Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Prime Time Jazz - a WTJU special (Part 1)

I hosted a special 3-hour program as part of the 2017 Jazz Marathon/Station Fund Drive for WTJU. Jazz on TV followed up the follow-up to my program last year, Jazz on Film.

The focus was on legit jazz created (or sometimes repurposed) for TV shows. Although the bulk of jazz TV soundtracks came from the late 1950s and early 1960s, the genre continued to have outstanding contributions through the present day.

Didn't hear the program? Here's what you missed:

77 Sunset Strip - Birth of a franchise

Movie composer Max Steiner and Jack Halloran wrote the score for this LA-based detective show. During its six-year run (1958-1964), the program spawned three spin-offs. Each one was set in a relatively exotic locale, with its own musical identity.

77 Sunset Strip (starring Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and Roger Smith) featured a jive-talking valet parking attendant, "Kookie Kookson" (Edd Byrnes). The soundtrack was a mix of hep jazz with a hint of early rock n' roll. It was a winning combo - the soundtrack album made the top 100 for 1959.

Hawaiian Eye premiered a year later, with Tracy Steele, Robert Conrad, and Connie Stevens as a singer in a local club. Stevens sang somewhat traditional pop numbers, but the instrumental score was Martin Denny-style exotica.

Bourbon Street Beat only lasted one season (1959-1960). The soundtrack, while jazzy, didn't quite capture the essence of the Big Easy. But there was some street cred. In addition to Richard Long and Andrew Duggan, the show featured a jazz pianist. This recurring role was played by Eddie Cole, Nat King Cole's brother.

Surfside 6 was set in Miami, with an opening theme by Mack David and Jerry Livingston. The program ran from 1960-1962, and -- at least to the best of my research -- didn't have much in the way of music.

Henry Mancini and John Williams

Mention jazz on TV and most people immediately think of Peter Gunn. Peter Gunn (Craig Stevens) was a cool detective whose office was a table at Mother's, a jazz club. Two successful LPs of the music from "Peter Gunn" were issued during the show's three-year run (1958-1961). Musicians included jazz stalwarts such as Pete Candioli (trumpet), Red Mitchell (bass), Shelly Manne (drums), and Johnny Williams (piano).

Johnny Williams also played the jazz organ for Mancini's Mr. Lucky soundtrack. Though only lasting two seasons (1959-1960), the show also produced two popular LPs.

Johnny Staccato (1959-1960) tried top Peter Gunn by having their detective be a jazz pianist. Elmer Bernstein wrote a hard-driving West Coast jazz score, and Johnny Williams' piano playing was dubbed in for actor John Cassavetes.

In the late 1950s, TV westerns were on the decline and detective shows on the rise. Shotgun Slade (1959-1961) tried to split the difference. Though set in the west of the 1880s, this show about a private detective used a modern jazz score. Gerald Fried wrote the music, arranged by Johnny

Williams moved from arranger to composer for Checkmate (1960-1962). Created by Eric Ambler, it featured an elite private investigator firm that specialized in blocking crimes before they happened. The soundtrack was suitably sophisticated and cool. Williams would eventually come to be known as "John" rather than "Johnny" and write soundtracks for "Star Wars," "Jaws," "Raiders of the Lost Ark," and many, many other films.

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