In the '50s, a new style of musical score was introduced to movie soundtracks: jazz. Previously, movie music meant sweeping orchestral themes or traditional Broadway-style musicals. But with the growing popularity of bebop and hard bop as the sound of urban cool, studios began latching onto the now beat as a way to make their movies seem gritty or "street." In some cases, they hired actual jazz musicians to do the job, such as Duke Ellington for Paris Blues. More often, they hired young composers who grafted jazz elements into big band arrangements (Elmer Bernstein being perhaps the foremost practitioner). Although jazz was used for all sorts of movies and television shows, it seemed to meld best with stories of danger—hard-nosed detective tales, studies of urban corruption, or spy thrillers. While not exactly on the same level of artistic expression as the leading jazz artists of their respective times, these compositions nevertheless convey the emotions demanded by the shows they backed. Many of them even employed the talents of great players like Stan Getz, Shorty Rogers, Quincy Jones, and Shelly Manne.

Here are some selections from the PopCult Collection of Extraordinary Vinyl Records, Crime Division. I must admit I stretched the "crime jazz" label a bit to include a couple of these albums, but many of them appeared in the fine two-CD Rhino Records collection, Crime Jazz.—C.T.


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