In 1955, Studio Films Inc. reengaged the masterly music film director Joseph Kohn to cash in on the winning streak started with the successful Rock ‘n’ Roll Review from the same year. This film had put African American musical talents squarely center-stage, and the audience reactions had been remarkably enthusiastic. To follow in 1956 was the equally noteworthy Basin Street Review.
Rhythm and Blues Revue largely shared the same scintillating lineup of musical talents as the others in the series, but each film was unique in the presentation and selection of songs. The focus was on pure, multifaceted entertainment.
The film takes the form of a full-fledged rhythm and blues/jazz stage show - complete with an accomplished MC (Willie Bryant) who gets the ball rolling with some good, old fashioned slapstick comedy featuring a mind-reading librarian. However, this is a music show, and we soon get into the thick of some serious sounds. Lionel Hampton and his band are featured first - and with good reason. Lionel has aptly been called a national treasure for his contribution to jazz music. His fans will recall his tremendously successful albums Fantastique, C Minor Blues, Tenderly and Running Home. He is at his very best in this historic concert. The music has pure soul and features a full complement of accomplished instruments. The man who played with the likes of Chick Corea, Duke Ellington and Wallace Davenport then yields the stage to the fabulously gifted Faye Adams, who had set the music world ablaze in that vibrant era of Rhythm and Blues. She renders one of her most beloved numbers - Everyday - with the trademark deep-throated waver in her voice and receives an enthusiastic round of applause.
Next on is the legendary tap dancer Bill Bailey, who presents some intensely dexterous moves before one of the main attractions of the evening comes onstage - Herb Jeffries, dapper and suave as always as he croons My Heart to a highly appreciative audience under a mocked-up starlit Broadway sky. After yet another comical interlude, Amos Milburn takes over with a fantastic rendition of Bad, Bad Whiskey to the accompaniment of scintillating piano and a steady R&B backbeat.
The star parade continues without letup - and the audience laps it up. Willie Bryant and his comic compadres take over at well-calculated intervals with side-splitting sitcom routines, but music is the primary focus throughout. Sarah Vaughn takes center stage, and Lionel Hampton makes a reappearance too. Understandably, the celebrated Nat ‘King’ Cole - one of the biggest jazz and pop artists from the ’30 to the ‘60s - is the star attraction, but there is no upstaging in this remarkable musical tour de force. The almost exclusively African American cast does what they do best - they play outstanding jazz and R&B, crack jokes and obviously have as good a time as the audience.
It is my belief that such a remarkable array of R&B talent could not have come together under more favorable circumstances. The feature film format eliminates the usual glitches inherent in a live show - yet the magic feeling of being there is effectively conveyed. Lionel Hampton, Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughn are all at their glittering best in this extraordinary full length film by Joseph Kohn. This was, in fact, only my second chance to see the legendary Cole in action. I had seen him in his memorable movie W.C. Handy Louis Blues.
Rhythm and Blues in all its manifestations will never be short of an audience. Broadway was, and continues to be, frequented by some outstanding talents...but I can safely state that the lineup in Rhythm and Blues Revue from A2ZCDS is one of a kind. For all lovers of this music genre, and all those who are willing to be baptized into its fold - this is a one-in-a-lifetime experience. Don’t miss it.
"I’m not sure of what I was expecting when I bought this film, but it was a pleasant surprise. I’m a relic from the 78 RPM records era, and these guys were the top sellers! Imagine - Nat ‘King’ Cole and Lionel Hampton in actual concert! Rhythm and Blue Revue is a winner all the way and an important piece of musical history besides..."
Everett F. Julian (Arlington, Texas)
"Rejoice, all ye R&B aficionados - the third in the Review series is here. You can’t imagine how much I longed to add this one (Rhythm and Blues Revue from A2ZCDS) to my collection. This calls for three bottles of schnapps, a get-together with the boys and an utterly decadent evening before the TV."
Heinz Brecht (Bonn, Germany)
CAST & CREW:
Willie Bryant - Himself (Master of Ceremonies)
Freddie Robinson - Himself (as Freddy)
Count Basie - Himself
Herb Jeffries - Himself (as Herb Jeffrey)
Amos Milburn - Himself
Sarah Vaughan - Herself
Nipsey Russell - Himself
Big Joe Turner - Himself
Martha Davis - Herself
Little Buck - Himself
Nat 'King' Cole - Himself
Mantan Moreland - Himself
Ruth Brown - Herself
Ben Frye - Writing Credits
Don Malkames - Cinematography
Arthur Rosenblum- Editor
Leonard Reed- Director
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