Jazzed in Cleveland

Part Thirty-Two
a jazz history by Joe Mosbrook
a special WMV Web News Cleveland series
Story filed December 2, 1997

Most people probably believe music videos were invented by MTV in the 1990s. Actually, jazz videos were being made in Cleveland as early as 1951.

The Four Freshmen, a vocal and instrumental jazz group that began performing in Indiana and Ohio in 1948, was playing an engagement at Moe’s Main Street, a jazz club at East 79th and Euclid. During the first four nights of the engagement in December of 1951, the Four Freshmen were the opening act for pianist and singer Johnny Ray. One of the original Four Freshmen, Ross Barbour, remembers, "Johnny would play the song and bang on the piano. And he’d rip off the front of the piano and throw the keyboard cover. It was an exciting demonstration of passion about the music. In those days, Johnny was a show piano player."

While the Four Freshmen were playing and singing every night at Moe’s Main Street in Cleveland, Barbour says they were also doing something revolutionary here.

"We did some videos," remembers Barbour. "In those days they called them ‘Telescriptions.’ They were three-minute visual recordings. Now they call them videos."

This was just three years after Cleveland’s first television station signed on the air and during a period when radio disc jockeys and juke boxes were very popular.

Barbour says, "They played them on something they called a ‘Scope-a-thon.’ It was a juke box that had a TV screen on the top. That’s what they were making them for. They figured also that when TV comes in and becomes a success, there are going to be disc jockeys on TV playing videos. Well, it has taken until now for MTV to prove that they were right."

Those Telescriptions, made by the Four Freshmen in Cleveland in 1951 are today considered collector’s items. Founding Four Freshman Barbour says he doesn’t have any of them, but he does have vivid memories of making them here. "It was in Shaker Heights. I don’t remember the name of the company. It was a big warehouse that they had sound-proofed."

Barbour says it was a lot of work, trying to do something brand new while also performing every night at the club on Euclid Avenue. "We went there in the morning and recorded the music," says Barbour, "and then, in the afternoon, we lipped-synched and filmed. They chose to do it that way so they could have the music just the way they wanted it. And then they could cut and stop and take the pictures the way they wanted them. And we spent all day making the videos and then, we’d pick up our instruments and head down to Moe’s Main Street and worked all night."

Seven months later, in July of 1952, Barbour and the other Four Freshmen -- his brother Don Barbour, his cousin Bob Flanigan, and Hal Kratzsch -- were sitting in a coffee shop in Akron when they first heard the first record they had made for Capitol Records 14 months earlier. "It’s a Blue World" became a big national hit among both popular music fans and jazz fans. After that record came out, Barbour modestly says, "The rest is history."

The Four Freshmen dominated the jazz vocal polls through the 1950s and ‘60s and, despite a series of personnel changes, are still going strong.

Forgotten by most people in Cleveland and by Four Freshmen fans around the world is the fact that the group was among the first to make music videos. It happened in Cleveland early in 1951.

CLICK HERE for the last installment of "Jazzed in Cleveland"

Copyright 1997 Joe Mosbrook

You can hear radio versions of Cleveland Jazz History on WCPN/90.3 Monday nights at 9:30 and Friday afternoons at 12:30. Mosbrook's 1993 Cleveland Jazz History book, based on research for earlier broadcasts, is available from some Cleveland area bookstores, libraries, and the Northeast Ohio Jazz Society (216-397-9900).