Here we have the rare opportunity to watch a jazz attack as it was usual in the 1940’s on New York’s 52nd Street. Okay, it were the boppers then, folks like Bird and Diz who had put the fear of God into them veterans of swing. The tune you can hear in the clip is originally Battle Royal, re-arranged for that purpose by Duke Ellington for the torch movie Paris Blues.
(Note: If you click on the link for listening to Battle Royal, it says “forbidden”. But if you’d click on “enter” again, it will play fine.)
The movie itself could have been even scandalous, since its original idea for the plot was to show “mixed” couples, love affairs between black and white. Anyway, they withdrew that daring idea (for its time, the early 1960’s!), and so Sidney Poitier is in love with beautiful Diahann Carroll, and Paul Newman gets his kicks with equally attractive Joanne Woodward, already his wife since 1958.
Okay, the story is really quite a slowly forward moving affair, showing jazz musicians struggling in a city whose jazz heydays were already over. BUT: The music of the soundtrack is just brilliant, and our heroes Mr. Newman and Mr. Poitier fake their instrumental techniques quite credibly. The Duke himself was obsessed with that project, and he – together with Billy Strayhorn – wrote practically all night and day with masterful results.
The beautiful theme itself, Paris Blues, is a marvel among everything what jazz composers ever wrote. (I will deliver the original version from the film in a few days. — Steve Lacy is playing here, accompanied by Gil Evans on the electric piano.)
Very interesting also is an all guitar feature, an instrument actually disestablished by the Duke in the late 1930’s. The guitar player in the film portrays an heroin addict, another quite believable ingredient, based on the actual experiences of many, many top notch jazz musicians, which gives the film a certain darkness and despair. There are some very good lines, musically and spoken, memorable moments of joy too, especially as soon as Pops is entering the scenery.
The soundtrack to Paris Blues is one of the best jazz soundtracks ever, and you can buy it here or elsewhere:
Here now, Battle Royal aka Pops versus the Duke’s men, which you certainly will enjoy!
Dukishly yours truly,
Quote from an amazon review:
Murray MacEachern dubbed Newman’s trombone work, and Paul Gonsalves did Poitier’s tenor sax dubs.