Monday, August 15, 2022

Harry O: Sound of Trumpets

Harry Orwell had a cool name, but the title of his series didn’t use the best part. He was also a little older and a lot more broken down than most TV detectives of his era, but that made him a credible jazz fan. His taste puts him in the right jazz club, at the right time, to help a legendary trumpeter in the “Sound of Trumpets” episode of Harry O, directed by John Newland (the host and director of One Step Beyond), which airs late night Saturday, as part of Decade TV’s weekend binge.

Art Sully (born Arthur Daniels) played with the greats, but it has been a while. He was just paroled after serving more than ten years for a dubious murder charge. He happens to crash Ziggy’s set at Orwell’s favorite Santa Monica jazz club and then crashes at Orwell’s pad. When he comes to, he “borrows” the MG that spent the better part of the series in the repair shop (MGs were like that). Despite his annoyance, the thugs that come looking for Sully convince Orwell to help the musician. He is also moved by the concern of Chuck Henry, another jazz legend, and Sully’s daughter, Ruthie Daniels, an up-and-coming vocalist.

By this time, the setting of
Harry O had already moved from San Diego to LA/Santa Monica, which meant all the time Orwell spent on the bus was particularly sad. The shift probably paid off, since Anthony Zerbe won an Emmy playing Orwell’s reluctant police contact, Lt. K.C. Trench. Based on this episode, Zerbe and star David Janssen had an amusing bickering-bantering rhythm going on. Of course, LA was also a more logical setting for a jazz story.

Although the specific musicians are not credited, this episode was scored by the preeminent bop trombonist J.J. Johnson, who knew everybody. For this episode, he used a lot of percussion motifs. Among the guest stars, Cab Calloway was of equal or possibly even greater stature, playing the decent and dignified Henry (an Ellington-esque figure), with his showman-like charm.

Brenda Sykes, who played Ruthie Daniels, also had important jazz connections, as the wife of vocalist Gil Scott-Heron. Frankly, it is a shame she did not record more, because she performs a nice jazzy rendition of “What is this Thing Called Love” and a more R&B-ish (but maybe even more distinctive) version of “Never My Love.” Plus, there is a one-armed former trumpeter turned pawnbroker, who must have been inspired by Wingy Manone.

The jazz makes this episode evergreen, but some of the commentary feels surprisingly current. In rather frank terms, Orwell and Trent discuss the APB issue for Sully as potentially fatal proposition for a large black man with a gun, on the streets of Los Angeles. Still, Orwell is definitely in favor of law and order, considering it was the injuries he suffered when a criminal shot him in the back that forced him to retire from the SDPD.

Even though
Harry O did well in the ratings and with critics, the network canceled it after two seasons, because it didn’t fit their grand strategy at the time. It is a shame, since there might have been other jazz-themed episodes, perhaps bringing back Jim “Mr. Magoo” Backus as Ziggy. Still, anything involving J.J. Johnson and Cab Calloway represents some kind of jazz history. Recommended as an above average 1970s detective show episode and for its cool jazz connections, “Sound of Trumpets” airs late night Saturday (technically early Sunday 8/21) during Decade TV’s Harry O binge.