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JAZZ | ALBUM SPOTLIGHT

*** QUINCY JONES, "The Pawnbroker" and "The Deadly Affair," Verve; *** JOHNNY MANDEL, "The Sandpiper," Verve; *** DIZZY GILLESPIE, "The Cool World" and "Dizzy Goes Hollywood," Verve

September 08, 1996|Don Heckman

Three film-related albums from Verve offer an interesting cross-section of the manner in which jazz-oriented composers were starting to bring the sounds as well as the sensibilities of jazz to the motion picture world in the '60s.

Jazz and movies have had a close, if not always intimate, relationship. The first picture with synchronized sound, "The Jazz Singer," featured singing by Al Jolson that was jazz-like in name only. But legitimate jazz artists such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Benny Carter and James P. Johnson, among many others, appeared in dozens of films in the '30s.

Jazz as background music made its first real impact in animated cartoons, where the brisk energies of New Orleans-style jazz and swing music were favored by the Disney and Walter Lantz studios. In live-action films, the presence of jazz was almost always a reflection of stories about the edgier aspects of society: gangster movies (nearly any picture set during the Prohibition Era); drug abuse dramas (most famously, "The Man With the Golden Arm"); tales of frustrated musicians ("Young Man With a Horn"); and biographies of dance band leaders (Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Gene Krupa, etc.).

Robert Altman's current "Kansas City," set in the mid- '30s, incorporates jazz and jazz players to create atmosphere and period. But it goes one step further by also using the music in continuing passages behind dramatic scenes, weaving the action and the jazz into a kind of flowing tapestry.

Quincy Jones' scoring for "The Pawnbroker" in 1964 is an early example of music being similarly interwoven.

"The whole concept of the score," director Sidney Lumet explained, "was the New World versus the Old World. The New World was represented by the jazz end of the score and the Old World by the strings." Jones front-loaded the jazz segments with a first-rate ensemble that included trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, trombonist J.J. Johnson, guitarist Kenny Burrell and drummer Elvin Jones, balancing them with an impressive, if still nascent orchestral technique.

Two years later, with Lumet's "Deadly Affair," Jones had become a far better orchestral writer. And the jazz elements--if more in the background--invest the score's tropical and bossa nova rhythms with an emotional surge that could only come from a composer who's embedded in improvisational music.

Johnny Mandel's score for "The Sandpiper" is a more subtle evocation of jazz, dominated by the opening theme's memorable melody, and rich with lush woodwind and string sections. There are numerous places, in fact, in which Jack Sheldon's muted trumpet passages, played against the Mandel ensemble textures, evoke images of Miles Davis with Gil Evans. What is especially fascinating about the score, however, is the fashion in which Mandel creates an aura of jazz--a unique, deeply personal combination of sounds, harmonies and thematic materials--in music that rarely relies upon an undercurrent of rhythm.

"The Cool World," directed by Shirley Clarke and released in 1963, was the first film made completely in Harlem, with a score by pianist Mal Waldron and solo trumpet passages by Dizzy Gillespie. This version of the music was done after the movie was completed, produced as a separate recording.

"We added some things," Gillespie said. "The album wasn't just like the film. I put a little Gillespiana in there, you know. . . . "

The result is a solid performance by Gillespie's sterling working group of the time: James Moody, saxophones and flute; Kenny Barron, piano; Chris White, bass; and Rudy Collins, drums. Gillespie is in superb form, and the structural aspects of Waldron's episodic numbers provide an unusual and musically stimulating foundation for his players, with Barron particularly impressive in his too-short solos.

As a bonus, the CD includes an often overlooked Gillespie album, "Dizzy Goes Hollywood," featuring the same band performing a strikingly atypical program of tunes from movies--among them "The Theme From 'Exodus,' " "Moon River," "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Never on Sunday." Despite the brevity of many of the tracks (sadly, often less than 3 minutes), the performances of Billy Byers' catchy arrangements come off well. And Gillespie, playing with great articulateness, humor and imagination, delivers life and vitality to even the most banal movie theme.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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