The Tender Game

The Tender Game

One of my fondest memories of the “Jazz Score” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art was an evening devoted to the animated shorts of Oscar-winners John and Faith Hubley. The Hubleys, great aficionados of jazz music, were drawn to jazz because they responded to its “free improvisation and depth of feeling.” The evening included music by such jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Quincy Jones, and Benny Carter. But the visual highlight of the evening came from the world premiere of the museum’s newly restored print of THE TENDER GAME (1958).

The Hubleys were influenced by modern painters such as Picasso, Matisse, Klee and Miro, and nowhere was that more evident than in the color-saturated storyboards that frame this delightful boy-meets-girl tale. Set to Jack Lawrence and Walter Gross’s classic song, “Tenderly,” Ella Fitzgerald’s vocals accompanies the wistful beginning, while Oscar Peterson’s piano improvisation (with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis) creates the perfect musical backdrop as the limbs of a flower seller and street sweeper twist and elongate, performing a dance of courtship, all accompanied by the classic tune.

This copy doesn’t begin to convey the care that went into the restoration print, but it remains a beautiful showcase for what the Hubley’s believed was a “marriage made in heaven” between animation and jazz. A near-perfect combination of music and image, THE TENDER GAME is, dare I say it, a work of art.

  1. My theory of jazz (not that you asked): classical music (and most music, I think) is about coming together as a group to make something bigger than yourself and to experiment with structure and tempo and emotion and meaning and dynamics and such. Jazz is about “Look at me! I sure am great, aren’t I? I can just make up crap as I go along! Yep, I am really, really great.”

    1. You know, that’s sort of what I used to think as well. And no doubt that goes on in all genres of music.

      But what amazes me about jazz, especially in performance, is how every performance can be different, the musicians can riff on a musical line (a practice that I used to find basically impossible as a performer), “read” each other, follow the improvisations, have all those disparate personalities, and yet make a totally new entity out of it.

      I can’t say that a lot of jazz “moves” me, per se. But I’m in awe of jazz musicians. It’s a talent that’s just not in me (and never was).

      For me, jazz is like Shakespeare. The more I study it, the more I “get” it.

      1. Shakespeare, to me, is exactly what jazz is NOT. Shakespeare is about interpreting a text, taking a set thing and making it your own, making it new through a new performance. But jazz is like improv comedy. There’s a premise, maybe a set up, then just a bunch of riffs that may all pull together but also may just completely misfire and fizzle into chaos. When it works, it’s brilliant. When it doesn’t, it just plain sucks.

        1. When I compared jazz to Shakespeare, it was only because they were/are fairly incomprehensible to me. And to take your example of jazz completely misfiring and fizzling into chaos, it can easily happen that way to Shakespeare as well, just on a different level.

          Ah well, at least I try and keep myself open to learning. :)

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