Wednesday, 30 October 2013


Surfing the net earlier today, I discovered the Center for Jazz Studies at Columbia University and details of a talk held there on 28 February 2013 by Professor John Szwed on The Story of Jazz. Ellington aficionados will know that this is the collaboration between Duke and Orson Welles which unfortunately never got off the drawing board. It transmogrified, eventually, and after a fashion, into A Drum Is A Woman. I've emailed Professor Szwed in the hope that the text of his talk is available. In the meantime, I discovered the video, below, which, I'm sure, in part, covers this fascinating project. 

The video and the programme notes copied below are from the Louis Armstrong Symposium held at The College of Staten island in 2009.

In 1941 RKO announced that "The Story of Jazz," an Orson Welles film, was in production, with Duke Ellington as musical director, and a cast that included Louis Armstrong, Hazel Scott, and Kid Ory. It was to be a bio-pic of Armstrong, and was a serious production, with several scripts, an interview with Bud Scott modeled on the 1938 Alan Lomax interview with Jelly Roll Morton, a short autobiography of Armstrong he wrote for the film, Ellington was under contract, and test shots had been made. But as often with Welles, things went wrong, and the jazz concept was sidetracked for the story of Brazilian Carnival in the three-part film, "It's All True," which was never completed. (Another Welles' 1941 production also failed, a film of Ellington's "Jump For Joy.") Many questions remain about the Armstrong film, including how it morphed into the infamous 1947 film, "New Orleans," and why the script of "The Story of Jazz" was so similar to that of another 1941 film, "The Birth of the Blues."
This talk is an attempt to explore the 1941 Welles' productions, and will look at some of the scripts by Elliot Paul, as well as his strange 1957 book, That Crazy American Music, the Bud Scott interview, the Armstrong letter-autobiography, the "Jump For Joy Script," and a later Welles radio history of jazz for the Armed Forces Radio Network.

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