Jazz is Alive On the Web

by Louis Barfe

Recently, during lunch with my fellow drummer and friend Roy Holliday, he mentioned a radio show that made an impact on him as a wartime teenager. Made by the US War department for troops overseas, it was called Jubilee, and showcased the best black entertainers America had to offer.

Obviously, the bands of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Cab Calloway and Jimmie Lunceford featured heavily. The series was picked up by the BBC and Roy told me that hearing these shows was a revelation to ears used to the staid strict tempo offerings of the British dance bands.

When I got home, I decided to see what I could find out about the programme, expecting to find the odd radio times listing and, maybe, if I was really lucky, a brief, tantalising clip or two. What I didn’t expect to find were around 130 editions of the show in downloadable form at the old time radio researchers library (http://otrrlibrary.org/), which I’ve been devouring gleefully in the car ever since.

The first show of the lot features the Duke, with singer Ethel Waters and comedian Eddie Anderson, best known for playing Jack Benny’s butler Rochester. meanness was a big part of Benny’s comic persona, and when asked how much he’s paid, Anderson explains, ‘it’s about two thousand dollars a week, but when you smooth it out, it’s thirty bucks.’

A later edition includes Dooley Wilson, who played Sam in Casablanca, attempting to interview the boxer Joe Louis to almost no avail. There’s also a subtle but noticeable civil rights edge to some items in the shows, perhaps surprisingly for what at the end of the day was officially sanctioned us government propaganda. These are fascinating historical documents all round, but it’s the music that shines through the sometimes terrible sound quality. Spoil yourselves.