Those in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area on Friday, March 14, 2008, won’t want to miss an exciting opportunity to hear a live performance of music written by Dimitri Tiomkin for the classic film noir suspense thriller D.O.A. The Garland Symphony Orchestra (GSO) will be joined by the jazz quintet Five Play for a concert of symphonic jazz that includes “Fisherman’s Jive,” an uptempo musical whirlwind interspersed with jazz combo solos. As originally orchestrated for the film by Herb Taylor, the piece called for a small ensemble of around twenty players: the five quintet soloists, supplemented by mostly brass. Symphonic orchestrator Patrick Russ has now adapted the work, found among material in the Dimitri Tiomkin collection at the University of Southern California, for symphony orchestra and jazz quintet. The concert will take place at 8:00 pm at the Granville Performing Arts Center, Garland, Texas. For tickets, go to www.garlandsymphony.org.
A distinguished regional orchestra, the GSO is a professional ensemble of ninety-three musicians with roots in twenty countries. It was founded in 1978; Robert Carter Austin has served as its music director since 1986. The members of Five Play—Anat Cohen, Jami Dauber, Tomoko Ohno, Noriko Ueda, and Sherrie Maricle—come from the world-renowned DIVA Jazz Orchestra, a dynamic all-female big band from New York.
D.O.A. is enjoying its share of attention. First, the score is available on compact disc for the first time (see November 2007 news) from Screen Archives Entertainment. The GSO/Five Play program is the premiere concert performance of “Fisherman’s Jive,” which made its debut in the 1950 film. Several pieces Tiomkin wrote for D.O.A. became popular, including a vocal blues number, “Fisherman’s Blues,” and one or two rumbas. The script called for a prominent fast jive number over a key scene in which the lead character, an accountant, is lethally poisoned. For the scene, set in a nightclub, the screenwriters imagined a surrealistic piece with a strange, wild, primitive beat. Tiomkin crafted a two-step dance number, not unlike music he would have written in the 1920s for Albertina Rasch’s vaudeville dance routines, with a tempo of half note equals 160. That presented a unique challenge for Patrick Russ in adapting the piece: “This is the fastest tempo I’ve ever worked with,” he says.
Indeed, in the film the notes do fly by. Both Tiomkin—who also served as musical director—and director Rudolph Maté recognized the importance of authenticity. In shooting that scene, they sought out actual jazz musicians even though the music track already had been prerecorded on disc in the studio. As the cameras rolled, the five musicians mimicked playing their instruments along with the prerecorded track—a musical version of lip-synching. Tiomkin was on the set that day to watch the group: James Von Streeter (The Fisherman) on tenor saxophone, Teddy Buckner on trumpet, John Willie “Shifty” Henry on acoustic bass, Ray LaRue at the piano, and Al “Cake” Witchard on drums. (Tiomkin was well versed in jazz, see Fascinating Rhythms: Dimitri Tiomkin, African American Music, and Early Jazz, see March 2007 news)
The visceral energy of the musicians and the ensemble of actors, the smoky atmosphere, and the extreme close-ups of the noticeably sweaty musicians provide a high degree of realism to the two-and-a-half minute set piece. The band is on camera for ninety seconds, intercut with shots of the audience and of O’Brien. Soloing first is James Streeter (who is now best known for his band, Von Streeter and his Wig Poppers), followed by Teddy Buckner. Buckner performed in a few other films, including Pete Kelly’s Blues. Disneyland visitors may recall hearing him play Louis Armstrong-style trumpet at the park’s New Orleans Square, where he was a fixture for twenty years. “Shifty” Henry, “Cake” Witchard, Ray LaRue, and most of the musicians discussed in this article had ties to Los Angeles’s Central Avenue jazz scene. The Shifty Henry All-Stars were regulars around town, notably at the Los Angeles Times end-of-year parties. Around the time D.O.A. was released, Henry had a steady gig on television, backing Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis on their variety show.
In postproduction, the dramatic nightclub scene was cut to the beat of the frenetic music. Heard on the soundtrack is trumpeter Ernie Royal, a longtime studio musician and member of various big bands who may have met Tiomkin through their mutual friend and associate Phil Moore. On tenor saxophone is Maxwell Davis, the father of West Coast rhythm and blues and member of the Fletcher Henderson and Victor Young orchestras. Davis’s combo included drummer Lee Young, who was also hired by Tiomkin for D.O.A.’s recording session. Ragtime and honky-tonk pianist Ray Turner played on High Noon and other Tiomkin films. George Boujie went from the Skinnay Ennis Army Band to the MGM studio orchestra. In addition to acoustic bass, he excelled on tuba, which he played at MGM and on the Flintstones animated series. Two years after D.O.A., he voiced “Tubby the Tuba,” the most famous tuba in history, when Decca released the classic Danny Kaye recording.
“Fisherman’s Jive” is classic source music, that is, music heard from a seen or implied onscreen source.“The great thing about source music in films is it’s often complete, with a beginning, middle, and end, even if only a portion is heard in the film,” explains Russ, whose first film job was writing source music to supplement Elmer Bernstein’s score for Ghostbusters (1984). For “Fisherman’s Jive,” the final filmed scene is about a minute shorter than the three and a half minutes of music Tiomkin wrote and recorded. Concertgoers in Garland will be able to hear the work in its entirety: the world concert premiere of a jazz number written by Tiomkin, an honorary citizen of Texas and composer for The Alamo, Giant, and other popular movies filmed in the state.
- The Dimitri Tiomkin Collection at the University of Southern California
- The Duncan Cramer papers at the Margaret Herrick Library
- Jazz in the Movies by David Meeker (Da Capo Press, 1982)
- The New York Times