J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Odd Spin 3/24: James Bond’s James Bond Songbook

Title: The James Bond Songbook
Bass, leader: Jimmy Bond
Tenor: Harold Land
Trumpet: Bobby Bryant
Flute, tenor: Buddy Collette
Drums: John Guerin
Piano: Joe Parnello
Arranger: Dick Grove
Label: Mirwood

The story: James Bond, usually billed as Jimmy, was a reliably talented bass player, but the record label probably only cared about his name for this outing of songs from and inspired by Bond movies. At the time of recording many Bond novels had yet to be filmed, so Bond co-wrote tunes with Warren Baker for those titles. Technically, Jimmy Bond wrote the first "Live and Let Die" for this LP several years before the film and McCartney song.

I’ve taught a class on jazz and film at SCPS, so it’s a topic of great interest for me. Few art forms have done more to shape our perception of “cool” than jazz and film. Yet jazz, with its emphasis on improvisation and virtuoso solos, has never been a natural partner for film production. Still, jazz has had enough hip status to periodically find a place in film.

Jazz biographies like Clint Eastwood’s Bird and Michael Curtiz’s Young Man with a Horn (largely inspired by the life of Bix Biederbecke) are suffused with the music that inspires them. Film noir classics like Odds Against Tomorrow rely on the moody, sultry, and dangerous emotions jazz conjures to provide the audience visceral cues to the films action. Blaxploitation soundtracks have employed funkier soul-jazz artists to convey the musical landscape of their urban environments. Perhaps the greatest integration of jazz and film occurred during the French New Wave. Auteur film-makers truly embraced the jazz aesthetic, often featuring wholly improvised soundtracks, like the Miles Davis score for Elevator to the Gallows.

Jazz also has a long history of drawing inspiration and material from films. Few people remember the Lana Turner film Green Dolphin Street, but the Oscar nominated “On Green Dolphin Street” has become a jazz standard, recorded by Miles Davis and legions of other jazz musicians. Songs like “The Shadow of Your Smile” from the Sandpiper, “More” from Mondo Cane, and “Never on Sunday” from the film of the same name, were widely adopted into jazz repertoires in the 1960’s.

While jazz and film may have both shaped perceptions of American “coolness,” they were never equal partners. Jazz could claim a certain hip status for the elite vanguard, but Hollywood derived its status from its glamour and widespread popularity.

The pay-off: Despite the gimmicky genesis, this is nice little hard-bop session. Dig the line-up, an appearance from Harold Land is always welcome. I haven’t seen this too often, but not too many people are hip to it. Hope to snap it up for $15, but go up to $20-25.