Pop, Blues, and Jazz in Film

Michael Jarrett

in Cinema and Media Studies

ISBN: 9780199791286
Published online January 2013 | | DOI:
Pop, Blues, and Jazz in Film

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Let “pop” equal vernacular music that followed in the wake of Elvis Presley. Let “jazz” equal a broad range of syncopated dance music (what jazz fans call “merely jazzy”). And let “blues” equal the blues. Also, “film” means movies, not cognate media (television and music video). Even given all this, the boundaries that structure this bibliography are not tidy and tight, because pop, jazz, and blues are best understood as shifting markers designating musical territories that cinema was reluctant to annex for half a century. Which is to say, pop, jazz, and blues have conventionally functioned as movie music’s “other,” despite inclusion in films virtually from the origin of cinema. This bibliography understands movie music’s “other” by repeating a distinction that might appear subtle to a fault. There is the “soundtrack,” the recorded music associated with films, and there is the “sound track,” or the audio mixes of films, comprising everything one hears while experiencing movies (music, noises, and voices). Popular music finds its initial expressions in cinema as embedded sound. It is music with origins—either seen or implied—inside a film’s world. Pop and jazz and blues—like songs in musicals (see the Oxford Bibliographies article on Musicals)—enter cinema as eruptions. Such music is performed in films (it’s part of the sound track) before it is incorporated into film scores (soundtracks). Until the mid-1950s, soundtracks were scores composed in the idiom of tonal classical music. Received truth held that this music communicated “naturally” and universally. All people everywhere automatically understood it. The musical devices of Hollywood derived from (rationalized or supported) this belief system. No one needed to learn what “scary,” “sad,” or “courageous” music sounded like. This assumption has everything to do with Hollywood’s long-held belief that good film scores are self-effacing: they supplement the images, without calling attention to their presence. Dimitri Tiomkin’s score for High Noon (1952) announced a significant variation of this formula. Over the film’s opening credits, Tex Ritter sang “Do Not Forsake Me, O My Darling,” a country-and-western song composed by Tiomkin. The film’s score worked permutations on the country tune. Hollywood’s orientation toward “the popular” had shifted, and the relationship between song and score had been reconceptualized. The notion that a soundtrack could be a collection of previously recorded pop tunes begins with High Noon. In short order, the film scores of Henry Mancini would retroactively install jazz in the collective imagination as the sound of film noir, and rock-derived scores and on-screen performances would soon feature stars of popular music.

Article.  7194 words. 

Subjects: Media Studies ; Film ; Radio ; Television

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