Jazz & Film Animation: A Brief, Sketchy History

Film animation married to jazz improvisation goes back to the 1930s and the advent of sound films. This collaboration of the cartoon figure Betty Boop and the real Louis Armstrong is one of the most famous early examples. Social sensitivity was not a consideration.

In 1949, the art advanced–or at least changed–dramatically when two Canadians, painter Norman McLaren and pianist Oscar Peterson, got together. They made Begone Dull Care, in which McLaren painted and otherwise altered the surface of film stock to create a classic abstract visual expression of the Peterson trio’s music.

For an analysis of the technique McLaren used in Begone Dull Care, read this essay by Paul Melancon.

In this century, the Israeli artist Michal Levy, who is also a saxophonist, was inspired by John Coltrane to construct animation reflecting her conviction that “the structural approach of Coltrane to music is associated with architectural approach. The musical theme defines a space and the musical improvisation is like someone drifting in that imaginary space.” She chose as her vehicle the beginning and ending theme and Coltrane’s solo from the 1959 recording of “Giant Steps.”

To see another film animation by Michal Levy, to music by the avant garde pianist and composer Jason Lindner, go here.

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  1. Don Frese says

    I have been hoping for some time that someone would put out on DVD the UPA cartoons of Gerald McBoing Boing, several of which were scored with tracks from Shorty Rogers Atlantic LP, The Swinging Mr. Rogers. I also liked the short of Duke playing “Dancers in Love” superimposed with cartoon characters.

  2. Taylor Coker says

    Mr. Frese, There are three Gerald McBoing McBoing cartoons as Special Features on the DVD Hellboy. I was amazed to see the lineup of players: Ray Brown, Jimmy Rowles, Shelley Manne, etc….

  3. Martin Mueller says

    Last spring we at the New School in NYC explored this genre with a student studio collaborative between Parsons animators and illustrators and our Jazz composers and instrumentalists. You can see a short docy about our work at:
    documentary / original full-length (10 min)
    documentary / shorter version (5 min)

  4. says

    I went to the Melancon essay re: “Begone Dull Care”, and found an assumption that’s incorrect, but I can’t find the right information for sure.
    The claim is that the Oscar Peterson Trio on the soundtrack is OP, Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen. Uh-Uh. That trio didn’t come together until the beginning of 1959, when Thigpen joined with OP and Ray. The very tight trio is likely the OP working group of the time, with Auston (sic) Roberts on bass, and Clarence Jones on drums.
    The National Film Board had its own studio in Montreal and the music would have been recorded there in 1948, and McLaren (with Elizabeth Lambart) would have worked with that soundtrack. (Note that that’s before the famous OP Carnegie Hall sit-in, which launched the pianist’s international career).