JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

 

Notes

1. I want to acknowledge the help of many people on this project. First of course, Ed Bland who was generous and gracious in giving me the interview and answering so many questions. Nina Cartier’s work in transcribing the interview was outstanding. Many people who shared a deep interest in the film offered help, encouragement, and direct support, including: Jacqueline Stewart, Anna McCarthy, John Corbett, Terri Kapsalis, Zeinabu irene Davis, Amy Beste, Patrick Friel, Brenda Webb, Martha Biondi, Jacqueline Goldsby, Michael Martin, Joe Hendrix, the late JoAnn Elam, and Chicago Filmmakers, the Hyde Park Art Center, and Indiana University. [return to page 1]

2. I suggest keeping the notes window open while reading the article. Unless otherwise noted, most of the factual information comes from Wikipedia entries and Ed Bland’s own website: http://www.edblandmusic.com/index.htm. I attach a bibliography at the end.

3. “Unheard Music Series,” at www.atavistic.com and MVD Music Video Distributors.

4. Zeinabu irene Davis was in the UCLA filmmaking program in the 1980s. Among her 13 films to date, she made an experimental portrait piece of the pioneering black jazz musician, Clora Bryant: Trumpetistically, Clora Bryant She is currently completing a feature documentary on the LA Rebellion filmmakers Spirits of Rebellion: Black Film at UCLA. Julie Dash (Illusions, Daughters of the Dust, etc.) was one of the first LA Rebellion filmmakers.

5.  The U.S .Postal Service was a significant employer of African Americans at the time, guaranteeing a stable good wage, and relative equality.  This job marked Bland Sr. as a well-established member of the black working class.  The post office also has a long history of being a base for artists and intellectuals. 

In the early 1930s the Communist Party USA encouraged the formation of John Reed Clubs as meeting places for intellectuals, writers, and artists with left sympathies, both party members and nonmembers.  This “proletarian” phase ended with the clubs being dissolved in 1934 in favor of a new approach to a Popular Front against fascism. 

Ralph Ellison probably didn’t attend any Chicago meetings since he went to NYC after completing his college music studies at Tuskegee, but Richard Wright was certainly a presence.  Aspiring novelist Wright came to Chicago in 1927, worked at the Post Office until laid off in 1931, and joined the John Reed Club and later the Communist Party itself, leaving for NYC later in the decade. Chicago’s African American writers and artists in the 1930s have yet to receive the critical attention that’s been paid to Harlem based people of the same period, but a new study by Lawrence P. Jackson, The Indignant Generation, begins to correct that.  Poet Gwendolyn Brooks remained an active presence in Chicago circles. Notable figures such as Arna Bontemps and Margaret Walker were also part of the South Side writer’s community.

6. Washington Park is a 372-acre city park west of the University of Chicago area on the South Side. After WW1 it was a site of contention between whites and the expanding black community. Several semiprofessional black baseball teams played at the park starting in the 1920s. The fieldhouse was a major community center. Since 1961 the park has been the site of the DuSable Museum of African American History.

7. Jay McShann had a highly regarded blues and hard bop big band in the late 1930s and 40s featuring Charlie Parker (1937-42), Ben Webster, Al Hibbler and others.

8. Gwendolyn Brooks published a poem in his memory following the senior Bland’s death in the Battle of the Bulge in 1945. He was in his late 30’s, married with a child, when the war broke out and would not be drafted. He volunteered for service, and according to the commemorative line of Brook’s poem volunteered for a dangerous mission. The poem was included five years later in her 1950 collection, Annie Allen, which was also dedicated to Bland’s memory. The book won the Pulitzer Prize.

9. American Conservatory was a major musical college, based in Chicago. The GI Bill was a program of benefits for veterans that provided a stipend for service people getting formal education.

10. John J. Becker was known as one of “The American Five,” leading US modernist composers at the time, along with Ives, Henry Cowell, Carl Ruggles, and Wallingford Riegger.

11. Chess Records was formed in 1950 by Leonard and Phil Chess, after Leonard had earlier acquired and worked with another record company. Chess quickly became famous for producing record of Chicago urban blues, recording artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley, Etta James, and many others in the 1950s. Chicago blues was a vernacular blend of Deep Southern rural blues, especially from Mississippi origins, and electrified instruments and amplified music and voice suitable for the noisy atmosphere of street corner and barroom performance. As Bland indicates, Chess was a classic case of white businessmen making sharp deals with black performers and maintaining control of the rights and profits. A recent dramatic feature film, Cadillac Records (d. Darnell Martin, 2008) presents a nostalgic picture of the studio.

12. Elvis Presley began recording and performing regionally in 1954. His first national hit was Heartbreak Hotel, 1956.

13. Bland is marking his own observation, but it certainly was a generally known phenomenon. The first Great Migration of African Americans from the South to the North began in the first years of the 20th Century resulting in establishing the black neighborhoods of the South Side. A large Second Migration began at the start of WW2 and continued in the postwar era. Chicago, directly connected by railroads to Mississippi and Louisiana was the logical direct terminus for arrivals from those areas. During the 1940s, the black population of Chicago increased by 77 per cent, from 278,000 to 492,000. In the 1950s, it grew by another 65 per cent, to 813,000; at one point 2,200 black people were moving to Chicago every week.
In the postwar era, the new mechanical harvesting of cotton vastly reduced the need for agricultural labor in the South. So the new arrivals often came directly from rural life and with less urban experience or trade skills than the several generations of earlier black immigrants now resident in Chicago. In a familiar pattern worldwide, the recent labor migrants were seen as less sophisticated country cousins, and they found less expensive housing on the West Side as opposed to the longer established South Side areas such as the Bronzeville neighborhood.

14. Mercury, begun in 1945, was the major record label for post-swing era jazz with two powerful A&R (arrangement and recording) executives: John Hammond and Norman Granz. Mercury had the lead in bebop and contemporary jazz.

15. Chicago was the world center for Gospel music after WW1 and this continues to the present day. Thomas A. Dorsey, widely known as the father of black gospel music, started as a jazz and blues musician but changed to religious choral composition and conducting in the 1920s. His work, and the movement he inspired, combined Christian praise with rhythm and blues rhythms.

16. Vee-Jay Records was founded in 1953 in neighboring Gary, Indiana, and moved to Chicago. It was owned and operated by African Americans and specialized in blues, jazz, and rhythm and blues and eventually rock ‘n’ roll. Another important company, Chance Records (1950-54) was also near the Chess office on S. Michigan Ave, Its list featured blues, jazz, doo-wop, and gospel.

17. McKee’s Bop Shop, located in the Bronzeville neighborhood, at 47th and South Park Way (now MLK Drive), was across from the Regal Theater, a huge movie palace from the 1920s serving the black South Side, which also had large stage shows of black performers. While residentially segregated, white enthusiasts for black performers could see the headliners at the Regal, and then buy “race records” at McKee’s record store. This nascent cross-over boosted the market size for black urban music.

18. Bo Diddley established his Chicago presence playing as a street performer and later with club gigs. His first record for Chess, “Bo Diddley” went to the top of the R&B charts in 1955.

19. Godfrey was a radio personality, and in the postwar era a TV host and pitchman, who had a daily morning chat and light entertainment show and a weekly TV show, “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” which followed the trope of introducing amateur performers to a national audience.

“Covers” originally meant records or airplay broadcast of music originally performed by another musician. This was actually very common in a time when sheet music sales were central to the business, and a “hit” was established by tune and lyrics more than the unique first performer’s interpretation. Thus the weekly “Your Hit Parade” radio (and later TV show) gave a countdown of the top ten hits, performed by the same studio band and stock regular singers. As the business changed with more star and celebrity values, individual performance values (including arrangements and orchestration) made copies much less desirable in the market.

However the persistence of racism in marketing produced the parallel case of white performers being favored by the big record companies to copy (in a vastly milder way) songs that had originally been recorded by black artists. The original African American artists were thus denied cross-over and sales. For example, Arthur Godfrey “discovered” Pat Boone, who did R&B cover versions exuding his clean-cut white middle class suburban image.
In contrast, Elvis presented a lower class rebel image with long sideburns, long slicked hair, and flashy clothes. Presley’s rockabilly was a fusion of white country music and black rhythm and blues.

20. Sam Phillips founded Sun Records and Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, in the 1940s. He discovered and promoted Howlin’ Wolf, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnnie Cash and most famously, Elvis Presley. Presley fulfilled Phillip’s often quoted goal: “'If I could find a white man who had the Negro sound and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars.'" Chess Records formed a business relation with Phillips in 1951, making and distributing many records that Sun recorded, notably Howlin’ Wolf.

21. The Pecking Order (1953) follows a group of five black youth as they go on an escalating violent crime-spree rampage. [return to page 2]

22. The Woodlawn Tap, 1172 E. 55th St. in Chicago, was called Jimmy’s after the owner. Opened around 1950, it was the closest bar to the U of Chicago campus and known for attracting neighborhood locals, artists and intellectuals, and also university people.

23.  To Live  Together was John Barnes’ first film.  It depicts a summer camp with children of different races, showing that they have a natural tendency to get along, but what prejudices appear are the results of their parents’ attitudes.  (30 min b&w, 16mm, co-written with H.H. Schuler; sponsored by the Anti-defamation League of B’nai B’rith).  He dropped out of the University of Chicago and in the postwar era was active in theatre, moving into radio and television and film as writer and director.  He regularly made films for Encyclopedia Britannica films, winning many awards and had a long career in educational and documentary film, completing over 100 works.

24. Howard Alk entered the University of Chicago at 14 and was a member of a cabaret theatre group. He also worked with Paul Sills and many others in the early improv and folk music scene in Chicago while also working as a film editor. His best known work was on the New Left films American Revolution 2 and The Murder of Fred Hampton with producer Mike Grey.

25. Paul Sills attended the University of Chicago and was active in theater there. In 1955 he founded the first improvisational theatre group in the U.S. and in 1959 began the famous Second City group with partners, including Howard Alk.

26. Albert Grossman, born and educated in Chicago, worked for the CHA in the postwar era, leaving it to start The Gate of Horn, a 100 seat folk music revival venue in 1956. He parlayed that into artist management, most famously representing Bob Dylan 1962-70.

27. The Abraham Lincoln Center, 700 E. Oakwood, was a large community center designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and Dwight Perkins in 1905 as a supplemental building to All Souls Unitarian Church. It had an auditorium and served as church administration space, a settlement house, hostel, social and educational center.

28. A three-day indoor festival held at the Chicago Stadium, with remarkably low ticket prices, attracted 68,000.  Two years earlier Playboy began an annual Jazz Poll, highlighting various star musicians.  Although Playboy by then had its offices on the Near North Side (along with the first Playboy Mansion), the first issues were put out by Hugh Hefner on his Hyde Park kitchen table in the early 1950s.  It was estimated that one out of every four college males bought Playboy, and as primarily a lifestyle magazine, its featuring of jazz contributed to the marketing of the music to the younger white middle class.  The U of C students that Bland argued with at Jimmy’s likely had their own attitudes shaped by Playboy’s biases and perspectives which tended to value and validate white musicians disproportionately.  In Nelan Hill’s papers (held at the NY Public Library), a letter from Bland reports he engaged in a heated discussion after the film was screened at the festival. 

29. Cinema 16, run by Amos Vogel, was a regular film society series in the postwar era which played a wide range of art films: European and U.S. classics, experimental and documentary films. Because it was a membership group it could evade some of the city censorship rules that governed commercial theaters.

Marshall Sterns, a professor of English, was a widely published jazz critic who had recently published The Story of Jazz (1956), one of the first comprehensive books on the subject. Civil libertarian activist and journalist Nat Hentof extensively covered jazz music for various publications including the Village Voice weekly. The original announcement of the event listed novelist James Baldwin as one of the panelists, but Ralph Ellison replaced him on the actual date. Ellison had trained in college as a musician, and regularly wrote on jazz while also writing his own fiction, such as Invisible Man (1952).

30. James Moody was one of the top saxophone and flute jazz and hard bop musicians of the era.

31. Amy Beste’s research for her dissertation found Bland created music and soundtracks for several filmmakers who worked freelance in the large postwar Chicago educational film industry. Here Is My Hand (d. Robert Konecky, 1957-58) was commissioned for the long standing national community based civil rights group the Urban League. Many of the crew on that film also contributed to The Cry of Jazz. Bland also worked on five or six films with Robert Longini, who freelanced sponsored film and taught at the Institute of Design. Finishing these projects delayed Bland from his New York trip.

32. British journalist and critic Kenneth Tynan, now best remembered as a theatre critic, was in NYC and regularly wrote about the U.S. and its cultural life for British publications. Dwight MacDonald was well known as a cultural critic who leaned left in politics and despised mass culture or middlebrow culture.

33. The Nation of Islam (NOI) had been little known outside of the black community until the TV documentary series, “The Hate That Hate Produced.” Produced by Mike Wallace and Louis Lomax, it premiered in summer 1959. The NOI was separatist, rather than integrationist, and the reportage framed the group as preaching “a gospel of hate” against whites. The TV documentary prominently featured NOI’s dynamic and articulate leader Malcolm X, bringing him to national attention.

34. In addition to being an active filmmaker, Jonas Mekas was a tireless promoter of the New American Cinema movement. He founded Film Culture magazine in 1954, wrote a regular column on experimental films for the Village Voice weekly in NYC, organized the Film-makers Coop for distribution of the new work that was appearing as the New American Cinema, and helped found Anthology Film Archives. A postwar refugee from Lithuania who had been a forced laborer in Nazi Germany, Mekas was widely recognized as a major poet writing in the Lithuanian language.

35. Filmmaker Shirley Clarke by that time had made several short experimental films. She directed a feature, The Connection in 1962, based on a stage play which featured diegetic jazz performances by Jackie McLean and Freddy Redd . She also directed A Cool World in 1964 which realistically depicted a 15-year old boy dealing with Harlem ghetto life.

36. Jonas Mekas (above) along with his brother Adolphus was an active filmmaker. Shedon Rochlin was active in independent filmmaking circles making producing and later distributing new work. Lionel Rogosin made the neo-realist drama On the Bowery about New York’s Skid Row in 1956 and went on to make the anti-Apartheid Come Back, Africa clandestinely in South Africa (1960). Emile de Antonio moved in Pop Art circles in NYC at the time and formed a company to distribute the Beat Generation film Pull My Daisy (d. Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie, script by Jack Kerouac, 1959). He went on to make left political documentaries. Willard Van Dyke was a photographer in the Edward Weston tradition in the 1930s and turned to filmmaking, doing cinematography on The River (Pare Lorenz, 1938) and The City (1939).  He directed the MOMA film department 1965-73.

37. Trumpeter Clark Terry worked with the Duke Ellington and Count Basie bands in the 1940s and went on to play with many different groups and as a recording session sideman. He is regarded as one of the top modern jazz trumpeters and is the most recorded horn player of all time (over 900 sessions).

38. Musician Sun Ra had a long career starting with work in big bands in the 30s and continuing with his own various groups for decades. His work was decidedly too esoteric for the more commercial record labels and venues, but he had a loyal following and core group of superb musicians. He became increasingly identified with a trend some label “Afro-Futurism” in which he promulgated a whole myth or interpretation of himself as having an alternative or astral origin. Since his death and an authoritative biography (John F. Szwed, Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra, 1997) was published, he has attracted much more interest and following, which has in turn created an interest in The Cry of Jazz which contains rare footage of Sun Ra in the 1950s.

39. Gilmore (tenor sax, bass clarinet) and Patrick (baritone and alto sax) had long careers with Sun Ra’s groups.

40. “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” was Jerry Lee Lewis’s huge rockabilly crossover hit, going to the top of the pop, R&B, and country charts in February 1957. The writing is disputed with Dave “Curlee” Williams and James Fay “Roy” Hall splitting the credit. Another example of white cover versions of songs first done by blacks, the song was first recorded with Big Maybelle two years earlier, produced by Quincy Jones.

41. Bland’s current website: http://www.edblandmusic.com
[return to page 3]

42. Argentine composer, conductor, and pianist Lalo Schiffren had a jazz orchestra in Buenes Aires before coming to the US c. 1960 and working with Dizzy Gillespie and many figures. He is best known for writing compositions for film and television, including many theme songs with strong jazz elements.
Gerald Fried has a long career composing for film and television beginning with his boyhood friend Stanley Kubrick. He collaborated with Quincy Jones on the score for the miniseries Roots.

43. A Soldier’s Story (d. Norman Jewison, 1984) is a filmed adaptation of a stage play by Charles Fuller. In WW2 a black soldier is killed in the Deep South and an African American Army attorney is sent to investigate. For its time, it had a prestigious black cast, but suffered from being stagey rather than cinematic.

44. Children’s Television Workshop production from a Young Adult novel. A black family moves into a house in rural Ohio and the young teen son discovers it was used as a station on the Underground Railroad to smuggle runaway slaves before the Civil War. Caves, tunnels, ghosts.

45. The TV series American Playhouse presented A Raisin in the Sun (d. Bill Duke, from the play by Lorraine Hansberry) in its 1989 season.

46. Melville J. Herskovits, American anthropologist, pioneered the analysis of African culture and its continuation in the Western hemisphere. Based at Northwestern University, he influenced generations of students. For example, his work, Life in a Haitian Valley, 1937, examining Voudon ritual and performance influenced dancer/choreographer Katherine Dunham, writer Zora Neale Hurston, and filmmaker Maya Deren, each of whom visited Haiti and wrote about Voudon culture.

47. Leroi Jones (changed name to Amiri Baraka) was a Beat Generation poet and editor at the time the film premiered in NYC. His first book of poetry appeared in 1961. Blues People: Negro Music in White America, 1963, is a landmark study which all subsequent writers have had to take into account.

48. Street photographer and film editor Helen Levitt shot In the Street (1948) on children’s street life in Spanish Harlem. She was cinematographer and writer on The Quiet One (1948) working with Janice Loeb, James Agee, and Sidney Meyers. The film is a portrait of a Harlem boy with a dysfunctional family who finds a better life in a special school.

49. Filmmaker Ben Caldwell, one of the key figures in the “L.A. Rebellion,” founded KAOS Network as a community arts project training youth in digital arts and multimedia arts in Leimert Park, Los Angeles. The center hosts WORDshop, a workshop for hip-hop artists, singers, and dancers. It is connected with Project Blowed, promoting West Coast underground hip hop. http://www.projectblowed.com


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