3/26/11

"MUSIC OF THE SOUTH"--Parts 1&2



It is with great pride and delight that I post the first two out of six parts of an exceedingly rare and important archival item--a documentary made by father, Frank De Felitta, called "Music Of The South".

Photographed in 1956 in the deepest backcountry of Alabama, the film is a one hour exploration of the roots of jazz, focusing on the music of slaves and field workers. Interviewed are several descendants of slaves, who heard the nascent jazz sounds in the fields as children coming from their parents and grandparents. Even if you aren't especially interested in jazz or folk music, the opportunity to actually see and hear a descendant of a victim of "America's Original Sin" (Obama's great phrase) shouldn't be passed up.

The film was commissioned by CBS as part of an educational show called "Odyssey" which aired on Sunday afternoons throughout the 1950's and into the sixties. Integral to the making of the film was Frederic Ramsey Jr., a legend among jazz scholars who co-authored one of the first serious books about jazz, "Jazzmen" (1939) and who made scads of field recordings of blues singers and country musicians for Folkways records in the 40's and 50's. Ramsey's passion for the subject is evident in this movie--he took my father and the television crew to the very heart of the poverty-stricken backfields of the rural south where he'd made friends with men, women and families who were--quite literally--living in another time, another place.

At the beginning of the program, there's a live studio introduction of that day's show--which for some reason carries the title "They Took A Blue Note"--along with a little Dixieland music to "set the scene". Actually the Dixieland intro (which for me is unbearable and overlong) is there to show that Dixieland wasn't the root of jazz at all (as it was supposed by many at the time to be) but rather the outgrowth of the folk music and slave songs that preceeded it by a good many decades. The band, by the way, consists of some terrific jazz musicians: Kai Winding on trombone, Max Kaminsky on trumpet, Lou Stein on piano, Cliff Leeman on drums, Jack Lessard on bass and Sol Yaged on clarinet. I wish to hell they were playing something else, but there you are...

I'll be posting the movie gradually over the week but if you're interested in watching the whole thing in one gulp, just go to my youtube channel, where it awaits you. After we're done with this film, I'll be uploading a series of documentaries that my father made for NBC in the 1960's--on such diverse topics as war (the Battle of the Bulge and Pearl Harbor, both of feature priceless interview footage with famous military commanders), art (a survey of modern American art made to celebrate the opening of the Whitney Museum), and the occult (a wonderfully entertaining doumentary about haunted English manor houses featuring the great Margaret Rutherford). All of these films run an hour and were shamefully tossed into the incinerator by NBC for "storage space" reasons. Fortunately my father saved prints of his work and I'm glad to finally be able to make them available to students of film, news, documentary, music and the like. Enjoy!





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2 comments:

  1. Great to see this. I left a long comment over at JazzWax; just wanted to add a few footnotes. Your father and the CBS crew were pioneering in this venture, so any errors are understandable. We know now that Ramsey was a bit too biased and demanding; what he didn't want to talk about he just ignored. So Horace Sprott the only man alive who knows all about Jazz beginning in the Blues? Pshaw. Nonsense. And the song was Milky White Way, not Highway.

    Documentaries back then were way too stage-y and talky, but that's all anyone knew. This one is still a great find and a solid beginning, attempting to put in pictures what the Library of Congress had been recording and archiving for a couple of decades by then. Ironic, though, that segregation (and network caution)would allow the CBS folks to film the Black workers but wouldn't allow any Black musicians to join the television band. (Good thing The Sound of Jazz show was just around the corner, about to challenge the Northern status quo.)

    P.S. City Island is an excellent flick too. More kudos to the De Felitta family! Thanks, Ed

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  2. Thanks for this excellent comment, Ed. I agree with you about the "staginess" and about Ramsey's conclusions--still he was one of the first out there beating the drum for this stuff. See today's comment--I paraphrase your very astute comment about the white band/Sound Of Jazz etc.

    And thanks for the nice "City Island" comment!

    RDEF

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