King of Jazz

Judy Schmid posted 11/03/04 07:43 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Just about a year ago, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored Bing on the occasion of his 100th birthday...the film they opened with? "King of Jazz" - just three youngsters silhouetted and the crowd in the auditorium burst into applause - it was terrific! Young Bing was adorable (hey, at my age, I can say those kinds of things!) and bounced merrily along as he sang...

Such a gem!
Jim Kukura posted 11/16/04 10:01 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Hang on to your seats, folks, as you are in for a wild ride from a "King Of Jazz" groupie. First, let me thank Lee for agreeing to fill the empty November spot with this Crosby film. I'm really anxious to share my observations and thoughts on this film with you all.

I had been really anxious to see this film after seeing snippets of it in some Bing documentaries. When AMC was scheduled to air it for the first time, I was going to be out of town and unable to view it. I practically threatened my wife with bodily harm if she failed to tape it for me. When I got home that evening, I asked it she taped it, which she had done; I asked if she watched it, which she had done: and I asked how she liked it, and she didn't say anything. Anyhow, I watched it that night, and every night thereafter for two weeks, and a few times a week after that before I slowed down. This film is like an olive, you have to develop a taste for it.

I know this is not a popular film, even among big Bing fans. To spare some of you from searching through my diatribe, I'll review the Bing participation in the film, before I go through the entire production.

Bing starts off by singing the song, "Music Hath Charms" over the opening credits, before the band goes instrumental for the balance of that number. Next the film introduces Paul Whiteman in a cute cartoon version of how Whiteman became the King Of Jazz. During the cartoon, Bing sings a quick few lines of "My Lord Deliver Daniel". Close to the end of the cartoon, the Rhythm Boys do a little scatting of "Music Hath Charms".

The Rhythm Boys get their big solo number early in the film with their "Mississippi Mud"/"So The Bluebirds And The Blackbirds Got Together" effort. After opening with the boys singing "Mississippi Mud", written by Rhythm Boy, Harry Barris, in silhouette, Barris calls out, "Hey, Bing" and points out that this is the wrong song for such a big production. The boys then go into the Bluebirds/Blackbirds number with Barris at the piano and Rinker and Crosby standing to the side. They each get a solo during the song. Barris, who is very annimated, was restricted being anchored to the piano. Rinker just is not the expressive type. Bing's flair for his future career was quite evident, even here, in his facial, and hand gestures. Also, his thinning hair was quite noticable in the closeups. But this is a cute number, as projected by the boys, and just a good song to boot, and their harmony and enthusiasm really put the number over well.

The boys and most of the band get to participate in a comedy skit starring Jack White with his "Fish Story" routine and song. They boys are up front and each gets introduced in a fish boxing story as a different champion fish boxer. Everyone is in white shirts and slacks, except Bing, who has a dark blazer on and a dark fedora. That may have been to make him look more like a shark since he gets introduced as Kid Sharkey.

Next is the big "A Bench In The Park" number. The boys get a little camera time by backing the Brox Sisters during their part of the routine. The Brox Sisters are sitting on a park bench, naturally, covered with a huge common cape, and after one verse The Rhythm Boys come from off stage and stand behind the trio scatting as the Brox sisters sing their second verse. At the end of this number, everyone involved gets a one line reprise. As the Brox Sisters sing just six words, they are now sitting on the laps of the Rhythm Boys on the bench. It had always bothered me that the prettiest sister, (my opinion), on the left, who had been sitting in front of Bing, was now in the center on Rinker's lap. What ever possessed them to make such a change. The answer finally came in Gary Giddins' book, "A Pocketful Of Dreams". Giddins' stated that the boys were supposed to sit on the sisters' laps, but that Brox sister, Bobbe, was angry a Bing for drinking too much, and refused. Bing was reportedly sweet on her. Giddins' book stated that the lap sitting never took place, but that few second reprise got missed in the shuffle, somehow. Anyhow, I now had an explanation that made sense to me about the switch of sisters. Bobbe and Bing become good friends and Bobbe married James Van Heusen, long-time Crosby songwriter. I believe she only passed away a few years ago in her late 90s.

The Rhythm Boys are last seen in the "Happy Feet" sequence. They kick the number off with Barris and Rinker sitting at tiny, almost toy-like pianos, with Bing standing, front and center. Each gets a short solo and Bing is bouncing all over the place to this lively number. "Happy Feet" was also recently featured in the Richard Gere/JLo film, "Shall We Dance".

I'll do my non-Bing review of all the productions and other stars in a seperate post. This is getting long.

This film really is under appreciated. People who think that music videos are a recent development, need to see what Whiteman and crew did back in 1929. Yes, the arrangements are dated, the singing styles old-hat (not Bing), and just generally reflective of the times when the film was made. But it still very entertaining, especially if you approach it with an open mind. There is so much great talent in this film, which I will detail in another post. But, meanwhile, this film is relatively easy to obtain. Why don't you treat yourself. Get it, watch it, and let me and everyone else know what you think about it with a posting here.
David Foe posted 11/17/04 05:04 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I like "King of Jazz" a lot too, not really because of Bing, but because it's a cool example of an early talkie. The songs are very listenable, the production numbers are interesting, and it's fun to see the Whiteman band. A lot of the Whiteman recordings are well worth listening too even today, and the whole movie captures the mystique of Whiteman -- the "King of Jazz."

And the oddball early Technicolor adds to the package.
Kevin Doherty posted 11/18/04 07:55 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
You will notice that the sound id excellent for an early talkie. That's because Whiteman had all the music pre-recorded and played back for the filming. This was the first time it was done for an entire musical and became standard procedure for most hollywood productions. In this case, Pops was a movie pioneer and innovator!

The picture did not do well initially at the box office since the public's taste for musicals had waned. If it had been released in '29 as originally planned, it would have been a smash!

Universal eventually made back its production costs through foreign releases, including one for the European market with Bela Lagosi!
Jim Kukura posted 11/28/04 08:10 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Here we go with the review of the non-Bing part of "King Of Jazz". As I mentioned in my posting above, this is really a great film if you give it a chance to rise above the dated approach to presenting such wonderful talent. Jack Yellen and Milton Ager wrote the new songs for this film and turned out some pretty nice music. There is a lot to cover, even though the film only runs some 92 minutes, so let's get going.

After opening credits, there is the Walter Lantz cartoon depiction of how Whiteman became the "King Of Jazz". That is followed by a cute setup where Whiteman gets to introduce members of the band. They do a special effects (even back then) where Whiteman shows up with a small bag, something like a doctor's bag, and states that the band is in the the bag. He puts the bag, and a tiny bandstand that he is also carrying, on the table and the band members proceed to use a ladder to get out of the bag and run over into the bandstand. Whiteman then introduces selected members of the band while they play a short selection. Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti are featured together and really look and sound great. Worth special notice is Wilbur Hall playing "Nola" on the slide trombone, and playing it faster than Roy Bargy did on the piano. Unbelievable, except you see and hear it.

After introducing the boys, Whiteman wants you to meet their girls. These are the Russell Markert girls, 16 of the best precision dancers you will ever see. They are featured throughout the film. Here they do a fantastic number while sitting in chairs, and still look better than many do on their feet.

At the end of all these introductions, the bandstand parts downs the middle and moves off to the sides and we are introduced to the first big number, "My Bridal Veil", as sung by Jeannette Loff. She is also featured throughout the film. She is in this huge room, with probably a 30 foot ceiling, with a very high arched doorway from a hall with an ever rising staircase. She retrieves her family bridal veil from chest and proceeds to be visited by ghosts of previous wearers, who are seen coming down that lofty staircase. Here is where you have to accept the female soprano and male tenor versus our standards of the female alto and male barritone. Another curious obsession of the time was women wearing fake moles on their face. The mole on Loff's face in this numbers is missing in other numbers she appears in. There is so much more to this number, but watch it yourself and see all it has to offer for about 7 minutes, especialy the end.

The Rhythm Boys do "Mississippi Mud"/"The Bluebirds And The Blackbirds Got Together" next, already reviewed above. That brings us to("It Happened In) Monterey" with John Boles and Jeannette Loff, along with the Russell Markert Girls and others. A really good contribution by Yellen and Ager and well presented.

Next is the Jack White "Fish Story" song and comedy routine with the entire band, supposedly during rehersal.
Crosby, Rinker and Barris are up front as described in the first posting. Barris almost gets whacked a couple of times when White is swinging his arms behind him and Barris has to almost fall off his chair backwards to avoid getting nailed.

The "A Bench In The Park" number, also from Yellen and Ager, is next with a really big production. The Russell Markert Girls are around again, as is Jeannette Loff, with a few other soloists and a quick comedy scene. The Rhythm Boys backing the Brox Sisters is in my earlier review. The Rhythm Boys would make two commercail recordings of this song, one alone, and one with the Brox Sisters.

Willie Hall, he of the "Nola" on the slide trombone fame, gets his own little presentation next. This guy is really talented. First he gives us a "Pop Goes The Weasel" routine on the violin, with all kinds of moves and positioning of the violin and bow. He then proceeds to play "Stars And Stripes Forever", on a bicycle pump. for real!

The next number, the highlight of the film, is a 9 minute long treatment of "Rhapsody In Blue". There are a number of cute visual methods used to reinforce the grand scale of this George Gerschwin gem. George Chiles, a dancer and vocalist featured throughout the film, gets to prance around in a caped tux while pretending to play clarinet. He is later joined by the Sisters "G". The Russell Markert Girls are back, and we learn they can also dance ballet.
Roy Bargy is the featured pianist, and other band members get selected solos.

Yellen and Ager wrote the next number, which is "Ragamuffin Romeo". Jeanie Lang, a devastatingly cute little 18 year-old, teams up with George Chiles for the vocal. A dance team couple act out the song. It's worth watching the film just to see Jeanie's face and smile.

A really bouncy and upbeat "Happy Feet" is next, also courtesy of Yellen and Ager, and my review of the Rhythm Boys contribution is covered in my earlier posting. The Sisters "G" participate, as well as the Russell Markert Girls doing another great routine and looking pretty good overall. There is a routine by a guy whose name I do not know, I refer to him as Mr Rubber Legs. Watch what he did in 1929 and tell me if Michael Jackson and his moonwalk have anything on this guy. And at the very end of this number, watch how nimble Paul Whiteman himself can be dancing up a storm. The Rhythm Boys commercailly recorded this song for Whiteman.

Jeanie Lang returns (not often enough) to join Paul Whileman in kicking off the next number, "I Like To Do Things For You", more Yellen and Ager of course. There is a comedy bit, and then Nell O'Day and and the Tommy Atkins Sextet show that vaudeville was still alive and popular enough to get into this film. But we get to see Jeanie again when she and Whiteman wrap up the number. The Rhythm Boys also did a commercial recording of this song for Whiteman.

This is followed by a full Vaudeville treatment presentation of "Has Anybody Seen Our Nellie".

"Song Of The Dawn" is the next number. This Yellen and Ager number is the one Bing was supposed to sing as a solo, but lost out when he was remanded to the slammer, a story all Bing fans are quite familiar with. John Boles gets the song and does a mighty nice job with it, backed by a very nice sounding male chorus. Another curious trend of the time, was rolling R's when singing a song, which Boles does here and also did in "Monterey". Bing did get to make the commercial recording for Whiteman, backed by Al Rinker, Johnny Fulton and Boyce Cullen.

The film ends up with visual and musical presentation of how Jazz was created from the music of other cultures who immigrated to America. A number of songs are featured from other countries, with a dance number by the Russell Markert Girls. All of this takes place in front of a huge melting pot. After all these ingredients are added and blended, the melting pot is opened, and out comes JAZZ. It is a very imaginative way to pull the whole film together.

Througout the film there are various comedy skits not associated with any of the musical numbers. You can see the youngest Walter Brennan you will ever see. I always thought they were pretty straight-laced and proper in those days, but after you see the inuendos and inferred messages in most of these skits, you will definitely not think that anymore, if you ever thought it in the first place. But all very entertaining, and certainly very modest by today's standards.

This is good entertainment, it will grow on you. This is history, and showcasing some of the greatest musical talent this country has ever seen. And this is the seed, where Bing's career, and where the seed of music of films for years to come, was planted firmly and took root in American entertainment.

Lars posted 11/29/04 02:36 AM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
I wonder if I've been watching the same movie that Jim did? I watched King of Jazz together with my girlfriend Maria during the weekend. So far she's been quite pleased with the Crosby movies I've shown her, even his lesser pictures. And she really wants to join me wathing the movie of the month.She even instisted to join me this time even though I warned her that the movie wasn't that good. I appreciate this movie because it's interesting to be able to watch the Paul Whiteman orchestra along with Bing and the Rhythm Boys - and IN COLOR!!! But otherwise I find the movie quite boring. My girlfriend was also rather bored and didn't appreciate that there wasn't any story, just one number after another. But we both enjoyed the rubberlike dancer - unbelievable body movements.... And she thought it funny to notice The Russell Market girls doing river dance. But seeing the young Bing is the real threat. She thought he looked like he had one fox behind each ear. It's great watching the Rhythm Boys and especially Bing bouncing around.... To me this movie is only of historical value and as a documentation of the early part of Bing’s career otherwise with very little entertainment value.
David Alp posted 02/10/05 03:16 PM Central Time (US)    E-mail contact the author directly
Hi Folks. I'm David from England... I've just stumbled upon this site via my love and obsession with the 1930 Universal production of "The King Of Jazz".... Im now 36 and first discovered this wonderfully unique movie during Christmas 1987 when it was broadcast on Channel 4 here in England, in the early hours of Christmas morning... To my knowledge it has NEVER been broadcast since in this country.. Ive never seen it since anyway? so its a good job I recorded it that night on my video recorder!!!! (Although I have since bought the official Universal VHS Video release)

First of all..... Hi Jim... His name was Al Norman, (Mr Rubber legs!!!) Yes it was Al Norman and he was quite famous at the time, His filmography was as follows:

Cover Girl (1944) (uncredited) .... Dancer
Around the World (1943) .... Specialty
52nd Street (1937)
Pardon My Gun (1930) .... Master of Ceremonies
Good News (1930) (uncredited) .... Eccentric dancer
... aka Hip Hip Happy (USA)
Paramount on Parade (1930) (uncredited) .... Eccentric Dancer
The King of Jazz (1930).... Specialty Dancer
New York Nights (1929) .... Specialty Dancer.

The first thing I noticed about King Of Jazz, ( I dont know about you Jim?) was the fact that it seems to be made up (or rather stitched together) by battered and scratched old dupes, and beautiful pristine 35mm prints.... The splices seem to take place throughout the entire movie, one minute we have a lovely stable pristine print, and then it cuts to a battered dupe with slightly washed out colour... (even during the main titles) I could never understand why this was until recently.... Apparently, King Of Jazz was re-cut in 1933 for a fleeting re-release. Like so many early musicals, it became practically forgotten, but like too few, it gained new life. Over the years the original 1930 35mm Technicolor negative was lost but a 16mm print turned up and was shown archivally on both coasts the mid 1970's... Then, in the early 1980's, a more valuable 35mm print was located by a universal researcher in a vault at the British Broadcasting Company, (BBC)... The pristine 35mm newly discovered version however only ran for 1 hour, it was the re-cut 1933 version as mentioned above... The missing 30 minutes were taken from the archival 16mm version and a patched-together version result was considered marketable by Universal because of its Bing Crosby connection and it debuted on cable TV in the States in 1983. The video cassette followed, and King of Jazz has remained available ever since... Except that is (much to my chagrin) on DVD... When oh When are Universal going to release it on DVD????? I so wish they would give it a restoration job and give it a 'super-super-special-special-production'-DVD release!!!'

Your story about "Monterey" makes me laugh so much... I adore that song... Its my favourite number in the whole film.. the film-set itself just looks so impressive with the little canal running through it with a Gondola passing over the water, its an outstanding set!!! In fact a lot of the sets in King Of Jazz are worth mentioning... The set where they sing "My Bridal Veil" with Jeanette Loff and Stanley Smith is just incredible.. Its so vast... Im so glad that someone else has noticed how awesome these sets were... In fact the film won an Oscar: Best Interior Decoration, Acadamy Award, (Herman Rosse, 1929-30).

Paul Whiteman actually made a big thing about coming to Hollywood to make The King Of jazz in 1929.... His whole band of 40 musicians came by train, enticed by Carl Laemmle. The ensuing train trip, "The Whiteman Special", in May and June of 1929 was a highly publicized event. It lasted 13 days instead of the usual four or five because the band made public appearances at virtually every stop. In Hollywood, Universal Studios, housed the band in a specially bult lodge on its backlot, complete with reheasal rooms and recreational facilities........ But the band sat idle for months!!!!! The studio could not find a story for its new act. One false start turned up in a trade ad announcing "King Of Jazz" in the summer of 1929. Whiteman, it said, would star in a "magnificent Movietone romance in which young love, under the guiding hand of the master of jazz, blossoms to a glorious triumph"... Soon , the frustrated "master" and his musicians would temporaraily return to the East... After some time, Universal decided to make the Whiteman movie a revue, and its first all-Technicolor film. They even wanted Flo Ziegfeld to oversee production, but Flo was not available, so the job went to John Murray Anderson, at a cost to Universal of $50,000, but his influence shows up in the movie throughout... He brought in his own set designer, Herman rosse, and dance director Russell Markert. Markert came from New York's Roxy theater, later to be re-named Radio City Music Hall. Universal supplied their best cameraman, Hal Mohr, who, for King Of Jazz, would employ the same probing crane he had used in "Broadway" 1929...

Universal mainly used their contract talent for The King of Jazz, people such as Laura La Plant, Glenn Tryonn, Slim Summerville, Merna Kennedy, possibly because the studio had no major musical stars...Anderson imported performers trained in the East and elsewhere... William Kent, (Ella-Emma!!!!) Grace Hayes, The Brox Sisters (who had appeared in MGM's "The Hollywood Revue of 1929" and had sang "Singin' In the Rain" in that movie!!) Jeanie Lang, (your favourite and mine too!!!) George Chiles, Sisters G (a dance duo from Berlin) and Charles Irwin...

Anderson wanted to mount an elaborate number around "Rhapsody In Blue", which presented an obvoius logistical problem because Technicolor did not photograph blue. To simulate blue he used a background of gray and silver with a touch of green shading. To enhance the red and green that did exist in 2-strip technicolor he used lamps with coloured projection. Anderson and Whiteman decided to pre-record all of the music, which ensured a better balance between the band the singers... I think the version of King Of Jazz we have today has been treated with a blue dye to further enhance the "Rhapsody In Blue" number because to my eyes it does look blue.... A very faded blue, but nevertheless its blue.... I think they probably added blue ink to the print????

Laemmle commissioned the making of a cartoon short animated by Walter Lantz, the future creator of Woody Woodpecker who was then under contract to Universal as the maker of animated stories the ex-Disney character Oswald the Lucky Rabbit...

In all the production of this movie cost £2 million, which made its profitability questionable... Even before its world premiere at the Fox Wilshire Theatre in Los Angeles on April 19th 1930....

Aesthetically the price was worth it, for almost everything in King Of Jazz screamed of innovation and spectacle.... The sequences , tied together as pages of a scrapbook was highly original....

There were some brilliant special effects in King oF Jazz as well... such as the dancing Happy Feet, dancing atop a box as if by magic, it was done with stop/start photography animation.... there was also the thing you mentioned with all the members of the band coming out of a tool-box... "Its In The Bag!!!"........

By the way.. I never noticed the Brox sisters and the Rhythm Boys swapping places during the "Bench in The Park" number!! Thanks for pointing that out.. Ive just re-watched the movie and you are correct...

The King Of Jazz returned less than $900,000 in grosses during its US release, although the foreign grosses enabled it to turn in a small profit.... Apparently, ive read on IMDB, (internet Movie data base) that there is a foreign language version of King of Jazz in existence, although I dont know much more about that 'fact' except that the 'master of ceremonies' was replaced by the English Speaking Charles Irwin, I presume the musical numbers remained the same??? I often wonder if this foreign language version still exists anywhere!

Anyway I could go on and on and on about King of jazz... My favourite movie of all time... I though Bing Crosby was wonderful in it.. So young looking... It will always be considered his 'Baptism in Film'.

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