The Jazz Singer grew from a moment of inspiration when author Samson Raphaelson saw Al Jolson perform in 1917. Raphaelson's idea of a rising singer, Jack Robin, torn between sacred and secular, became in turn a short story, a play, a feature film, a novelization, and a radio play. With each new adaptation, the music evolved; the thread that binds together all of these stories is the jazz singer's stock in trade—his songs. For Jolson and The Jazz Singer, these songs serve several functions: besides providing a unique snapshot of popular vaudeville melodies in the 1920s and beyond, the songs used in the various tellings of The Jazz Singer have a specific connection to Jolson, providing numerous opportunities to retell his (largely fictionalized) origin story with the very songs he had used to make it on Broadway in the first place. We might then consider The Jazz Singer a proto–jukebox musical, in which preexisting songs with a common thread or history become the basis for a new story. Making extensive use of archival documentation and addressing previously unexamined adaptations of the story, this article shows how each version of The Jazz Singer came to be a musical summary of Jolson's life as a performer.

The most famous musical moments in The Jazz Singer (Alan Crosland, 1927) center on Al Jolson's performances, as Jack Robin, of a half dozen songs, all of which were recorded with the new Vitaphone synchronized sound process, making it the first feature film musical. Because the film's status as a turning point in cinema history relates directly to its novel use of synchronized sound, scholarship on The Jazz Singer typically centers on these songs. How they ended up on the final soundtrack is a less familiar tale, and their journey to the screen was intimately tied to Jolson himself, who inspired the 1922 short story “Day of Atonement” on which The Jazz Singer is based. As Jack Robin's story was adapted, expanded, and re-adapted over time, the manner of its telling shifted from the original mode in which it was told—the short story—to that of first a play and then a film, after which it was told once again in the form of multiple radio plays. The story's attendant soundscape likewise grew and transformed, becoming more complicated and complex with each new iteration, and drawing musical elements or influences from the previous version. The musical score of Jack's life matured from a few references to pop songs in “Day of Atonement” to a full-fledged film soundtrack replete with melodramatic background music and songs that tell of Jack's past, present, and future.

To trace the evolution of the music associated with Jack Robin we will consider the following:1 

  • “Day of Atonement,” short story, 1922

  • The Jazz Singer, play, 1925

  • The Jazz Singer, feature film, silent, with live cues suggested by a cue sheet, 1927

  • The Jazz Singer, feature film with soundtrack, 1927

  • The Jazz Singer, novelization of the feature film, 1927

  • The Jazz Singer, radio play, 1947

The thread that binds all of these stories together is the jazz singer's stock in trade—his songs. And with few exceptions these songs all come from Al Jolson's well-known songbook. For Jolson and The Jazz Singer these songs serve several functions: besides offering a unique snapshot of melodies that were popular in the 1920s and beyond, the songs retain a specific connection to Jolson, providing numerous opportunities to retell his (largely fictionalized) origin story with the very tunes he had used to make a name for himself on Broadway in the first place. We might then consider The Jazz Singer a proto–jukebox musical, in which preexisting songs with a common thread or history become the basis for a new story.2 

The Jazz Singer is one of the most written-about films in cinema history, and its intersections of race, religion, and music have proven an especially fertile topic for discussion.3 Specific songs have received close attention in terms of their place in the story and/or what they might tell us about the musical politics of race that surrounded the 1927 film. I wish to present here a broader examination that considers how Jolson's identity as a performer affected the wider soundscape of Jack Robin's world—in all its modes, from short story onward—one that allows for what Linda Hutcheon, in her essential work on adaptation theory, calls “linkages across media”: in this case, we can place a wealth of primary sources (some previously unknown) in dialogue with the known history of The Jazz Singer. Hutcheon usefully differentiates between modes of telling (novels and short stories) and modes of showing (“for instance, all performance media”) in adaptations, and also between the ways in which they engage audiences.4 These different modes allow for constructive approaches to interpretation that I employ here, based in part on criteria that go beyond simple fidelity to an original text (which is especially important given that few viewers of the 1927 film, either in its own time or since, are likely to have been familiar with the 1922 short story). Jolson's fame as a performer and musical taste-maker, rooted in his songs, thus emerges as a guiding force for the entire enterprise.

Where the Story Began: Raphaelson's “Day of Atonement”

Imagine seeing Al Jolson in his heyday, touring the country in a show designed largely to highlight the man's talents as a performer. Such was the experience of twenty-one-year-old Samson Raphaelson, then a student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, who witnessed Jolson's performance at the Theatre Belvoir in Champaign on April 25, 1917, when the singer was touring the country in Robinson Crusoe, Jr.5 Jolson was doing yet another turn as Gus, the blackface character he had already played in The Whirl of Society (1912–13), The Honeymoon Express (1913–14), and Dancing Around (1914–15), and that he would go on to play again in the later revues Sinbad (1918–21), Bombo (1921–24), and Big Boy (1924–27). By the time Raphaelson saw Jolson in 1917 the latter had become one of the most famous performers on the stage. Jolson's fame helped to popularize the dozens upon dozens of songs he sang, through live performances, sheet music (his face typically appearing on the cover), recordings, or a combination of the three; especially popular songs included “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee” (1912), “You Made Me Love You” (1913), “Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts for Soldiers” (1914), “Down among the Sheltering Palms” (1915), and “Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula” (1916), among many others.6 

According to Raphaelson, the song that evoked the sound not of a Broadway headliner but of “a jazz singer—singing to his God,”7 and that subsequently inspired the writer-to-be, was “Where the Black-Eyed Susans Grow,” by Richard A. Whiting and Dave Radford (see Figure 1). In an article published in the American Hebrew in 1927 (and in an altered form in a souvenir program for The Jazz Singer film) Raphaelson recalled a youthful fascination with the music at his childhood synagogue: “There was a choir in the Pike Street Synagogue where Cantor Cooper … sang on the Sabbath and on holy days. I would have given my eye teeth to be in that choir. I knew by heart all the little threnodies which a certain golden-voiced alto sang. I had no voice, however.” He went on to recall that, although he had forgotten this childhood desire to sing, everything came rushing back when he saw Jolson in 1917, supposedly saying to his companion at the performance, “My God, this isn't a jazz singer. This is a cantor!”8 Raphaelson later expanded on the moment of inspiration in an oral history he gave in 1959, stating, “What interested me was the old orthodox prayer, ancient religious sense of God and music and prayer and emotional melancholy, represented by the Jew in the synagogue—and how this was in the young fellow, conditioned by America; how it broke out in jazz. That was the thing that I had felt when I'd seen Jolson.”9 

Figure 1

Richard A. Whiting and Dave Radford, “Where the Black-Eyed Susans Grow” (New York: Remick, 1917), cover art

Figure 1

Richard A. Whiting and Dave Radford, “Where the Black-Eyed Susans Grow” (New York: Remick, 1917), cover art

Raphaelson's epiphanic moment in Champaign became the inspiration for his short story “Day of Atonement,” which appeared five years later in the January 1922 issue of Everybody's magazine. The story told of Jack Robin, a vaudeville headliner who must decide whether to replace his father, a famous cantor who has died that very day, at the yearly Yom Kippur services, or go on for his premiere as a top-billed Broadway star. The story begins by establishing the different directions in which Jack, né Jakie Rabinowitz, will be pulled throughout the narrative: his social life, his religion, and his music (related in turn by his producer, his mother, and Jack himself). “‘What I need,’ said Jack Robin, ‘is a song-number with a kick in it. The junk that Tin Pan Alley is peddling these days is rusty—that's all—rusty.’”10 Somewhat tellingly, Jack's main concern—that of any singer of the day—is finding a song that he can “put over,” or make into a hit. Raphaelson names five pop songs in the story, all of which are a part of Jack's coming up and proving himself as a performer, including the already well-known tunes “Down by the Old Mill Stream” (Tell Taylor, 1910) and “Alexander's Ragtime Band” (Irving Berlin, 1911), both of which initially attained popularity on the vaudeville stage.11 When Jack first begins to make a name for himself at age eighteen, singing at the “Great Alcazar Palace,”12 he sings “Lovey Joe” (Will Marion Cook and Joe Jordan, 1910), a song made into a hit by Fanny Brice in the Follies of 1910,13 and Irving Berlin's “When That Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for Alabam’”(1912). And the song that gets Jack booked onto the vaudeville circuit by the time he is nineteen is Wenrich and Murphy's “Sugar Moon,” also from 1910.

Oddly enough, then, the five songs that Raphaelson refers to by name would have been, by 1922, “rusty,” as Jack calls them, or at best chestnuts, all at least ten years old. The story does not mention any new songs by name, even what Jack might sing in his Broadway debut, the show that brings him back home to confront his past. Since Jack never fulfills his potential as a stage performer—the story ends with Jack giving up his career to take his father's place at the pulpit—Raphaelson can avoid venturing into the territory of newer music. And unlike the songs that Jack performs in the various Jazz Singer stories discussed below, Jolson did not record any of the aforementioned songs during his peak popularity as a recording artist and performer (that is, from the 1910s to the 1930s).14 Perhaps it was Jolson's notoriety as a headliner and hitmaker that inspired Raphaelson to pepper the story with the names of actual songs; whatever the reason, we can see that, from Jack Robin's first appearance as a character, songs not only help us to understand his past and his personality, but also provide a motivating force across the story's dramatic arc.

Samson Raphaelson's Play The Jazz Singer (1925)

Raphaelson described meeting Jolson several times, both before and after the appearance of “Day of Atonement”; according to Raphaelson, Jolson pledged that he would do everything he could to help him turn his short story into a musical revue like Bombo or Robinson Crusoe, Jr.—thereby creating a role that would have been perfect for Jolson, the king of Broadway. Such a production would likely have been a major letdown for Raphaelson's ego, as he saw himself as a nascent playwright à la Eugene O'Neill, then a reigning figure in American theater. (Raphaelson stated of the sort of Shubert-style musical revue that Jolson was well used to carrying that he “wouldn't have been caught dead writing one.”)15 Raphaelson rejected Jolson's idea (Jolson offered financial support regardless of whether he would get to star in the production), and instead of reworking his story into a photoplay (film treatment) or musical adapted it as a play for the legitimate theater. He had to work under the shadow of the phenomenally successful (and critically reviled) assimilation play Abie's Irish Rose, which opened at the Fulton Theatre on May 23, 1922, and ran for more than 2,500 performances, closing in 1927, the year Jolson's Jakie hit the silver screen.16 Robert L. Carringer observes that Raphaelson wrote his play somewhat in response to Abie, in part by trying “to present Jewish customs and lore in a fashion that avoids … the vaudevillian buffoonery of Abie's Irish Rose.”17 Originally titled “Prayboy” but later (thankfully) changed to “The Jazz Singer,” the show starred the successful stage comedian George Jessel. It opened on July 9, 1925, in Stamford, CT, Jolson surprising Raphaelson by showing up to the premiere himself.18 

While “Day of Atonement” had related Jakie's adolescent exploits, including his rebellion against the old ways (his religion, his father, his father's music), the play The Jazz Singer begins as a newly successful Jack Robin arrives home, after an unspecified but presumably lengthy absence, on the eve of making his name as a headlining vaudevillian. We never see young Jakie in the flesh, but only hear about his exploits through onstage dialogue, a move that simplifies the drama. Because we lose Jakie's backstory as a journeyman performer, however, we also lose the names of the Tin Pan Alley hits with which he has come of age. In their place we have the live performance of three songs (“Red Hot Mamma,” “Home Pals,” and “Kol Nidre”), a fact that Raphaelson would recall years later, stating that because “there were only three songs in it—it wasn't like a musical.”19 This recollection again highlights Raphaelson's fear of having his work misinterpreted as a musical or some other form of lowbrow entertainment.

When Jack arrives home he finds that his parents’ attitudes to his music have not changed, although other musical elements of his childhood home have: the Rabinowitzes now own a phonograph and a piano. If only to confirm that his parents have become no more liberal in their ways—though perhaps slightly more secure financially—Jakie asks his mother about the new phonograph: “Well, well, let's see what kind of records you have. Um—Il Trovatore, Pagliacci. You're coming up in the world. Red Seal. That's a buck and a half. You haven't got ‘Red Hot Mama [sic],’ have you?”20 This quick patter with his mother leads into the first number performed in the play, “Red Hot Mamma,” a song that would have been very current in 1925, having been published only the previous year and made famous by Sophie Tucker, a headlining Jewish performer on Broadway.21 This is the song Jakie sings for his mother as an example of the way he performs in public.

The play thus prioritizes not onstage musical performance but the drama generated by the music Jack chooses to sing. The audience never sees Jack sing “Red Hot Mamma” for his mother: stage directions indicate that the two go off stage to the family's front room, where we hear Jack accompanying himself at the aforementioned piano in a rendition of “Red Hot Mamma.” Since Jack and his mother are no longer on stage, the audience can focus entirely on the cantor, who enters the room halfway through Jack's performance of the song: “He stands rooted to the floor, outraged at the sounds he hears. … Then, beginning to realize that this blasphemous noise really is occurring in his own home, he slams his prayer book down on the table and moves toward the music room.”22 (As we will see, the movie shifts all the action to the same room, so that we both see Jack sing and witness his father's horrified reaction to the music he hears.) The degree of “blasphemy” represented by the song's performance would have depended, no doubt, on which section was featured. While both verses refer to the love object's virtuous attributes (“I've got a girl, a wonderful girl, she's the sweetest one in town”), the chorus doubles down on the “Red Hot” nickname in the title, with suggestive phrases such as “Full of speed,” “When I look in your eyes I can see you steamin’,” “You make a music master drop his fiddle, make a bald headed man part his hair in the middle,” and so on.23 Add to this a liberal use of blue notes, rapid repeated melodic figures in the chorus, and what was presumably an upbeat performance, and we can imagine the song's value in the show, a kind of baseline for “modern” music against which, as pointed out by Raphaelson, Jack's struggles with his parents—particularly in the discussion that immediately follows his performance of the song—might be measured.24 By specifying the singing of songs in the play, Raphaelson's adaptation exploits the performative mode of the story's new medium, letting the audience engage directly with the singer and his songs in a way that simply could not be conveyed in the short story.25 

In contrast to the off-the-cuff character of the performance of “Red Hot Mamma,” Jack's formal and very public musical number takes place during act 2, which is set during the dress rehearsal for the revue April Follies. The song “Home Pals,” newly written for the play, serves as a lyrical surrogate for much of the early exposition of “Day of Atonement,” which had provided Jakie's motivation for becoming a jazz singer (see Figure 2). Short on detail but long on melodrama, the song describes what happens when we grow up and miss all the comforts and security of home. The lyric avoids precise plot points, referencing instead themes of rejecting one's parents (“Most ev'ry kid did what I did, left home and thought he was smart”) and the security of never leaving one's birthplace (“Now I wanna be where I belong, with my Mammy and my Daddy”), which are sewn into the larger themes of a typical Tin Pan Alley mammy song. Both the verse (“Is it worth while just for a smile to break your mammy's heart”) and the chorus (“Wandered—squandered—my mammy's love without any reason or rhyme”) equate home with mother, a strong theme in the play that is further amplified in the film.26 

Figure 2

M. K. Jerome, Joe Young, and Sam E. Lewis, “Home Pals” (New York: Remick, 1925), cover art

Figure 2

M. K. Jerome, Joe Young, and Sam E. Lewis, “Home Pals” (New York: Remick, 1925), cover art

The song first occurs early in the act: as the players rehearse a “Dixie” scene, Jack enters, playing a black porter named Gus. Declaring first that he is “going down South again to the land of cotton and jasmine, where the watermelons grow, where I can be with my mammy,” he launches into the chorus of “Home Pals”:

Home pa-hals, home pa-hals,
Sad was the day when I blundered away
From my
Home pals;
Wan-dered—
Squ-handered—
My mammy's lo-hove without any ru-heason or ru-hyme
To have
A wo-hunderful time.27 

The song stops there, as Jack's performance is cut short for the rehearsal to move forward. Note that the words have been altered slightly to make clear the suggested style of singing: “He does not do it earnestly, except for an occasional note on which he lingers.”28 In this scene we also hear about other stereotypical Southern-styled songs, including a “Poppy number” and a “Mammy number.” When relating the story of how she discovered Jack to the show's publicity agent, the female lead, Mary, describes seeing him in a Chicago club singing “Take Me Back to Tennessee.”29 In short, Jack is following in the mold of generations of blackface singers, performing songs that focus on nostalgia for the Old South. These are the very songs that featured heavily in Jolson's repertory throughout his days on the stage, among them “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” and “Swanee.” The lyricists of “Home Pals,” Joe Young and Sam Lewis, were Tin Pan Alley stalwarts (as was the composer, M. K. Jerome) and, coincidentally or not, had extensive experience of working with Jolson, having written the lyrics for “Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go with Friday on Saturday Night?” and “Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula” (both from Robinson Crusoe, Jr.), as well as various other songs that became Jolson standards, including “I'm Sitting on Top of the World” and “My Mammy.”30 “Home Pals” is a fusion of a Dixie/mammy song and a more general sentimental love song.31 

The end of the act presents the final dress rehearsal, at which Jack must go on stage having just been told—by his mother, no less—to return home to see his dying father. The stage direction reads, “Jack is heard off-stage singing a verse and chorus of ‘Dixie Mammy.’” The title of the song must have changed at some point between the publication of the play and that of the song, because the song in question is, without a doubt, “Home Pals.” For the second half of the chorus the stage direction describes Jack as “going into a complicated staccato ‘talking’ dramatization.”32 The language suggests a style very similar to that which Jolson frequently employed on stage (and eventually on screen)—that of speaking through the lyric, usually during the repeated chorus of a song. By emphasizing certain words and phrases he created a more dramatic reading of the chorus, one that would contrast with the first version, which he usually sang (although he would most often return to the melody for the last line).33 

Part of Jolson's act also involved breaking character and addressing the audience directly, creating a stronger rapport but also blurring the boundary between the actor and the character. Katherine Spring refers to this process as the “Jolson effect”: “By stepping out of character, Jolson called attention to songs, isolating them from the fiction on stage and linking them to the spectacle of his own stardom.”34 The second performance of “Home Pals,” like the performance of “Red Hot Mamma,” occurs off stage, once more compelling the audience to experience the song not by watching the singer on stage but by watching the effect his singing has on others (in this case, his mother and Yudelson, the family friend who has brought her to the theater). Jack's performance, which ends with his actually crying during the song, results in an enthusiastic, ebullient reaction from all the cast members at the rehearsal: his success as a performer is a sure thing if he can repeat his emotional performance at the evening's premiere. Raphaelson instructs the actor playing Jack to ape several characteristics of Jolson's style that would have been familiar to audiences at the time, reinforcing the unspoken influence of Jolson on the show. And this tear-jerking rendition also allows the actor to convey through performance what Raphaelson could not in a purely literary form—as Hutcheon outlines, “making what is going on inside a character comprehensible to the spectator”:35 in this case that means showing the painful depths of Jack Robin's emotion.

Thirty-five years after the fact Raphaelson recalled some details of “Home Pals”:

In my play he sang a song—well, I forget what it was, but it was something that didn't have anything to do with that, a song that had rhythm and color, so that he had a chance to put intensity and emotion into a subject that didn't call for it, and yet make the song exciting by doing it. As a result of that they said: “You sang it like you never sang it before.” It would be like singing “California, Here I Come,” but singing it with terrific violent excitement—and doing it because you're emotionally stirred up by an entirely different situation.36 

Raphaelson's memory is apparently slightly faulty, as this song concerns the very things he said he hated—particularly the focus on mother, which by 1925 would have been hackneyed even by Tin Pan Alley standards. (Even more surprising is the reference to “Daddy” in the song's chorus, a far more maligned—and far less common—theme in Tin Pan Alley songs of the time, and largely unheard of in Dixie or mammy songs.)37 Raphaelson apparently had no direct involvement with the genesis of “Home Pals.” On the basis of his recollection, however, we might surmise that, as playwright, he could at least have steered lyricists Young and Lewis away from the less desirable points of the “mother” song when they created the number for the play. But apparently that was not to be.38 

The play's great success ensured that Hollywood would take notice of the Jack Robin story. Warner Bros. bought the film rights to Raphaelson's play on June 4, 1926, one day before the Broadway production closed (after thirty-eight weeks and 303 performances). Warner Bros. had also signed George Jessel to a movie contract, announcing in early 1927 that he would be starring in the film version of the play that had made him famous. By early summer, however, he had been replaced by Al Jolson, a move that allowed Jolson to star in a role he had always wanted to play: himself.39 

Alan Crosland's Film The Jazz Singer (1927)

Adapting Raphaelson's Play for Film

Neil Lerner has remarked on the surprising lack of attention given to the film's musical score by comparison with the songs; the focus has long been on the synchronized sound sequences and little else.40 Carringer gives a single sentence to the scoring in his commentary on the published version of the film's continuity screenplay: “The Jazz Singer was also released in a silent version for theaters not yet equipped for Vitaphone.”41 This comment reveals the extent to which historians view The Jazz Singer almost exclusively in terms of the way it gave voice to the movies, and yet have largely ignored the rest of the musical experience or, better yet, a version of the film that had no synchronized sound whatsoever.

Before we address the film and its music, however, let us consider the studio treatment by which Raphaelson's creation was adapted to the screen, and the effect this process had on the music merely mentioned or actually performed in the play. Even after Raphaelson had sold the rights to The Jazz Singer to Warner Bros. his aspirations as a playwright remained strong, as attested by an undated treatment of the play that he sent to the studio. The five single-spaced pages of “Notes for the Motion Picture of ‘The Jazz Singer’” provide a vivid image of the kind of sprawling cinematic tale Raphaelson imagined for Jack Robin.42 They include an elaborate opening sequence in which the main characters—the Rabinowitzes, Yudelson the Kibitzer, future stage producer Harry Lee, and even the father of Jack Robin's future love interest Mary Dale—all happen to be on the same ship heading to the New World. (As we have seen, neither “Day of Atonement” nor the play The Jazz Singer had provided much in the way of Jack's backstory.) The “Notes” mention music only once, and in somewhat vague terms. Describing the adolescent Jakie, who rebels against daily Hebrew lessons and choir practice and begins to frequent cafés and jazz clubs, Raphaelson writes, “The great voice of America in the colorful language of the East Side calls to him. He passes the swinging doors of cafes from which jazz emerges. He goes to nickel shows where wailing ballads about ‘Dixie’ and ‘Mammy’ are sung.”43 Once again Raphaelson relies on stereotypical song titles: recall that Jack had sung “Dixie Mammy” in the play, a title that combines these two keywords for Southern ballads, although the song eventually became “Home Pals” (perhaps “Dixie Mammy” was too stereotypical).

How seriously Warner Bros. took Raphaelson's suggestions for adapting the story is not the focus here, although some of the broader strokes from his “Notes” made it into the final film, including a key scene in which young Jakie starts working as a singing waiter at a jazz café, which would become the opening scene in the film.44 Warner Bros. hired Alfred A. Cohn, a screenwriter who was highly productive in the 1920s and early 1930s (and later president of the Los Angeles police commission), to adapt the key incidents of Raphaelson's play to the screen, which entailed adding scenes to flesh out Jack's family history and musical motivations, together with other necessary connecting scenes and dialogue throughout the continuity script.45 

Music has a much more prominent role in this new story. The play's three songs are expanded to eight, allowing the film to show off the possibilities of the new Vitaphone synchronized sound technology, as well as capitalizing on Jolson's renown as a singer and performer—for Jolson is finally playing the character that he had inspired in “Day of Atonement” and its subsequent adaptation as a stage play. As Hutcheon points out, one of the powers of the showing mode is that it allows for the performance of “visual and gestural representations” that cannot be conveyed in written language alone; moreover, “music offers aural ‘equivalents’ for characters’ emotions and, in turn, provokes affective responses in the audience.”46 Her description could not be more fitting for Jolson's assumption of the Jack Robin role, as we not only get to see and hear Jack's anguish, but have the added benefit of seeing and hearing Jolson's well-known emotional singing style (more on which below) give voice to Jack's angst. Cohn's continuity screenplay names only the songs for the synchronized sound scenes in the film that do not involve Jack: young Jakie Rabinowitz is to sing “Mighty Lak’ a Rose,” a chestnut by Ethelbert Nevin (replaced in the film by “My Gal Sal”), and Cantor Rabinowitz sings “Kol Nidre.”

By contrast, what the adult Jack would sing was apparently far from settled when Cohn wrote the continuity. In Jack's first scene the scenario describes the song content as follows: “The song, which is to be Vitaphoned, should be one especially written for the occasion, as any current number would be out of date long before the picture has played every theater equipped for Vitaphone by release time.”47 Even Cohn seems to have taken to heart the admonition in “Day of Atonement” that Jack Robin needed songs that were not “rusty.” The only song Jolson sings in the film that could be considered recent, however, is the one written for it, “Mother of Mine, I Still Have You”; the others range from two to nine years old. The absence of current songs—and the presence of songs tied to Jolson's stage career—prompts us to consider that The Jazz Singer was less about pushing current popular songs than it was a vehicle for Jolson himself (and, by extension, for the publishers who owned the rights to the songs in the film).

While the film may have been set apart by the Vitaphone technology, Warner Bros. nevertheless drew on the standard arsenal of marketing devices available to 1920s film studios in order to promote The Jazz Singer to as wide a consumer base as possible.48 We will consider these various devices in turn, including a cue sheet, an older song reissued as sheet music tied to the film, the new song created for the film, a novelization of the film and a serialized version of the novel that ran in newspapers across the country, and even possibly a printed score.49 While they offer diverse, even disparate perspectives on the role played by music in the film, they all point to the clear status given to songs across the entire universe occupied by Al Jolson and his cinematic double, Jack Robin.

The Cue Sheet

A cue sheet based on Cohn's scenario for The Jazz Singer provides new documentary evidence for the way the music chosen for the film evolved during the production process, helping us to imagine the possible musical aura surrounding this film or indeed any other from the days predating synchronized sound.50 This piece of production ephemera records a key step in the evolution of music's role as Raphaelson's story moved from stage play to photoplay. What was initially a lean tale ballooned into a true melodrama, with songs heard and musicking seen throughout the telling of the cinematic story. Close scrutiny of the many musical elements it details, both the songs performed on screen and the rest of the underscore (i.e., the greater part of the soundtrack), will help to situate this film as straddling the mute and sound film eras.

From around 1915 a variety of different entities created and circulated cue sheets as a guide for scoring films. Music publishers and film production companies both issued cue sheets, as did magazines geared toward musicians (such as the American Organist, which sporadically printed suggestions for music to be used in theaters). Musicians were in no way obliged to use all or any of such suggestions, but given the often minimal prep time available for a new film score—new films appeared every fortnight, if not more often—having a prefabricated list of music to use would certainly save both time and effort. The most basic cue sheets would indicate the title and composer of a piece as well as the point in the film at which it should be used; the more comprehensive guides might also include publication information, the number of bars of a piece that should be played before moving on to the next cue, precise cueing information (that is, dialogue from the title cards or a description of the action), and possibly even a few bars of musical incipit for each piece to be used.51 Cue sheets were created by individuals with a variety of musical experience, including theater music directors and accompanists, studio music department coordinators, bandleaders, and independent contractors (i.e., professional cue sheet compilers); this list seldom if ever included composers, since most films of this era would not have had composers in the first place.52 

There are several issues to be aware of when using a cue sheet from this era as evidence. Since theaters could not be compelled to use the cue sheet that had been prepared for a film, we cannot assume that musical directors actually adopted the musical choices outlined. And even if there is clear evidence to suggest that a theater did use a cue sheet for a given film (such as a specific performance date or title of a substitute work handwritten on the sheet), we are still unlikely to be able to tell which of the suggested pieces were used and which might have been replaced by pieces preferred by the director and/or ensemble (because they would have resonance for local audiences, were easier to play, or were simply what the performer(s) had at hand).53 Some films even had more than one published cue sheet, providing multiple and possibly conflicting semi-authoritative readings of a film's musical landscape.54 Finally, cue sheets more often than not promoted a particular music publisher's wares, as many compilers worked for (or had deals with) particular publishers. The cue sheet, then, is at best but one interpretation of a film's potential score.

Yet with all this in mind we can still gain some idea of scoring practices from the cue sheet for a film. Indeed, we should not lose sight of the fact that when The Jazz Singer was being made no one could have predicted the eventual success of sound film technology. Created without awareness that the film would sound the death knell for silent film, the cue sheet for this film works like any other. Perhaps it is the apparent contradiction that the film long associated with the beginning of the sound era had a cue sheet—one of the most explicit markers of a mute film—that makes this document so exciting.

The Jazz Singer cue sheet also marks a veritable turning point in music licensing history. While cue sheets originally provided a list of musical suggestions for theaters, nowadays movie studio legal departments, licensing agencies (e.g., ASCAP and BMI),55 and music publishers use cue sheets to keep track of every composition that features in a film (or video game, or television show) so that the creators receive proper credit and, accordingly, proper royalties. The Jazz Singer cue sheet was clearly produced with the earlier purpose in mind, recommending songs in the hopes that people would spend money on music. Created for the film that marks the turning point into the sound era, this document might also be considered as emblematic of the moment at which cue sheets began to cede their role as a means of generating revenue and evolve into a record of monies owed.56 

The cue sheet for The Jazz Singer was prepared by Herman Heller, whose background as a bandleader corresponds to that of many of the first wave of film studio music mavens in the 1920s. In February 1927 Heller was serving as both studio and musical director for the Vitaphone Corporation, but by May of that year Ed Savin had taken over as studio business manager, leaving Heller in charge solely of music for the studio.57 

The cue sheet begins with some descriptive bombast:

Here it is—the perfect score for Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer.” These selections played as the musical accompaniment add the final touch to the greatest picture Warner Bros. ever made. Weeks of effort were put into the compilation of this cue-sheet. It is the work of Herman Heller, Musical Director of the Vitaphone Studios. Mr. Heller followed “The Jazz Singer” through every step of production. To his thorough knowledge of music he has added complete familiarity with the wonderful story that has resulted in the finest music cue-sheet ever prepared for any motion picture.58 

This prefatory note, appearing at the top of the document, contains two key pieces of information: it identifies Heller as the creator of the cue sheet, and it describes the document as both a “score” and a “cue-sheet.” The lack of differentiation between the two is especially telling here: the advent of Vitaphone and other synchronized sound systems would force an eventual reassessment of the meaning of the term “score” when applied to films.59 What follows this prefatory note is in fact headed, in large capitals, “Descriptive Filmusic Guide,” an apparently proprietary name chosen by the company marketing the cue sheet, the Descriptive Filmusic Library.60 

The cue sheet details both the songs performed on screen and the background music that dominates the soundtrack. The latter would have been recorded not on the set but in separate sessions in a recording studio.61 The nearly continuous scoring perpetuates a long-standing practice of largely constant background music for films before synchronized sound. And yet those newfangled sequences of synchronized sound have long snatched our attention away from most of the soundtrack in this and other early features with sound.62 

The Filmusic cue sheet lists a total of seventy-six cues comprising thirty-five different pieces: nine symphonic works, five pieces of mood (aka photoplay) music plus an original “Mother” theme for the film by Lou Silvers (the film's musical director and Jolson's longtime musical collaborator), fourteen pop songs (including the original song written for the film, “Mother of Mine, I Still Have You”), and six works related to the Jewish themes dominant in the film's narrative (two of which are specified as occurring during synchronized sound sequences). The symphonic works are mostly standard repertory, including Dvořák's “Humoresque” and a theme from Sibelius's Pelléas et Mélisande, together with a few rather obscure pieces, such as François Perpignan's Souffrir et mourir (1926). Of the five photoplay cues, three come from different collections written by composer Domenico Savino for use in theater settings.63 

The pop songs not used in the synchronized sound sequences occur as underscore only, amplifying or reinforcing narrative points; they thus have a much more traditional job to do than the songs performed on screen. “If a Girl Like You Loved a Boy Like Me” (Will D. Cobb and Gus Edwards, 1905) features three times as the theme for Jack's continuing affection for Mary. Other songs feature once only and have a distinct early film scoring flavor. These include “The Sidewalks of New York” (Chas B. Lawlor and James W. Blake, 1894; referred to as “East Side, West Side”), used during the opening montage showing life on the Lower East Side; “Hop Skip” (Irving Caesar and Henry R. Cohen, 1926), used as an up-tempo dance number when we first see the bustling patrons at Coffee Dan's; and “Give My Regards to Broadway” (George M. Cohan, 1904), used when Jack realizes to his glee that he is headed to the Great White Way. Finally, we have the half dozen tunes related to Jewish themes, which fulfill a variety of purposes: “Kol Nidre” is used as both diegetic (in the Vitaphone sequences) and non-diegetic cues, while during the discussion of plans for Cantor Rabinowitz's birthday we hear themes from the Yiddish musical Bar Kochba and the Yiddish pop song “Yosel.”64 

Taken as a whole the soundtrack includes works that are largely typical of contemporaneous films, comprising as it does a healthy mix of theme songs, pop song refrains (used for title recognition), and mood music. Add to this the popularity of films about cultural assimilation in the 1920s, and—its Vitaphone sequences aside—the film comes to seem even less special and simply one of the many, many melting pot melodramas of the time.

The Evolving Soundtrack

A document that is similar—though not identical—to the cue sheet can be found in the studio files. In an appendix to the film's continuity script Carringer includes what he titles the “Musical Score for ‘The Jazz Singer,’” based on a document bearing that title in the film's production files in the Warner Bros. Archives; I will refer to this as the studio cue list.65 The two lists are very similar, although the cue list has eighty-five individual cues as opposed to the seventy-six on the cue sheet. The discrepancy can be accounted for by a gap in the cue list, between no. 42 and no. 48 (intended to accommodate the eventual insertion of a Vitaphone sequence, which in the end had only three cues—“Blue Skies,” Jolson pantomiming vamping on the piano while speaking to actress Eugenie Besserer, and “Blue Skies” again), as well as by several songs being listed twice in a row on the cue list but only once (and with longer bar counts) on the cue sheet.

Two key differences between the cue sheet and the cue list provide some useful perspective on the evolution of the soundtrack, and remind us of the fallibility of studio documents. The first occurs during the sequence in which Jack, on tour in Chicago, happens upon a recital by famed (real-life) cantorial soloist Josef Rosenblatt. The cue list does not specify any music that might be used during the three shots of Jolson standing on the street where he sees the notice advertising Rosenblatt's recital, whereas the cue sheet specifies Savino's “Symphonic Love Theme No. 1.” That title is surprisingly vague, as it actually refers to a collection of six short pieces for orchestra likely intended for use as photoplay music; what is heard on the soundtrack is the piece from this collection titled “Andante mesto.”66 So it seems that in this case the cue sheet is correct—if not entirely precise as to the piece recommended—while the cue list omits an entire cue. The cue sheet also indicates “Eili, Eili” as the song for the Rosenblatt sequence, while the final film—as reflected correctly in the cue list—uses Rhea Silberta's “Yohrzeit.”67 How and why this change was made has gone unexplained, although documentation in the studio files states that Rosenblatt “received permission personally” to use Silberta's song.68 

The other major difference between the two documents relates to the scene in which Jack is reunited with his parents. The cue list, which numbers each cue from 1 (for the overture preceding the main title), has a clear gap during this scene, essentially omitting the whole of the Vitaphone sequence in which “Blue Skies” eventually featured. Prior to this, however, from the point at which Jolson reenters his childhood home, the cue list (which does not indicate onscreen actions) has the following:

The cue sheet is slightly closer to the final soundtrack:

What we actually see and hear in the film is the following (see Video Example 1):

Video Example 1
Video Example 1
Video Example 1

The reunion scene: Jack and his mother in The Jazz Singer, directed by Alan Crosland (1927), DVD (39:47–44:07)

Video Example 1

The reunion scene: Jack and his mother in The Jazz Singer, directed by Alan Crosland (1927), DVD (39:47–44:07)

The biggest revelation here is one that anyone who has seen the film numerous times will already have spotted: “Kol Nidre”—omitted entirely from the cue list—inexplicably occurs about eight seconds late on the soundtrack; it would logically have occurred during the cutaway to the cantor rehearsing in the synagogue.72 More generally, however, we can conclude that neither the cue list nor the cue sheet accurately documents the music on the soundtrack (an especially problematic fact for the former, as it has been used as an authoritative source on the film's score for years).73 Not only does the cue list miss the brief “Kol Nidre” reference, but both cue list and cue sheet omit Tchaikovsky's Sérénade, a theme that surfaces only as a two-bar motif but that is an essential element of the larger musical narrative constructed by Silvers, given that it is the predominant theme for filial love, associated with Jakie/Jack's love for his mother.74 

If anything these documents show us once again that we cannot rely solely on a cue sheet for evidence of what was to be included on a soundtrack, and that—especially for these early days of synchronized sound—we should try to verify, as far as possible, what it indicates. A cue sheet does not of course purport to be a list of the music to be used in a film, being rather a list of suggestions for theater musicians—one that in the case of The Jazz Singer was, for the most part, followed almost to the letter in the final soundtrack.

Jolson Playing Jack Robin Playing Jolson

The cue sheet for The Jazz Singer also reveals the extent to which it was seen as a film about Jolson. As a popular stage performer in the 1920s Jolson had no peer. Likewise, in the days before sound film, recordings were the dominant form of sound media, and his sold extremely well. Between 1917, when Raphaelson saw Jolson on stage, and the film's release in 1927 Jolson's career had skyrocketed and even plateaued slightly. The songs Jolson performs in The Jazz Singer numbered among his most popular; their inclusion in the film thus further interweaves details of his life into the narrative, in essence summarizing his career successes to that point. These biographical details begin to emerge with Jolson's initial appearance on screen.

When we first see the adult Jack, chowing down on a most un-kosher meal of ham and eggs at Coffee Dan's (the trademark dish at this real-life restaurant in San Francisco), the song heard is none other than Jolson's signature tune, “My Mammy,” marked on the cue sheet as “Jolson's entrance” (see Video Example 2 and Figure 3).75 From the moment the adult Jack Robin appears in the film the person referred to on the cue sheet is Jolson.76 The music thus frames Jack's upward trajectory by assuring us that he is on his way to becoming the star of stage (and screen); at the same time it serves as a form of entrance music for Jolson himself, as if he was finally taking the stage. (Thirteen minutes into the film proper this makes sense, echoing typical stage performances in which the orchestra announces the headliner's arrival with a fanfare or theme song.) We hear the music for the line “Mam-my, Mam-my” accompanying a shot of a plate of ham and eggs, which then dissolves to Jolson eating his meal;77 the music for the third line of the chorus is heard as the title card introducing the scene appears: “Jakie Rabinowitz had become Jack Robin—the Cantor's son, a jazz singer. But fame was still an uncaptured bubble—Al Jolson.”78 The words that belong to these ten seconds of instrumental underscoring, “I'd walk a million miles for one of your smiles,” seem to comment on the turning point in Jack Robin's journey: Jack's career really begins to take off after this scene, partly as a result of a combination of his success at this public venue and meeting his soon-to-be costar and love interest Mary Dale. That the cue sheet switches back to calling Jack “Jakie Rabinowitz” might suggest that Jolson's singing of “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face” has a transitional role in Jack's maturing as a performer. Perhaps this performance truly functions as the transition to manhood, a Bar Mitzvah of sorts into the footlights? The “uncaptured bubble” nods to the audience's knowledge that fame awaits just around the corner, and also that Jack's success is ensured—though has not yet arrived.79 Jack's rise peaks with the concluding performance in the film, when he sings “My Mammy” at the Winter Garden Theatre. This venue was Jolson's second home, the theater most associated with his stage career. By showcasing this particular location as the film closed the filmmakers once again wove details of Jolson's career into Jack's onscreen life.80 

Video Example 2
Video Example 2
Video Example 2

The scene in Coffee Dan's: Jack sings “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face” and “Toot, Toot, Tootsie” in The Jazz Singer, directed by Alan Crosland (1927), DVD (19:28–24:10)

Video Example 2

The scene in Coffee Dan's: Jack sings “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face” and “Toot, Toot, Tootsie” in The Jazz Singer, directed by Alan Crosland (1927), DVD (19:28–24:10)

Figure 3

Excerpt from the cue sheet for The Jazz Singer, Carl W. Stalling Papers, Box 1, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

Figure 3

Excerpt from the cue sheet for The Jazz Singer, Carl W. Stalling Papers, Box 1, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

And yet the studio apparently thought the audience needed reminding that Jolson the actor on screen was not to be confused with Jolson the famous singer, even while the title card seemed to encourage such a conflation. The next two title cards harp on Jack's lack of experience. First the emcee says, “Jack Robin will sing ‘Dirty Hands, Dirty Face.’ They say he's good—we shall see,”81 after which Jack comments to his dining companion, “Wish me luck, Pal—I'll certainly need it.”82 The beginning of the next scene (the start of the Vitaphone sequence) marks the moment at which Jolson the actor crosses an invisible line in the film's narrative and assumes the personage of Jolson the singer and performer. To put it another way, it seems that, at this moment, Jolson finally steps into character, embodying what audiences had come to expect from the showman; this move parallels Spring's notion of the “Jolson effect,” except that now Jolson is stepping into his character—as Jolson. We cannot escape the fact that, as Variety put it in a review of October 1927, “Jolson, when singing, is Jolson.”83 

Jolson's star persona is evident not only through his songs: his infectious stage personality, complete with catchphrases, also informs Jack's character. Following his performance of “Dirty Hands” Jack exclaims, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, you ain't heard nothin’ yet. Wait a minute, I tell ya. You ain't heard nothin’ yet!,” before instructing the band to prepare to play “Toot, Toot, Tootsie.”84 This piece of dialogue has been described by many as an ad-lib, a bit of brilliantly improvised dialogue that not only gave voice to the countless possibilities of synchronized sound but also became the veritable motto of the newly inaugurated sound era. The expression was actually a well-known part of Jolson's act—so well-known, in fact, that a song titled “You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet” had been published almost a decade earlier (1919) as part of a series of songs united under the broader title “Al Jolson's Song Hits” (see Figure 4); Jolson also recorded the song in 1919.85 Even those who had not had the pleasure of seeing Jolson in person might have already been familiar with the phrase. For one thing, he used it liberally in A Plantation Act, the 1926 Vitaphone short that marked Jolson's first foray into sound films; there he sang three songs—“April Showers,” “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody,” and “When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin’ Along.”86 Anyone who had missed the phrase during the transition between “Dirty Hands” and “Toot, Toot, Tootsie” would see it again, as it appears on a title card during the reunion scene with Jack's mother: she scolds him, “Diamonds! With stones in it! You didn't do any wrong, did you, Jakie?,” to which he replies, “Mama—you ain't heard nothing yet!”87 

Figure 4

Bud De Sylva, Al Jolson, and Gus Kahn, “You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet” (New York: Remick, 1919), cover art

Figure 4

Bud De Sylva, Al Jolson, and Gus Kahn, “You Ain't Heard Nothing Yet” (New York: Remick, 1919), cover art

Another important element of Jolson's star persona that shaped the film was his famous and beloved voice. Several characters in the film describe his voice in terms of its inherent emotion. Meeting Jack at Coffee Dan's, Mary states, “There are lots of jazz singers, but you have a tear in your voice.” When Yudelson and Jack's mother hear him singing “Mother of Mine” later in the film, Yudelson says, “Just like his Papa—with the cry in his voice.”88 The expression does not originate with Jolson, but was a common label for Jewish melodies. Jeffrey Magee points out in his indispensable article on “Blue Skies” that many writers resorted to stereotypical descriptions of the cry or wail of the Jew in their attempts to pinpoint the ineffable quality of Jewish songwriters. In his 1925 biography of Irving Berlin, for instance, writer and future Algonquin Round Table stalwart Alexander Woollcott wrote, “It is in [Berlin's] blood to write the lugubrious melodies which, in the jargon of Tin Pan Alley, have a tear in them. Back of him are generations of wailing cantors to tinge all his work with an enjoyable melancholy.”89 This language seemed to stick to Jolson, numerous reviews or articles in which he was described with the same metaphor appearing almost immediately. In a notice advertising the 1928 film Beggars of Life Richard Arlen is described as having “pathos in his eyes like the tear in Jolson's voice.”90 An article of 1930 on the rise of the newsreel states that Jolson had “swept out of the Hollywood goldfields with a tear in his voice for sonny boy.”91 A 1931 piece about radio trends refers to Jolson's having a “tearful voice.”92 And a 1933 Hollywood Filmograph column declares, “The Mammy boy with the tear in his voice knocked the gold-bearing Silent Drama for a loop, right out of the frame.”93 

With all the focus on Jolson's exceptional voice, concerns would naturally arise that audiences attending screenings in theaters not yet wired for sound would miss out on hearing it. In early 1928 Variety reported, “What is considered one of the darb happenings of the current film season is the employment of a stage entertainer to double for Al Jolson where ‘The Jazz Singer’ is without Vitaphone accompaniment. A singer named Ben Gold was engaged last week for an out of town theatre to sing the Jolson songs during the showing of the film. Just how the idea will work out is a matter of conjecture.”94 Similarly, the Daly Theatre in the Bronx, lacking a Vitaphone projection system in the spring of 1928, developed its own synchronizing machinery (aptly named the “Daliphone” by house manager Joseph Kligler) to allow the theater to show the film with the all-important soundtrack, and apparently sold the idea to at least two other theaters in Brooklyn.95 These anecdotes suggest that many theaters in 1928 were working to bring themselves into the world of synchronized sound; and the extraordinary measures taken by these theaters to ensure that a voice—whether that of Jolson or of an imitator—could be heard shows once more how far the idea of Jolson and his tearful voice were intertwined in the public's imagination.

The near fixation on Jolson's voice, together with his fame as a performer, explains in part why particular songs were chosen for the Vitaphone sequences:96 as shown in Table 1, with the exception of “Blue Skies” each song had been a Jolson standard before the making of The Jazz Singer.97 And with the exception of “My Gal Sal” sheet music for all these songs already existed with Jolson's face on the cover; the studio even reissued “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face” (originally from 1923; see Figure 5) and changed the attribution from Bombo to The Jazz Singer. When reissuing sheet music, publishers would normally use new cover art in order to tie the older song to the new property, such as a frame from the film or a publicity shot. In this case the music was reissued with exactly the same cover, but the words “Al Jolson's masterpiece featured in ‘Bombo’” were excised and replaced with the words “Al Jolson's masterpiece featured in ‘The Jazz Singer.’”98 The publisher may have been trying to obscure the song's age (thereby avoiding an aura of “rustiness,” to use Raphaelson's term) by linking the older song to a current film, while also capitalizing on the song's long-standing association with Jolson.

Table 1

Songs in The Jazz Singer (1927) previously performed by Al Jolson

SongAuthor(s)Year first performed by Jolson
“My Gal Sal” Dresser ca. 1906 (vaudeville) 
“Waiting for the Robert E. Lee” Muir, Gilbert 1912 (The Whirl of Society
“Dirty Hands, Dirty Face” Monaco, Jolson, Clarke, Leslie 1923 (Bombo
“Toot, Toot, Tootsie” Kahn, Erdman, Russo 1922 (Bombo
“My Mammy” Donaldson, Young, Lewis 1921 (Sinbad
“It All Depends on You” (cut) De Sylva, Brown, Henderson 1926 (Big Boy
SongAuthor(s)Year first performed by Jolson
“My Gal Sal” Dresser ca. 1906 (vaudeville) 
“Waiting for the Robert E. Lee” Muir, Gilbert 1912 (The Whirl of Society
“Dirty Hands, Dirty Face” Monaco, Jolson, Clarke, Leslie 1923 (Bombo
“Toot, Toot, Tootsie” Kahn, Erdman, Russo 1922 (Bombo
“My Mammy” Donaldson, Young, Lewis 1921 (Sinbad
“It All Depends on You” (cut) De Sylva, Brown, Henderson 1926 (Big Boy
Figure 5

James V. Monaco, Al Jolson, Grant Clarke, and Edgar Leslie, “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face” (New York: Clarke and Leslie, 1923), cover art

Figure 5

James V. Monaco, Al Jolson, Grant Clarke, and Edgar Leslie, “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face” (New York: Clarke and Leslie, 1923), cover art

The deliberate focus on Jolson becomes clearer when we consider that Cohn's continuity script called for a Vitaphone sequence just before Jolson reunites with his parents, one in which the boys in the cantor's synagogue are seen singing songs. At first the audience hears and sees them singing “Yes Sir, She's My Baby,”99 but once Cantor Rabinowitz enters the room they abruptly switch to “Eili, Eili,” the popular Jewish devotional song that Rosenblatt was initially slated to sing before the selection changed to “Yohrzeit.” Dramatically the original choice made sense: the drama of “Eili, Eili” could have carried over from the Rosenblatt recital to the cantor's fraught birthday celebration, which constitutes the very next scene.100 

Apparently not everyone saw or appreciated the connection between the songs and Jolson's career; Raphaelson himself said of the film's premiere, “They put a lot of songs in that were bad, badly placed. They didn't develop the relationships, so that you could see and feel the characters. … Then Jolson would sing a song, and the songs were ill-chosen, except for one that I dimly remember he sang in his home with his mother, illustrating the kind of stuff he sings.”101,Billboard's unsigned review of the film described the songs performed by Jolson as “all green with age,” including what it refers to as “Mother o’ Mine, I Still Love You.”102 Whether the song(s) struck the reviewer as old-fashioned or outdated is unclear, but he/she seems to have picked up on the idea put forward in “Day of Atonement”—that what Jack Robin needed was a song that was not “rusty.”

The Mother of All Mother Songs

The one truly new song in the film, for Jolson and audiences alike, was “Mother of Mine, I Still Have You,” with music credited to Lou Silvers and Jolson and the lyric to Grant Clarke. There is no indication that Warner Bros. ever considered carrying over “Home Pals” from the stage production. (Reusing the song would have been a simple matter just a few years later, when Warner Bros. acquired Jerome H. Remick & Co., the publisher of “Home Pals.”)103 Given Jolson's record for taking cowriting credits on songs that he was (inevitably) going to popularize, creating a new tune for his character to sing would provide him with yet another song on which he could collect—a fair reason for dropping the older tune.

While “Home Pals” had centered on regrets over leaving home, the new song for the film focuses more narrowly on a near obsession with “mother” and the ability of motherhood to overcome all of life's ills. Putting “mother” in the song's title—as well as having it as the first word of the verse and chorus—leaves no doubt as to what type of song it is. By this point in Tin Pan Alley's history mother songs had long since been relegated to the category of cliché, and both “Home Pals” and “Mother of Mine” do their best to live up to the stereotypes of cloying sentimentality that are associated with such songs.104 Raphaelson's memories of seeing “Mother of Mine” at the film's premiere seem particularly apt here:

Now, that situation basically was out of my play, but in my play the song I had him sing was—Lord Almighty, the one thing that I couldn't have him sing was a song about mother, or about father. That would be just horrible. There's a limit. … The song he sang was a very grammatical thing called “Mother.” It was like an old English madrigal. [John] McCormick [sic] should have sung it. I just couldn't believe it. It was the vomiting-high (or low) moment of the evening.105 

While his comments may seem harsh, we should remember that Raphaelson saw the story as a drama, while Jolson was known as a comic actor, and not a great one at that.106 The songs allowed Jolson to play himself—that is to say, he performed on screen as he would have done on stage. He no doubt treated the songs, and his overall performance, as he did those in any other show he appeared in, where he sang songs and people loved him for it. Raphaelson, on the other hand, had apparently wanted the three songs performed in the play to mean something to the story. The kind of narrative integration of songs that had begun to be seen in stage musicals (recall that Show Boat premiered on Broadway two months after The Jazz Singer, on December 27, 1927) was still a few years off for the film musical.

Even though it was written expressly for The Jazz Singer, “Mother of Mine” seems to have undergone some changes in its short publication history. Two slightly different published versions of the song exist, one titled “Mother, I Still Have You” and the other “Mother of Mine, I Still Have You.” The copyright filings indicate that “Mother of Mine” (words and music by Jolson, Clarke, and Silvers) was recorded at the US copyright office on September 2, 1927; “Mother, I Still Have You” (words by Clark [sic] and melody by Jolson and Silver [sic]) arrived on September 8; several more copies of the latter were filed for copyright on September 29–30, 1927.107 The contents of the published sheet music do not explain the difference in title, as both title phrases are found in the chorus in both publications: “Mother of mine, when friends all doubt me, I still have you somehow you're just the same … When things go wrong, and they don't want me, Mother I still have you.”108 Either phrase could make a plausible song title, and neither receives more emphasis in the song or in Jolson's performance in the film. The music and lyric in the two published versions are identical. Other than the change in title, the only difference seems to be in a marketing-related note printed on the covers of the two versions (see Figure 6):109 

“Mother, I Still Have You”: Introduced by Al Jolson as the theme Melody and Song in Warner Bro's. Super Picture Production “The Jazz Singer”

“Mother of Mine, I Still Have You”: Introduced on the Vitaphone by Al Jolson as the theme Melody and Song in Warner Bros. Supreme Triumph “The Jazz Singer”

Leaving aside the typo in “Bro's.” (which typically and correctly appears as “Bros.”), two differences between the titles confirm that “Mother, I Still Have You” was an earlier version. First, the film's success, by no means a foregone conclusion when the song was published, would prompt changing the cover copy from “Super Picture Production” (which speaks only to the film's attributes) to “Supreme Triumph” (conveying the film's box office success and widespread popularity). The addition of the phrase “on the Vitaphone” also ties into the promotional tack that the studio took with the film, not only advertising that the song comes from a film with synchronized sound, but also giving attention to the brand name of the technology.110 

Figure 6

Al Jolson, Louis Silver [sic], and Grant Clarke, “Mother, I Still Have You” / “Mother of Mine, I Still Have You” (New York: Irving Berlin, 1927), cover art

Figure 6

Al Jolson, Louis Silver [sic], and Grant Clarke, “Mother, I Still Have You” / “Mother of Mine, I Still Have You” (New York: Irving Berlin, 1927), cover art

“Blue Skies”

Because of the significance of the scene in which Jack is reunited with his parents and sings for his mother, “Blue Skies” has become both an iconic song in the film and a pop and jazz standard (see Video Example 3). “Mother of Mine” is at best an obscure tune associated with Jolson, even though, as noted by a 1930 article about the explosion of songs in the newly envoiced movies, it was “the first song popularized by the talkies.”111 In line with common practice, the studio wrote a new song for a new film, the popularity (and novelty) of which should have catapulted the song to fame. Yet even when Jolson reprised his role in a radio adaptation of The Jazz Singer in 1947 the song chosen for the climactic scene with his parents was “Blue Skies”—despite the fact that the musical director of the radio show was Lou Silvers, musical director of the 1927 Jazz Singer and coauthor of “Mother of Mine” (more on this radio production below).

Video Example 3
Video Example 3
Video Example 3

The reunion scene: Jack sings “Blue Skies” to his mother in The Jazz Singer, directed by Alan Crosland (1927), DVD (44:07–45:00)

Video Example 3

The reunion scene: Jack sings “Blue Skies” to his mother in The Jazz Singer, directed by Alan Crosland (1927), DVD (44:07–45:00)

The song Jack sings for his mother in the film, replacing “Red Hot Mamma” in the play, was originally to be “It All Depends on You.” Written by Bud De Sylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson, the song dwells on the singer's need for the support and approval of the subject of his/her attention, with happiness, pride, loneliness, even life itself dependent on it. The chorus in particular lays everything on the song's recipient: “I can be happy, I can be sad, I can be good or I can be bad, it all depends on you … I can save money, or spend it, go right on living, or end it, you're to blame honey, for what I do.”112 No pressure here—just the complete responsibility of one person's well-being laid at another's feet. And like the other songs chosen for Jolson to sing, “It All Depends on You” had an established connection to him: he had interpolated it into Big Boy in 1926, his image appearing (as usual by this time) on the cover of the published sheet music (see Figure 7).113 

Figure 7

B. G. De Sylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson, “It All Depends on You” (New York: De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson, 1926), cover art

Figure 7

B. G. De Sylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson, “It All Depends on You” (New York: De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson, 1926), cover art

Jolson, Eugenie Besserer, Warner Oland, and pianist Bert Fiske shot the Vitaphone sequence for this scene on August 17, 1927;114 on August 30, however, the production files note, “‘Blue Skies’ replacing ‘It All Depends on You.’” Why the song was replaced, and why “Blue Skies” was chosen to replace it, has never been fully explained. Charles Wolfe points out that “Blue Skies” not only predated The Jazz Singer but was not even new to Vitaphone, having been performed in not one but two Vitaphone prologues, “first by ‘radio tenor’ Will Oakland, then by child vaudevillian Sylvia Froos.”115 The song itself was already well known, having been introduced by Belle Baker in the Ziegfeld production of Betsy (1926), where it stopped the show (see Figure 8). As Katherine Spring documents, Warner Bros. did eventually make a deal with Berlin Music to feature their songs, but this deal did not come along until 1928—months after the initial success of The Jazz Singer.116 We could imagine that Irving Berlin looked forward to having the newly anointed star of sound pictures plug one of his recent songs. Whatever the reason for its use, “Blue Skies” marks a shift in terms of songs used in the film. It was the only song—besides the newly composed mother song—that was new to Jolson's repertory. And perhaps more importantly, it was the only song (besides “Kol Nidre”) that had not been written expressly for him.

Figure 8

Irving Berlin, “Blue Skies” (New York: Irving Berlin, 1926), cover art

Figure 8

Irving Berlin, “Blue Skies” (New York: Irving Berlin, 1926), cover art

Not only was the song performed during the homecoming changed—twice—but the staging of the scene was also altered. Recall that in the play Jack and his mother leave the stage for the offstage music room for his performance of “Red Hot Mamma,” thus denying the audience the experience of seeing Jack sing. Moving the two off stage had allowed the theater audience to hear Jack sing as they watched the cantor, now on stage by himself, react with horror and rage to what he hears. Jack, moreover, stops playing at his mother's request: “Jack, who has finished the chorus and is about to play it again, has yielded to his mother's audible shocked protests.” They reenter the stage and find the cantor there waiting for them.117 In the film the entire reunion sequence takes place in the living room.118 Cohn's continuity for the film keeps the details of the music making in this scene vague:

224. FULL SHOT ROOM

Sara walks over to the piano as Jack sits down and starts to play a jazzy tune. He gets through several bars when the front door opens and the cantor appears. He hesitates at the unwonted sounds coming from his cherished piano.119 

Of course, this deceptively short description belies the now iconic sequence in which Jolson accompanies himself at the piano as he sings two choruses of “Blue Skies” for his mother, with the famous dialogue between Jolson and Besserer between them, and which ends with the cantor's entrance and monosyllabic arrest of the performance with the word “Stop!”120 Since Jack and his mother never leave the room the editing compensates by cutting to a close-up of the cantor's reaction, seen in isolation from the rest of the action, as Jack continues to sing (see Figure 9).

Figure 9

The cantor reacts. Screen capture from The Jazz Singer, directed by Alan Crosland (1927), DVD (46:56).

Figure 9

The cantor reacts. Screen capture from The Jazz Singer, directed by Alan Crosland (1927), DVD (46:56).

Word of the last-minute switch seems not to have made it to all corners of the studio: a news brief appeared in Billboard in early September—dated almost two weeks after the scene was rerecorded—trumpeting the songs that audiences could see and hear Jolson sing in his first feature, including “It All Depends on You” and “My Gal Sal” (the latter actually being performed by Bobby Gordon, who plays the part of Jolson's younger self).121 

A Score

In addition to the cue list, the film's production files include an extraordinary set of communications between the Los Angeles and New York offices of Warner Bros. dating from December 1927. It begins with a Western Union telegram of December 7, from Herman Heller to Ottalie Mark in New York, reading in part,

We want to print one hundred copies of the score to the Jazzsinger [sic] stop get permission to reprint from the following publishers stop go to them personally and tell them it is for me personally and get as low a price as possible get it in writing and wire me result immediately stop.122 

Two days later several responses were created. Although they bear the same date it is possible to make sense of them as a group, beginning with a telegram from Lou Halper to Herman Starr, both Warner Bros. executives:

Have already spent eleven hundred dollar stop believe Heller person can turn trick getting permission for reprinting score for nominal sum and in some gratis if you have not approached publishers wire immediately if Heller shall do this or Heller can write original score to correspond to present one for additional twelve hundred but this will delay work three weeks stop wire detailed answer immediately regards Lou Halper.123 

The following message from Starr to Halper is also dated December 9:

Forget score entirely have you one completed piano score finished if so mail immediately we will print one hundred piano scores here that is all we will give theatres as they can obtain all other music direct from local publishers in towns they located this final advise regards Herman Starr.124 

Finally there is a letter from “The Vitaphone Corporation” (likely written or seen by Ottalie Mark) to publisher E. C. Mills:

we desire to have 100 scores of the “Jazz Singer” only to distribute to our offices out of town, so that if a distributor wants to play the same music, he can have sort of a lead sheet and obtain the names of the music and the cueing from our book. We do not give these books away.125 

Without more documentation we cannot be sure of the final outcome of these communications. The directive, however, seems clear enough: the studio sought to have one hundred copies of a complete score for the film, as created by studio musical director Herman Heller, compiled and printed for distribution to “our offices out of town.” The story, sadly, ends here: no further evidence exists that a reproducible score was created. Considering the timing of the messages, however—some two months after the film's premiere—we might imagine that the studio saw the need for scores in order to show the film in theaters where Vitaphone had not yet been installed. Since a cue sheet already existed, and had been compiled by Heller himself, why not just distribute the cue sheet to theaters? The letters also seem to focus on the creation of a score that recorded precisely what was on the film's soundtrack, furthering the notion that a printed score would help to present some form of the movie to those who did not have access to a showing with the synchronized soundtrack. Prior to the sound era, studios often commissioned original scores for prestige projects or for films that were expected to play to large houses and for extended runs. Given that synchronized sound was the unique element (read: gimmick) for attracting audiences, we can imagine that the studio might not have seen the need for a printed score—at least until the film became a success.

Serial/Novel

Yet another version of the story appeared in print form—a novelization of the film created by Arline De Haas and published the year of the film's release. According to the souvenir program distributed at screenings of The Jazz Singer, the novelization “ran serially in hundreds of newspapers over the country, and … was published in book form, running into a score of editions.”126 What is important here is that the novelization in question was a hybrid, based in part on the film but mostly on the play. “From the play by Samson Raphaelson” runs beneath De Haas's name in both the serialized newspaper and book forms of the novelization, while lines taken verbatim from the play can be found throughout.127 Yet the ties to the film are clear, given that both forms of the novelization include images drawn from the film production: the newspapers featured line art versions of iconic shots from the movie, while the book contains film publicity shots. The novelization was apparently created while the film was in production but without direct access to the film itself.128 For instance, the caption beneath the widely circulated image of Jolson playing the piano for his mother, “I'd walk a million miles for one of your smiles, my Mammy!,” quotes the key line of the song “My Mammy,” which in the film occurs not at this point but in the final scene (see Figure 10).129 

Figure 10

Publicity shot of the Rabinowitz family in the novelization of The Jazz Singer

Figure 10

Publicity shot of the Rabinowitz family in the novelization of The Jazz Singer

What we find in the novelization is thus yet another set of songs. Key differences include the saloon scene with young Jakie, who sings “’N Everything” from Sinbad, a song Jolson had performed on Broadway, and the “discovery” scene at Coffee Dan's, which features “I'm Sitting on Top of the World,” a song he had recorded in 1925 and that became a hit (and that he eventually featured in The Singing Fool, 1928).130 The book mentions several songs by name in passing, including “They Always Pick On Me” and “Darktown Strutters’ Ball,” as well as some vaguely described tunes, such as “that new Charleston,” a “‘Cotton Gin’ number,” and an indeterminate mammy song.131 There is also clear evidence that De Haas looked to the play for inspiration, as Jack once again sings “Red Hot Mamma” to his mother in the homecoming scene, and the mother song that features later in the story borrows a few lines from “Home Pals” (specifically “I've had my fling, and it don't mean a thing”).132 

The Story Continues

The mythology behind Jack Robin's story seemed impossible for Hollywood to resist. Within five years it began to be publicized that Warner Bros. were considering a remake, given that the 1927 version “was never made as an 100% talker.”133 In an odd echo of the past Warner Bros. announced Jessel as their first choice for the lead, but his name was once again displaced by Jolson's (in time for a production to celebrate the film's tenth anniversary) until Warner Bros. dropped the project altogether.134 

The first successful relaunching of the Jolson/Jack Robin saga came with the production of The Jolson Story (Alfred Green, 1946) and Jolson Sings Again (Henry Levin, 1949). Larry Parks played Jolson in both films to great critical acclaim, and both were also successful financially. As a testament to—and possible critique of—his screen ability, Jolson appears in both films in voice only: he rerecorded all the songs for which he had become so famous and Parks lip-synched them on screen. The studio refused to let Jolson play himself.135 While both films overflow with songs from his career, as we would expect from a song-driven film biography, the role played in his life by The Jazz Singer forms a surprisingly short sequence in The Jolson Story, including a scene in which we see Jolson and family at the film's premiere, watching from a private box. The song we hear the true Al Jolson sing on the soundtrack for this scene is “There's a Rainbow round My Shoulder,” which he in reality sang in The Singing Fool (perhaps chosen because that film was more financially and critically successful than The Jazz Singer).136 While the song used in the scene was not one that had actually featured in the 1927 film, it was thus one that Jolson had popularized: clearly it was his voice and his style that made the difference here, not the specific song.137 

As a biopic The Jolson Story complicates Spring's idea of the “Jolson effect.” In The Jazz Singer Jolson's ability to cross the line from playing a fictional character doing a stage routine to being a star on screen singing his most famous songs helped to make a mediocre story stand out, aided by the novelty of Vitaphone technology, which allowed audiences to hear Jolson's magical, idiosyncratic voice.138 As a result, many of the songs featured in the film took on a second life (or, in the case of the previously little-known “Blue Skies,” a new life altogether); the film also completely changed the direction of Jolson's career, turning him into a movie actor and international superstar. The Jolson Story furthered Jolson's fame as a performer, revitalized his career (yet again), and reinvigorated sales for dozens of Tin Pan Alley standards that Jolson had once popularized but that had since fallen out of fashion. While the retelling of Jolson's rise to fame made for a good story, the film's success derived in no small part from the especially valuable asset of Jolson's voice, which reminded audiences of his talents, the unique “tear” in his voice helping to put him over once again.

Jolson finally got to play the Jack Robin role again in an adaptation of The Jazz Singer for two separate broadcasts of Lux Radio Theatre, the first on August 10, 1936, and the second on June 2, 1947.139 Including the commercials for Lux soap flakes, the show of 1947 ran for just under an hour; the musical director (for both this show and the Lux Radio Theatre series as a whole) was, as mentioned above, none other than Lou Silvers, conductor and musical director for the 1927 film. The radio play uses plot points from both the 1925 stage play and the 1927 film. Its story opens with Jack on the cusp of his big premiere on Broadway, omitting all the material that had been added to the film to flesh out his early life. After a short prologue we jump right in to Jack's performance of “Toot, Toot, Tootsie,” not in a San Francisco speakeasy, however, but as part of the Broadway revue in which he is the star, now named Broadway Parade (previously April Follies).

The radio play jettisons several of the film's songs. After two choruses of “Toot, Toot, Tootsie” (including whistling, as in the movie) the next two songs take place in the Rabinowitz home. Jack first performs a verse and two choruses of “I'm Sitting on Top of the World” for his mother as an example of the type of song he sings on stage. When Mrs. Rabinowitz complains that he should not sing “like that,” Jack picks another one—“Maybe you'll like this one better.” That song is none other than “Blue Skies,” which Cantor Rabinowitz interrupts after only eight seconds. At the end of the family reunion scene we cut to the dress rehearsal for Broadway Parade. Jack first sings a verse and two choruses of “Keep Smiling at Trouble (Trouble's a Bubble),” and after the climactic scene in which his mother tries to get him to take his father's place in the synagogue he sings a verse and two choruses of “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody.” We therefore lose “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face,” “Mother of Mine,” and “My Mammy.” The songs that replaced them, however, all came from the Al Jolson songbook: Jolson interpolated “Rock-a-Bye” into the 1918 revue Sinbad and did the same with “Keep Smiling” for Big Boy (1925); and he first recorded “I'm Sitting” in 1925 and later performed it in the 1928 film The Singing Fool. Once again, then, every song in the radio play had a previous association with Jolson and his career.140 

The most startling change in the story occurs at the conclusion. As expected, Jack sings “Kol Nidre” for (and in the place of) his deceased father. But instead of then cutting to an epilogue in which Jack appears on stage at the Winter Garden, claiming his rightful place as the new king of Broadway, the play closes as the announcer states, “The curtain falls on the career of Jack Robin, the jazz singer.” Jack's divided allegiances between the stage and the pulpit have put an end to his career as a popular performer, the radio play thus reverting to the finale of “Day of Atonement” and the stage play that succeeded it. Yet despite this unexpectedly sober ending the broadcast was a huge success, and the Lux Radio Theatre show ranked highest in the ratings that week.141 Perhaps Jolson's forty-plus years as a superstar meant that radio audiences in 1947 did not need to be told that this avatar for Jolson would eventually succeed: it was a foregone conclusion.

Conclusion

Al Jolson's life as a performer might be divided three ways: life as a stage star, life as a film star, and life as a subject (on film and radio). The music for The Jazz Singer—all versions of it—spans the divisions in his life, traveling from stage to screen and beyond. With each new adaptation more music is added to the mass, not only providing further insight into Jack Robin's character, but popularizing and repopularizing Jolson's hits to boot. The final tally of songs associated with Jolson and The Jazz Singer is shown in Table 2.142 The songs Raphaelson put into Jack's mouth clearly come from the same generic well as those he must have known Jolson to sing (such as mammy songs and mother songs). For the film, however, the evidence points to Warner Bros. doing their best to ensure that every conceivable part of Jolson's star persona would be brought to bear on the new technology they were promoting, including the songs he had made into hits in the past. Movie studios wanted to push songs in the 1920s; Hollywood's acquisition of the major Tin Pan Alley publishing houses as a means of achieving that end had only just begun in 1927.143 Warner Bros. thus did not yet have a controlling interest in those songs of Jolson's that feature on the film's soundtrack. Jolson's songs in The Jazz Singer simultaneously accomplished several goals related to song publishing: licensing the songs to the film made money for the publishers and writers (including Jolson, who had cowriting credit on two of the songs he sings in the film); the use of songs associated with Jolson presumably drove up sheet music and record sales for those songs, again to the benefit of the publishers, writers, and record companies; and presenting the songs in a new media format gave renewed life to pieces that may otherwise have faded from public view. This final point would become an especially lucrative practice for Hollywood in the years and decades to come, as waves of film musicals would draw on the songs of the past to populate the soundtracks of films of the present.

Table 2

Songs used in The Jazz Singer, 1925–1946

Stage playContinuityCue sheetSoundtrackNovelizationRadio play
Young Jakie n/a “Mighty Lak’ a Rose” “My Gal Sal”; “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee” “My Gal Sal”; “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee” “Mighty Lak’ a Rose”; “'N Everything” n/a 
Coffee Dan's “Take Me Back to Tennessee”a unspecified “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face”; “Toot, Toot, Tootsie” “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face”; “Toot, Toot, Tootsie” “I'm Sitting on Top of the World” n/a 
Reunion with parents “Red Hot Mamma” unspecified “It All Depends on You” “Blue Skies” “Red Hot Mamma” “I'm Sitting on Top of the World”; “Blue Skies” 
April Follies rehearsal “Home Pals” n/a n/a n/a “Home Pals” “Toot, Toot, Tootsie”; “Keep Smiling at Trouble (Trouble's a Bubble)” 
April Follies song “Home Pals” unspecified “Mother Song”b “Mother of Mine, I Still Have You” “Home Pals” “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” 
Finale “Kol Nidre” “Kol Nidre” “My Mammy” “My Mammy” unknown “Kol Nidre” 
Stage playContinuityCue sheetSoundtrackNovelizationRadio play
Young Jakie n/a “Mighty Lak’ a Rose” “My Gal Sal”; “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee” “My Gal Sal”; “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee” “Mighty Lak’ a Rose”; “'N Everything” n/a 
Coffee Dan's “Take Me Back to Tennessee”a unspecified “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face”; “Toot, Toot, Tootsie” “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face”; “Toot, Toot, Tootsie” “I'm Sitting on Top of the World” n/a 
Reunion with parents “Red Hot Mamma” unspecified “It All Depends on You” “Blue Skies” “Red Hot Mamma” “I'm Sitting on Top of the World”; “Blue Skies” 
April Follies rehearsal “Home Pals” n/a n/a n/a “Home Pals” “Toot, Toot, Tootsie”; “Keep Smiling at Trouble (Trouble's a Bubble)” 
April Follies song “Home Pals” unspecified “Mother Song”b “Mother of Mine, I Still Have You” “Home Pals” “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” 
Finale “Kol Nidre” “Kol Nidre” “My Mammy” “My Mammy” unknown “Kol Nidre” 
a

No song has been found for this title.

b

This title was a placeholder for a song that had not yet been written (and that eventually became “Mother of Mine”).

The Jazz Singer ultimately serves as a retrospective of Jolson's life as a stage performer up to 1927, a thinly veiled and largely fictionalized biopic featuring songs he introduced, popularized, and was associated with worldwide. What may have been an obvious point to spectators of the time becomes far less apparent years later: the soundtrack of The Jazz Singer was a collection of sorts, an album of many of Jolson's greatest hits served up in a single maudlin serving. The irony here is that the short story, the play, the film, its novelization, the cue sheet, and the later radio play all featured songs that Jolson had made famous before he was ever attached to the film project and became the Jack Robin.

Notes

Notes
Thanks to David Ake, Paula Eisenstein Baker, Giorgio Biancorosso, Paul Charosh, Dale Cockrell, Cyleste Collins, Will Friedwald, Krin Gabbard, Charles Hiroshi Garrett, Claudia Gorbman, Chuck Hersch, Harold Jacobs, Keir Keightley, Bob Kosovsky, Miles Kreuger, Neil Lerner, Claudia Macdonald, Jeff Magee, Marty Marks, Sandy Marrone, Katherine Spring, Rose Subotnik, my students and colleagues at Case Western Reserve University, and the Journal's anonymous readers. Audiences at Oberlin College (2013), Yale University (2014), and the annual meetings of the Society for American Music (Little Rock, 2013), Music and the Moving Image (New York, 2013), the American Musicological Society (Pittsburgh, 2013), and the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (Seattle, 2014) likewise heard and provided useful feedback on earlier versions of this work, for which I am very grateful.
1.
Because I am basing my observations on the relationship between the songs and Al Jolson/Jack Robin I will not discuss the following adaptations of the story: the 1952 feature starring Danny Thomas and Peggy Lee (directed by Michael Curtiz); a made-for-television film of 1959 starring Jerry Lewis and Molly Picon, longtime star of Yiddish stage and screen (as Mama Rabinowitz); and the 1980 feature starring Neil Diamond, Laurence Olivier, and Lucie Arnaz (directed by Richard Fleischer). There are also numerous satirical and/or comic adaptations of note, including the 1936 Warner Bros. cartoon I Love to Singa (directed by Tex Avery); the Second City Television (SCTV) “movie of the week” of 1981 starring Al Jarreau and Eugene Levy, itself a satire of the 1980 feature; and The Simpsons episode “Like Father, Like Clown” (1991).
2.
This genre of film musical became especially popular from the 1940s, with films such as Yankee Doodle Dandy (Curtiz, 1942), which focused on the life and songs of George M. Cohan, and Easter Parade (Walters, 1948), which featured the songs of Irving Berlin.
3.
The Jazz Singer holds such a prominent place in film history not only because of its long-perceived role as the gateway from silents to sound, but also because of the profound issues it raises regarding the performance of race. While the work of other scholars informs my own reading of the film, I am choosing here to focus on the songs, their own histories in relation to Jolson, and the way they contributed to the reception and subsequent interpretations of the film and the Jack Robin character. That said, there are many scholars whom I acknowledge here as having guided or shaped my discussion, but whose work I will not engage with in detail, as follows: Abrams, New Jew in Film; Alexander, Jazz Age Jews; Buhle, From the Lower East Side; Corenthal, Cohen on the Telephone; Erdman, Staging the Jew; Fleeger, Sounding American; Goldstein, Price of Whiteness; Gottlieb, Funny, It Doesn't Sound Jewish; Gubar, Racechanges; Hoberman, Bridge of Light, “On The Jazz Singer,” and “Jazz Singer: A Chronology”; Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color; Knight, Disintegrating the Musical; Lhamon, Raising Cain; Melnick, Right to Sing the Blues; Most, Making Americans and Theatrical Liberalism; Roediger, Working toward Whiteness; Rogin, Blackface, White Noise; Shandler, Jews, God, and Videotape; Slobin, “Putting Blackface in Its Place” and Tenement Songs; Whitfield, In Search of American Jewish Culture; Williams, Playing the Race Card.
4.
Hutcheon, Theory of Adaptation, xv–xvi, 27–28.
5.
See Goldman, Jolson, 340. At this point Raphaelson was in fact still spelling his first name “Sampson.”
6.
Following the enormous success of “Swanee” in Sinbad Jolson was often credited as cowriter on songs that he endorsed through performance. For an exhaustive list of the songs he sang and recorded, see ibid., 315–93; see also Sheet Music Exchange Presents Al Jolson Catalog.
7.
The quotation is from a title card in the film: Crosland, Jazz Singer (DVD), 1:30:39.
8.
Raphaelson, “Birth of ‘The Jazz Singer,’” 812.
9.
Raphaelson, “Reminiscences,” 13.
10.
Raphaelson, “Day of Atonement,” 44.
11.
See Cohen-Stratyner, Popular Music, 1900–1919, 6–7, 78.
12.
Raphaelson, “Day of Atonement,” 46.
13.
The song is correctly titled “Lovie Joe”; see Cohen-Stratyner, Popular Music, 1900–1919, 227, 386.
14.
I have not found conclusive evidence that Jolson had a major public presence performing any of these songs. Laurence Bergreen states that he was known for performing “Alexander's Ragtime Band” during his time with Lew Dockstader, but, according to Goldman, Jolson had been released from Dockstader's minstrel troupe before “Alexander” was published: Bergreen, As Thousands Cheer, 67; Goldman, Jolson, 56.
15.
Quoted in Goldman, Jolson, 146.
16.
Coincidentally, the Fulton Theatre is where The Jazz Singer play had its initial run; see Bordman, Oxford Companion to American Theatre, 5.
17.
Carringer, Jazz Singer, 25. The 1920s saw an explosion of popular interest in assimilation themes on Tin Pan Alley and Broadway and in Hollywood, Irish-Jewish pairings (such as Abie and The Jazz Singer) being the most popular; see Merwin, In Their Own Image, 102–9, and Bornstein, Colors of Zion, 153–73.
18.
See Goldman, Jolson, 146–47, and Raphaelson, “Birth of ‘The Jazz Singer,’” 821.
19.
Raphaelson, “Reminiscences,” 26. The third song occurs as the play ends: Jack sings the “Kol Nidre”—accompanied by a full (albeit offstage) choir—when he takes the place of his recently deceased father on Yom Kippur. One way in which Raphaelson—and presumably producers Al Lewis, Max Gordon, and Sam Harris—amplified the presence of Jewish customs in the play (in contrast to what Carringer refers to as the frivolous treatment of religious themes in Abie's Irish Rose) was by including a performance of the “Kol Nidre” as the play's finale, complete with an offstage congregational choir. The play's original program indicates “The Synagogue Services at the end of the play rendered by Meyer Posner's Temple Choir. Rita Sparga, Soloist.” Jazz Singer original program, 15; Carringer, Jazz Singer, 24–25.
20.
Raphaelson, Jazz Singer, 47.
21.
Sophie Tucker was also one of the examples Raphaelson gave when referring to Jews who were helping to redefine popular music. In the play's preface he makes explicit his ideas about the role of jazz in modern society, repeatedly describing it as a form of prayer. In discussing his choice of a Jewish family for the drama he states that “Jews are determining the nature and scope of jazz more than any other race—more than the negroes, from whom they have stolen jazz and given it a new color and meaning. Jazz is Irving Berlin, Al Jolson, George Gershwin, Sophie Tucker. These are Jews with their roots in the synagogue”: Raphaelson, Jazz Singer, 10. This quotation also helps to clarify what Raphaelson regarded as constituting “jazz” in 1925, as the meaning was far from agreed upon at the time (as indeed it has been since).
22.
Ibid., 48–49.
23.
Lyric quoted from Gilbert Wells, Bud Cooper, and Fred Rose, “Red Hot Mamma” (New York: Rainbow Music Corporation, 1924).
24.
Raphaelson, “Reminiscences,” 13.
25.
In Hutcheon's parlance, the story switches from the telling mode to the showing mode, allowing for the incorporation of performance: Hutcheon, Theory of Adaptation, 41–42.
26.
Lyric quoted from M. K. Jerome, Joe Young, and Sam E. Lewis, “Home Pals” (New York: Remick, 1925). When in the film Jack realizes that he is on his way back to New York after years on the road, the following title cards appear in rapid succession (the text of each larger than the last), alternating with shots of Jolson gesticulating happily: “NEW YORK!,” “BROADWAY!,” “HOME!,” “MOTHER!”: Crosland, Jazz Singer (DVD), beginning 37:26.
27.
Raphaelson, Jazz Singer, 68.
28.
Ibid.
29.
I have been unable to find a contemporaneous song bearing this title. There is a song “Oh Take Me Back to Tennessee” by Charles Chandler from 1853, but given Raphaelson's adherence to songs of relatively recent vintage it seems unlikely that he would be referencing a very obscure song written seventy years earlier. The title is more likely to be a fictitious one in the style of contemporary Dixie or mammy songs. (Thanks to Katherine Spring for the reference to the Chandler song.)
30.
Jolson first sang his signature song “My Mammy” as an interpolation to Sinbad in 1921; see Goldman, Jolson, 114–15.
31.
And just to confirm Jolson's underlying influence on Raphaelson and Jack, the blackface porter played by Jack in April Follies is called Gus, the name of almost every one of Jolson's revue characters.
32.
Raphaelson, Jazz Singer, 114–15.
33.
In The Jazz Singer we see Jolson doing this very thing in “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face” and “Mother of Mine.”
34.
Spring, Saying It with Songs, 75.
35.
Hutcheon, Theory of Adaptation, 58.
36.
Raphaelson, “Reminiscences,” 39.
37.
Unlike mothers, fathers almost never made a successful topic for popular songs, perhaps because of the tendency in temperance-themed songs to link fathers with excessive drinking; several songwriters also advised against using father as a theme, as “father is never pathetic in song”: quoted in Goldmark, “‘Making Songs Pay,’” 10. Also interesting here is Raphaelson's use of “California, Here I Come” as an example, given that Jolson had introduced and popularized that song (in Bombo, 1923) and was by far its most famous performer.
38.
While he was successful as a writer of stage plays, short stories, and screenplays, I have not found any evidence that Raphaelson himself tried his hand as a Tin Pan Alley songwriter. He did write a song while at the University of Illinois, however. A campaign to raise funds for a new stadium at the university in 1921 included a “stadium song contest,” the prize for which was fifty dollars. Raphaelson, who by 1921 had graduated but was working in the English Department and also as “Manager of Stadium Publicity,” wrote the lyric to “Fight, Illini! The Stadium Song,” with music by Rose Josephine Oltusky. See http://archives.library.illinois.edu/slc/fight-illini-the-stadium-song/.
39.
See Carringer, Jazz Singer, 16–20.
40.
Lerner, review of Beautiful Monsters, 262. The existing literature on the music of The Jazz Singer is far too extensive to summarize here. Many of the film's musical sequences have received detailed scrutiny: Knapp (“‘Sacred Songs Popular Prices’”) focuses on the scene with Cantor Josef Rosenblatt; Rosenberg (“What You Ain't Heard Yet”) spends a great deal of time on the two “Kol Nidre” performances, as well as the “Blue Skies” scene; Henzel (“‘Jazz Singer’”) addresses aspects of the background music; while others, including Michael Long (Beautiful Monsters, 50–58), look beyond the songs to some of the melodramatic cues that frame them.
41.
Carringer, Jazz Singer, 140. Vitaphone was the name given to the synchronized sound system championed by Warner Bros. Also known as the “sound-on-disc” method, it involved providing the sound for a film on records, which were then played back in tandem with the film. The film industry eventually adopted the other main approach to synchronized sound, the “sound-on-film” method, by which an optical soundtrack was affixed to the film itself. See Crafton, Talkies.
42.
Jazz Singer Production Files, Box 1, Folder 2011.
43.
Ibid., 2.
44.
“He wanders into a cafe one night, picks up a tray without authority from the management, and sings jazz songs, taking orders for drinks as he does it. He is an instantaneous success”: ibid. A similar plot also opens Jolson's next film, The Singing Fool, and forms part of the larger mythology relating to the way many stars were discovered for Tin Pan Alley and/or Broadway, including Irving Berlin, whose backstory as a singing waiter before he made a name for himself as a songwriter was well known.
45.
See Carringer, Jazz Singer, 135.
46.
Hutcheon, Theory of Adaptation, 23.
47.
Quoted in Carringer, Jazz Singer, 73. The songs (rather than “song”) used here were “Dirty Hands, Dirty Face” and “Toot, Toot, Tootsie.”
48.
Katherine Spring discusses these marketing techniques in Saying It with Songs.
49.
My thanks to Claudia Macdonald for providing some of the newspapers in which the serialized version appeared.
50.
Carl W. Stalling Papers, Box 1, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming.
51.
See Altman, Silent Film Sound, 346–54.
52.
See ibid., and Marks, Music and the Silent Film.
53.
See Robbins, “Scoring The Vanishing American.”
54.
Films with two different published cue sheets include Dame Chance (Bracken, 1926) and The Adventurer (Tourjansky, 1928).
55.
Respectively, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, and Broadcast Music, Inc.
56.
For more on the history of cue sheets in the early days of synchronized sound, see Pool, “What Film and Television Music Researchers Need to Know,” 61–64.
57.
See “E. B. Marks Issues New March,” Billboard, February 19, 1927, 24, and “Savin Relieves Heller in Vita. Studio Duties,” Billboard, May 7, 1927, 32.
58.
Jazz Singer cue sheet.
59.
On the evolution of and various designations for the cue sheet, see Altman, Silent Film Sound, 346–54. Scholars including Jennifer Fleeger, Michael Slowik, and Katherine Spring have discussed the changing definitions of the term “score” in the transitional era to sound.
60.
Other films published by the Descriptive Filmusic Library include Beware of Married Men, Bitter Apples, Bride of the Storm, The Brute, The Bush Leaguer, The Cave Man, and Clash of the Wolves—all Warner Bros. films.
61.
According to the studio files Heller called a thirty-three-piece orchestra for the soundtrack, recording the background score on September 12–14, 1927. The orchestra was constituted as follows: 2 Fl., 2 Ob./Eng. Hn., 2 Cl., 1 Bn., 2 Hn., 2 Tpt., 1 Trb., 1 Dr., 1 Hp., and strings 8/4/3/2/2. These numbers differ, of course, from the number of musicians used in the synchronized sound sequences, which varied from thirteen (for the Coffee Dan's sequence) to twenty-one (for the two songs sung in theaters, “Mother of Mine” and “Mammy”) to one (Bert Fiske playing off screen for Jolson in “It All Depends on You,” later replaced by “Blue Skies”). See Daily Production Reports, Jazz Singer Production Files, Box 1, Folder 1078A, 8/16/27, 8/17/27, 8/30/27; and Routine Form, Jazz Singer Production Files, Box 1, Folder 1078A, 8/18/27.
62.
See Slowik, After the Silents.
63.
The three works by Savino were all published by Robbins, the first in 1925, the other two in 1927: “Melodic Agitato,” “Symphonic Love Theme No. 1: Prelude—Largamente,” and “Symphonic Love Theme No. 1: Andante mesto.”
64.
The use of “Yosel” was likely a bit of film-funning: while he goes unnamed in the film, in “Day of Atonement,” the play, and the novelization Sara Rabinowitz calls her husband “Yosele.” Incidentally, Cantor Josef Rosenblatt also went by the name “Yossele,” and is referred to in that way in the biography written by his son: Rosenblatt, Yossele Rosenblatt.
65.
Carringer, Jazz Singer, 182–83; original document in Jazz Singer Production Files, Box 1, Folder 1078A. I do not use the term “musical score” for this document, as it has long indicated a document consisting principally of notated music, whereas the document in question is simply a list of song titles, composers, publishers, and the number of bars to be played for each cue. Carringer does not use the term “cue sheet” anywhere in his book.
66.
The collection, Domenico Savino's Symphonic Love Themes in Six Different Moods, comprises six titles: “Prelude—Largamente con passione,” “Cantabile assai moderato,” “Andante mesto,” “Allegretto giocoso,” “Moderato con agitazione,” and “Mosso con impeto”; dating from 1927, it was published by Robbins. Both the “Prelude—Largamente” and the “Andante mesto” are used in the film.
67.
“Yohrzeit” had become a well-known feature of Rosenblatt's repertory almost immediately after its publication in 1919, as suggested by a positive notice for the song in Music Trade Review that specifically mentions Rosenblatt: “‘Yohrzeit’ Meets with Favor,” Music Trade Review, December 13, 1919, 157.
68.
Jazz Singer Production Files, Box 1, Folder 1106A, 1/11/1928.
69.
Carringer, Jazz Singer, 182–83.
70.
Jazz Singer cue sheet.
71.
Beginning time stamps are from Crosland, Jazz Singer (DVD).
72.
It is possible that the sequence of cues leading up to “Blue Skies” in the soundtrack is not properly synchronized with the film. Synching the soundtrack with the film so that Jolson's opening the door to his parent's apartment (40:33) is underscored by the “Original mother theme” (40:45) would rectify several odd disjunctures between image and soundtrack: “Kol Nidre” on the soundtrack would then underscore the cantor rehearsing (rather than mother in the kitchen); the “Original mother theme” would be tied directly to mother's realization that Jack has returned; and the “Andante mesto” would begin when Jack first sees that his picture on the wall has been replaced with a landscape and continue through his asking his mother about it, rather than just underscoring the conversation.
73.
We can also conclude that the cue sheet dates from some point prior to August 1927, since it lists “It All Depends on You” as the song Jolson sings during the reunion scene rather than “Blue Skies,” when in fact, as shown below, the latter replaced the former in late August 1927.
74.
See Long, Beautiful Monsters, 50–58.
75.
Although Jolson used “My Mammy” as one of his signature songs it had actually been introduced by another vaudevillian, William Frawley (an actor who appeared frequently on both stage and screen, most famously as Fred Mertz in I Love Lucy). Jolson interpolated the song into Sinbad during the fourth year of the show's run, in January 1921. See Shapiro, Popular Music, 66; Goldman, Jolson, 114–15; and Carringer, Jazz Singer, 71.
76.
The only other person identified by name on the cue sheet is Cantor Josef Rosenblatt, who appears as himself.
77.
Crosland, Jazz Singer (DVD), beginning 17:55.
78.
Ibid., beginning 18:02
79.
Jeff Webb argues that this scene marks the point at which Jolson first takes over the character from Jakie and Jack, and that the moments of vaudeville (the singing) are where we see Jolson “emerging from the character of Jack”: Webb, “Sound of the New World,” 163.
80.
Krin Gabbard points out that Jolson's entrance in The Singing Fool (1928) echoes many of the elements of the Coffee Dan's sequence, including the use of “My Mammy” as a musical marker when Jolson's face first fills the screen: Gabbard, “Al Jolson,” 214.
81.
Crosland, Jazz Singer (DVD), beginning 18:37.
82.
Ibid., beginning 18:53.
83.
Quoted in Spring, Saying It with Songs, 93–94.
84.
Crosland, Jazz Singer (DVD), beginning 21:59.
85.
See Goldman, Jolson, 380.
86.
See ibid., 146. This short can be seen as an extra on Crosland, Jazz Singer (DVD).
87.
Crosland, Jazz Singer (DVD), beginning 42:42.
88.
Ibid., beginning 1:16:52.
89.
Quoted in Magee, “Irving Berlin's ‘Blue Skies,’” 539. The term did not apply only to Jews, however. Edward Marks, for instance, describes Lottie Gilson as one “who could get that tear in her voice,” referring to Gilson's ability to put over tearjerkers in vaudeville: Marks, They All Sang, 17. Raphaelson uses the term in the article he wrote for the American Hebrew on the occasion of The Jazz Singer's release; he ends the article with a tribute to Jolson, stating, “I bow to an artist, a singer with a laugh and a tear in his voice”: Raphaelson, “Birth of ‘The Jazz Singer,’” 821.
90.
“New Buffalo Program: Beggars of Life Opens Today; Present New Stage Show,” Buffalo Courier Express, September 22, 1928, 12.
91.
Louis Reid, “The Newsreel Comes Into Its Own: Film Presenting World Events and Famous People Achieves New Importance with the Dawn of Sound,” New Movie Magazine 2, no. 6 (December 1930): 90–92, 108–10, here 90.
92.
Louis Reid, “Oh! Say, Can You Hear?,” Screenland 22, no. 3 (January 1931): 60–61, here 61.
93.
John Hall, “Moving Movie Throng,” Hollywood Filmograph, May 20, 1933, 4.
94.
“Al Jolson's ‘Doubles,’” Variety, February 22, 1928, 4.
95.
See “Theater Invents Own Talkie,” Billboard, May 26, 1928, 24.
96.
Russell Sanjek goes as far as to state outright that the songs in The Jazz Singer were “chosen and recorded by Al Jolson,” although he does not cite a source for this assertion: Sanjek, Pennies from Heaven, 52.
97.
It may be a stretch to describe “My Gal Sal” as a Jolson standard, but the fact that he even performed this song strengthens the notion that all the pop songs in the film were—or became—associated with Jolson. Since it was actually young Bobby Gordon who sang “My Gal Sal” and “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee” rather than Jolson himself, we might consider them not part of the larger narrative, except that Jolson sang both of them publicly and had an early hit with “Waiting”; see Goldman, Jolson, 38.
98.
Sheet music courtesy of the collection of Harold Jacobs.
99.
Correctly titled “Yes Sir! That's My Baby,” the song was written by Walter Donaldson (the composer of “My Mammy”) and Gus Kahn (1925). (Jolson never released an official recording of “Yes Sir!”) See Carringer, Jazz Singer, 86–89.
100.
For more on the history of this song, see Joshua Walden, “‘Eili, Eili’ as a ‘Traditional Yiddish Melody,’” Musicology Now (blog), American Musicological Society website, June 27, 2015, accessed January 22, 2016, http://musicologynow.ams-net.org/2015/06/eili-eili-as-traditional-yiddish-melody.html.
101.
Raphaelson, “Reminiscences,” 37–38.
102.
“Al Jolson Opens in First Picture,” Billboard, October 15, 1927, 9, 89, here 89.
103.
See Spring, Saying It with Songs, 58.
104.
For more on mother songs, see Goldmark, “‘Making Songs Pay,’” 15–16.
105.
Raphaelson, “Reminiscences,” 38–39. Raphaelson claimed that he had no official involvement with the film, and that his first exposure to it came at its preview (ibid., 34).
106.
Raphaelson stated, “The man's a terrific comedian—and a lousy actor. He's a non-actor. … It was just embarrassing”: ibid., 37.
107.
Library of Congress Copyright Office, Catalog of Copyright Entries, pt. 3, n.s., vol. 22, 998.
108.
Lyric quoted from Al Jolson, Louis Silver [sic], and Grant Clarke, “Mother of Mine, I Still Have You” (New York: Irving Berlin, 1927).
109.
In addition to the two covers shown in Figure 6, two other versions of the cover are known to exist, one with a stock image of Jolson that makes no mention of The Jazz Singer, and one that makes no mention of either Jolson or The Jazz Singer but consists simply of an image of a single rose on a white background, captioned “Mother's Day Song”; see Sheet Music Exchange Presents Al Jolson Catalog, 57.
110.
The song—under both titles—received coverage by several performers and labels, including Happy Dick Evans (Champion CH15444), the Silver Masked Tenor (aka Joseph M. White, Victor 21144), Irving Kaufman (Velvet Tone 1554-V), J. Donald Parker (Edison 52165), Les Backer (Gennett 6328), the Hawaiian Melody Makers (Broadcast 382), Henry Burr (Victor, unreleased), and, of course, Jolson with William F. Wirges and His Orchestra (Brunswick 3719A); see Goldman, Jolson, 386.
111.
Virginia Morris, “Can You Write a Theme Song?,” Picture Play 31, no. 5 (January 1930): 16–18, 92, 106, here 17.
112.
Lyric quoted from B. G. De Sylva, Lew Brown, and Ray Henderson, “It All Depends on You” (New York: De Sylva, Brown, and Henderson, 1926).
113.
“It All Depends on You” exited the Vitaphone world only temporarily, however, eventually featuring in Jolson's next cinematic excursion, the much more popular and influential film The Singing Fool (1928). It is interesting to imagine how the song would have worked in The Jazz Singer with Jolson at the piano, mugging for Eugenie Besserer. If we assume that he sang only the chorus, the scene would have been decidedly less upbeat, given that the song and Jack Robin's dependence—perhaps codependence—on his mother would have been brought forward, to be amplified by the later performance of “Mother of Mine, I Still Have You.” In The Singing Fool the song becomes a sign of Al Stone's obsession with his ungrateful showgirl wife-to-be Grace. Beyond its use in film the song had a successful life in the recording world, the numerous versions created including those by Paul Whiteman and His Orchestra, Ben Bernie, Annette Hanshaw, Whispering Jack Smith, and Ruth Etting, all released in 1927. The song was also revived repeatedly, by Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, and many others.
114.
Jolson is clearly not playing the piano himself during the scene; it was played by Bert Fiske.
115.
Wolfe, “Vitaphone Shorts,” 77n26.
116.
Spring, Saying It with Songs, 56–57.
117.
Raphaelson, Jazz Singer, 48–49.
118.
The scene actually begins with Jack first greeting his mother through the open door to the kitchen before they walk together into the living room.
119.
Quoted in Carringer, Jazz Singer, 95. It is interesting to note that the equivalent action in the play was apparently improvised, as no specific lines are given to the actors. Perhaps Alfred Cohn took inspiration from the play in leaving this sequence in the continuity similarly improvised. Most histories of the film refer to Jolson's “conversation” with Besserer as having been an off-the-cuff bit of byplay that allowed Jolson to incorporate some of his stage shtick into the film; see Goldman, Jolson, 151–52.
120.
Crosland, Jazz Singer (DVD), 46:56.
121.
“Jolson Singing 6 Songs for Vita. in First Film,” Billboard, September 10, 1927, 31.
122.
Jazz Singer Production Files, Folder 1106. Spring points out that Ottalie Mark was “regarded as an expert in music copyrights for motion pictures” and had worked for “Roxy” Rothapfel and Erno Rapée before being hired by Warner Bros. to work on early Vitaphone projects, including (apparently) The Jazz Singer: Spring, Saying It with Songs, 200, note 1 to Appendix 1.
123.
Jazz Singer Production Files, Folder 1106. Lou Halper married into the Warner clan: his wife was Sadie, the second youngest of the Warner siblings; see Sperling and Millner, Hollywood Be Thy Name, 111.
124.
Jazz Singer Production Files, Folder 1106. This message is on a Warner Bros. office document, a file copy of what appears to have been a day letter.
125.
Ibid.
126.
Souvenir program reprinted in Kreuger, Souvenir Programs, 8.
127.
De Haas, Jazz Singer.
128.
For more on the history of the film novelization, see Van Parys, “Commercial Novelization,” and Mahlknecht, “Hollywood Novelization.”
129.
De Haas, Jazz Singer, facing page 66. Further complicating the correspondence between the book and the film is that, in the latter, the large, wood and leather studded chair in which Eugenie Besserer sits inexplicably changes to a smaller wooden chair with an open back and leather seat after Warner Oland (Cantor Rabinowitz) yells “Stop!” The bigger leather chair can be seen in the corner on the reverse shot showing Jolson and Besserer standing side by side looking horrified at the cantor's unanticipated return. The publicity image in the book (Figure 10) shows Besserer sitting in the smaller chair, while the wooden scrollwork of the larger wooden one is visible (out of focus) in the foreground. This staged image—typical of film publicity materials—makes perfect sense, as it shows Jack singing with both his parents present in the room in a single shot, one not seen in the film itself.
130.
See Goldman, Jolson, 386, and Whitburn, Joel Whitburn's Pop Memories, 234.
131.
De Haas, Jazz Singer, 29, 21, 194, 145. “They Always Pick On Me” was written by Stanley Murphy and Harry von Tilzer (1911), and “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” by Shelton Brooks (1917).
132.
Ibid., 206.
133.
“WB and Jessel: Reported Flirting on Remake of ‘Jazz Singer’—George Did the Show,” Variety, January 19, 1932, 3.
134.
See ibid.; “Remaking ‘Jazz Singer’ for Talkie Anniversary,” Film Daily, March 2, 1936, 2; and “Jolson Scripting Too,” Variety, September 16, 1936, 3.
135.
Jolson does appear as himself in a distant long shot, in blackface, singing “Swanee”; see Goldman, Jolson, 276. Wolfe makes a similar point that Jolson's voice “signified his identity as a performer”: Wolfe, “Vitaphone Shorts,” 77n24.
136.
Even the filmmakers were unable to pass up commenting on the convoluted nature of Jolson overdubbing himself. We see Parks (playing Jolson) singing along with “There's a Rainbow” from his seat, clearly enjoying seeing “himself” on screen. An annoyed onlooker remarks, “Let Jolson sing it, Mister—he's doing all right.” Parks/Jolson replies, “Think so?” Green, Jolson Story (DVD), beginning 1:26:00.
137.
Precise historical accuracy has of course never been a high priority in Hollywood biopics.
138.
Spring, Saying It with Songs, 94.
139.
No transcription of the first broadcast is known to exist; at that time the series was known as Radio Theatre. See “The Radio Parade: Karen Morley, Al Jolson, Elissa Landi, Ann Sothern, Gene Raymond and Other Screen Stars to Be Heard on Air This Week,” Philadelphia Inquirer, August 9, 1936, 21, and Goldman, Jolson, 224. A transcription of the second broadcast can be found on the Internet Archive website, accessed April 19, 2016, https://archive.org/details/Lux01.
140.
Jolson also takes advantage of being before an audience—both the one in the studio and the one listening at home—to plug his most recent song during a curtain call: “All My Love,” cowritten by Jolson, Saul Chaplin, and Harry Akst, and based on a theme by Emil Waldteufel.
141.
“Lux, Screen Guild Top Hooper Parade,” Variety, June 18, 1947, 25.
142.
In compiling Table 2 I have drawn on Krin Gabbard's comparison of cinematic versions of The Jazz Singer in Jammin’ at the Margins, 39. I also agree with his assertion that all post-1927 versions of the story labor under the weight of Jolson’s legacy: ibid., 35.
143.
Warner Bros. would eventually control the major Tin Pan Alley publishing firms Harms, Witmark, Remick, and Advanced, among others; see Spring, Saying It with Songs, 58.

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