Jazz on TV – More than Peter Gunn

Wednesday morning, 9/27/17, I’ll be hosting a special 3-hour program as part of the Jazz marathon/Station Fund Drive. Jazz on TV is a follow-up to my program last year, Jazz on Film. The focus is on legit jazz created (or sometimes repurposed) for TV shows. Although the bulk of jazz TV soundtracks come from the late 1950s and early 1960s, the genre continued to have outstanding contributions through the present day.

77 Sunset Strip – Birth of a franchise

Movie composer Max Steiner and Jack Halloran wrote the score for this LA-based detective show. During its six-year run (1958-1964), the program spawned three spin-offs. Each one was set in a relatively exotic locale, with its own musical identity.

77 Sunset Strip (starring Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. and Roger Smith) featured a jive-talking valet parking attendant, “Kookie Kookson” (Edd Byrnes). The soundtrack was a mix of hep jazz with a hint of early rock n’ roll. It was a winning combo – the soundtrack album made the top 100 for 1959.

Hawaiian Eye premiered a year later, with Tracy Steele, Robert Conrad, and Connie Stevens as a singer in a local club. Stevens sang somewhat traditional pop numbers, but the instrumental score was Martin Denny-style exotica.

Bourbon Street Beat only lasted one season (1959-1960). The soundtrack, while jazzy, didn’t quite capture the essence of the Big Easy. But there was some street cred. In addition to Richard Long and Andrew Duggan, the show featured a jazz pianist. This recurring role was played by Eddie Cole, Nat King Cole’s brother.

Surfside 6 was set in Miami, with an opening theme by Mack David and Jerry Livingston. The program ran from 1960-1962, and — at least to the best of my research — didn’t have much in the way of music.

Henry Mancini and John Williams

Mention jazz on TV, and most people immediately think of Peter Gunn. Peter Gunn (Craig Stevens) was a cool detective whose office was a table at Mother’s, a jazz club. Two successful LPs of the music from “Peter Gunn” were issued during the show’s three-year run (1958-1961). Musicians included jazz stalwarts such as Pete Candioli (trumpet), Red Mitchell (bass), Shelly Manne (drums), and Johnny Williams (piano).

Johnny Williams also played the jazz organ for Mancini’s Mr. Lucky soundtrack. Though only lasting two seasons (1959-1960), the show also produced two popular LPs.

Johnny Staccato (1959-1960) tried top Peter Gunn by having their detective be a jazz pianist. Elmer Bernstein wrote a hard-driving West Coast jazz score, and Johnny Williams’ piano playing was dubbed in for actor John Cassavetes.

In the late 1950s, TV westerns were on the decline and detective shows on the rise. Shotgun Slade (1959-1961) tried to split the difference. Though set in the west of the 1880s, this show about a private detective used a modern jazz score. Gerald Fried wrote the music, arranged by Johnny Williams.

Williams moved from arranger to composer for Checkmate (1960-1962). Created by Eric Ambler, it featured an elite private investigator firm that specialized in blocking crimes before they happened. The soundtrack was suitably sophisticated and cool. Williams would eventually come to be known as “John” rather than “Johnny” and write soundtracks for “Star Wars,” “Jaws,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and many, many other films.

Quincy Jones

By the 1970s tastes had changed, and Quincy Jones was right at the forefront. “Sanford and Son” (1972-1977) used his chart “Streetbeater” as its theme. And Jones expanded his theme to “Ironside” (1967-1975) into a fusion jazz chart for his “Smackwater Jack” album.

Mike Post

Not everything Post wrote was jazz, but there were a few scores that qualified. He created the signature sound for Law & Order (1990-2010). Like 77 Sunset Strip, the show spawned its own spinoffs: Law & Order Special Victim’s Unit (1999 – ), Law & Order Criminal Intent (2001-2011) Law & Order, Trial by Jury (2005-2006), Law & Order LA (2010-2011). While the themes varied, all began with that “CHUNG-CHUNG” sound.

Mike Post also wrote the theme to “LA Law” (1986-1994). While some may consider the sax solo smooth jazz, jazz it remains — especially in the long version of the theme.

Late Nights

In the early days, jazz bands were the standard for late night talk shows. The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson (1962-1992) featured Doc Severinsen and his orchestra. The band included monster players such as Tommy Newsome (sax), Conte Candoli (trumpet), and Ed Shaughnessy (drums).

Saturday Night Live (1975-) had an impressive number of important jazz musicians in their ranks. SNL band alumni include Paul Shaffer (keyboards), G.E. Smith (guitar), David Sanborn (sax) Michael Brecker (sax).

Paul Shaffer left SNL to lead the “The World’s Most Dangerous Band” for “Late Night with David Letterman.” (1982-1993)

And more!

That’s just a brief overview of this three-hour special. I’ll also be featuring music from M Squad (1958-1960), with music by John Williams and Count Basie! The big band style was parodied in Police Squad (1982).

You’ll also hear the Mannix jazz waltz played by its composer, Lalo Schifrin. And we’ll have two Bob James classics – themes to Barney Miller and Taxi.

Plus we’ll include themes from  Route 66, Mike Hammer, Night Court, and even Seinfeld. And there are lots we had to leave out.

It’s all part of the 2017 Jazz Marathon. Tune in for the memories and the music — and remember to pledge. It’s only through your donations that we can continue to present shows such as this.

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