Episodes of the early 60s series reveal artistry of the highest level, both in front of and behind the camera.
Mark Quigley says that he would have worked to preserve and screen episodes of the KTLA series, “Frankly Jazz” even if he hadn’t already been a jazz fan.
“Programs from this era do survive on tape, but not as much – especially at the local level – as you would hope,” notes Quigley, who is the John H. Mitchell Television Archivist for the UCLA Film & Television Archive. “There is more lost than survives. So, when I get a call from someone that says, “I have ten video reels from “Frankly Jazz” from KTLA in 1962,” that’s about the most exciting call that you can get.”
On Nov. 4, Quigley will present the Archive’s second online screening of “Frankly Jazz,” a sadly short-lived series that was hosted by jazz scholar and former deejay Frank Evans in the early 1960s. The show, which featured mostly Los Angeles-based musicians, is according to Quigley, a record of not only the progressive music of the time, but also of social movements and technical ingenuity around the then-nascent art form of television. The Nov. 4 program includes jazz scholar Mark Cantor who with Quigley, will present three episodes of “Frankly Jazz,” featuring L.A. legends Shelly Manne, Curtis Amy, and Shorty Rogers.
Quigley earned his MFA from the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television and has been with the Archive full-time for 20-plus years since working there as a graduate student.
MLS had a conversation with Quigley on the challenges of saving a history of television that has been for the most part, literally erased, and the rewards of sharing what history has survived not only as a chronicle of the medium, but as a connection to individuals who made it their life’s work.
We are fortunate that the mediums of TV and jazz co-existed in the mid-20th Century, bringing us shows like “Frankly Jazz,” and “Stars of Jazz.” Describe some of the economic, cultural, and societal factors that led to presenting music that was considered almost counterculture, on primetime TV to a mass audience.
“Stars of Jazz,” which was hosted by Bobby Troup, predates “Frankly Jazz” by a few years, but they’re essentially in the same era, late 1950s, early 60s, when jazz is in a very rich period of evolution.
There are a lot of other things going on too. The Civil Rights Movement is burgeoning. Modern art is starting to take hold and gain notice. Television is also evolving and is a very dynamic art form that isn’t completely fixed yet, as it would become within a few years.
For anyone interested in this period of history, these programs not only present jazz, but they present a snapshot of America during this time period, [with] jazz being an essentially American art form, very progressive. Television was still finding its way and figuring out what worked and what didn’t, and there was room for experimentation.
We live in a time now where local TV stations don’t really produce a lot of content other than news. But during this period, local television stations had numerous hours to fill, producing original programming where they would sell advertising directly to sponsors. It was a challenge for them to come up with programming that would attract audiences and that would make them stand out from their competitors. Jazz was in such a dynamic period that stations were willing to give it a try.
When did jazz on television peter out as a programming trend?
This period of jazz in the early 1960s is a real period of growth. As the 60s wore on, you had jazz fragment into free jazz, into other more experimental forms. Television [was] becoming more rigid, with the idea that people wanted to tune into … lowest common denominator programming … meaning material that would attract the most eyeballs. Jazz might be more niche, might require more refined tastes, and viewers that were open to music that was beyond pop music, beyond the mainstream.
This was the richest period for jazz on TV. Steve Allen had a program called “Jazz U.S.A.” around the same [time]. Unfortunately, stations became more rigid and syndicated programming became very popular – the idea that you could rerun programs instead of creating original programs. It was cheaper, and viewers might be more willing to re-watch a program that they were familiar with from a network instead of watching a local program where you might tune in and …not know what to expect.
With jazz, it might not have been so clear to sponsors who was watching, and if that was the market they wanted to reach. You also had salespeople at stations that might have decided, “Jazz is harder to sell than a comedy program,” or whatever it might be. Some of those are very subjective decisions, because by all accounts the jazz performance shows like “Frankly Jazz” were popular.
As television became more fixed, interesting and experimental TV, including anthology TV, couldn’t find a home. There was a period where you could tune in on every network every evening and there would be a different original drama on almost every channel. But the gatekeepers decided people want to come home from work and be comfortable. If you came home and an anthology drama had a western on that night and you don’t like westerns, you wouldn’t tune in. But if it was “I Love Lucy,” you knew what that was going to be every week. People’s viewing habits tend to be very rigid – or at least, that’s what network executives thought. So, programming for things like jazz or other arts diminished or got relegated to specials and not regularly scheduled programming.
How does racial tension – like the famously cancelled “Nat King Cole Show” – fit into the story of jazz on TV?
The Nat King Cole program… was a highly rated show, it did well. So, it wasn’t a matter of the eyeballs – it was a matter of social conventions and prejudice and discrimination as to why he didn’t [last] on television. The show was an artistic success, it was a critical success, and people were watching.
That also comes into play with jazz on television. While you had advocates at local stations that really wanted these shows to succeed – that’s why they got a chance – you also had other people that weren’t interested in this kind of progressive programming. This was dynamic programming, and it was often integrated programming.
If you watch episodes of “Frankly Jazz,” [Evans’] comfort level with every single guest is very high. His affection and his knowledge of all of his guests is extreme. That was something that was playing out differently than what you were seeing on newsreels or newscasts at the time, with what was happening in the South and with the Civil Rights Movement. So, there were definitely [racial] tensions that prevented these [shows] from succeeding at the level that they deserved to.
That’s part of our mission at the Archive- to make sure that people see these [programs] and understand that there was a period in history when an art form as advanced as jazz had a place on television, as short-lived as it was – racially integrated, progressive music on primetime television. It’s amazing to think about because it is a wonderful moment in time when these programs were produced.
How much influence do you have on what television programs and films are preserved?
When we talk about preservation at UCLA – or really anywhere, in regard to moving images – a preservation project for a feature film can be well over $100,000. A lot of what we’re doing with television preservation isn’t necessarily film-to-film preservation, but it’s migration of material from its original format to a digital format.
Curatorialy, we work together as a team. I suggest titles and work closely with our director, May Hong HaDuong, who ultimately is in charge of every department in the archive and collaboratively makes preservation determinations and decisions.
This is always a question: who decides and what actually gets preserved, and why. It’s often a convergence of a number of things. Historical significance and research significance are very important, obviously. How endangered the material is on its original physical format – what condition it’s in, how imperative is it to get it into a new medium. How rare is it? Is it unique to your institution? If I’m going to put the time and effort and expense into preserving it, we have to make sure that it isn’t something that’s been done somewhere else. And then, there’s funding. All of those things have to come together. You almost have to have the perfect storm to make those things happen.
It’s extremely rare [to find] two-inch video reels. This is the format that the “Frankly Jazz” programs we’re screening survived on. The machines required to play these back – a two-inch VTR – can weigh upwards of 2,000 pounds. They haven’t been made for many decades and you can’t buy parts off the shelf. If you need a part for a two-inch VTR, it has to be sourced from another machine. You need to have highly skilled engineers that know how to rebuild the machines and constantly work on them. It’s really an art and a science.
Just for a little background, a kinescope is a filmed recording off of a television screen. Before videotape, for a live program, that was the only way that you could make a recording. That was expensive, and so [for] a lot of shows from that era a kinescope was the only way you could retain a copy. And that didn’t happen a lot of the time, for a number of reasons. One, it was expensive to create a kinescope. And two, networks and producers didn’t see a future for the rerunning of this content. This material was going to be … shown once, and that was it. They didn’t pre-anticipate home video, cable, or streaming, or any of those things. All they knew was, we showed it, no one is going to want to see it again, so we won’t kinescope it.
And it wasn’t just the creation of the kinescope that was expensive. If you’re going to kinescope everything as a television station, you’re going to have to have a place to keep those kinescopes. You’d need have to have people in charge of managing that collection. So, all those things kind of conspired for a lot of programming not get get saved at the time of production.
Then when videotape came along, it promised producers a less expensive way to produce programming and to timeshift it. You could tape it on Tuesday and screen it on Wednesday, if that would allow you to use your studio time more efficiently and give you more flexibility. And, it was cheaper than kinescoping – that was all the good news.
The bad news was that tapes were expensive, they were heavy, and took up a lot of room. The raw stock was expensive. So, what a lot of stations used to do was erase the tapes and reuse them. Often, we have these tapes that have a log in the case that come with them that shows you all the programs that were on it before the last pass. And, sometimes the last thing that survives is a game show or something that may not be quite as exciting as an interview with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that you could see was erased.
For “Frankly Jazz,” there are kinescopes that survived of a number of the episodes, but I don’t know of any other two-inch videoreels other than the ones that we have. We have ten of them, that we received from the Lewerke family. Their father was involved in the later distribution of the program in Europe, after their initial airing. In this case, with the two-inch video, we work with a great company called DC Video in Burbank and the engineer there is one of the best in the nation, his name is David Crosthwait. They’re our partners in these kinds of projects and they do excellent work.
While the programs themselves may not be completely lost because they exist on kinescopes in some cases, the picture quality and sound quality from the video masters is amazing. There’s an immediacy to it, and you really get to see the artistry of the technicians of the day that were creating this programming. Not just the musicians, but the television creators and technicians.
Even down to how these bands were recorded – it’s in some ways a the peak of the medium, especially at the local level, where you have craftspeople with a high level of expertise in mic placement and recording, and even in “Frankly Jazz,” innovative camera work. It’s just incredible. So, a “Frankly Jazz “ episode from a video master is in many ways a more complete record of this program than a kinescope would be because this is closer to what people would have seen when it was originally broadcast. And even better now, because we’re watching it on better quality screens.
What is the value of these programs, not only for musicians and scholars, but for the general public that might want a glimpse of this unique part of television history?
There is a high research value for anybody interested in this genre of music. These are live performances with improvisation. As you know, there are no two jazz performances, when we’re talking about artists of this caliber, that are the same, so they’re an extremely valuable record simply from a musical level.
But from there, it’s a record of integrated television. “Frankly Jazz” was a West Coast program. They didn’t have a budget to fly in East Coast musicians. The West Coast jazz movement certainly had more White musicians than the bop movement did, so when you see “Frankly Jazz,” it doesn’t have the same diversity that maybe “Stars of Jazz” did. “Stars of Jazz” didn’t have the budget, but they would catch musicians when they were touring. So, if you had someone in Los Angeles playing a gig that was from the East Coast… you’d have somebody like Max Roach on “Stars of Jazz.”
“Frankly Jazz” was sponsored by the Pacific Jazz label and had a lot of Pacific Jazz artists. In our previous [Frankly Jazz] program, we had screened an episode with the Jazz Crusaders, which was great. In this screening, we have an episode with Curtis Amy. But then there are jazz musicians of all shades that appeared during this period. You do get an idea of the racial makeup of jazz, which was, of course, essentially an African American art form.
And, this gives you a glimpse into what people were watching on television during this time period. KTLA on a Saturday night in 1962… if you were home, you could turn on the TV and you could watch an incredible jazz performance. That’s something that’s absent from our world now, where we have … 300 channels, but you might be hard-pressed to find the same kind of caliber performance on a weekly basis, the artistry that was presented in a form like “Frankly Jazz.”
The other thing is you have the host of “Frankly Jazz,” Frank Evans, who was an extremely knowledgeable jazz historian on top of being a very charismatic deejay and a real advocate for the music. All of that comes together to really hit a lot of different points. And I would say even if you were interested in the technology of television, these shows, especially in their original video form, are very important to see the camera work and innovation that’s happening there. You could be someone completely distanced from the music or the social aspects of it and watch it from a purely aesthetic, technical standpoint and be able to get a lot out of it.
Our guest this time is jazz historian Mark Cantor, who has his own jazz film archive including episodes of “Frankly Jazz.” We work with him frequently when we have jazz-related grant projects. At the previous “Frankly Jazz” screening, we had Ray Briggs, who’s a jazz educator in Los Angeles, introduce that program. And when we did the “Stars of Jazz” program online during the pandemic, I had James Harrod, who has written a book recently on “Stars of Jazz.”
We’re always trying to contextualize the material where we can. As a moving image archivist, I do happen to be a jazz fan, but I will turn to the experts on jazz to provide context. We have so many subjects covered in our collection that it’s impossible to be specialists in every area. So, that’s where someone like Mark Cantor, Ray Briggs, and James Harrod comes in. We always learn so much from working with experts like that.
In your work of preserving the past for future generations and providing the chance to reminisce and enjoy these art forms for those who originally experienced them, what have some of your most inspirational or moving experiences?
The day we posted the first screening for “Frankly Jazz,” Frank Evans’ son (Lance Evans) contacted me. Whenever we can make those kinds of connections, it really means a lot. Every person that’s depicted in the old footage that we have… that’s someone’s sister, that’s someone’s aunt, that’s someone’s brother, mother, cousin, uncle. It’s easy to only think of it as [TV] programming – as in “this is just a show that was on.” But it’s not just TV history – there is family history embedded there too. So, to talk to Frank Evans’ son, to learn directly from him about his father, and to have him have so many members of his family tune in was really meaningful and adds a layer to what we do.
I’ve been really lucky in my career to have a lot of instances where we’ve been able to play a part in meaningfully connecting people to the Archive’s collection. Another instance – Tom Hatten was a local television host in Los Angeles for many years. He did kids’ programs in the 1960s. and much later, on KTLA. In 2019, we had done a program in our Festival of Preservation about local television, and we had a clip of Mr. Hatten as “Skipper Frank,” which was his character, introducing “Popeye” cartoons in 1963. We invited him to come [to the festival] and he did come. He was 92 at the time, so we brought the microphone to his seat.
We had a very big crowd, it was in the middle of the day. And Mr. Hatten took the microphone and he talked directly to the audience. There was so much love in the room that he was able to absorb. He passed away a month later. I heard from his partner afterwards about how much it meant to him to be there and how great it was for him to see that footage that he hadn’t seen in so long, it was just miraculous.
I was fortunate to work, in a small supporting role, on other projects like “The L.A. Rebellion” restoration project – films by African American filmmakers at UCLA in the 1960s through the 80s, whose wonderful, insightful, and innovative work wasn’t always appreciated or understood, even by faculty at UCLA where the work was made.
On that project, to meet and work with a director like Jamaa Fanaka was a sincere privilege… he was such a smart, talented, accomplished, and funny and kind person. He passed away shortly after that project, but he did get to see his work appreciated by new audiences. All of those things really mean a lot. The Archive is a team and everything we do, is done from a place of caring. We’re really fortunate and humbled to work in a field like this where such opportunities come up.