Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Herewith the middle section of the 1956 documentary "Music Of the South", a pioneering work on the orgins of jazz. If this post is your first find on the subject, simply scroll down to the previous post for an explanation of the films history. It's director was my father (he still is), Frank De Felitta, and his is the only print of the film extant.
A reader named Ed made a very good point in a comment he left. That CBS had no problems showing the black workers in the field, but that the band they hired at the top of the program was an all-white one. According to my father, CBS wasn't exactly sanguine with the blacks depicted in the film. Or at least the wife of the President wasn't. Shortly after the airing of the film, he heard through the office grapevine that Babe Paley--wife of William S. Paley--complained to her husband about showing "ugly" people on the air and how he would lose viewership as a result. I'm not sure how the network founder and president received this comment but one year later CBS aired "The Sound Of Jazz", which not only featured black musicians but featured a "mixed" band--something that had been common in clubs since the thirties (when Lionel Hampton and Teddy Wilson played with Benny Goodman) but which television was still coming to grips with, no doubt due to sponsorship issues and the southern United States. At the same as all of this, "The Nat King Cole Show" was breaking down the barrier that a black man could host his own show--one that featured white artists, that is. That show debuted in 1956, the same year as this film was made--but he was NBC's problem. Perhaps Babe Paley advised her husband to pass on the show for CBS...
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 12:20 PM
Saturday, March 26, 2011
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!
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 10:28 AM
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Though it's practically unfathomable, it is actually the case that the dial telephone (which many of you reading this may not be
old enough to have ever used) actually once required instructions on how to use it. You know--the phone you pick up and stick your fingers in the little holes that correspond with the number you want...
...even as I write this, I can feel how it ages me. Touch tone phones replaced the dial in my parents house in the late seventies. Still, the dial phone was a fact of phone-life for fifty or so years and at one time it was considered new-fangled enough to require an instructional film to be made about its use. Well, think about it. Your first experience with a computer wasn't exactly the smoothest moment of your life now, was it? And quite a few people I've met (almost all fifty or older) ask a lot of frankly silly questions about how to use their i-phones. Any strange new concept (like a dial telephone apparently once was) requires a few user tips. Now we get them on line. In the late twenties, the on-line equivalent was a short instructional film shown in theaters.
And here's that film, from 1927!
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 2:25 PM
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
As of tomorrow, 3/23/11, Movies Til Dawn will be back. So I needed a vacation...sue me...
Tell your friends. Tell my friends. Tell yours and my enemies as well.
I promise not to shill for "City Island" anymore. Until the next movie gets off the ground, I'll be posting some of the most fabulous archival footage of music, news, film etc. that hasn't been seen in years.
Tune in tomorrow, my darlings...
Posted by Raymond De Felitta at 11:49 AM