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Reg Hartt Presents TOO MUCH FOR TELEVISION: The Banned & Censored Cartoon Fest                                                                                                               

“Sophisticated & Sexy! Jazz in Hollywood Cartoons”

BY GEOFF CHAPMAN (TORONTO STAR JAZZ CRITIC)  You might remember the slick animation, the tumultuous action, the vivid colors, the extraordinary backgrounds — but did you recall the music from the golden days of movie cartoons from Hollywood?

If you like jazz, the one art form North America has developed, then you ought to be aware that jazz giants were hard at work providing the musical oomph for those crazy adventures.

That means musicians like Louis Armstrong, Fats Wailer, Jack Teagarden, Woody Herman, Cab Calloway and Meade Lox Lewis.

Scenes like this have been censored out of the television versions of Hollywood’s greatest cartoons.

Indefatigable movieman Reg Hartt has put together a 10-piece program.

Made between 1932 and 1946, they’re lively examples of the cartoon creator’s art and the hottest of hot jazz— and four were banned from normal circulation, the principal factors we’d recognize today being unflattering portraits of blacks, very raunchy gags and, in one case, approving heavy scenes of life in a speakeasy.

For jazz fans, there’s plenty to drool over, boogie pianist Meade Lux Lewis really pounding the ivories in Cow Cow Boogie (1943) after being pressed into service by a rancher tired of “Home On The Range,” a gaggle of greats caricatured in Spring Wedding (1937) like Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, the Mills Brothers, Bessie Smith and dance king Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. The music swings like mad on “Running Wild” as well as encompassing cool harmonies, and it contains a celebrated moment when one musician plunges a needle into his arm — a sure sign of those times. The main song is “Minnie The Moocher’s Wedding Day,” so it fits neatly in the program after the rare Minnie The Moocher, a black-and- white made five years earlier and featuring a typical jazz background to the Betty Boop cartoons. It introduced Cab Calloway to the public, together with the uncensored lyrics to one of his signature songs.

Other gems with music marshalled by Darrell Calker from the skilled studio musicians in L.A. include The Greatest Man In Siam, sophisticated and sexy, with jiving tunes and novelty songs and some distinctly erotic background design features — look out for the phallic doors and appendages — and Jungle Jive (1944) with throbbing stride piano from Bob Zurke (his last recording) and great rifts, the “plot” describing what happens when a shipload of instruments is washed up on a remote island. The crab-on-the-keyboard segment is sheer brilliance. Tin Pan Alley Cats (1943) is a hallucinogenic romp wherein a Fats Wailer type opts for the earthly pleasures of a raucous club rather than the bible revival band next door, and soon he’s “sent” into unearthly realms by the heat of the music from piano, trumpet and strings, with great sequences involving an enormous mouth and guest appearances by Hitler, Stalin and Admiral Tojo. The music’s provided by Eddie Beale’s band. Rhapsody In Wood and Jasper In A Jam — both 1946 pieces from George Pal Puppetoons — feature puppet figures and some clarinet tootling and “Woodchoppers’ Ball” from a real Woody Herman and Peggy Lee singing “Old Man Mose Is Dead” backed by Charlie Barnet’s big band, while The Boogie Woogie Man (1943) has the Lew Mel Morgan trio.–THE TORONTO STAR Friday, October 31, 1997

 

 

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