Call Me Stormy

Finding righteous currents in turbulent times

Jazz Ball

Bessie Dudley and Florence Hill, tap dancers who often appeared with Duke Ellington’s band.

Today’s Trillion Dollar Movie, Jazz Ball, is a compact celebration of American jazz, taking less than an hour to survey the jive artists, crooners, bebop hipsters and musical innovators who made jazz a crowning success from the 1930s through the 1950s. The documentary revue was put together in 1956 and originally made for broadcast on television. The archival clips vary greatly in quality — some are dynamic, others more mundane and static.

But the music is always hot and jumping, and there’s an impressive collection of greats given the spotlight — Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Louis Prima, Gene Krupa, Peggy Lee, Duke Ellington and many others. The narration, written by Charles Leonard, also is quite informative.

Some of the more cerebral jazz musicians are conspicuously missing. ¬†Where is John Coltrane in this assemblage? Or Thelonious Monk? So there’s a skew more toward vocalists and the pop side, say Sammy Davis Jr. or Rudy Vallee, over instrumentalists making transcendental sounds.

Still, glad to see this compilation posted on YouTube, as the VHS version has long been out of print. Watch and prepare to be transported back to an era when music not only had swing to it, but also sass and scat. You’ll get to visit the Cotton Club and sway to the rhythms of “Stormy Weather.” Enjoy, and do return again next Friday for another Trillion $ Movie.

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