Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Jammin on the Sunny Side with Prez

This is a remarkable piece of film.  Though it is from 1944, it looks innovative even today.  It's from a movie short called Jammin the Blues.  The star player is the saxophonist Lester Young.  Young worked with the Count Basie Orchestra and his own small combos.  He is particularly known for his work with singer Billie Holiday in the late 30s and early 40s, and for their close relationship.

But the singer here "On the Sunny Side of the Street" is Marie Bryant, known in her time primarily as a dancer. (She dances a bit in another part of this film.) She'd worked with Duke Ellington. She coached Gene Kelly who called her one of the finest dancers he'd ever seen.  You might hear some Billie Holiday influence in her vocal here, though it's also uniquely syncopated.

The film's director was Gjon Milli, who gained fame as a photographer, working in this case with cinematographer Robert Burks, who went on to a Hollywood career.  It was nominated for an Oscar as best short film.

A few other notes about Lester Young.  He's credited with first referring to "bread" as meaning money, and with giving us the enduring sense of the word "cool."

Young gave Billie Holiday her nickname, "Lady Day," and she gave him his: "Prez" for president.  So that makes this clip especially apropos, to mark two weeks to the 2016 presidential plus other stuff election.  Cool.

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