Unseen: Jazz in shorts (Part 4: 13-16)
13. Wealth of a Nation (William Greaves, 1966)
This was William Greaves’ first independent film and one of two he would direct at the Eisenhower established United States Information Agency (USIA). The USIA’s mission statement goes something like this: “to inform, and influence foreign publics in promotion of the U.S. national interest, and to broaden the dialogue between Americans and U.S. institutions and their counterparts abroad.” Reads like top shelf propaganda to me.
It is a colossal irony that one who thought film a synergist for change, a tool that could be used to challenge a crooked and palpably undemocratic system, cut (or rather sharpened) his teeth on the state’s payroll. His second USIA film, “The First World Festival of Negro Arts” documents a gathering of 2,500 black artists in Dakar that would be hailed as THE first global cultural gathering of black people. It created a cultural bond between African and African American’s that was one of the major catalysts in the rise of the Civil Rights movement.
The “Wealth of a Nation” brief must have been to depict how freedom of speech and expression is afforded to all Americans. Safe propaganda fare on the surface, but Greaves takes a provocative mile in these 20 minutes. No more so than the loaded parallel of kicking and screaming babies with Bill Dixon’s horn section that goes far beyond the neat, thinly-layered comparison drawn by the narrator.
I believe this is the only available film footage of Bill Dixon’s mid-sixties ensemble. Looks to me like Benny Maupin on tenor and Roger Blank on drums. You don’t get a clear view of the bass player, but it might be Alan Silva. Dixon doubles down with Marion Brown on the highly effective film score, fateful end credit dirge and all.
14. Histoire d'Eau (Fabien Ferreri, 1994)
An elite level pianist, Danny Zeitlin is also – like his father - a practising psychiatrist, which might partly explain why classic paranoid thriller cum 1950s medical practice archive, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”, piqued his interest 16 years before this one. Zeitlin’s only feature film score – an inventive combination of synths, strings and brass - is as chilling a childhood memory, as Moroder’s “Midnight Express” theme or Carpenter’s work on “Assault on Precinct 13”.
For Ferreri’s short film, “Histoire d'Eau”, Zeitlin returns to the sort of percussive playing we heard on his early records. Just the three short piano parts: up-tempo opener reminiscent of “Repeat” from Zeitlin’s debut album, “Cathexis”, a playful call and response with the ambulance siren, and a free piano and bass exchange that seems a most appropriate way to close out this minor farce in the rain.
15. Toothbrushing (Bill Melendez, 1978)
Hard to imagine Peanuts without Vince Guaraldi’s music, but you know producer-director, Lee Mendelson, was turned down by both Dave Brubeck and Cal Tjader before eventually ‘making do’ with Vince. His sound became so central to the mood of the films that even after his death in 1976, the Peanuts team kept trawling back through master tapes for more.
This five minute public service short intended for schools was made one year after Guaraldi had passed away, and is notable for being the first time Lucy did some helpful shit. I had this on my “Snoopy, Come Home” VHS and it damn well worked on me: Charlie Brown fixing up Linus’ bad teeth had a bigger influence on my two-a-day tooth brushing habit than anything my folks said.
The “Heartburn Waltz” music theme will be familiar to anyone who’s seen Peanuts special “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown”, where it first featured in several guises, “The Long Goodbye” style. Some of those exact versions are straight jacked here, others are alternates that did not make the cut. It’s all cut together medley style though, and really it sounds more like one sustained Bossa Waltz.
16. It's Dental Flossophy, Charlie Brown (Phil Roman, 1979)
Sequel to “Tooth Brushing”. This one is new to me, which perfectly explains why i was late to flossing. More helpful shit from Lucy. Sustained helpful shit this time. Woodstock rewards her by using her fresh pack of dental floss to build a nest. Hippie waster.
More variety in this score too. Even though two of Guaraldi’s four cues are recycled from previous Peanuts shorts: “Heartburn Waltz” (one of those tunes that manages to be simultaneously exalting and melancholy) from “Its Dental Flossophy” and “Cue 17” from “Be My Valentine”. The rest are separate takes on a dainty little thing called “Never Again”. It’s slightly uneven, as you’d expect from a cut and paste job, but what a sound Vince had.