Those who have time, patience, eagerness, can find treasures on eBay: type in “jazz” and “entertainment memorabilia” or “music memorabilia” — as I did. Here are two treasures, each with hints of mystery. First. I have no idea who “Kayo” is or was, what their gender, and so on. A name or a nickname? But Kayo got close to the deities for certain. I’ve seen Earl Hines and Willie “the Lion” Smith autographs fairly plentifully, but not Bud Powell and certainly not Fats Navarro. Of course the autographs do not have to be contemporaneous with each other, but Fats died in July 1950, which suggests a decade, as does the fountain pen.
Opening bid $100, for a very limited time: details here.
The second item is even more mysterious: we are told these photographs were taken by Hans Knopf of PIX — of Billie Holiday with Babe Russin’s Orchestra at the Famous Door, 1941. $1000 or best offer: details here. The only thing I am deeply certain of is that Hans Knopf existed from 1907 to 1967.
and what I presume is the back of the photograph (I believe that the smaller and larger images are the same thing — note the oddly empty room and the two or three people to the right) with notations that leave me skeptical:
Here is yet another photograph by Knopf, advertised as Billie, 1941, and the Famous Door.
Several thoughts. Babe Russin appears on Billie’s sessions in May and June 1938, on August 1941 and February 1942, so their connection is plausible. During those years, no “Babe Russin Orchestra” made commercial records, so there is little evidence to help us figure out the personnel in this photograph. As for the photographs themselves, I see the same (or similar) cloth-backed chairs. But the club, long and narrow, does not look anything like the Famous Door at which the Basie band appeared in 1938. It does more closely resemble the Village Vanguard.
Was it Billie’s gig? In 1941 she was a star, and was she appearing with Russin, but why would the band name be on the marquee? Was Hans there one night when she sat in?
I hypothesize that the annotations on the back of the photograph may not be from 1941, that what was blacked out might be a clue, even if it was only “Property of PIX Photo” and that the emendation to “Famous Door” has more to do with another internet site — with the smaller photograph of Billie for sale — than any evidence by Knopf. (That latter site, selling a “jumbo” photograph, is fascinating for one frosty line only, at the end: If you’re not satisfied this page or Billie Holiday At the Famous Door NY 1941. Jumbo Hans Knopf Pix Photo, you can leave now.
Thank you for visiting.)
This just in . . . and no fooling, from a 2010 entry on a blog called “The Daily Growler,” Hans Knopf, though there’s not much personal info about him, in 1941 was a staff photographer for PIX. During those years his work was in publications all over the place. In later life, Hans became a sports photographer on the first Sports Illustrated staff, where he was from 1956 until 1964 when he died. Hans was celebrity famous when he married Amy Vanderbilt, called the Staten Island Vanderbilt. Hans and Amy lived life to the fullest!
Fine, you say. But this blogpost has “the growlingwolf” tell of his adventures at an Allentown, Pennsylvania “paper show,” for collectors of paper ephemera, where he goes through a box of photographs and finds . . .
The first print I saw was of a black woman with a flower in her hair singing live with the Babe Russo Band, an all White band, at the Sherman House in Chicago. I knew she looked familiar–I turned it over and Hans had marked it “Billie Holiday at the Sherman House, 1941.” Holy shit. I dug deeper.
Now we know. Of course it’s Babe Russin, and it’s the Sherman Hotel . . . but 2020 is going to be a very good year. Mysteries, all delicious, and all allowing us glimpses of people and their relics we would never have seen otherwise.
May your happiness increase!