Self-editing is overrated. Or is it?

Friday, March 02, 2007

How do you make a record?

Here, let's ask Duke Ellington!

This promotional short (or "soundie", as they used to call them back then) for Irving Mills' short-lived Master and Variety labels not only gives us a glimpse of Ellington and his band in the actual Master/Variety studios (as opposed to a soundstage set), but is one of the very few film accounts of how records were recorded, plated and pressed in the long-ago age of analog, shellac and 78 rpm. Narration is provided by pioneer radio announcer Alois Havrilla.

These soundies were short musical filmclips that were played in jukeboxes in the thirties and forties. The device that played them used a mirror. The films were made in reverse and then their mirror images were projected to the viewers.

You can find this film as part of the truly fantastic DVD that's included in RCA's "The Centennial Collection" CD, that's now out of print but still can be picked up here. I bought this cd for a production of "Born Yesterday" that I was doing at Milwaukee Repertory, but spent most of my free time watching this DVD, which is fantastic.

AND CHECK THIS OUT! Also featured on the DVD is this soundie of Duke's "Cottontail", titled "Hot Chocolates" features some ASTOUNDING dancing by Whitey's Lindy Hoppers! Watch this and see if their dancing doesn't blow your mind!

Duke Ellington Orchestra featuring Ben Webster
Whitey's Lindy Hoppers (In order of appearance):
William Downes and Frances "Mickey" Jones
Norma Miller and Billy Ricker
Al Minns and Willa Mae Ricker
Ann Johnson and Frankie Manning

The group known as "Whitey's Lindy Hoppers that appears in this soundie was also known as the "The Harlem Congaroos". They were the undisputed stars of all the groups of Whitey's dancers. After completing the filming of Hellzapoppin', the group had a contract to do a second film for Universal Studios. However, Whitey received an offer for them to perform in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, and decided he did not want his dancers to wait around for a script that was offbeat enough to incorporate the dancers. Such scripts had proven to be few and far between in the past.

In order to break the contract, Whitey agreed to make this soundie, which was an enormous hit throughout the United States. The bombing of Pearl Harbor took place while the Harlem Congeroos were in Rio, and they were unable to get back home to the United States after their 6-week engagement was over.

They spent 6 months working to make enough money to secure their safe passage back to the USA and finally managed to fly back to Florida, where they arrived with no money in their pockets to make the trip back to New York. In Miami they discovered that the soundie of "Hot Chocolates" was a big hit and was on every jukebox! They found employment with a nightclub owner who capitalized on the popularity of this soundie by advertising that he had the "Hot Chocolates in Person!"

All I know is that the peeople dancing in that video are made of elastic. There's simply no other explanation. They have to be.


Anonymous edrawl said...

that ain't dancin' - that's full workout.
holy cats!

3/02/2007 5:24 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ellington made 5 Soundies, all in November 1941. The Hot Chocolate film, featuring the great Ben Webster soloing Cotton Tail on tenor, and Whitey's Lindy Hoppers, was one of them.

The Record-making with the Duke film is a Paramount Pictorial, No. 889, filmed 4 years early, in 1937.

3/02/2007 8:57 PM


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