Sunday, March 21, 2021

Perry Mason: The Case of the Missing Melody

Barney Kessel was such a talented jazz guitarist, he could even take the hippy-dippy music of Hair and make it sound interesting on his album, Hair is Beautiful. For him, swinging Fred Steiner’s “Park Avenue Beat,” the iconic Perry Mason theme was no problem. Kessel did exactly that as a guest star and guest arranger in “The Case of the Missing Melody,” which airs Monday night on Me TV.

Mason and Della Street are attending a surprisingly cool wedding, but the father of the bride looks none too thrilled about his daughter’s prospective marriage to jazz musician Eddy King. Regardless, the trio’s hip rendition of “Here Comes the Bride” sounds great. Unfortunately, they won’t get a chance to groove on “The Wedding March” yet, because the ceremony is cut short by the bride, after she receives a dirty blackmailer’s threatening note.

Although he was originally at the ceremony as a friend of the well-heeled bride’s family, Mason soon agrees to represent King when the blackmailer inevitably winds up dead. Of course, he wants to protect the Courtland family secrets as well, at least as best as he can. However, King’s bandmates, vocalist Jonny Baker (played by the Julliard-schooled Constance Towers) and percussionist Bongo White (portrayed by Bobby Troup, the pop-jazz singer-piano-player, who married Julie London) are obviously deeply embroiled in the whole affair, as well.

Frankly, the first act of “Missing Melody” is a little slow out of the gate. Weirdly, it takes almost twenty minutes to get to the murder. However, Kessel (who is credited with all the incidental music between the opening and closing credits) keeps the episode lively with his interpretations of traditional wedding music and the classic
Perry Mason theme. In fact, they sound so good, it is too bad he did not do a whole Perry Mason/Wedding album. He also arranges and ghost-led the Eddy King band backing up Baker/Towers on “The Thrill is Gone” and “The Man I Love,” which are nice too, in a 1960s big band kind of way.

Maybe you didn’t know Perry Mason was a jazz fan, but he says so himself, in his words: from Jelly Roll Morton to Dave Brubeck. That kind of statement of good taste is sufficient to make “Missing Melody” an important episode. It also has the distinction of being one of a handful of “cases” that feature Karl Held as David Gideon, the law student intern, who constantly gets brusquely schooled in the law by Mason.

Of course, Raymond Burr does his authoritative thing as the eternally popular counselor, but Towers is the real standout among the guest stars (Kessel’s music is terrific, but alas, he didn’t get much in the way of dialogue). Affectionately recommended for the nostalgia and Kessel,
Perry Mason’s “The Case of the Missing Melody” airs Monday night (3/22) on Me TV (and the entire series streams on Paramount+).