In a January 1, 2006 press release celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Animation, ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive director Steve Worth wrote:
“From its humble beginnings with J. Stuart Blackton’s film, ‘Humorous Phases of Funny Faces’ first released on April 6th, 1906, animation has gone on to become one of the greatest American creative contributions to the arts, second only to Jazz.”
Mr. Worth is keen to note the historical relationship between animation and jazz. However, I’ve long felt that animation is one of our most missunderstood art forms, second only to jazz.
Both fields have experienced tremendous growth and innovation in the relatively short history of 100 years. During 1940s and 50s, jazz and animation were each undergoing significant stylistic change. The music of jazz artists such as Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk was evolving the language of jazz into a sophisticated new language called be-bop. Similarly, animation artists were developing a new visual language. By the 1950s, the independent animation studio UPA had replaced Disney as the new artistic standard in animation. Many animation artists during this time were amateur or even professional jazz musicians. Some animation directors collaborated with jazz musicians such as Oscar Peterson, Shorty Rogers and Dizzy Gillespie on their short films. So there was a lot of “crossing over” going on.
I’ve always found it interesting that many viewers describe animation art from this period with the same adjectives music critics use to describe jazz from the same period: words such as “angular,” “avant-garde,” and “modern.” But I haven’t seen much discussion on why this is. What prompts someone to call a piece of animation “jazzy?”
Current scholarship on the relationship between jazz and animation has dealt almost exclusively with racial representations of jazz musicians in cartoons. The goal of this blog is to explore the influence of jazz music on animation design in the 1940s and 50s by looking at animated films from this period that feature authentic jazz music. I’m also interested in finding similarities in how jazz musicians and animation artists visualize music. Though my research will focus on the 40s and 50s, this blog will have a broader scope, covering other decades as well.
I hope this blog might prompt dialogue between musicians and artists. So post comments! Thanks for visiting, and stay tuned as this whole thing develops.