Tamar Korn introduced a new song to us the other night at The Lost Church (65 Capp Street, San Francisco) — “new” although it was made famous by Marion Harris in 1920: I’M A JAZZ VAMPIRE.


Being a Jazz Vampire circa 1920 had nothing to do with phlebotomy.  Rather, a vampire (shortened to “vamp”) was a woman with powerful sexual allure, a femme fatale, a seductress who used her powers for her own advantage.  Tamar is far too gentle, too good-natured to take advantage of anyone, so she sings this song with a wink at us.  Because it wasn’t always easy to catch the lyrics as they went by, I am reprinting them below — with the patter in the middle of the song, very amusing in itself.


“Say, did you ever hear the saxophone let out an awful moan? / Let out an awful groan? / It makes you feel so nervous, yet it’s great. / It’s the saxophone a-callin’ to his mate. / Lest we forget: the clarinet. / Now listen for a minute and the birth of jazz you’ll hear. / And where there is a little jazz, you’ll always find me near. / For I’m a jazz vampire. / Shake a foot, shake a foot, shake a foot with me and dance, dance. / Dancing is my specialty. / Wise men keep out of my way. / They know I’ll lead ’em astray. / They fall the minute I sway. / I insist you can’t resist a jazz vampire. / Take a tip, take a tip, take a tip from me. / For I am all that evil music has. / Went down to the river, stood on a bank. / Shook my shoulders and the boats all sank. / For I’m the meanest kind of jazz vampire. / I’m the wicked vampire of the jazz.”

“Get up in the morning and I make the coffee bowl, / Ham and eggs turn over, put the crullers in a hole. / Get upon a trolley car, the car begins to sway, / I sit upon a half a dozen laps to start the day. / I walk into the office and I greet the sauna there. / Six or seven elevators go up in the air. / Sit down at my Remington and syncopate the keys. / The fellow by the water stand gets water on the knees. / The boss dictates a letter: “Dear sir, I’d like to state….” / The man who gets the letter has to stop and hesitate. / Now when the day is over and the sun sets in the west, / Say I’m the only little bird who doesn’t go to rest.”

“For I’m a jazz vampire. / Take a tip, take a tip, take a tip from me / For I am all the evil music has. / I stood by the ocean, no one around, / Shook my shoulders and the sun went down. / For I’m the meanest kind of jazz vampire. / I’m the wicked vampire of the jazz.”

Here is Miss Korn, wicked vampire of the jazz, swinging out with Gordon Au, trumpet; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Craig Ventresco, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass.

Be afraid.  Be very afraid!

P.S.  If anyone has a copy of the sheet music with the lyrics, feel free to write in with corrections to the online transcription above.  Somehow “sauna” strikes me as dubious, although all things are possible.  For the first four songs of this glorious evening, click here.

May your happiness increase!


  1. Michael,

    There has been some discussion on the internet about the lyrics of this song on this link

    The best offer for ‘sauna’ is ‘starter’ refering to the man who organised lifts before automation.

    Some of the old records are difficult to hear clearly, if sheet music is found I’ll be back in touch.


  2. Read here the sad end of Marion Harris!

    JoeMc on 12/09/2009 at 01:58PM
    A Jazz Vampire

    The sad end of Marion Harris teaches us all a very important lesson:
    Don’t smoke in bed.
    Back in 1944, the “Queen of the Blues Singers” fell asleep in the Hotel Marquis in New York City, ciggie still glowing, and by the next morning, there weren’t just cigarette ashes for the maid to clean up.
    It was a rather sad end, but maybe not so surprising given the run of bad luck Harris had in the years that followed the heyday of her career. In the span of a few years, she broke her jaw in a fluke accident, her house in London was firebombed by the Nazis with her and her husband still in it, and she developed a neurological disorder that sent her on that fateful trip to New York.
    Twenty years before World War II, however, Marion Harris was one of the most popular singers in America, a woman who not only was the first to record some of the defining standards of the American songbook (“After You’ve Gone,” “It Had to Be You,” and “The Man I Love” among them), but who also was among the first white women to record jazz and blues songs when “race” records were considered off-limits to proper young ladies.
    Have a listen to Marion’s “I’m a Jazz Vampire” and then read on for more about her life and career.

    Marion Harris, born Mary Ellen Harris in 1896, has an extremely sketchy background history for someone of her stature. Some sources say she was born in Indiana, others Kentucky. During her days of stardom, her record company circulated a lot of hokum about her being a descendant of president Benjamin Harrison, but that, at least, has been proven false. Another story is that she ran away from a convent school her parents sent her to (convent schools generally being places where misbehaving young misses were sent for rehabilitation) and never returned, getting jobs singing in movie houses in Chicago.
    What we do know is that she eventually ended up in New York, and at the age of 21, she made her debut in Irving Berlin’s hit show Stop! Look! Listen! Lightning struck twice when she was singled out as one of the highlights of variety king Flo Ziegfeld’s 1915 Midnight Frolic. By 1916, Marion was well-known enough to be courted by record companies, and she began recording for Victor. It was during this early period of her career that she had one of her first big hits, 1919’s “Jazz Baby.”
    Jazz music, formerly known as “jass,” had by the late teens become the new rage as ragtime music began to slip out of favor. Jazz was more raucous than ragtime and more identified with the young; it’s not a coincidence that the dawning 20s became known as the Jazz Age, since jazz represented the freedom that young people, especially women, craved after years of Victorian attitudes. Marion Harris was one of the first white women to sing this music and celebrate this lifestyle. Her vocal style comes more out of the vaudeville house than the house of ill-repute, and Bessie Smith she’s not, but along with bluesy red hot mamas like Sophie Tucker, she did bring the sounds of black America to a wider audience.
    “I’m a Jazz Vampire” was the 1920 follow-up to the hit “Jazz Baby,” and it shares the same drawling trombone and salty lyrics:
    Went down to the river and stood on the bank
    Shook my shoulders and the boats all sank
    (In case any of you Twilight-obsessed youngsters are wondering, by the way, “vampire” in this instance refers to a vamp, a sexy woman who makes men weak, not a sharp-toothed bloodsucker with nice hair.)
    In 1920, Marion Harris left Victor for Columbia Records. A long-standing story is that she left Victor because they would not let her record W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues,” a song she loved but that the record company considered too black. Whether this is true or not (the source is Handy himself, who had a habit of gilding the lily), Harris did record “St. Louis Blues” at Columbia, and it was one of her biggest hits. Soon, lifesize cardboard cutouts of the singer would greet you when you showed up at record shops to buy her new platter. She was a star.
    Marion Harris continued to record and perform throughout the 20s, and her singing style evolved. Her bluesy style began to give way to a crooning style in the late 20s, when she recorded “The Man I Love” and other torchy standards. She appeared in a couple of movies once sound movies arrived, including MGM’s Devil May Care, and performed on radio as “The Little Girl with the Big Voice.” You can get a taste of her later style by watching this.
    On a tour of England in the 30s, Marion met her second husband, a theatrical booker, and she settled in London, all but retired. Maybe if she had kept singing in America, her life wouldn’t have gone into the icky tailspin that it did, but who’s to say? She certainly hit a lot of high marks in her career, which spanned over twenty years.
    A fine CD compilation of Marion Harris’ early material is available from Archeophone Records. See here. Sadly, most of her later music is now out-of-print, but if you can find the ASV/Living Era disc Look for the Silver Lining, you’ll get a nice sample of her later period work.

  3. Hey! I think she says “that sweet coquette – the clarinet”

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