“There’s a remarkable connection between animation and jazz,” Faith Hubley once observed. “There’s something about jazz’s bending of time within a rigid format that also applies to animation. Film time is different from regular time, and animation time is even further removed from film time. It stretches and bends, the same as it does in music and particularly in jazz. That’s why they work so well together. It’s a marriage made in heaven.”
John Hubley (1914–1977) began his career at Walt Disney Studios in 1935 at age 22, painting backgrounds and layouts for SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. He became an art director and designed layouts for PINOCCHIO, DUMBO, BAMBI, and the “Rite of Spring” sequence in FANTASIA. After quitting the studio during the 1941 strike, he co-founded United Productions of America (UPA). As creative director, he created Mr. Magoo and supervised the animation on the Academy Award-winning GERALD McBOING-BOING (1950). Hubley was later fired from UPA after he came under fire from the House Un-American Activities Committee. In 1955, he and his wife, Faith (19294–2001), a former editor and script clerk, established Storyboard Productions as a commercial firm, allowing John to work anonymously.
The Hubleys made it their mission to make one “personal” film per year. And on those pet projects, they took a unique view of working with music.
I feel that the composer has to have freedom and I think that the music has to go first. Then the artist isn’t burdened with having to do everything to the split second. So the first thing we did was throw the click-track in the garbage and let the composers work the way they used to when they created the great scores in film history. We would do a storyboard first—or sketches for the storyboard—and then talk to the composer. If something felt musically that it should be a little longer, or something great was happening, we had the flexibility to open it up and take advantage of it.
The Hubleys, great aficionados of jazz music, were drawn to jazz because they responded to its “free improvisation and depth of feeling.” They enjoyed a particularly productive partnership, eight shorts in all, with legendary saxophonist Benny Carter. “John and Faith had a great deal of sensitivity to music,” said Carter in an earlier interview. “They were very good at conveying what they wanted to the composer. And they knew right away if they were hearing what they wanted.”
Carter contributes a memorable score for URBANISSIMO (1966), as the line drawings of a farmer fight against the allure of encroaching urban development in the form of an ever-moving, colorful city on legs. Carter’s score features a catchy theme and variations that would have sounded right at home in any number of TV series from the period. Featured in the band are such legendary musicians as Harry “Sweets” Edison (muted trumpet), Ray Brown (bass), Pete Jolly (piano), Shelly Manne (drums), and high trumpet work by Maynard Ferguson.