“Jazz Goes to the Movies” returns for yet another year as we delve into all varieties of film music.  In past years we’ve featured songs heard in classic Hollywood musicals by legends of the Great American Songbook, film score composers of note from the US and across the world, and quite a few jazz musicians.

For our first program for 2024 on March 6, we’ll highlight two films: from 1986 Bertrand Tavernier’s “Round Midnight” and 1957 Alexander Mackendrick’s “Sweet Smell of Success.”

“Round Midnight” stars tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon as the fictional jazz legend Dale Turner. The character is kind of a composite of fellow saxophonist Lester Young and pianist Bud Powell which earned Dexter a Best Actor in a Leading Role nomination in 1987, an award given to Paul Newman for his role in “The Color of Money.” Herbie Hancock won an Oscar for Best Original Score.

For a recent appreciation of Dexter Gordon’s contributions to his character in “Round Midnight”, I would suggest reading film critic Richard Brody’s excellent essay that appeared on February 15, 2024, in the New Yorker (subscription likely required) at New Yorker/Culture/Round Midnight.

While Bertrand Tavernier (4/25/1941-3/25/2021) directed a few short films in the 1960s, his career as a director began in earnest in 1974 with his award-winning film “The Clockmaker.” His 1982 film “Mississippi Blues” began life with its subject set to be author William Faulkner. But soon after arriving in Oxford, Mississippi, he and co-director Robert Parrish found the local residents to be of far more interest and instead filmed a documentary highlighting the role of Black churches, gospel music, and blues musicians along with their music.

In the last couple of years of Tavernier’s life, he was part of a project in France that helped restore and/or recreate the music scores to many classic French films including “Grand Illusion” (1937).  In some cases, this required transcribing as best as possible the scores as heard on DVDs.  It was Tavernier’s hope that upon restoration these film scores could be presented on the concert stage.

Alexander Mackendrick’s (9/8/1912-12/22/1993) career as a film director spanned two decades but in that time he only directed around nine films. At the beginning of WW II, he made British propaganda films before moving on to newsreels and documentaries in 1942. After the war ended, he directed a number of films for the Ealing Studio including 1955’s “The Ladykillers” starring Alec Guinness, Peter Sellers, and Herbert Lom.

Over the next ten years, Mackendrick would only direct four more films, the first being “Sweet Smell of Success.” While losing close to $400,000 at the time of its release, the film is now among those listed as best films of all time.

Mackendrick’s last film as a director was “Don’t Make Waves” (1967) with a cast that included Claudia Cardinale, Tony Curtis, and in what is considered to be her film debut, Sharon Tate.

In 1969, Mackendrick was appointed Dean of the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), a position he held until 1978 when he stepped down to become a professor. Some of his students include James Mangold, Thom Mount, and Bruce Berman.

About the music heard in the films: the Chico Hamilton Quintet appears in “Sweet Smell of Success” and provides much of the background music in the film. However, it was Elmer Bernstein who wrote the bulk of the score.  The Chico Hamilton Quintet at the time featured the leader on drums, Paul Horn on reeds, cellist Fred Katz, bassist Carson Smith, and guitarist John Pisano. However, it was actor Martin Milner who played the role of the guitarist in the film.

Tavernier insisted that for authenticity all of the music heard on the bandstand at the jazz clubs in “Round Midnight” be performed live. Dexter Gordon had a major role in choosing the musicians that were heard.  Besides Dexter Gordon and Herbie Hancock, some of the other featured musicians were Bobby Hutcherson, Pierre Michelot, Wayne Shorter, Billy Higgins, John McLaughlin, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, and Cedar Walton.

Be sure to tune in for Week One of “Jazz Goes to the Movies” on Wednesday, March 6 at 8 p.m. with your host Doug Crane on KUVO JAZZ.

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