The Adventures of *

From the earliest days of sound film, animation and jazz have made hip, beautiful music together. From swinging classics like Warner Bros.’s “I Wanna Singa,” starring “Owl Jolson,” through more experimental animation in the 1950’s and beyond, animators have often used jazz as their inspiration.

I discovered one of my favorite animated shorts in 2008 when I was covering the Jazz Score exhibit at M0MA for FSM Online. Academy Award-winning animators John and Faith Hubley’s THE ADVENTURES OF * (1957) tells the story of an asterisk (the symbol used for a baby) as he grows into a man. In addition to the Hubleys’ always inventive animation, the score by legendary saxophonist Benny Carter is a like a 10-minute jazz tone poem.

Lionel Hampton’s vibraphone solos perfectly capture the precocious playful quality of the asterisk, while Lawrence Brown’s trombone punches out a three-note motif for the father. Hampton and Brown often converse in humorous ways as the animation moves from amorphous shapes to characters and back again. As the boy grows into a laidback teen, the Hubleys capture his attitude and attempts at being “cool” as Carter’s big band kicks into high gear. As intricate as any feature film score, Carter’s music encapsulates the full range of life and love in a short amount of space.

As they demonstrated in other classic animated shorts like THE TENDER GAME and URBANISSIMO, the Hubleys had a way of animating their passion for jazz, supported by Carter and other jazz legends like Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones. THE ADVENTURES OF * and Carter’s score are utter delights, visually and aurally conveying the emotions of an entire life from childhood through adolescence and fatherhood in ten hip, beautifully animated minutes.

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