Spike Jones (1911-65) was a percussionist of considerable skill who got bored playing the same music over and over again. He gradually drifted into an anarchic style of comedy and music that has never been equaled. He assembled a group of players and singers who were equally adept at performing and inspired silliness. This madness and mayhem that characterized his ensemble’s work owes much to burlesque show comedians and the Marx Brothers. But his work bears his own unique style.
Jones wore outlandish suits and a deadpan expression that occasionally was overcome for a brief movement by the craziness of what he had inspired. But the hint of a smile or laughter lasted just an instant. A very heavy smoker, Spike succumbed to COPD at age 54. We have yet to see his like.
He had a large group of performers who stayed with him for a long time. George Rock was a great trumpeter who loved the silliness even though he could easily have prospered under a standard musical regime. He was the singer that made ‘All I want for Christmas is my Two Front Teeth’ a big hit. He’s the speech spritzer on the video just below. Freddy Morgan was outstanding on the banjo, but was even more gifted as a mime reaching the level of Harpo Marx.
These clips give a good précis of what Spike and company did. If any of the YouTube videos go dark, I have backups with which I can replace them.
The first video is from a Muscular Dystrophy telethon hosted by Martin and Lewis in 1953. It’s an all-out assault on Suppe’s ‘Poet and Peasant Overture’. Remarkably, all the TV excerpts were from shows that were done live. That the skits went almost without a hitch is a tribute to the excellence of Jones group’s talent and preparation.
During Spikes prime he was a fixture in movies, television, and recordings. The old TV recordings are a gauzy remnant of what Spike truly was, but they’re a lot better than nothing.
The manic medley below includes an assortment of whacky players, dancers, bell ringers, two headless banjo players, Jim Bacchus(the voice of Mr Magoo), and Joseph Stalin.
Next is an insane and acrobatic riff on ‘Stranger in Paradise’. The tune is, of course, from one of the ‘Polovtsian Dances’ from Borodin’s opera Prince Igor.
‘That’s amore’ was a big hit for Dean Martin. Jones and crew tear it apart. You can guess what’s inevitable from the song’s first line.
Next is a straight duet with Jones on the drums and Rock playing the trumpet. The latter gives evidence of what a great virtuoso he was.
The medley below features a tap dancing xylophone player , ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ (should be self explanatory), a banjo duet, and a madcap version of ‘Runnin’ Wild’.
Finally, here’s an audio of a brief suite from Bizet’s Carmen. It’s on the same creative level as Shchedrin’s suite for string orchestra and percussion though only 10% the length and from a view 1800 apart.
Alas, Spike and crew are long gone. His absence leaves a void yet to be filled. Music lovers, enjoy. Rossini would have loved Spike and accomplices.