When asked for their favorite Sesame Street segment, many children of the 70s and 80s point to Pinball Number Count. Psychedelic animation, the Pointer Sisters, odd time signatures–what’s not to love? But for the serious Sesame Street buff, the “Jazz Numbers” series above deserves the silver medal. It’s got free jazz, Yellow Submarine-style surrealistic animation, and a vocal from Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane. How many young parents recognized her distinctive voice, I wonder?
Also known as “Jazzy Spies,” this 1969 series of animations was devoted to the numbers 2 through 10 (there was no film for “one” as it is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do), and was an essential element in Sesame’s Street’s first season. Highlights include the dream-like elevator door sequence of “2,” the Jackson 5 reference in “5,” and the racing fans in “10.”
Slick got involved through her first husband, Jerry Slick, who produced the segments for San Francisco-based animation studio Imagination, Inc. Headed by animator Jeff Hale, the company also produced the Pinball segments, as well as the famous anamorphic “Typewriter Guy,” the Ringmaster, and the Detective Man. (Hale, by the way, has a cameo as Augie “Ben” Doggie in the well-loved Lucas parody Hardware Wars.) He passed away last month at 92.
The delirious music was composed and performed by Columbia jazz artist Denny Zeitlin, who would go on to score the 1979 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Zeitlin plays both piano and clavinet; accompanying him is Bobby Natanson on drums and Mel Graves on bass. According to Zeitlin, Grace Slick overdubbed her vocals later.
This wasn’t Slick’s first encounter with Jim Henson. In 1968, she and other members of Jefferson Airplane were part of a counterculture documentary called Youth ’68, the trailer for which you can groove on here.
Sesame Street, with all its primary colors, plastic merchandise, and Elmo infestation, may have lost its edge, but these early works show its revolutionary foundations.
via Dangerous Minds