Sammy Davis, Jr. in "A Man Called Adam," (1966), directed by Leo Penn. Music by Benny Carter.
Featuring Cicely Tyson in her first film role, Louis Armstong, Ossie Davis, Frank Sinatra, Jr., and (not shown here) Mel Torme and Peter Lawford.
I watched "A Man Called Adam" for the very first time in 2020 on TCM during Black History Month. This rarely shown film is notable for its amazing cast of talented artists, and for its stark, unsparing portrayal of racism in America. And though the film is bleak and its hero deeply troubled, there are some wonderful musical treasures to be found in it as well.
Adam Johnson (Sammy Davis, Jr.) is a gifted jazz trumpet player, plagued by ill health, racism, alcoholism and a short temper, as well as guilt over the deaths years before of his wife and child. Driving drunk after a confrontation with a White police officer, Adam caused the accident that killed his family.
The result is a caustic personality that wears even on those who care the most about him, such as his best friend Nelson (Ossie Davis), Vincent (Frank Sinatra, Jr.), a young White trumpeter whom Adam mentors, Adam's older musician friend Willie (Louis Armstrong) and Willie's granddaughter Claudia (Cicely Tyson), a prominent Civil Rights Movement worker. After a rough start in which Adam makes a drunken pass at Claudia, a romance with Claudia slowly begins. She cautions Adam that from that point on, she will not allow him to be any less than he is. Nelson warns Claudia against a relationship, saying that although he understands what she sees in Adam, he will still ultimately only hurt her. But she is not dissuaded, saying she is determined not to let Adam destroy himself. Full plot summary on Wikipedia.
It is nothing less than extraordinary. Here are some clips featuring original tunes written for the film by saxophonist/composer Benny Carter (Sammy's trumpet part is actually played by Nat Adderley).
And here's Mel Torme, playing himself entertaining at a private party.
INSPIRATION FOR ME
The first time I heard "Whisper to One" in the movie, I was transfixed -- and motivated to take a swing at it myself! Here it is, accompanied by guitarist friend Rick Keena. I fill in Sammy's "trumpet" with a scat approach.