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.