Snappy Songs – 1923

Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake

The first jazz sound film

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When one thinks of the beginning of sound in films, the 1927 Al Jolson film The Jazz Singer comes to mind.

During 1925-26 there were some short experimental sound films which gives one an opportunity to see and hear Ben Bernie’s band in 1925 performing “Sweet Georgia Brown” and the virtuosic guitarist Roy Smeck playing a medley the following year.

However, what is believed to be the earliest of all sound films that have any jazz in it is 1923’s Snappy Songs by the duo of singer Noble Sissle and pianist Eubie Blake.

Sissle and Blake were a very successful songwriting team at the time and the first African-Americans to have a show on Broadway; they also made records as a vocal-piano duet before eventually having separate careers.

While the sound quality is erratic at times (improving during the second half), Snappy Songs is rather extraordinary in its own way, letting one hear and see a live performance from 1923.

50 years later Eubie Blake (who plays some classic piano behind Sissle and helps a little with the singing) was still performing as the last living ragtime composer.

This was the start of jazz on film.

-Scott Yanow


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