Jazz in Early Theatrical Animation

Jazz in Animation
(click for full-sized chart)

Designer Allister Roberts recently created a chart documenting the use of jazz in animated shorts between 1929 and 1945. He has generously allowed me to share his work with Brew readers. In addition to being informative, it’s a lovely piece of information graphics. Roberts tells me, “By all means this is not a complete list, as I purposely glazed over some lesser works, but barring time and money I would love the opportunity to completely flesh this out to cover entire eras.” Personally, I’d love to see him extend it out to cover the late-’40s and 1950s, when musicians like Oscar Peterson, Shorty Rogers and Ella Fitzgerald worked with animators like Norman McLaren, Bill Hurtz, Ernie Pintoff and John Hubley.

The above graphic will be reprinted in a forthcoming book by Robert Del Tredici, and a ten-foot printout of it is currently on display at the Mel Oppenheimer Centre in Montreal.


  • Josh

    Great striking design, nice to see the info laid out so nicely. However – he delves into murky waters when he lists cartoons without explicit visual or musical appearances by actual jazz musicians. For instance, calling Scott Bradley’s score to Red Hot Riding Hood “back music” is a stretch, by far. “Three Little Bops” would be a stronger candidate by comparison, and those musicians (Shorty Roger’s band) were white, as far as i know. I’ve been meaning to post a filmography (w/ music identification) of the abstract jazz films I checked out at the IOTA center last summer, I’ll try to get that up soon.

  • http://andynortonuk.spaces.live.com/ Andy Norton

    I am fascinated by jazz music, as well as animation, like these Fleischer and Warner Brothers cartoons from the ‘Golden Age’.
    This paints an interesting viewpoint that animation reflected the music scenes of the time- which also makes think, with our current commercialised climate in mainstream music, how on earth contemporary animations can reflect the current trends in music.

  • Tom Minton

    The correct title of that Bing Crosby tune in the two strip Tech cartoon from “King of Jazz” is “Music Hath Charm”, not “Music Has Charms.”

  • http://www.healemru.com/registries.php Tamu

    This looks great!

    I took History of Animated Film with Robert in the 90s. I think you are referring to the Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema at Concordia University. The late Oscar Peterson, who you also mention in this entry, was a beloved Montrealer.

  • http://cartoonresearch.com/gerstein David Gerstein

    JUNGLE RHYTHM (1929) is a Disney cartoon, not a Van Beuren as indicated. Also, despite its title it doesn’t feature any jazz or African-American music—just “In Walden auf der Heide” (“Hi-Lee, Hi-Lo”), “The Blue Danube,” “Auld Lang Syne,” “Aloha Oe,” “Turkey in the Straw,” and “Yankee Doodle.”
    Maybe the author meant to list something else here (an actual 1929 Van Beuren short, perhaps? PRESTO CHANGE-O, from that year, does feature some jazz).

  • http://www.grillomation.blogspot.com Oscar Grillo

    The first “jazz” track I know is by Paul Whiteman in the Walter Lantz’s animated episode of “The King of Jazz” in 1930..Is there any precedent?
    There is a curious animated jazz sequence in Ingmar Bergman’s “Summer Interlude” (“Sommarlek”, Sweden, 1951), a true rarity.

  • http://www.nicholastam.ca Nicholas Tam

    “Personally, I’d love to see him extend it out to cover the late-’40s and 1950s, when musicians like Oscar Peterson, Shorty Rogers and Ella Fitzgerald worked with animators like Norman McLaren, Bill Hurtz, Ernie Pintoff and John Hubley.”

    Wait, wait, wait – Amid, please tell me more!

  • Chuck R.

    I agree with Josh. Nice conversation-starter, but why call it “Black Music”? Can’t we call it “jazz”, give due credit to some great artists, and leave race out of it?

  • Pop-eyed

    Conspicuously absent are ‘Dinah’ and ‘I Ain’t Got Nobody’ (Screen Songs) – both songs were jazz standards. The designer seems to have a somewhat better knowledge of the late 30′s. I’ve always thought I heard John Kirby & his Orchestra in ‘Shakespearean Spinach’.

  • Tom Bertino

    Well, gang, I hate to be the guy to throw the dead dog up on the banquet table, but this thing is just diseased with misinformation, from minor inaccuracies (it’s THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN, not THE OLD MAN AND THE MOUNTAIN), to glaring mistakes (RHAPSODY IN BLACK AND BLUE [its real title], THE SINGING KID [its real title], and THE GREEN PASTURES are not animated films at all, nor do they feature animated sequences). And can somebody tell me why, if you’re going to pigeonhole your chart as being of “Black Music”, you put people like Paul Whiteman and Jack Teagarden on there? I’ll admit that there’s an idea here that’s worth pursuing, but something reflecting some accurate scholarship would be helpful.

  • Allister Roberts

    First off, thanks for the feedback guys.

    Tamu: Thanks for picking up on that typo, which thankfully never went past the point of email tag and onto proper print. You are indeed correct.

    Pop-Eyed: ‘Dinah’ and ‘I ain’t got nobody’ are great songs, however there are many renditions, some of which were televised. I personally found Armstrong’s rendition much more moving. ‘Nobody’ faces that same issue. What holds true for a lot of the content is that these songs were already in a sense ‘classics’ within the black community, and each artist put their respective spin on them. Check out Charlie Poole’s version, it’s quite spectacular.

    David Gerstein: You are correct, this was an oversight from someone who I believed to be a 100% reliable source. This will definitely be fixed before print, lord knows how Disney doesn’t get enough credit for their work!

    Josh: This work addressed parallels within the contexts of two artforms, one did not necessarily have precedent over the other. Red Hot was (arguably) Avery’s most substantial work and is an important piece in the timeline of animation.

    Addressing the term Black Music – it is an umbrella term that encompasses the cultural contributions of entire ethnicities. I personally can’t stand the term African-American, as I would then qualify as African-Canadian, which is ridiculous. This semantics game we play today only has the consequence of taking power from the original meaning. ‘Black Music’ is widely accepted, has no negative racial connotation, and is most importantly concise. Replacing it with ‘jazz’ would give rise to an army of afficionados lunging for my throat , saying ‘This isn’t X, it’s Y, which is a sub-genre of Z that only counts as Y if it was performed after 6PM on a Tuesday’.
    Black Music also touches upon my side notes of authorship, freedom, recognition, and most obviously appropriation. Being a crowdpleaser isn’t always the best choice.

    I realize that cartoons and animation, early jazz etc. are niche markets, much lacking in historical data. Being such a niche, there are always a billion hidden gems, shorts, versions, films etc. and of course no one to give credit to (or wrongly doles it out). I am not a historian or librarian of any sorts, finding many sources contradicting each other in the search to make some cohesion occur visually. In that, I believe it works. I hope I have been as clear as possible.

    cheers and thanks for the input

  • http://www.cartoonresearch.com/gerstein David Gerstein

    Allister, please contact me privately— I’d be glad to offer you a lot of additional information. (I have no direct contact data for you now.) My name will link you to my website, where you’ll find my contact information.

  • Allister Roberts

    Tom: I appreciate your enthusiasm! Small typos in titles will of course be remedied by a true historian, as this has yet to see the light of day in print. The three films you pointed out that are not animation I still marked as important precursors to their cartoon kin. Ideas for creating a visual vocabulary that demarcated such differences are in development, contingent on the action that the scale of the project grows (and i get proper funding/aid). First and foremost I am a designer, and deadlines are deadlines! But yes, it’s easy to understand how misinterpretations occur in something unaccompanied and unfinished.

    As for Whiteman and Teagarden, I am aware they are not black. Were they jazz composers or musicians? I did not place the stipulation that an artist had to be black, for this negates the history of appropriation and also the evolution of black music into more intracultural and interracial territory. There wouldn’t be much of Led Zeppelin if we hadn’t the early Delta blues, and that would be a shame.

  • http://www.animationarchive.org Stephen Worth

    Teagarden definitely was a jazz musician. Whiteman was important to the history of jazz too. Abe Lyman is another one that recorded for cartoons. There’s a lot more research called for here.