The King Of Jazz

Walter Lantz animated a short sequence for the Universal feature King Of Jazz (released 3/30/30). The sequence is notable as the first two-color Technicolor cartoon released in the sound era (though color cartoons predate the talkie era; and Iwerks’ Technicolor Fiddlesticks with Flip the Frog, was released later in 1930). I wanted to get this clip included on the Walter Lantz Woody Woodpecker and Friends Classic Cartoon Collection’s (Vols. 1 & 2, both highly recommended, nonetheless), but legal considerations prevented it. Musician Alex Rannie (Disney, Ren & Stimpy, etc.) spotted the clip on You Tube and sent us the link, along with several historical annotations (below).

Notes from Alex Rannie: Whilst roaming around the Interwebs I discovered that someone has posted the two-strip Technicolor animated sequence from the 1930 film King of Jazz. Since I couldn’t leave well enough alone, I jotted down a few lines about the music and related references. There’s a heck of a lot of music in this three-minute piece, and a slew of contemporary musical references that would have elicited laughter from a 1930 audience. Wish they still made animated films as jam-packed with fun and wit as this one!

Music used in the King of Jazz (1930) animated sequence:

The opening is a mash-up of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” (a.k.a. “The Bear Went over the Mountain”) — whose origins can be found in “Malbrouk,” a French street song dating back to at least the mid-18th century — and the “Hunt Theme” (a.k.a. “A-Hunting We Will Go”), which may be based on a folk tune or part of an original work for piano entitled “A Hunting Scene” by Procida Bucalossi (published in London in 1884) which in turn may have been influenced by the tune “Tantivy, My Boy, Tantivy,” music by Thos. Costellow and words by Mr. Upton (published in London 1782-1792).

The chase proper (after Whiteman fires his shots) begins with a variation on a phrase from George Gershwin’s 1924 masterpiece Rhapsody in Blue, which was commissioned, appropriately enough, by Paul Whiteman.

(Editor’s Note: The information in the following paragraph misidentifies “The Mosquitoes’ Parade” as “The Whistler and His Dog.” Please see comments below for more detail.)

The chase continues to the Arthur Pryor melody “The Whistler and His Dog,” published in 1905. (Pryor was a composer and trombonist who played in Sousa’s band and collaborated with L. Frank Baum on a (sadly lost) opera. You can also hear shades of “The Whistler and His Dog” throughout Lady and the Tramp.)

When Whiteman opens his mouth he sings the African American Spiritual “My Lord Delivered Daniel” (which is also sung by Bing Crosby elsewhere in King of Jazz). (The animated Whiteman is voiced by Whiteman himself, with the lion’s “Mammy” (a reference to singer Al Jolson and his role in the seminal sound film The Jazz Singer (1927) provided by Crosby.) The song, which tells of the Biblical figure Daniel’s miraculous survival when placed in a lion’s den, was first published in 1872 (though was probably around many years prior).

As the lion sharpens his teeth (using his tongue as a strop) he is accompanied by “Mess Call,” a military bugle call signaling mealtime.

And when the lion returns his teeth to his mouth we hear an upbeat version of the usually melancholic theme from the Andante cantabile movement (Andante = walking tempo, cantabile = in a singing style) of Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1 in D major. (According to some sources, the celebrated melody of the Andante cantabile that famously brought Tolstoy to tears was based on a Ukrainian folk-song that Tchaikovsky serendipitously overheard being sung by a house-painter.)

In order to save himself, Whiteman tunes up his violin and launches into the Milton Ager and Jack Yellen song, “Music Hath Charms.” Like “My Lord Delivered Daniel,” “Music Hath Charms” is sung by Bing Crosby elsewhere in King of Jazz.

(Whiteman autographed his photos with the phrase “Music Hath Charmes” as early as 1922, but the song, “Music Hath Charms” appears to have been written specifically for King of Jazz.)

The title of the song comes from the English playwright and poet William Congreve’s play The mourning bride (1697): “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast, To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak,” though it’s more often garbled to read “Music hath charms to soothe a savage beast.”

“Music Hath Charms” is interrupted twice before it, and the animated sequence, ends.

The first time is when we see Oswald and a snake doing a shimmy. The music for this bit is “The Streets of Cairo, or the Poor Little Country Maid,” written by Sol Bloom “the Music Man” (and congressional representative) for the infamous dancer Little Egypt who appeared at the World’s Columbian Exposition (a.k.a. the Chicago World’s Fair) of 1893.

The second interruption occurs when the monkey on top of the palm tree becomes annoyed and we hear a brief snippet of “Aba Daba Honeymoon,” a song hit by Arthur Fields and Walter Donovan from 1914.

And then it’s back to the closing phrase of “Music Hath Charms” and the true story as to how “…Paul Whiteman was crowned the ‘King of Jazz’.”

The arranger of all this music was a recent addition to Walter Lantz’s staff, James “Jimmy” Dietrich (1894-1984). He was responsible for scoring a large chunk of the Lantz Oswalds (and for adding scores to Disney’s silent Oswald cartoons for sound re-issue) and would continue to work with Lantz through late 1937. While some animation reference books credit Dietrich as being an arranger for Paul Whiteman’s band who segued into working for Lantz while working on King of Jazz, his name doesn’t appear in any of Whiteman Orchestra rosters that I’ve run across and I’d be most eager to hear from anyone with additional information.


  • http://jessieforer.blogspot.com/ Firefly

    I grew up watching this!! There are a few prints of the storyboards hanging up in the Walter Lantz room at UCLA’s Animation Workshop. No one knows about this! It’s cool to see Oswald make an appearance. Is The King of Jazz released on dvd yet? It’s truly a cinematic hidden treasure. An added bonus: you can see a very young Bing Crosby in one of the musical sequences featuring The Rhythm Boys.

  • http://www.tjrmusic.com TJR

    ….That’s a Lot of music history packed into 2 minutes and 53 seconds……And it’s fun cartoon too.

  • Tom D.

    didn’t bill nolan animate this pretty much by himself?

  • Joe Busam

    When Whiteman plays Music Hath Charms on his violin, the musician playing it on the track is legendary jazz violinist Joe Venuti. Venuti and his partner guitarist Eddie Lang were hired by Whitman to appear with his band for the film.
    The film itself is really an extraordinary achievement and quite a feast for the eyes and ears. I’m curious to know what the legalities are that prevented its use in the Woody set. Universal released it on VHS back in the 80′s and there’s even a portion of it in the Walter Lantz documentary that’s on the set.

  • Jason

    Hey, was that Oswald?

    This didn’t do it for me. Weird rather than funny.

  • B. Baker

    Wonderful notes. Thank you, Alex.

    I hope Universal gets around to releasing this strange, delirious thing on dvd one of these days.

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

    I asked Walter Lantz about this cartoon once, and he told me that he wanted to make more color cartoons, but the paint he was using stained the cels so he couldn’t wash and reuse them.

  • http://robcatview.blogspot.com robcat2075

    Fun clip. I bet Disney wished he had gotten the call to produce that.

    The music in that clip is an apt indicator of how off-target it is to lay the title of “King of Jazz” on Paul Whiteman.

    A fine artist. He premiered “Rhapsody in Blue”. But “King” of jazz? That must have pissed off the real jazz musicians.

  • Alexander Rannie

    There are lots of photos to be found of Whiteman and his band in books and online, but images of composers and arrangers tend to be more elusive.

    Musical arranger James Dietrich can be seen in a 1934 Walter Lantz animation staff photo currently being offered by Gallery of History, Inc. (for the mere price of $6,999) (standing in the back row, fourth from the right):

    http://www.historyforsale.com/html/prodetails.asp?documentid=217060&start=9&page=58

    Dietrich also makes an onscreen cameo appearance (screen grab below) as a rehearsal pianist in two scenes of the 1947 MGM film “The Unfinished Dance.”

  • http://ramapithblog.blogspot.com David Gerstein

    Wonderful analysis, Alex!

    One minor nit, though: I don’t think the tune you’ve pegged as “Whistler and His Dog” actually is that. It’s similar, but not the same.

    Here is “Whistler” in an original 1917 recording.
    Now check out Mickey Mouse in THE PICNIC (1930); we hear a very close orchestration of “Whistler” at 1:33. Disney’s later PLUTO’S QUINPUPLETS has a similar orchestration at 0:42.

    The motive of the KING OF JAZZ tune has the same basic rhythm as “Whistler,” to the point where it might be derivative; but the melody itself is different. I might have thought it to be a one-time imitation of “Whistler” by the KING OF JAZZ songwriter—except that it’s in other studios’ cartoons, too. Check, for example, FELIX WOOS WHOOPEE (1930) at 2:27.

    Things get muddier insofar as there’s another similar tune out there: “A Lucky Duck,” as played here in 1903 by the Edison Symphony Orchestra. But I don’t think the tune in KING OF JAZZ and WOOS WHOOPEE is this, either. It’s almost an intermediate between “Lucky Duck” and “Whistler,” but the fact that more than one studio used it seems to suggest it had its own identity.

    I’ve been trying to pin it down for a long time; any ideas?

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

    There’s more than one kind of Jazz. What’s Bix Beiderbecke, chopped liver?!

  • Ed Thompson

    This is just a guess on my part, but Whitman may have been the ‘King of Jazz’ for much the same reasons that Pat Boone was famous (well, famous at the time anyway) for singing songs that black musicians wrote and performed first.

  • Dock Miles

    Paul Whiteman (Whitman was the “Leaves of Grass” guy) had his jazz-cred stock decline for decade after decade starting in the ’40s, not only because of his not-exactly-steeped-in-jazz Colorado origins, but because he was clearly for a long time the Acceptable White Face of jazz. And he favored mild, “sweet” music that blended with light classical and programmatic soundtracks.

    But his stock has come up of late, not only because he really was a superb band leader, but because his brand of sweet jazz wasn’t as beside the point as revisionist listeners thought.

  • Brad

    Heard of this but had forgotten about it. Now I’ve finally seen it. And an Oswald cameo too, nice!

  • Dave

    Rannie’s notes are extremely enlightening, but I’ll eat my hat if that’s not Crosby singing (and delivering the lion’s “Mammy”). Pops’s voice doesn’t sound anything like Bing’s, and we hear all three Rhythm Boys later on, when the natives are stalking in front of their shadows.

  • Dan

    Back when animation was fresh, and not, this is the right way to do it and that’s the wrong way to do it, just pure originality. Not a time where animators copied any formula, like Disney animation, where the charcters are repeatedly drawn with the same designs and poses over and over again, boring! Generations after generations to copy it. We shouldn’t copy the old 1930′s animation too as they were the great ones, it’s not like thay were copying anyone too. Just be damn creative an original, draw from the gut, pose from the gut, the characters acting from the gut, that’s what the originators did in the industry, they had nobody to copy. Now if you do this you might have a chance to be one of the greats that you all admire. We have a tendancy to put people we admire on such rediculously high pedistals, they got there with hard work, now get to it!!!

  • Alexander Rannie

    Thank you David Gerstein for your “one minor nit.” You are correct that I was in error in identifying the music under the chase as “The Whistler and His Dog.” It’s “The Mosquitoes’ Parade,” and the reason it sounds like “A Lucky Duck” is that they’re both written by the same composer, Howard Whitney. You have very good ears, Mr. Gerstein!

    Here’s a link to a 1902 recording of “The Mosquitoes’ Parade”:
    http://cylinders.library.ucsb.edu/search.php?queryType=@attr%201=1016%20&query=mosquito&num=1&start=1&sortBy=&sortOrder=id

    And here’s a link to the published sheet music for “The Mosquitoes’ Parade”:
    http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/sheetmusic/a/a22/a2232/a2232-1-72dpi.html

    And for you completists, here’s a link to the sheet music for “A Lucky Duck”:
    http://boundless.uoregon.edu/cdm4/document.php?CISOROOT=/sheetmusic&CISOPTR=125&REC=1

    While the music in the Felix cartoon is, indeed, “The Mosquitoes’ Parade,” I beg to differ about the music in the Mickey cartoons not being “The Whistler and His Dog.”

    Here’s a link to a 1905 recording of “The Whistler and His Dog”:
    http://www.archive.org/details/edgm-9107

    And here’s a link to the original sheet music for “The Whistler and His Dog”:
    http://scriptorium.lib.duke.edu/sheetmusic/b/b02/b0225/b0225-1-72dpi.html

    The tunes in the Mickey cartoons are dead on, note for note, with what’s published in the sheet music for “The Whistler and His Dog.” (And the use of the song makes sense as a musical joke as well.)

    Regarding Dave’s comment about Crosby’s voice, I, injudiciously quoted a misinformed source about Crosby singing for Whiteman’s animated self and have since sent an emmendation which Jerry was kind enough to post. And you’re spot on that the Rhythm Boys provide the vocal harmonies in the latter part of the song.

    Regarding Stephen Worth’s comment about Bix Beiderbecke, there is a sad tale to tell in that Bix originally came west with Whiteman to take part in the filming of King of Jazz, but script development took so long that the orchestra had to go back east to play gigs before any shooting began. By the time the script was completed and Whiteman and his orchestra returned to Hollywood, Bix was too ill to come west a second time, and so we’re left with one of the great “what ifs” of Jazz and film.

    Regarding several comments about Whiteman’s use of the appellation “King of Jazz,” check out Joshua Berrett’s 2004 book, “Louis Armstrong and Paul Whiteman: Two Kings of Jazz” for more information about a topic which could fill an entire blog in itself:

    http://www.amazon.com/Louis-Armstrong-Paul-Whiteman-Kings/dp/0300103840/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1251033654&sr=1-1

    As a closing thought, what fascinates me most about this short bit of animation is that there are a truckload of elements in it which reference various oddments of cultural history as well as the King of Jazz film as a whole (both visually and musically), yet this density of material doesn’t slow down or detract from the entertainment value of the piece. If anything, it enriches it.

    As I said in my original notes, I wish they still made animated films as jam-packed with fun and wit as this one!

  • Joe Busam

    I don’t think you’ll be having fedora for dinner, Dave. That is unquestionably Crosby providing Whiteman’s voice. Regarding Whiteman’s moniker King Of Jazz, you have to remember the term jazz, as generally defined in the 20′s was applied to any and all forms of pop music. Was Jolson a jazz musician? No. But they referred to him as a jazz singer.

  • http://jamessuhr.blogspot.com/ james suhr

    This is a great post, I’m glad you did it.

  • John

    I posed the question of James Dietrich over at the Bix forum. Here is moderator Albert Haim’s response.

    http://www.network54.com/Forum/27140/message/1251032462/No+Information+About+Jimmy+Dietrich+in+Whiteman+books

  • Bill

    Bing Crosby appears more than once with the Rhythm Boys in “King of Jazz” but his big solo number was handed to someone else because Bing was in the drunk tank the night before, blotto on Prohibition hooch. This Universal picture featured the pre-movie star Bing, before they learned to glue his prominent ears to the sides of his head, common practice years later at Paramount.

  • David Breneman

    It’s a shame that the color in this clip is so faded. Do we know if the original separations still exist, so the film can be restored? Anyone who’s seen the restoration of Eddie Cantor’s 1930 film “Whoopie!” (the first full-length Technicolor talkie) has seen how good the two-strip process can look. The ironic thing is that the big production number in the Whiteman film is the orchestra playing “Rhapsody in Blue”, all dressed in powder blue tuxedoes. But since Technicolor used magenta and cyan as its primaries, it could not reproduce blue as anything other than a greenish gray.

    As far as Whiteman’s supposed dubious title as “King of Jazz”, it’s imoprtant to remember that it was a marketing phrase pushed by the Victor Talking Machine Company that, although he went along with it, always rather embarassed him. He was the great popularizer of jazz music, and gladly took credit for that role. His visage made it “respectable” to the parents of the middle class kids who bought his records and packed his concerts; but musically, he always aknowledged that he had as much of a role in inventing jazz as Carl Sagan had in inventing astronomy..

  • http://ramapithblog.blogspot.com David Gerstein

    Alex, thanks so much! “The Mosquitoes’ Parade”—that’s the song I’ve been trying to peg for years. You’ve done a great service.

    One point, though: you said “I beg to differ about the music in the Mickey cartoons not being ‘The Whistler and His Dog.’”
    For posterity’s sake, I didn’t say it wasn’t. I said it was a very close orchestration, i. e. very close to the original recording I’d linked to immediately preceding. I agree 100% that the Mickey and Pluto cartoons use “Whistler.”

  • R.J. Laaksonen

    I have always thought that the ‘jazz’ part of “The King of Jazz” is closely related to the term “Jazz Age” which seems to mean more than just the music: the modern times, the sophisticated way of life, and so on.

  • Iritscen

    I’m not much for jazz or music history, but I loved just watching this old crazy cartoon, so thanks for posting about it! I can’t get enough of the lion-leaping-towards-the-camera shot.

  • http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/archive_author/bbenzon/Bill%20Benzon Bill Benzon

    I’d like to pick another little nit. The tune for “The Streets of Cairo, or the Poor Little Country Maid” is older than 1893, which, of course, puts Sol Bloom’s claim in doubt. Any trumpeter who’s gotten beyond the rudiments is likely have a copy of Arban’s Complete Conservatory Method for Trumpet, originally published in France in 1864 under the title Grande méthode complète pour cornet à pistons et de saxhorn. It includes 68 duets of which this tune is one, under the title “Arabian Song.” And it’s likely rather older than that. Writing in 1857, one J. B. Wekerlin noted that the first phrase of that song is almost identical to Kradoutja, a now-forgotten Arabic or Algerian melody that had been popular in France since 1600.

    So, it’s older than Sol Bloom and Little Egypt. But their use of it made it a hit in the USA, such a hit, in fact, that it was copyrighted under various names, including “Dance of the Midway,” “Coochi-Coochi Polka,” and “Danse de Ventre.”

  • Joe Busam

    In response to David Breneman’s question regarding existing elements on KOJ, it’s my understanding that a 35mm two strip negative was discovered at the British Film Institute and used for the restoration. Unfortunately the negative that was found was for the 1933 reissue which had been cut down from the original 1930 release. The cut material was derived from a rather worn and splicy (possibly 16mm) print of the 1930 issue. The animated segment was fortunately part of the negative found in England. The version commonly seen is still missing a few sequences but Wikipedia claims a complete cut of the 1930 version is extant. That said the overall film desperately needs a new restoration. Whoever did the restoration desaturated the color to the point where it almost looks like B&W at times. With the digital technology today they could certainly balance the two source materials so it’s more seamless and hopefully adjust the color to resemble the original two strip palette. I’m not holding my breath tho as I imagine this film isn’t exactly high on Universal’s priority list especially if there are now rights issues

  • Saturnome

    The comments to this entry is one of the greatest things I’ve read lately. It’s always amazing to see such knowledge!

  • Alexander Rannie

    Bill Benzon brings up a pertinent point about “The Streets of Cairo,” more particulars of which are discussed at length in a terrific reference book by James J. Fuld (which I also used in preparing my musical notes), entitled “The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular and Folk.”

    Here’s a link to the inexpensive Dover edition:
    http://www.amazon.com/Book-World-Famous-Music-Classical-Enlarged/dp/0486414752/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1251175970&sr=1-2

    Mr. Benzon’s comment also brings up a larger musical question that is most timely in this day of constantly extending copyrights: Whose song is it anyway?

    A wonderful book that looks at this question in great depth is Robert W. Harwood’s “I Went Down to St. James Infirmary: Investigations in the shadowy world of early jazz-blues in the company of Blind Willie McTelll, Louis Armstrong, Don Redman, Irving Mills, Carl Moore, and a host of others, and where did this dang song come from anyway?”

    http://www.amazon.com/Went-Down-James-Infirmary-Investigations/dp/0980974305/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1251176225&sr=1-1

    Though author Harwood’s focus is on a single title, I found his thoughts on the larger questions of “When is a song born?” and “Who owns what rights to it when?” to apply to many more tunes than just “St. James Infirmary.”

  • John
  • Christopher

    King of Jazz (1930) is available on DVD! The Paul Whiteman one!!!!! WHOOOOOOOOOHOOOOOOOOOOOO!

    http://www.ecrater.com/product.php?pid=6053743

    I’ve just ordered mine :-)