<em>The King Of Jazz</em> <em>The King Of Jazz</em>
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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.