Following up on Tambay’s piece (posted just before this one) about the 1943 MGM short “Shoe Shine Boy,” here’s another major studio short film that is definitely worth watching again and again.
But, as always, some background first.
During the beginning of the sound era in the late 1920’s, through the end of the 1940’s, studios (particularly Columbia, MGM and Warner Bros, who produced the most), made hundreds of short films. Running the gamut from comic to dramatic to musical to dance shorts, they were made to be shown with the studio’s feature films and “B” pictures.
In fact, there’s one that Warners made back in 1941 with Katherine Dunham’s dance company, “Carnival Of Rhythm,” that builds to a frenzy towards the end, that is so daring in its overt sexuality, I’m amazed it got past the Motion Picture Production Code censorship and decency board, which oversaw everything on movies back then. If I ever find a complete version of it, I’ll be sure to post it. (Still haven’t found it yet, but I’m still looking.)
But the short below, made in 1944, “Jammin The Blues” by Warners, is perhaps the greatest musical short made during that period. In fact, it just might be the greatest music video ever made, if one wants to look at it that way.
It features some of the most influential jazz musicians of all time, including the legendary saxophonist Lester Young, who, for the uninitiated, is the first musician who appears in the short with his signature “sideways” hold of his sax.
Not only was Young one of the truly great jazz saxophonists, he was also a devoted, lifelong friend of Billie Holiday, to whom he gave the famous nickname “Lady Day” (raise your hand if you know why he, allegedly, gave her that nickname. Let’s see how good you are).
The short (which is now available as part of a 6 DVD set of jazz and swing Warner shorts on the Warner Archive DVD label) was directed by the equally influential Albanian-born photographer, Gjon Mili (go here to see an image of Mili directing the film on the Warners lot).
Mili became world renowned for his use of strobe flash lighting to create multiple image photographs of dancers, athletes and musicians in action, which he recreated, to an extent, in this short, also the only film he directed.
The film itself, aside from the great music and singing by Marie Bryant, who was also well known for her “exotic dancing” (which you’ll definitely see in the film), is an evocatively photographed, almost experimental film that was totally unlike any short, or feature film for that matter, made around that time. Enjoy!