Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Derrick Bang - 1950-1970 - Crime and Spy Jazz on Screen, A History and Discography

© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Here’s the good news. If you are a fan of Crime and Spy Jazz in film and on television from 1950-1970, much of it is readily available to you via video and audio file sharing services, either through free usage online or by way of subscription services.

And, here’s more good news. If you’d like a chronological road map to organize your journey through Crime and Spy Jazz on Screen, 1950-1970, all you need to do is click on this link to order Derrick Bang’s new book on the subject direct from McFarland, its publisher.

By way of background, “Derrick Bang has written film, television, music and general entertainment commentary for magazines and local newspapers since 1974, and supplies regular columns and features to The Davis Enterprise. He lives in Davis, California.”

You may also recall an earlier feature on this page regarding Derrick’s previous book for McFarland - Vince Guaraldi at the Piano - which is still available from the publisher by going here

In order to put you in the frame (sorry, I couldn’t resist) with more information about Derrick’s delightful new book, here’s a blip from its media release:

“Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn theme. Lalo Schifrin’s Mission: Impossible theme. Isaac Hayes’ theme from Shaft. John Barry’s arrangement of the James Bond theme. These iconic melodies have remained a part of the pop culture landscape since their debuts back when movie studios and TV production companies employed full orchestral ensembles to provide a jazz backdrop for the suspenseful adventures of secret agents, private detectives, cops, spies and heist-minded criminals. Hundreds of additional films and television shows made from the mid–1950s and beyond have been propelled by similarly swinging title themes and underscores, many of which have (undeservedly) faded into obscurity. This meticulously researched book traces the embryonic use of jazz in mainstream entertainment from the early 1950s - when conservative viewers still considered this genre “the devil’s music - to its explosive heyday throughout the 1960s. 

Fans frustrated by the lack of attention paid to jazz soundtrack composers — including Jerry Goldsmith, Edwin Astley, Roy Budd, Quincy Jones, Dave Grusin, Jerry Fielding, Mort Stevens, Laurie Johnson, Mike Post, Earle Hagen, David Shire, Elmer Bernstein and many, many others — will find solace in these pages (along with all the information needed to enhance one’s music library). But this is only half the story; the saga’s origins are discussed in this book’s companion volume, Crime and Action Jazz on Screen: Since 1970.

Fans of this Jazz genre will also benefit immensely from the accompanying discography - all 24 pages of it! - which is infinitely helpful at identifying entire soundtracks or compilations of scores and themes, the label citations for these recordings and, in some cases, the musicians who performed on these films and television programs. 

Aside from its comprehensiveness - the phrase “well -researched” is an understatement, here - the other unique ingredient that forms a treat for the reader is the ease with which the story unfolds.

Rarely is a book so full of facts and information a page-turner, and yet, this one is and that’s largely because of Mr. Bang’s gifts as a storyteller. Some people have a way with words and he is one of them. His style is clear, concise and coherent. 

For those readers whose viewing experiences include many of the films and TV shows described and discussed in the book, Mr. Bang’s narrative writing skills help them come alive again while also providing fresh perspectives and additional insights about how the music was developed and how it was used to enhance the visual experiences.

Those readers coming to these crime and spy movies and television specials and series for the first time now have a guidebook that places them back in the socio-cultural context from which these programs evolved.

In an age when writing 8 bars of original music is considered a luxury to be used in conjunction with an array of synthesized sound effects as a film or television score, re-visiting a time when “... composer Henry Mancini delivered original scores for every single one of the 114 episodes [of the “Peter Gunn” TV series] … [with] many episodes featuring up to 15 minutes of music” is like being given entry to Film Composer Nirvana.

And as an “extra added attraction” (sorry, could resist the urge to insert more show biz lingo), Mr. Bang tells the story from the point-of-view of The Big Screen and the Small Screen domestically AND “From Across The Pond” AND from”Elsewhere In The World.” It’s almost as though you are viewing the topic through parallel universes.

These different angles of acceptance enrich the reading experience and keep the reader involved in Mr. Bang’s quest to uncover and scope out more examples of crime and spy Jazz on screen domestically, “on the Continent,” and internationally. Looked at another way, you can never get too much of a good thing - at least while it lasted, anyway. Did I mention that these days, 8 bars of original music …?

The period from 1947-1959 is covered in the first five chapters and thereafter we get a year-by-year prospectus of the 1960s films and television shows that featured Jazz.

Although they are in black and white, the book contains lots of poster art, record covers and publicity photographs that help rekindle memories and/or spark curiosity about silver screen and television crime and spy Jazz themes and scores.

Movies and Television programs have been described as The Lively Arts that bring together dramatic story-telling, expository writing, music, photography and a host of technical audio-video skills to create an imagined-reality, viewing experience . Derrick's book offers the reader many examples of how these elements come into play with crime and spy Jazz on screen from 1950-1970.

Thus, we learn concerning Leith Stevens score for The Wild One, a 1953 movie starring Marlon Brando:

“Stevens initially drew the scoring assignment, but Brando—although only a few years into his big-screen career—already was calling some shots. "Marlon had heard an album by Shorty Rogers' small group," recalled trombonist Milt Bernhart. "He wanted it as source music, [so] everything that came from the jukebox was by Shorty. Because of that [film], Shelly [Manne], me, Bud [Shank], Pete Candoli, Conrad Gozzo, and anybody who could play bebop and read music started to get calls on motion pictures. The Wild One really broke the ice."”

Or, concerning the 1953 film based on Mickel Spillane’s I, Jury Derrick provides this description of the “the film’s strongest asset …” before introducing us to its “... dim-bulb palooka…:”

“By this point, 34-year-old ex-Army Air Corps flight instructor-turned-author Mickey Spillane had produced seven novels starring very-hard-boiled private detective Mike Hammer. Spillane's notoriously violent creation first hit the big screen in director/scripter Harry Essex's fitfully entertaining adaptation of I, the Jury. The film's strongest asset is its richly atmospheric look: late-night dark shadows, foreboding long shots and unsettlingly tight close-ups, all courtesy of veteran noir cinematographer John Alton. Too bad, then, that star Biff Elliott is such a disappointment as Hammer; his bearing and mush-mouthed line deliveries make Mike look and sound like a dim-bulb palooka who couldnt tie his own shoes, let alone solve a complicated murder mystery.”

Chapter 2: Dreamsville: 1957-1958 opens with this summary statement which succinctly keys the reader into the importance of this year in the history crime and spy Jazz on screen, 1950-1970:

“Everything changed overnight, thanks to a jazz pianist/arranger who worked with the reformed Glenn Miller Orchestra following his World War II service, and who in 1952 became an extremely busy member of the Universal Pictures music department, where he was affectionately known as "Hank."

But that didn't happen until September 22,1958.”

Of course, even among the uninformed a wild guess would more than likely bring us to the Peter Gunn television series about which Derrick has this to say:

Peter Gunn solved his first case on September 22,1958: a nasty little caper titled "The Kill," which revolves around a criminal gang's attempt to extort protection money from the owner of the club—Mother's—where Pete hangs out. Viewers were enchanted: not merely by star Craig Stevens, who epitomizes debonair sophistication, athletic grace and droll verbal wit; but also by the ultra-hip score that shadows his every step. The music isn't present merely in Mother's, where the resident jazz combo provides a steady succession of swinging tunes; the luxuriously vibrant aural tapestry turns non-diegetic and trails Pete as he follows leads, evades death and solves each case. Nor was this a collection of overexposed library cues; it was fresh jazz from the West Coast "cool" school It stayed that way during the show's three-season run on NBC and ABC; composer Henry Mancini delivered original scores for every single one of the 114 episodes. They aren't sparse, either; many episodes feature up to 15 minutes of music.

The show's graphic title credits are rather bland: the music behind them, anything but. This brief version of Mancini's iconic "Peter Gunn Theme" runs barely 20 seconds, giving viewers just a taste of the captivating bass line and attention-grabbing melody; a more developed version, lasting close to a minute, plays behind each episode's end credits.

"The Peter Gunn title theme actually derives more from rock and roll than from jazz," Mancini explained. "I used guitar and piano in unison, playing what is known in music as an ostinato, which means obstinate. It was sustained throughout the piece, giving it a sinister effect, with some frightened saxophone sounds and some shouting brass."”

Derrick’s descriptive writing skills are also right on the mark when it comes to a lesser known film from this period - The Strange One:

“Sexual tension, cruelty and duplicity also are front and center in The Strange One, a ferocious denunciation of macho bad behavior in military academies. Author/playwright Calder Willingham turned his 1947 novel into a play for New York's Actors Studio, where the off-Broadway cast included a young James Dean. Most of the stage cast reprised their roles when Willingham further adapted the material for the screen in 1957, but Dean's untimely death precluded his participation. The subject matter was quite raw for its time, and surprisingly blunt even when viewed through the lens of history. The story takes place at the fictitious Southern Military College; the place is in thrall to Jocko De Paris (Ben Gazzara), a sadistic bully who torments freshmen newcomers who, by virtue of academic rank, aren't able to fight back.

Kenyon Hopkins' score immediately unnerves viewers, with a jarring blast of horns that plays over the Columbia Pictures logo. This segues into the films swinging, sax-driven title theme: an almost charming melody rendered disconcerting by long descending runs on edgy strings. It's the perfect statement of Jocko's dual personality—oddly charismatic on the outside, pure evil on the inside—and, in fact, it becomes his theme.

Saucy jump jazz—with a swinging sax solo—plays on a diner jukebox during one tense scene; the juke later shifts to boogie-style arrangement of the main theme, with some nasty sax and guitar licks intensifying viewer anxiety. When the cadets finally rebel, another reprise of the main theme dissolves into agitated horns when Jocko is confronted and then driven, blindfolded, to what he believes will be his own execution.

"I used a twelve-tone technique, which I don't use ordinarily in a theatrical film," Hopkins explained, when interviewed shortly after the film's release. 
"The commercial melodies and the juke-boxes and the twelve-tone chase which comes at the end of the picture are all related. The theme used in the final chase is the tune called 'The Strange One,' used in a twelve-tone form. If you listen to the album a couple of times, you can see the relationship of the whole thing.””

The first volume continues in this manner, chockablock with information, descriptions, analyses, bibliographic and discographical references to Crime and Action Jazz on Screen: 1950-1970.

In addition to the “Everything changed overnight…” Peter Gunn score by Henry Mancini, I anticipated with great delight what Derrick had to say about three of my favorites in this genre: The Saint, The Cincinnati Kid and Bullitt. Here are some excerpts from the book to help give a sense of Derrick’s style of writing.

The Saint

“The Avengers was a UK phenomenon when Series 3 concluded on March 21,1964,....

Meanwhile, UK television viewers had become equally transfixed by a charming rogue with a venerable background: Simon Templar, better known as The Saint, who debuted in author Leslie Charteris' 1928 novel, Meet the Tiger. During the next three decades and change, as Charteris continued to feature The Saint in three dozen novels and short story collections, the character also became a popular fixture in big-screen films, radio shows, comic books and serialized newspaper adventures. By the early 1960s, he was ready to conquer television; The Saint debuted on October 4,1962. Roger Moore proved sublime as the debonair and mockingly larcenous Templar, and the show became a popular phenomenon that ultimately produced 118 episodes during a six-series run that finally concluded on March 9,1969.

The indefatigable Edwin Astley was along for the entire ride, as the series' sole composer. His title theme is constructed from a brief whistled "signature theme" that Charteris had devised and introduced in 1939's big-screen adventure, The Saint Strikes Back. Astley arranged this into a 25-second tune dominated by a 6-6-7 brass motif over slow percussion and throbbing guitar; it kicks off each episode as a sidebar character recognizes "the famous Simon Templar," prompting Moore to glance heavenward as a superimposed halo appears over his head. The melody repeats over the title credits, then climbs the scale for a final orchestral flourish.

Astley wrote numerous underscore cues designed specifically for early adventures, thereby building a music library that could be tracked into subsequent episodes with which he wasn't directly involved. Because The Saint was a filmed series—as opposed to "shot as live" on videotape, as was the case with initial seasons of The Avengers — Astley's music could play a much more prominent role in even the earliest episodes. Whimsical soprano reeds back Templar when he "breaks the fourth wall" to address the viewing audience; an astonishing number of title theme arrangements — in various tempos, instrumentations, moods and cultural shadings — also pop up in every episode. Several types of cues became ubiquitous. Staccato explosions of brass back fight scenes, particularly when The Saint beats a couple of baddies into submission; the weekly "damsel in distress" often is introduced with a mildly saucy sax cue; Simon's visits to various Western European or vaguely defined South American countries are flavored with cues that convey the appropriate cultural touch. Astley also supplied plenty of source cues for radios, phonographs and even live bands; they range from combo swing and orchestral dance music to — as the decade wore on — vibrant bits of jazz-inflected rock 'n' roll. …”

The Cincinnati Kid

“Although [Lalo] Schifrin's early big-screen scoring assignments remain fairly obscure, that isn't true of his debut team-up with star Steve McQueen. Director Norman Jewison's handling of The Cincinnati Kid is a masterful adaptation of Richard Jessup's 1963 novel, with each of its colorfully memorable characters cast to perfection. The Depression-era story, set in New Orleans, concerns a long-anticipated poker match between debonair veteran player Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson) and scruffy, self-assured upstart Eric "The Kid" Stoner (McQueen). All the locals favor The Kid, but a shady, old-money gambler—Rip Torn, as Slade—intends to guarantee such success by blackmailing the dealer—The Kid's best friend, Shooter (Karl Maiden)—into rendering occasional "assistance."

Schifrin had the misfortune to float into the deep end of conflicting opinions between Jewison and producer Martin Ransohoff. "The two of them had totally different concepts. ... I realized that I was swimming in dangerous waters. But my instinct for self-preservation kicked in and forced me to do something that I have never again done in my career: I wrote two scores, one for the producer and one for the director. Just in case, I composed six different versions for the ending.""

Schifrin's electrifying main theme debuts as McQueen dodges trains in a vast switching yard; harmonica maestro Tommy Morgan carries the melody against driving percussion, with horns giving the rhythm a vibrant assist.”


“A mere two weeks after Coogan's Bluff hit theaters, Schifrin's involvement with another cop thriller made a much stronger impact at the box office. Bullitt became the year's fifth-highest box-office hit: equal parts methodical police procedural and suspense-laden action flick, while granting star Steve McQueen several stunt-laden opportunities to demonstrate his athletic grace. The unfolding story focuses on a mob informant—who narrowly eludes assassins during the title credits—brought to San Francisco as a star witness groomed by condescending local politician Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn); he hopes to further his career at a Senate subcommittee hearing on organized crime.

Schifrin’s score is one of his best, starting with a killer main theme synchronized to Pablo Ferro's stylish title credits. Schifrin begins the cue gently, almost teasingly: a sustained note backstopped by brushed cymbals and drum kicks, until shrill horns erupt. The percussive elements settle into a swinging, midtempo 2/2 beat, as a guitar takes the melody, accompanied by horn fanfares. Saxes take over, and the percussion becomes more intense; the sax line yields to flutes and screaming trumpets ... by which point, viewers know that whatever comes next is gonna rock. Director Peter Yates paces the subsequent drama shrewdly, with lengthy exposition sequences interrupted by bursts of action or violence; he's also parsimonious with the music and doesn't use anywhere near all the cues Schifrin provided, making scenes with music that much more effective.

A terrific diegetic cue [sound whose source is visible on the screen] surfaces when Frank Bullitt (McQueen) and his girlfriend Cathy (Jacqueline Bisset) enjoy dinner at a restaurant; a sleek quartet dubbed Meridian West - Julie Iger (flute), Larry Vogt (guitar), Nat Johnson (bass) and Allan Pimental (drums) — performs a lengthy, fast-paced jazz waltz. A subsequent non-diegetic cue sets up the film's iconic car chase: Frank, spotting a tail, executes some fast maneuvers, and the pursuing bad guys become the pursued. Schifrin's taut, expectant 2/2 cue builds tension as the goons consider their options. Horns and saxes supply terse counterpoint as Yates holds ... holds ... holds ... holds even more ... and then the bad guys buckle their seat belts and accelerate. The chase is on ... and Schifrin goes silent. The chase roars along without music, which would have been superfluous.”

The these comments from Cheryl Pawelski Foreword with its word of warning in the closing sentences form a nice closing statement for this review:

“Delivered with appropriate winks and nods, the information presented is detailed, dense (in the best possible way) and scholarly. Derrick's enthusiasm is addictive, and he has delivered a very entertaining read. Action/crime jazz finally gets its due, and it certainly does pay! While we're certain to be richer in our knowledge of the genre, if you're like I am, you'll be much poorer after tracking down all the wonderful music just waiting to be discovered.
While I deeply appreciate the road map for my future viewing and listening ... the lighter wallet, maybe not so much. — Thanks a lot, Derrick.”

Please be sure and stay tuned for Crime and Spy Jazz on Screen Since 1971 which will be the subject of a future blog posting.


  1. This is really a nice and informative. containing all information and also has a great impact on the new technology. Thanks for sharing it.
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  2. Jazz is my favourite music genre for reasons that range from simple, soothing sounds to a complex multi-note musical symphony. It is always a relaxed feeling to listen to such music that relates with the soul and makes it calm. Music has the inexplicable power to change the energies of a listener.


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