Night Lights Classic Jazz

Reboppin’ With The Wild One

Released at the end of 1953, The Wild One is a key entry in the cinematic annals of jazz-as-the-soundtrack-of-rebellion.

Brando motorcycleAs we head into this weekend’s “I Want to Live!” program, with Susan Hayward as a jazz-loving murder suspect, here’s a suggested companion show from our archives: the December 2004 program The Wild One. Released at the end of 1953, The Wild One is a key entry in the cinematic annals of jazz-as-the-soundtrack-of-rebellion (rendered here by Leith Stevens and some of the emerging West Coast usual suspects)… and it’s interesting to consider that within several years jazz itself would be portrayed as the music of squaresville in Elvis Presley’s Jailhouse Rock. Check out the trailer:

You’ll thrill to the shock-studded adventures of this hot blood and his jazzed-up hoodlums… yeah, man! OK, it’s easy to laugh at the overheated rebellion of The Wild One today–or to find Brando’s performance rather mannered (Lee Marvin comes off a lot more convincingly… maybe that’s because he really did hang with bikers, evidently). But it’s also easy to understand how this movie and its imagery helped start a template for the counterculture (The Wild One was popular with 1960s college-campus audiences); at the same time, the over-the-top caricature of hipster types is already in full force. Here’s an extended scene, replete with rebop rebellion (sounding rather Kentonesque) and the famous “Whaddaya got?” moment (you may need to boost your volume for this clip):

Much more on the background of the movie here and in our program.

David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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