seemed to me that the title alone would probably do it best: The Puppet Who Dances Bebop.
Perhaps now you are shaking your head in disbelief …. and you probably haven’t even seen the film yet. Actually, you are in for a pleasant surprise. But first, the backstory.
A while ago, one of our group members referred to a Soundie that he had encountered online, only it was not Soundie, but rather a Studio Telescription. Time to set the record straight! In the early 1950s Louis Snader introduced a product aimed at the burgeoning television market: three-minute musical films similar to Soundies, although largely filmed live. These shorts were called Snader Telescriptions, and between 1950 and 1952, hundreds of Snaders were made in Los Angeles. They featured some of the greatest names in American popular music, among them Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Peggy Lee, Merle Travis, Cab Calloway, June Christy, Sarah Vaughan, the Weavers, and Bob Wills.
But the entire Snader production apparatus was largely a Ponzi scheme. Things went south in 1952, and late in the year, in a move that might well have been illegal, the entire catalog of Snaders was sold to Studio Films of Cleveland. Studio Films not only reused the Snaders in many ways, but they also begin filming new shorts that they called Studio Telescriptions. Studio Films was, to all intents and purposes, a cut-rate organization. Standards and current hits were balanced by a large number of public domain compositions, unproven songs, or material brought to the studio by the artists. The performers were clearly professionals, although very few were able to break out of a purely second or third-tier status.
The Puppet Who Dances Bebop, our featured clip today, actually has a lot going for it. Both words and music were written by Jack Segal, best known as the lyricist for the hit songs “Scarlet Ribbons” and “When Sunny Gets Blue.” Our song is clearly an attempt to commercialize bebop; many tried in this regard, few succeeded. It was just not a commercial music, although the lyrics seem to work here. Segal’s melody is tuneful and attractive, and I am surprised that the only jazz recording of it that I could locate was Barbara Carroll’s disc from 1950.
In the 1940s, Madelyn Russell started to build a reputation singing with the big bands, most notably those of Gene Krupa, Skitch Henderson and Vaughan Monroe. She went out as a single in 1948 and was booked steadily in nightclubs and on stage, mostly in New England and Toronto. Russell signed a contract with Mercury Records in 1948, ensuring further exposure to those who listened to easy-going pop music. Soon after this film was made in late 1952, Russell changed her first name to Maddy. She married Jack Segal in 1954, with whom she wrote for television and the stage.
But that is another story altogether. The puppet who dances bebop is impatient and awaits your viewing.