Coleman Hawkins And Charlie Parker Were Not Particularly Good Actors

I was wondering just how much Madonna was lip-synching during the pitch-perfect (and ridiculously spectacular) Super Bowl halftime show last night. Coincidentally, I was recently reminded of this play-synching gem from Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins and company. Someone uploaded a BBC documentary’s explanation to YouTube:

A little context. In 1944, impresario Norman Granz and the photographer/filmmaker Gjon Mili teamed up to make “Jammin’ the Blues,” a beautiful 10-minute short with stars of the time. In 1950, they started another project called Improvisation, with an even larger cast and running time. Five tunes were recorded, featuring various luminaries like Ella Fitzgerald and Lester Young, among others. The bit that we’re watching is from the section featuring Charlie Parker (alto sax) and Coleman Hawkins (tenor sax), supported by the rhythm section of Hank Jones (piano), Ray Brown (bass) and Buddy Rich (drums). What a lineup, right?

Like “Jammin’ the Blues,” apparently it was impossible at the time to record the music live in step with the video. (Mili’s cinematography is incredible, so it’s somewhat forgivable.) So Granz and Mili pre-recorded the audio track in the studio and synchronized it with the play-acting. At least, they synced it as best as they could, with Charlie Parker almost cracking up halfway through and almost getting Hawkins to cave too before someone off-stage tells him to knock it off.

Still killing though, right? A longer clip of the “performance” is after the jump. There are two tunes: “Celebrity” leads into “Ballade,” with both Bird and Hawk.

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