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“Soundies” – the Hollywood film shorts of Jazz & Big Band performers

I was asked recently about where someone could purchase “Soundies,” the short-subject films that Hollywood studios produced in the 1930’s, 1940’s and the early 50’s. Often, a Soundie would be produced and released as a promotional piece in advance of the release of a major film. Sometimes, a Soundie would be a stand-alone “short-subject” production. Or, it might be a musical number that was filmed to be part of a motion picture but edited out of the final print.

Short subjects, for those younger than 50, were the items like cartoons, documentaries, Movietone News, etc. that played in movie theaters before the first feature and between films at a double-feature. For you youngsters, it was common in the 1950’s to get TWO full-length movies and numerous short-subjects for your fifty-cent admission. I can’t explain it any better than you can see in this clip promoting a PBS documentary on Soundies that originally aired in February of 2007 and has re-run periodically since:

A DVD of this program is available on Amazon.com for $17.99:  Soundies: A Musical History

Big name orchestras led by the likes of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden and Tommy Dorsey appeared regularly in musical shorts like this Count Basie clip:

The first source I want to recommend is The Jazz Store. These guys put out a nice catalog and have a big, searchable website. They offer some really stunning boxed collections like the Ultimate Jazz Archive, a 168-CD compendium of more than 3,000 tracks. They have artwork, T-shirts and caps, concert posters and some really hard-to-find recordings. On the subject at hand, they have  compilation DVD’s recapping highlights from some great careers. My favorite is “The Incomparable Lena Horne.” In this career retrospective, we are treated to literally all of Lena’s movie scenes, some of which were never shown in the southern states. Regrettably, Lena’s scenes, even the musical performances, were always structured and filmed so that they could be excised from the final cut and a different version was distributed in about fifteen states. If all you have ever seen of the younger Lena is the famous clip of her singing Stormy Weather, you might want to check this out. It is also available for rent from NetFlix.

Another good source is Movies Unlimited. Scroll down and look on the left for “browse top genres” and select “Musicals.” It is worth it to get one of their giant catalogs. You will not believe all the stuff the offer, and they have some great specials and sales.

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