Date With Dizzy (1956)

Recently I’ve been immersed in Amid Amidi’s new book Cartoon Modern. One of my favorite treats his book has to offer is the section on Storyboard, the independent animation studio founded by John Hubley in 1953. Hubley’s late, non-commercial work is well documented on DVD (see: Art and Jazz in Animation). However, his commercial work at Storyboard studios is all new to me. So you can imagine how excited I was to discover Hubley’s 1956 film Date With Dizzy, which showcases three of Hubley’s animated commercials in their entirety, as well as a live performance by the Dizzy Gillespie Quartet.

As I’ve learned from Amid’s book, Date with Dizzy was the first of Hubley’s many personal films. When Hubley married Faith Elliot in 1955, they agreed to produce one “serious film” per year in order to balance out Storyboard’s creative output. While Date with Dizzy is hardly a “serious film,” it does provide a coyly subversive commentary on creativity in the commercial marketplace.

The plot of the film involves two advertising executives trying to get Dizzy Gillespie to score a commercial for an “Instant Rope Ladder.” Although Dizzy is unable to provide an adequate score, the joke is ultimately on the two adversisers. The sound of Dizzy’s group simply can’t be comprimised for a silly commerical.

To show Dizzy an example of how jazz can be integrated into marketing, the advertisers present three commercials (actual television spots produced by Hubley’s Storyboard studio). The first spot, “Bop Corn,” is an ad for Ez-Pop popcorn that features a spoken-word narration, syncopated with a walking bass line. Rim-shots are played on the drums as the popcorn pops. It’s astounding to think that for a short instance in American history, “Bop” could be used to sell popcorn. Granted, the soundtrack isn’t really be-bop, but popular perceptions of be-bop culture are invoked between the bass line and the beatnik dialogue.

The third spot, an ad for Speedway 79 gas, is the most visually enthralling of the bunch. The swing soundtrack intersects with abstract, often non-representational backgrounds. The spot even features a 6-bar improvised sax solo. I’m willing to bet that an improvised jazz solo didn’t appear on an American TV commercial for another 50 years, until Wynton Marsalis’s “Sparks” iPod spot in 2006.

These ads show that Hubley believed that jazz, like his modern animation design, was an accessible art form and viable as a part of the cultural mainstream. But when the ads are viewed within the context of Date With Dizzy, Hubley is acknowledging the struggle to reverently integrate modern jazz into popular culture. Are the advertising executives not hip enough to dig Dizzy’s music, or is Dizzy’s music too hip for mass consumption? Hubley leaves the question unanswered.

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5 Responses to Date With Dizzy (1956)

  1. Your commentary for this film is succinct and excellent. As a matter of fact, your entire blog is excellent. I’ll check back often. Thanks to Amid Amidi for leading me here, and thanks to you for the site, itself.

    Michael Sporn

  2. Andertoons says:

    Wow! What a great find! Just added you to my bookmarks.

    Jazz and cartoons, my two favorite things! Keep up the good work my man!

  3. Excellent blog! I’ll link it to mine, and also recommend it to my students.

  4. Great blog and even better writing. I really enjoyed your blog. Your blog is worth visiting again and again.

  5. Great blog! I linked to it from the Chicago Jazz Archive site, we’ve got folks here studying film music who may find it useful.

    Wow, I missed the Calder connection, thanks for pointing that out! It’s so obvious once someone mentions it.

    Let me offer a viewpoint on the wolf vs. pigs. I see that as the moldy figs (wolf) vs. the pigs (boppers), not racial at all. It’s tough to sort out blues and jazz in the 1910′s and 1920′s, but that would be a “safe” choice for sitting in with a trad group. The scene where the wolf comes in playing a march — right back to the brass band tradition in New Orleans, which was a major wellspring for traditional (“moldy fig”) jazz. So totally inappropriate for bop, and with the over-the-top uniform, it’s hilarious!

    Lots of bad bandstand manners on the wolf’s part, esp. from a bop point of view — sitting in without being invited, making a fuss when permission is denied,
    using a fakebook in a performance (as opposed to a jam session).

    Of course, the biggest irony is that the pigs aren’t playing bop at all!

    Thanks for making my day,

    Deborah Gillaspie

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