Jess Franco may best be remembered as a visualist, being one of the most prolific filmmakers of all time. The Franco experience however was always multi-sensory and considerably sonic. Sound, music specifically, often played as big a role in Franco’s films as sight, music often taking on an almost narrative role. The scores composed for Franco’s films, several of which have gained followings of their own independent of the films, could be as varied as Franco’s hall-of-mirrors of a filmography, from Bruno Nicolai’s exotic and wiry Velvet Underground-inspired sounds for Eugenie… the Story of Her Journey into Perversion (1970) to the “Sexadelic Dance Party” of Manfred Hubler and Sigi Schwab’s Vampryos Lesbos (1971) score. However, much like the name “Dr. Orlof”, the theme of mind-control, his infamous zoom lens and Lina Romay, Franco’s lifelong love of jazz would become a defining characteristic of his filmmaking and the musical genre most associated with his films. A jazz musician himself, Franco’s musical interests and talents predate his cinematic ones, as Franco began writing music at the age of six. “I started my life in music school…”(1) Franco once said, the Real Conservatorio de Madrid to be exact. As modest in his appraisal of himself as a musician as he was a filmmaker, Franco claimed “…I became a – not good, but acceptable piano and trumpet player.”(1) Though he loved the music and playing, Franco felt the future working solely as a musician was “short on expectations”(1) whereas the possibilities of filmmaking were ultimately too strong, Franco opting to, in his own words, “be someone who loves music, and who tries to make music with his films”(1).

I was a jazz player and composer before all other things in my life”(2) Franco once recalled, some of Franco’s earliest work in the film industry being composer jobs before embarking on a feature directorial career with Tenemos 18 años (We are 18 Years Old, 1959). Franco did begin “making music” with his films fairly early, albeit in a somewhat atypical fashion compared to what he would later become known for, Franco’s second and third films La reina del Tabarín (Queen of the Tabarin, 1960) and Vampiresas 1930 (1962) being musical comedies. The later did feature early American jazz as a bit of a plot point late in the film, interestingly enough. It was with Death Whistles the Blues (La muerte silba un blues, 1962) where Franco put his love of jazz upfront with not just a jazz score but a jazz nightclub being central to the action, Franco himself appearing onstage as a saxophonist. The nightclub sequences and jazz soundtracks would of course become more and more ubiquitous, Franco opening a good number of his films with club-set scenes. As Franco would direct more films, especially as he began moving further into horror and eroticism in the mid-to-late 60’s, mood and ambiance overtaking conventional plotting, the jazz influence became much more than surface level. Franco’s history as a composer began to manifest not simply on the film’s soundtracks, but Franco in effect inventing his own “jazz film” subgenre, “composing” films the same way a jazz musician would approach a piece of music. Franco stated “For me it was normal and not a special effort to introduce those elements in a film. And I like it- its ambiance. Not for a commercial reason or anything. I like the nature of the night, of jazz…”(2)

By far the most famous of Franco’s jazz films, and one that was specifically designed as such is Venus in Furs (1969). Centering on a trumpet player (James Darren) embarking on an obsessive, phantasmagorical romance with enigmatic phantom woman Wanda (Maria Rohm), Venus in Furs originated from a conversation between Franco and jazz titan Chet Baker in a Paris club (3). Baker himself had already played a big hand in composing two jazz films a few years before, having scored José Bénazéraf’s Le concerto de la peur (The Concert of Fear, 1962) and La Nuit la plus longue (The Longest Night, 1964). Although Franco might not appreciate the comparison (4)[i], Bénazéraf and Franco had their similarities. Bénazéraf’s use of Baker’s erratic free jazz in both films being one, seeming almost co-directorial at times in the same way Franco would begin to utilize music around the same time. As Franco remembered, Baker began describing the transcendental head space a jazz player enters while playing a solo:

When you’re playing a solo, you’re inspired. By something. It could be someone you love, or someone that’s there. And you play on, and you get the impression that you’re living something unreal. Love stories you’ve never really had, or experiences that are superb and dreamlike. And you get a feeling like when then say a drowning man sees his whole life, all his desires, everything flash before his eyes. Then the solo’s over and you raise your head and barely three minutes have passed. I am always thrown when this happens. I feel like I’ve got to get out of this game and go live these amazing emotions and experiences. And then the same idiot’s sitting in front of you either listening or not, and nothing’s happened. Except inside of you.”(3)

Entranced by Baker’s musings, Franco began envisioning a film taking place in such a state of mind. Originally entitled “Black Angel”(3), Franco initially modeled Jimmy, the central trumpet player of Venus in Furs on Miles Davis, Davis’ 1960 album Sketches of Spain being one of Franco’s favorite jazz albums (5). The romance of the film no doubt inspired in part by Davis’ romance with French chanteuse Juliette Gréco. Franco and co-writer/producer Harry Allan Towers immediately ran into issues with the interracial aspect of the love story from potential distributors who feared audiences weren’t ready for an on-screen romance between a black man and a white woman (3). If the genders were reversed however, there didn’t seem to be any problems. Forced to retool, Franco then thought back to Baker and his famous withdrawn, melancholic demeanor for Jimmy, with an added element of Jimmy having a black mistress, Rita, played by Barbara McNair, to the story. Franco basing that relationship on Baker’s whirlwind European romances with his various mistresses (3). Although hesitant at first, Darren ultimately won Franco over for the role of Jimmy, Darren actually having known Baker a bit (3). Darren also passed Franco’s final test, playing a piece on the trumpet note-for-note, Darren having a background on the instrument (3) despite being more known for pop fare such as “Goodbye Cruel World” and “Her Royal Majesty”. Alongside Darren, Rohm and McNair’s actual physical co-stars Klaus Kinski, Dennis Price and Margaret Lee, oftentimes stealing the entire show is the music composed for the film by Manfred Mann [ii].

Darren and Manfred Mann.

An exotic, at times morose and frankly stunning fusion of jazz and psychedelic soundtrack ambiance, the Venus in Furs score was written by Mann and his longtime writing partner and bandmate Mike Hugg. In a bit of an in-between phase at the time sandwiched between the eponymous Manfred Mann, known for hit pop covers such as “Do Wah Ditty” and “Mighty Quinn” and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Mann and Hugg, along with a band of studio musicians who had recorded commercial jingles with the two (6) recorded the score during their much more jazz-based “Manfred Mann Chapter III” guise. Recording took place a few months prior to the November 1969 release of the first, self-titled Manfred Mann Chapter III album. An early version of a track entitled “Jump Before You Think” that wound up on the second and last Manfred Mann Chapter Three album, Volume Two (1970), made its first appearance on the Venus in Furs soundtrack (6), Mann himself even appears in the film as a pianist in numerous scenes playing alongside Darren and Franco who plays a trombone in the band scenes. Complimentary of not only Mann’s talents as a musician and contributions to the film, Franco praised Mann for standing apart from the other “jokers” in contemporary rock and pop at the time (3) and for his knowledge of jazz. “He knew it well” (3) Franco fondly recalled, remembering Mann playing Thelonious Monk on the piano during down time on the set.(3) Venus in Furs may have been the first film where Franco consciously composed the film in the near hallucinatory state-of-mind induced by playing a jazz solo as described by Baker, however Franco had already traversed similar musical states of consciousness.

Made prior to Venus in Furs, Succubus (1968) or Necronomicon, could be seen as Franco’s first “free jazz” narrative, feeling improvisational at times. Opening with a sadomasochistic nightclub act starring Lorna (Jeanine Reynaud), a performer under a Faustian possession of sorts, compelled to kill at the behest of a mysterious figure (Michel Lemoine), the film drifts from one surreal scenario to the next, Franco seemingly improvising on a theme [iii]. As much as Reynaud is being directed by Franco, the rhythm of the film is equally directed by the music. Arranged and conducted by Dutch composer Jerry Van Rooyen, much of the score for Succubus was sourced from Austian composer Friedrich Gulda’s 1965 album Music for 4 Soloists and Band No. 1. Like Franco’s signature brand of genre film, which was pulling from multiple sources for inspiration, Gulda’s compositions heard throughout Succubus were hybrids, merging jazz with classical, or “Third stream”. “One of Europe’s best modern composers”(7) according to Franco, despite being trained as a classical pianist, and one of the most renowned in Europe, Gulda could hardly be described as a staunch classicist. Gulda and Franco in fact had rather similar temperaments that irked the more rigidly classically-minded in their chosen disciplines [iv]. Similar to Franco’s improvised flights of fancy being dismissed as slapdash or a waste of talent, Gulda too was often accused of throwing away his talents by walking away from a secure, albeit stifling, as Gulda saw it, career as a classical concert pianist, jazz and improvisation offering Gulda what he described as the “absolute contrast to the pale, academic approach I had been taught”(8)[v]. Gulda had his criticisms of jazz too, feeling jazz also tended to limit itself to forms “far too schematic”(9) and would also benefit from a classical intersection. The Music for 4 Soloists and Band No. 1 album was conceived by Gulda as a reaction to the lack of interaction between jazz and classical as he saw it, Gulda laying out his own vision of classical/jazz fusion in the album’s liner notes:

The constriction of jazz forms as we know them can be enlarged not only by their destruction but also by enriching them through the great classical forms. To me, as a European, the later appears to be the more fruitful way. I feel that the possibilities offered to jazz by our great European musical tradition have, until today, not even begun to be exploited. These possibilities are not only untapped, they are fresh and new.”(9)

Music 4 Soloists album cover.

Gulda’s ethos of breaking down forms was certainly shared by Franco, who admitted to never being one for more traditional forms of cinema. “I look to take every available risk”(7) Franco rightly claimed, a philosophy instilled in Franco by Orson Welles who believed film should continuously reinvent itself to avoid audience boredom (7). “I think that it’s important to make new things. That’s what we are here for!”(7), exclaimed Franco in 2010. Franco’s sentiments resemble those of Miles Davis, who would instruct his bands not to “play the idea that’s there, play the next idea”(10) or “Don’t play what’s there. Play what’s not there”(10). While Franco’s penchant for experimentation can be found in every particular era of his work, Franco’s destruction of the constriction of cinematic forms, to improvise on Gulda’s words, became most explicit in the final period of his career from 1999 to 2013. Shooting on digital video and free from any commercial restraints, Franco developed an even more personal style of free jazz filmmaking. Further challenging the traditional notions of film, titles such as Vampire Blues (1999), Vampire Junction (2001) and Flores de perversión (Flowers of Perversion, 2005) represent Franco at his most avant-garde and inaccessible. Nevertheless, beneath the digital abstractions and visual mutations remained the favorite themes and obsessions that drove Franco’s classic works. Not unlike how John Coltrane would still include “My Favorite Things” in his later sets, taking the favorite standard into nearly unrecognizable stellar regions with Pharaoh Sanders, Rashied Ali and wife Alice.

Franco’s visual and narrative free jazz narrative ventures reached their apex with his penultimate feature work Paula-Paula (2010). Advertised as an “audio-visual experience”, Franco went so far as to call Paula-Paulaone of the top two or three weirdest films” he’d ever made, the weight of such a claim not lost on him (7). Paula-Paula was also to be the final screen appearance for Lina Romay, Franco’s wife and muse, prior to her 2012 passing as Detective Alma Pereira interrogating dancer Paula (Carmen Montes) regarding an assault on her striptease act partner, also named Paula, leaving the second Paula dead. As Romay exits the picture following the roughly six-or-so minute rough sketch of a plot outline, so too does any resemblance to traditional filmmaking, the ensuing hour described by Stephen Thrower in his second volume on Franco as more akin to “video instillation art than a piece of cinema”(11). While a good number of Franco’s films from the digital video era do veer towards experimental video art, the descriptor is most suited to Paula-Paula, Franco obscuring the definitions and obliterating the boundaries between experimental film and video. “I could create without pushing things this far…”(7) said Franco of Paula-Paula, explaining:

“I don’t mean “this far” in an erotic sense- where I already have an unfair reputation. But also in the sense of – all the senses. In an aesthetic sense, the framing, planning, editing, everything… I conceived and created this movie with total freedom. This is essential. And is getting to be more unique in this day and age. Those of us who make movies have to make them our way…”(7)

Franco would also claim that although nobody sings (only partially true as Montes lightly whisper sings to herself early in the film) Paula-Paula is really a musical (7). Indeed, Paula-Paula is perhaps the most musical of Franco’s works. In some ways the film could even be seen as Franco innovating his own long form music video as Paula-Paula is a “jazz film” in the purest sense. Even more so than Venus in Furs or Succubus in that the visual component of the audio-visual experience was specifically composed around the music. It was Gulda once again composing Franco’s imagery 42 years after Succubus, Franco dedicating the film to the maestro Gulda’s memory. Gulda died in January of 2000, however following his passing Franco received a CD from Gulda’s estate featuring music written and recorded by Gulda along with the rights for Franco to use the tracks in any film project (11). With Gulda’s tracks as a foundation, Franco’s directorial and editorial approach was pure improvisation, Franco building on previously edited segments, imagery and music never remaining consistent (11) like live improvised solos changing with each new performance. Described by Franco as music for a “jazz orchestra”(7), Franco gets quite a bit of mileage out of a piece entitled “The Veiled Old Land”. Previously heard on Gulda’s 1964 album From Vienna with Jazz! [vi] Saxophonist Sahib Shihab, who also featured on the Music for 4 Soloists and Band No. 1 album, really smokes on this piece, which provides much of the scorching big band jazz sound heard throughout Paula-Paula. Gulda’s music also works in movements, several of the big band crashes segued into by solo Spanish flavored acoustic guitar. “The Veiled Old Land” itself is a piece of many shifting moods. Franco is particularly, and unsurprisingly so, fond of what sounds like Gulda’s referencing of Miles’ interpretation of “Concierto de Aranjuez”, the opening track on Sketches of Spain, featured prominently early in the film.

Paula-Paula credits Gulda dedication.

Like Miles’ searing Agharta (1975) or one of Coltrane’s later, posthumously released free jazz freak-outs like Om (1968) which still prove a challenge to even seasoned listeners, Paula-Paula, like the whole of Franco’s later, digital output, continues to split Franco’s already fairly niche fanbase. By contrast, Al otro lado del espejo (The Other Side of the Mirror, 1973) enjoys more of a Kind of Blue (1959) or A Love Supreme (1965) reputation by Franco fans. One of Franco’s finest films from one of his most prolific periods and featuring what might be the finest performance given in the Franco canon from Emma Cohen, Al otro lado del espejo could be seen as a cousin film to Venus in Furs, centering on another doomed jazz musician, Ana (Cohen), a talented young pianist who runs away to the city in the depths of despair following the suicide of her father (Vernon) prior to her wedding. Playing piano and singing with a band, Ana is still unable to overcome the grief and memory of her father. Plagued with reoccurring visions of his hanging corpse in a mirror, Ana enters a trance-like state, compelled to murder whenever confronted with feelings of affection or attraction for a man. Unlike Venus in Furs, and much of Succubus for that matter, which both seemed to take place within a parallel, otherworldly realm, or within the solo for the entirety of the film, Al otro lado del espejo plays out more like an extended piece or suite. Ana’s murderous trances of course being the individual solos where Franco seemingly suspends time and space before settling back into the main theme or melody. Al otro lado del espejo certainly shares the same melancholic disposition of Venus in Furs, with both Ana and Jimmy running away yet ultimately only inching closer to their own personal voids. The tragic escapism of Venus in Furs permeates even thicker in Al otro lado del espejo, particularly as Ana grows even more sullen, Franco concluding both films on similar notes as the solo, or sense of unreality crescendos to a devastating reveal.

Co-starring along with Cohen as her trumpeter bandmate and one of her unfortunate never-to-be suitors is Robert Woods, an American actor who appeared in several films for Franco around the time. Like Darren, Woods also had a bit of a background on the trumpet, though he waited until after Franco had instructed him on how to play a certain piece to pleasantly surprise the director with his musical talents (12). Central to Al otro lado del espejo is Roger Sarbib’s composition “Madeira Love” taken from Sarbib’s 1970 LP of the same name. A French-born pianist, Sarbib is most known for bringing the “big band” sound to Portugal (13), the song “Madeira Love” a love-letter to the region which held special meaning for Franco as well. The track is given a few iterations in the film, from a somber, solo piano rendition heard during the opening credits to one of the most memorable Franco music moments, a full band performance with vocals and extended instrumental breaks. Sarbib even appears twice later in the film, first as a drunken bar patron and playing the piano at the same bar a few scenes later. Vocalist and drummer Tony Cruz, the original singer on Sarbib’s album as well as the 7” Madeira Love EP also appears behind the kit in the film on stage with Cohen and Woods [vii], though his vocal track is not used, Cohen’s obviously lip-synced singing overdubbed by an uncredited female vocalist. “Madeira Love” would continue to feature in Franco’s films, an acoustic rendition even appearing in Franco’s final feature Al Pereira vs. the Alligator Ladies (2012). Of course, any given number of Franco films follow similar beats as Al otro lado del espejo or Venus in Furs with or without a jazz connection, Franco’s musical directorial style being what it was.

Tony Cruz on stage with Cohen and Woods in Al otro lado del espejo.

Throughout his career, Franco also had other, more subtle ways of expressing his not only his love but also his deep knowledge of jazz, his bottomless grab-bag of pseudonyms being one of his most clever. One of Franco’s favorite trumpet players, “Clifford Brown” also became one of Franco’s favorite nom de plumes. Brown died in a car accident at the age of 25 in 1956 yet was a big player in early 50’s jazz, forming a quintet with Max Roach, saxophonist Sonny Rollins eventually joining in. Despite his young age, Brown was renowned for a refined improvisational technique and for being “as inventive on melodic ballads as he was on rapid jams”(14). Although having a distinctly American sound when compared with Gulda’s Third stream experiments or Sketches of Spain, Brown’s 1955 classic Hollywood soundtrack-esque album With Strings, made in collaboration with composer Neal Hefti, is nevertheless worth highlighting as another early fusion of jazz and classical. “JP Johnson”, another frequently used Franco alias, also has its roots in jazz, James P. Johnson being a pioneering pianist, inventor of the “Harlem stride” piano style (15). Johnson also penned “The Charleston”, the song that spawned the dance craze of the same name (15).

Clifford Brown and James P. Johnson.

Other deep cuts include “Betty Carter” the name Franco christened himself for hardcore Dynasty riff Phollastía (1987)(11), a hat tip to the jazz vocalist of the same name. Renowned for her abstract approach to singing, Carter possessed her own cadence (16). Much like Franco’s radical takes on classic horror characters like Dracula or Frankenstein have been branded by more conservatively-minded horror fans, Carter’s interpretation of standards could be “could be torturous”(17) for jazz purists. Franco reserved the name “Lennie Hayden” for his hardcore Falcon Crest parody Phalo Crest (1987)(11), a slight variation on Lennie Hayton, the music director for MGM Studios from 1943 to 1953 (18) and husband of jazz singer Lena Horne. Franco would also evoke the name of “Dave Tough”, a Chicago-based drummer of the big-band era for his hodgepodge of a Sade adaptation Juliette 69 (1975)(11). Like Johnson’s influence on pianists up and down the US east coast, Tough’s style would become synonymous with the early Chicago swing style of jazz (19). By far Franco’s most arcane nod to the jazz world is the “Raymond Dubois”[viii] editor credit on Women Behind Bars (1975)(11). Raymond Dubois being a Paris-based manufacturer of reed and woodwind instruments named from the clarinetist who founded the company (20).

After working more-or-less nonstop since Tenemos 18 años, Franco suddenly found himself with the most downtime of his career in the early-to-mid 90’s. Said decade got off to a few false starts for Franco, with crime film Downtown Heat (Ciudad baja, 1994), originally set to be released in 1990, getting stuck in litigation for nearly four years (11) and Jungle of Fear (1993) never making it past the work print stage. Franco’s comeback began with a musical connection, though like his earlier musicals, Killer Barbys (1996), a bizarre comedic horror punk retelling of the classic Bathory tale, proved left-field even for Franco. Follwing Killer Barbys, Franco’s relative inactivity came to an end, Franco beginning his association with American producer Kevin Collins’ One Shot Productions in 1997, becoming as prolific as he’d been in the past. Though he was always quick to deny balancing multiple projects at once (despite first-hand witness testimony from actors involved), Franco was, much like Coltrane christened drummer Rashied Ali, multi-directional (21) in his work process and mindset. Around the same time as mounting some of his first projects for One Shot, Franco somehow managed to find the time to return to his first love of music and enter the studio, releasing two albums of “Cinematic B-Film Jazz” credited to “Jess Franco and His B-Band”[ix] in 1997, The Crazy World of Jess Franco and The Manacoa Experience. Though he passed the same year both albums were recorded and released, the presence of composer Daniel J. White is intentionally felt on both The Crazy World of Jess Franco and The Manacoa Experience. Franco and White’s collaborations began in the 60’s, White contributing music to an innumerable amount of films and on occasion even appearing on-screen as an actor for Franco. “No other composer worked more often with me and his music compliments some of my most well known efforts”(22) Franco said of White, whom he described as “a close friend and for many decades, a dear companion”(22).

Released on Spanish label Subterfuge Records, The Crazy World of Jess Franco is, like a lot of the variant cuts of Franco’s films, somewhat of a Frankenstein creation. Using master tracks from past scores written and recorded by White for his films, Franco, along with pianist Javier Caffarena who provides new, additional arrangements, offer their own variations on White’s original themes. Given its patchwork production, each track features its own unique set of players, the “B-Band” in truth being Franco, Caffarena and whomever the session players on White’s master recordings happened to be. Save of course for Franco, Caffarena and White via his old master tapes, very few of the credited musicians, which include pianist Art Simmons, organist Maurice Vander, Hubert Rostaing on flute and Pedro Iturralde, W. Boucana and Guy Laffite on individual tenor saxophones, appear on more than one track on the album or together as a band unit. “Please Take Your Hair Off”, originally written by White for Franco’s Shining Sex (1975), opens the album, driven by Laffite’s tenor sax and a deep bass groove. The light, almost subtle touches of electric piano emit the lounge and nightclub ambiance so familiar to Franco’s films. Less subtle however is the bizarre horror-esque organ that gets dropped into the jazz lounge on occasion during the song, Franco’s “B-Film Jazz” certainly far from traditional. Second song “Bee-Thru Panties” from Pick-Up Girls (La chica de las bragas transparentes, 1981) has a whimsical, drunken breeziness, sounding tailor-made for a striptease scenario with Rostaing’s flute track in dialogue with Franco.

An album highlight, third track “Take Third and Fifth” is also the one song where Franco and Caffarena present the track exactly as White originally recorded with no alterations. Though dating back to The Sadistic Baron Von Klaus (La mano de un hombre muerto, 1962), the album version can be heard in a few Franco titles including Sadomania (1981) and Two Female Spies With Flowered Panties (Ópalo de fuego, 1980). A scorching lounge/jazz jam with more even more upfront electric piano, the track is really a showcase for both Iturralde’s soloing and main tenor sax melody and tone. The later giving the song a slightly exotic noir twist. Written for Midnight Party (1976), “It’s a Shit Life”, a variation of the slogan written on the wall of Soledad Miranda’s room (“Life is all shit”) in Nightmares Come at Night (Les Cauchemars naissent la nuit, 1970), was recorded by White with his own jazz orchestra. Carried by a sleazy big band stomp underneath equally sleazy, screaming horns, the song also features the album’s first brief moment of vocals performed by actor Alain Petit. Alongside “Take Third and Fifth” as an album centerpiece is “Hot Cat on a Cool Roof”. A lush, erotic tenor sax and piano ballad, the song features two piano solos, one by White, the melody of which was first heard in Women Behind Bars (1975), with additional piano flourishes from Caffarena and a trombone credit for Franco, the layered production making a rather ethereal bed of keys and brass. “Ballad for a Bad Girl”, heard in Camino solitario (1984), brings a blues feel to its woozy big band flute jazz march while penultimate song “Pussy Party” from El hotel de los ligues (The Hotel of Love Affairs, 1983) evokes the aura of tropical European hotel lounges. “Pepito El Ràpido” from Franco’s Confesiones íntimas de una exhibicionista (Intimate Confessions of an Exhibitionist, 1983) concludes the album in a somewhat similar fashion, carried by a jovial flute melody and cocktail lounge-ready organs, though a few moments of silence reveal a hidden track, a more rocking version of “It’s a Shit Life” with another vocal take from Petit.

Rather than once again build off of previously recorded material as he did on The Crazy World of Jess Franco, for his second excursion into “Cinematic B-Film Jazz” The Manacoa Experience, recorded and released the same year on the brilliantly named German label Crippled Dick Hot Wax!, Franco composed an album of freshly written material. Each song on The Manacoa Experience finds Franco drawing musical inspiration from his past films, or songs that are, as Franco’s main producer and distributor at the time Kevin Collins describes as “inspired by the characteristics and stories which have been shuttling about the Franco galaxy for two score years”(23). The Manacoa Experience, named after Franco’s own production company Manacoa Films, also features an actual, very big 14-piece band, Franco conducting his own mini-jazz orchestra from behind his own set of keys, the ensemble including Clark Terry on trumpet, Maurice Vander on piano with Adolfo Waitzman handling additional piano, Carlos Pino on electric guitar, Luis “El Chepa” on Spanish guitar, Carlos Benevent on acoustic guitar and bass, Beny Candela on drums and percussion, Manuel Arrabal on a second drum kit as well as timpani, Augstin Carillo on saxophone and flute, Malik Jakub also handling saxophone and clarinet, Don Surman on baritone sax and bass clarinet, secondary trumpet from Frank McDonald, Juan Cortes on yet another trumpet and mellophone and Beltran Andreu on trombone. Both Terry and Vander lend their names to the energetic opening song “Vander of Terry” inspired by the legally compromised Downtown Heat. Intentionally dominated by a 60’s big band jazz sound (22), Candela’s percussion adds a Latin flavor while Vander’s soloing is of the light, modern lounge-esque variety Franco is so fond of.

Described by Franco as a “stereotypical striptease blues”(22), “Keep Cool, Candy” written with Downtown (1975) in mind, recalls “Take Third and Fifth” with its “special nightclub atmosphere”(22), “very noir”(22) as Franco states, and a saxophone riff inspired by Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther theme (22). Inspired by Venus in Furs, Franco calls “Manacoa Fire” “the dialogue between two worlds”(22). “I love variety and mixing things in weird and unobvious, surprising ways”(22) Franco also said in regards to the track. “Manacoa Fire” certainly is indicative of that mentality, consisting mostly of Franco’s B-horror keys and flute, the soundscape created by the two both surreal and uneasy. Equally bizarre is “Cain and Abel”. Written as Franco was preparing One Shot project Mari-Cookie and the Killer Tarantula (1998), the “Cain” in the title is a reference to crime fiction writer James M. Cain (22) whereas “Abel” is Franco’s nod to director Abel Ferrara, “an incredible director”(22) as Franco states. Franco’s keys are once again fairly prominent in the mix, set against a backdrop of tropical percussion and touches of Pino’ electric guitar, the track ending with an Elvin Jones-conjuring drum workout. Surman’s textural additions to the track also recall Benny Mauphin’s creeping moments on Miles’ Bitches Brew (1970). Certainly the song bound to garner the most attention among seasoned Francophiles, or the song “most central to the spirit”(23) of the album is “Recordando te Soledad”. As the title indicates, the song is Franco’s musical eulogy to first muse Soledad Miranda, the “shining and tragic”(22) star of some of Franco’s most iconic titles such as Vampyros Lesbos and She Killed in Ecstasy (1971). Franco described Miranda as having a “primitive instinct”(22) and “a very clear and clever mind”(22). Further describing Miranda and his intentions in writing the song, Franco explained:

She indeed left a tremendous impression on me and over the years almost became a mythological figure with a cult following… Soledad Miranda was a very spontaneous half gypsy, half-Andalusian girl… She was just letting herself float through life. She was very sentimental and very carnal at the same time. I tried to show all those elements through the music she loved. The ballads, the real Brazilian music and also her flamenco music. It was tremendously difficult to translate her spirit into the tune but I think I eventually succeeded. I hope that when you hear this music you will understand her personality a bit better.”(22)

Miranda’s effervescent personality as described by Franco is resurrected throughout the windswept island atmospherics of “Recordando te Soledad”. Defined by tribal-esque percussion, flamenco styled guitars and dizzying flute workouts, the song also features faint, almost chanted vocals serenading the songs namesake. “Recordando te Soledad” is followed-up with another homage track, “Quentin”[x], Franco writing the song as a thanks to Quentin Tarantino, Franco stating “Quentin Tarantino’s script for From Dusk ’til Dawn (1996) opens with a kind of homage to me and my films.[xi] I want to give back this this tribute with some sort of trashy blues (22). With The Diabolical Dr. Z (Miss Muerte, 1965) in mind, Franco’s particular brand of “trashy blues” on the track harkens back to some of the laid back hotel/cocktail jazz lounge sounds heard on The Crazy World of Jess Franco with Surman once again filling the same role as in “Cain and Abel”, providing slight, almost hidden low-end brass. The third tribute track in a row comes in the form of “Doll Figure Knight” which was written by Miki Serra, founder of Spanish band Sexy Sadie who had previously featured on the Killer Barbys soundtrack. The title of the song is a reference to Don Quixote [xii], Franco paying musical respects to Orson Welles. Only a few years removed from editing Welles unfinished film adaptation of Don Quixote (1992), Franco pushes the Spanish and Latin influences of the song to the forefront with triumphant Mexican trumpets in an attempt to “capture the spirit of both men”(22), both being Welles and Quixote. The memory of Daniel White returns on “Black Countess”, the title derived from the original French title of Female Vampire (1973), “La comtesse noire”. Retaining White’s sorrowful original melody, “arranging and playing it in a much more pop and trash style”(22) to “cover a little bit of the extreme, almost kitschy romanticism of the track”(22), heavy brass, piano and a lush sax solo conclude the track, a tribute to both White and Lina Romay who both “followed [Franco] in the good and bad times”(22).

Following the release of both albums Franco would continue to re-purpose musical pieces heard in previous films like some of his favorite narrative devices, adding in cuts from his recent studio work. The full band version of “Hot Cat on a Cool Roof” was given a prominent showcase during the conclusion of Snakewoman (2005) whereas both “It’s a Shit Life” and “Ballad for a Bad Girl” were heard in Franco’s final Marquis de Sade inspired work Flores de perversión. Sade, Franco’s favorite author, factors into the one non-LP release attributed to “Jess Franco and His B-Band”, Exoteric. Released as a limited edition 7” single on Subterfuge also in 1997, the B-side of the single is a recycle of “Please Take Off Your Hair” from The Crazy World of Jess Franco, however the A-side “Sex And Mystic Of M. Sade” is another one of Franco’s layered mash-up’s in the same vein as The Crazy World of Jess Franco and even feels more experimental than any of the tracks on the album. Opening with what actually resembles 80’s Robert Fripp, ethereal synths work in tandum with a familiar hypnotic trumpet melody with slashes of sax, a bass-driven funk groove seamlessly seguing into White’s imposing cathedral organ theme composed for The Sadist of Notre Dame (El sádico de Notre-Dame, 1979) which serves as the outro. The Exoteric single is not to be confused with the soundtrack album to Franco’s Tender Flesh, released as “Exoteric Tender Flesh” also on Subterfuge, though “Sex And Mystic Of M. Sade” is the opening song on the soundtrack release. Potentially confusing things even more are the two compilation albums, released in 1998 and 2003 respectively by Subterfuge, both entitled “Sex And Mystic Of Marqués De Sade” with the track of the same name appearing on both releases. Franco also has scattered appearances and credits on two other Subterfuge compilations, Musica Para Un Guateque Sideral (2002), Cóctel 2002 – Rockdelux Presenta Música Para Un Guateque Sideral (2002) as well as a 1998 Crippled Dick Hot Wax! compilation Crippled Champions – The Crippled Bargain (The Soundtrack Generation & The Young Nerds Generation) and several writing credits on both volumes of White’s 1984 Mood Selection Ambiance albums.

Contextualizing Miles Davis’ 1957 compilation album Birth of the Cool, jazz historian Pete Welding wrote “In jazz, as in other musics, some things are of their time, some ahead of it, while others simply know no time at all”(24). Davis of course checked all three boxes throughout each era of his career from the early nonet days to his landmark early 70’s electric fusion. Although Franco is unlikely to ever receive the mainstream critical re-appraisal that even Miles’ most reviled albums in their time have undergone, and seeing as how late most critics were to Miles’ electric party they’re not missed, Franco’s work also meets such criteria. Franco’s films certainly bare the aesthetic hallmarks of the era in which they were made, be it the décor and fashion unique to the early-to-mid 70’s or the abstract post-production image distortions of the later 90’s and 2000’s digital era. Yet so unique was Franco in his filtration of influences, many of Franco’s films also share the quality Welding attributed to Davis of knowing no time at all [xiii], seemingly impervious outside influence and any sense of genre restrictions. Franco as a recording artist is certainly a more niche prospect than as a filmmaker, yet Franco’s recorded efforts also share this singular trait. Even with Franco’ stated influences in the liner notes, Franco’s “B-Film Jazz” is a fusion of sounds entirely unique to The Crazy World of Jess Franco and The Manacoa Experience albums, sounding like nothing else in jazz either before, during or after 1997. More than novelties or curiosities, both are musical extensions of Franco’s directorial approach. An approach which, years after Franco’s 2013 passing, continues to be proven by time to be miles ahead and beyond mainstream mediocrity.

[i]. When interviewer Alex Mindibil compared Bénazéraf with Alain Robbe-Grillet, whom Franco was a great admirer of, Franco’s response was “Come one, man! Don’t put them in the same box! Bénazéraf was what the French call a “marchand de soupe”, a fraud. He was technically capable but had no real talent.” “Marchand de soupe” being a slang term essentially meaning swill peddler.

[ii]. The Venus in Furs soundtrack never received a physical release. In 2019 tracks written and recorded by Mann and Hugg for the score were compiled on the Manfred Mann Chapter III compilation album Radio Days Vol. 3: Live Sessions & Studio Rarities released on the East Central One Limited label through the BBC.

[iii]. Jazz giant (literally and figuratively) Charles Mingus is namechecked in one such scenario in Succubus during a surreal word association game between Reynaud and veteran Franco actor Howard Vernon.

[iv]. Gulda could be seen as almost proto-metal in his antagonizing of the classical establishment of his day, from the length of his hair to his choice of wardrobe. Like Franco, Gulda also had a penchant for pseudonyms, fooling critics and the public for years recording vocal songs under the name “Albert Golowin”.

[v]. Gulda’s statements regarding the stifling attitudes of classical purists are somewhat similar to that of Miles Davis, who rather infamously referred to modern classical musicians as “robots” in his 1989 autobiography Miles, proclaiming improvisation to be the future.

[vi]. Gulda also recorded the “waltz” portion from “The Veiled Old Land” with a three-piece line-up on his album Gulda Jazz (1964) the same year as From Vienna with Jazz!

[vii]. Franco is Cohen’s substitute at the piano in certain scenes.

[viii]. Though unrelated to jazz, the Sadean connotations of the “Dubois” name are worth pointing out, Dubois being the leader of a band of thieves in Sade’s Justine, adapted by Franco in 1968, the first of many Sade adaptations by Franco.

[ix]. Perhaps a nod to Gulda and “His Big Band” as the front cover of From Vienna With Jazz! reads.

[x]. Note that both the 1997 Crippled Dick Hot Wax! CD as well as the 1998 vinyl release of The Manacoa Experience feature incorrect track listings, both listing track 3, “Manacoa Fire” as “Quentin” and track 6, the actual “Quinten” as “Manacoa Fire”. Relatively minor compared to the mess that is the “official” audio uploaded to YouTube which, along with featuring the same incorrect sequencing also has incorrect audio accompanying each track.

[xi]. Tarantino’s screenplay for From Dusk ’til Dawn begins with a quote from Franco’s Female Vampire: “I earnestly wish an end would come to this bloody race I am forced to run.”

[xii]. In the book Quixote is given the moniker “The Knight of the Woeful Countenance” or “sad figure”. Franco deriving “Doll Figure Knight” from “Sad Figure Knight”.

[xiii]. Franco’s film The Hot Nights of Linda (Les nuits brûlantes de Linda, 1975) even features a line of dialogue uttered by Romay: “It’s marvelous to live without a sense of time.”

1. “Jess Franco”. October 27, 2009. https://www.avclub.com/jess-franco-1798218099

2. “In Memory of Jess Franco May 12 1930-April 2, 2013.”
https://musiquefantastique.com/further-examinations/in-memory-of-jess-franco/. 2013.

“Jesús in Furs: Interview with Director Jess Franco.” Blue Underground. 2005.

4. “I DON’T GIVE A SHIT”: A New Interview with Jess Franco!” November 4, 2009.
https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/cinemadrome/i-don-39-t-give-a-shit-a-new-interview-with-jess-f-t805.html

5. Thrower, Stephen. “Murderous Passions: The Delirious Cinema of Jesús Franco Volume 1”. Strange Attractor Press. May 1, 2015.

6. Mann, Manfred. Russo, Greg. East Central One Limited. 2019.

7. “Jess Franco on Paula-Paula”. Severin Films. 2010.

8. “Gulda Reasserts His Claim to Fame”. September 29, 1985.
https://www.nytimes.com/1985/09/29/arts/gulda-reasserts-his-claims-to-fame.html

9. Gulda, Freidrich. SABA Records. 1965

10. Tingen, Paul. “Miles Beyond: Electric Explorations of Miles Davis, 1967-1991”. Billboard Books. May 1, 2001.

11. Thrower, Stephen. “Flowers of Perversion: The Delirious Cinema of Jesús Franco Volume 2”. Strange Attractor Press. March 26, 2019.

12. Robert Woods Interview. Mondo Macabro. 2012.

13. Encyclopedia of Music in Portugal in the 20th Century. Universidade NOVA de Lisboa. 2010.

14. Yanow, Scott. Blue Note Records.

15. “Runnin’ Wild: A Biography of James P. Johnson”.
https://riverwalkjazz.stanford.edu/?q=program/runnin-wild-biography-james-p-johnson

16. “Betty Carter, Innovative Jazz Vocalist, Is Dead at 69”.
https://www.nytimes.com/1998/09/28/arts/betty-carter-innovative-jazz-vocalist-is-dead-at-69.html. September 28, 1998.

17. Hamlin, Jessie. “Betty Carter Did It Her Way With Scat-Singing Style”.
https://www.sfgate.com/entertainment/article/Betty-Carter-Did-It-Her-Way-With-Scat-Singing-2988889.php. September 28. 1998.

18. “Lennie Hayton, Composer, Dies; Was Husband of Lena Horne.”
https://www.nytimes.com/1971/04/25/archives/lennie-hayton-composer-dies-was-husband-of-lena-horne.html. April 25, 1971.

19. “Nearly a century ago, Dave Tough helped define Chicago jazz drumming”.
https://chicagoreader.com/music/nearly-a-century-ago-dave-tough-helped-define-chicago-jazz-drumming/. November 19, 2020.

20. “Raymond DUBOIS”.
http://luthiervents.blogspot.com/2011/09/raymond-dubois-raymond-maurice-dubois.html. September 21, 2011

21. “Rashied Ali (1935 – 2009), multi-directional drummer, speaks”.
https://www.artsjournal.com/jazzbeyondjazz/2009/08/rashied_ali_1935_-_2009_multi.html. August 13, 2009.

22. Franco, Jess. “Back from Manacoa!” Crippled Dick Hot Wax. 1997.

23. Collins, Kevins. Coughlan, Kelli. “The Music of Manacoa”. Crippled Dick Hot Wax. 1997.

24. Welding, Pete. Capitol Jazz. 1957.