Robert Johnson – Jazz Singer

Robert Johnson – Jazz Singer

Jakie Rabinowitz is assigned to perform at a ragtime bar in New York City. His life is not exactly like most kids’. Young, handsome, sensitive, and ambitious, he struggles to excel in school and has a strained relationship with his father, who disapproves of his unusual hobbies and activities. As a result, he spends much of his time alone. One day, while performing for a local ragtime band, he falls ill and is hospitalized. From then on, he is taken under the wing of his best friend, Moses (John Candy), and the two become close friends.

When the war breaks out in WWII, young Jewish teenager Jackie’s family experiences hardships in the city of Los Angeles. After the war comes to a close, he leaves home to pursue his musical career in Europe. Aiding in the resistance against the occupying forces. He is badly wounded in a German tank attack. But he is saved by an English officer, Corporal John Hudson (Sterling Hayden), and his friend, Mickey (James Belushi).

On April 24, 1940, the film “The Man Who Played with Death” (based on the book “A Day in the Life Ofionage”) centers on the unlikely friendship between a jazz singer and a German soldier. To begin, the two are playing a tune in a German war vehicle when a German soldier (Glaswegian SS officerurt) spots them. The two exchange words, and the German compliments the Jazz singer on his voice. But before he can continue, a bullet hits the side of his head. He is pronounced “Martel” – the first German term used by a non-Nazi to refer to a Jazz singer.

A Silent Film,

“The Man Who Played with Death,” tells the story of a young jazz singer (Miles Davis) who travels from Europe to America to seek out his old friend from the army. After the death of his friend, he refuses to bury him and opts to move to New York. Working with his best friend Mme. Jordon (Loneliest), ends up in a band and performs, but is soon fired for criticizing a jazz singer played by Columbia Pictures’ Richard Besser (James Cagney).


An example of this early Jazz scene in a blackface suit comes from the first week of October 1926. This is the week after “The Man Who Played with Death” was released. The Jazz singer in the film is “Marty Mcoday” (aka “Marty Murphy”), although his actual name is not mentioned in the film. On the first week of October, just before the release of “The Man Who Played with Death”, the film studio executives came up with the idea for blackface to impersonate death on the posters of famous Jazz musicians. It was not popular, but it did create enough of a stir that Columbia Pictures and the director allowed the use of blackface for the final scenes of the film.

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Jazz Singer and Composer:

Most of the records that have been released from the “Dixieland Jass” sessions were recorded by jazz singer/composer Miles Davis. Davis would later be nominated for Academy Awards for his work with Lawrence Olivier. He is also known for being one of the most influential and creative Jazz artists of all time. Davis had several encounters with African-American performers outside of “Dixieland Jass”. “Mystery” is considered to be one of his most beloved works, along with “chet jazz.”

Jazz Singer:

After “Dixieland Jass” was released in theaters, there was little else left of Robert Johnson. However, after he had recorded several albums featuring prominent musicians, including Count Basie and Rose. Many audiences became familiar with his music through the work of such African-Americans as King Curtis and Aretha Franklin. “Mystery” was another film featuring a young Robert Johnson that elevated him to even greater stardom.

In short, Robert Johnson was the first feature-length film featuring a jazz singer. He is also the very first jazz singer to receive Academy Awards for his work. And he remains the only male artist to have two films with synchronized dialogue, the first of which was “Mystery.” (1927) though these movies represent the very best of what could be done with a voice, they pale in comparison to Johnson’s first two films.

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