“CONTINUOUS ENTERTAINMENT”: MR. WETTLING GOES TO WASHINGTON AND PLAYS A GIG (March 1953)

If you’ve been wondering about George Wettling’s whereabouts in the first week of March 1953, all will be revealed to you.  A few days ago, I posted this portrait:

GEORGE WETTLING 3 53

The first urban sleuth to point out that the site was the Washington Monument was Eric Elder. Others agreed.

A second photograph, appearing here for the first time, has this identification on the back:

GEORGE WETTLING

AL SIMMONDS

MARCH 4, 1953

BROWN DERBY

WETTLING AL SIMMONDS March 4, 1953 BROWN DERBY

The picture shows that George was gigging there — see the photograph on the wall behind him, underneath a sign ending with “DIXIE BEAT” and “NOW PRESENTING.” I do not recognize the man portrayed in the second picture but some mysteries related to the other man, smiling at the camera, will be untangled below.

I assumed that these photographs were taken in Massachusetts because they came from a drummer Walt Gifford’s collection, and he was based there at this time. Boston, like other cities, did have a nightclub / restaurant called the Brown Derby — perhaps emulating the Hollywood landmark.

But “Al Simmonds” was still unidentified.  Was he a Boston jazz fan? Only when I began to search without preconceptions (a lesson here?) did I find the threads connecting Wettling, Washington, Simmonds, and the Brown Derby.  Whether the two men were friends before 1953, I can’t say. But George and Al had a show-business link, explicated (not surprisingly) through an artifact for sale on eBay in characteristic eBay prose:

“Wonderful Vintage feature and display type matchbook for The Brown Derby, Washington D.C. / matches with the picture of a brown derby and dancing nude women”:

BROWN DERBY matchbook outside

Peek behind the matches and one would read, “The Brown Derby in the Nation’s capital, where Al Simmonds and George Berg, the two international mad monks of buffoonery cavort with all the cash customers.”  (It appears that George played the piano and Al sang . . . but that is mere conjecture.)

BROWN DERBY matchbook inside

And the seller explains, as one must, that the matchbook “is in VG condition, all 21 matches intact / unstruck.”

What has this to do with George Wettling, drummer?  Now it’s clear that he went down to Washington to play at the Brown Derby and he might have taken in the sights or visited an auto show during the day.  He and Al were photographed outside the club in daylight, presumably before their appearances, but their unrecorded dialogue is lost for ever.

And if the Brown Derby’s advertisement for nude women suggests that Wettling’s career had suddenly plunged, photographs by William P. Gottlieb show that the club featured famous jazz musicians in the Forties.  In May 1946, he photographed John Kirby and Buster Bailey performing there. And I believe that prestigious nightclubs might have offered patrons drinks and dinner, a jazz band, comedians, and pulchritude in profusion.

So now you know it all, or as much as two candid snapshots can reveal.

If anyone asks, “What are you spending so much time looking at that thing — that JAZZ LIVES — for?” you might reply, “It provides continuous entertainment.”  We do our best.

May your happiness increase!

5 responses to ““CONTINUOUS ENTERTAINMENT”: MR. WETTLING GOES TO WASHINGTON AND PLAYS A GIG (March 1953)

  1. Michael P. Zirpolo

    Michael, a very fine tenor saxophonist from Brooklyn was also named George Berg. He played and occasionally soloed with Benny Goodman’s band in the months before the AFM recording ban in 1942.

  2. Excellent sleuthing!! Very entertaining indeed.

  3. Hats off to Michael’s matchless research.

  4. Well, I’m only as good as my unpaid staff — with the final touches put on the investigation by our friend Sonny McGown, who wrote to say, “Walt Gifford spent several years drumming in Washington DC in the 1950’s. He was the house drummer at the Brown Derby in February 1953. Therefore one may conclude that Walt took Geo. out sightseeing and took the photos.”

  5. Mr Steinman – your writing and research inspire me since I recently discovered your blog! Thanks for referencing my grandpa, Bob Effros Trumpeter. Am learning so much more thru reading your current and past blog posts! Cheers, Barbara Effros

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