This five-disc box set, which is an extension of Selwyn Harris’s excellent regular feature in Jazzwise magazine, compiles seven classic jazz soundtracks to 1950s films about the darker side of life.
So, we get Alex North’s music for A Streetcar Named Desire, Leith Stevens’ for Private Hell 36, Elmer Bernstein’s for The Man With The Golden Arm, Bernstein’s and Chico Hamilton’s for Sweet Smell Of Success, Henry Mancini’s for Touch Of Evil, Duke Ellington’s for Anatomy Of A Murder and John Lewis’s for Odds Against Tomorrow.
Trumpeter Guy Barker, in his introduction, writes: “It’s dark, it’s late, it’s raining, there’s bad stuff going on… What better music to accompany that.”
Although I have seen A Streetcar Named Desire, Sweet Smell of Success and Anatomy Of A Murder more than once, Private Hell 36 is a new one on me, The Man With The Golden Arm and Touch Of Evil are still on my “want to see” list and Odds Against Tomorrow is familiar only from the theme that the MJQ play on one of my father’s favourite albums, their classic European Concert recording.
That last named sounds perhaps the most modern, not only because it is from ’59, but also because its instrumentation – loads of vibes and flute – sounds cooler and Lewis uses some really crunching chords that could almost fit in the armoury of a 21st century punk jazz outfit. However, Mancini runs it close with the rhythm and blues and rock influences in his soundtrack for Orson Welles.
But all these soundtracks deserve to be heard independently of their pictures, even if sometimes their episodic nature and short track times tend to interrupt the flow of the music.
As Harris points out in his extensive sleeve notes, it was in this period that soundtracks turned a corner and the old string orchestra was not a guaranteed part of it, jazz making the move from “entertainment” to something more integrated into the darker atmosphere captured in the celluloid.
Christmas is always box time, and there are lots of lovely packages out there. But, let’s face it, a lot of them only repackage stuff you’ve already got on the shelves – classic Miles albums or whatever. Beautifully packaged, with these enthralling sleeve notes, and great cover art, for the price of two regular CDs, in Jazz On Film – Film Noir you can get music that just isn’t readily available otherwise, and will keep you enraptured for hours and hours. I would call that the ideal seasonal gift for the jazz lover in your life.
And, who knows, maybe they’ll show some of these films over the holidays.