Tag Archives: Al Jolson

THE MUSIC WAS HOT IN AVALON, BESIDE THE BAY: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON (Evergreen Jazz Festival, July 26, 2019)

The rainbows I associate with the Evergreen Jazz Festival weren’t always in the sky.  More often than not, they appeared on the bandstand and went vibrating towards everyone in the audience, memorably. One of the people I most associate with cosmic phenomena is pianist-singer-composer Carl Sonny Leyland.  People who like to categorize say that Sonny is a fine boogie-woogie and Chicago blues pianist and singer . . . and they would be correct.  But he’s also a rollicking full-spectrum jazz pianist, and one of my great pleasures is listening to him rip into a classic pop song as if he were a large puppy and the song a brand-new chew toy.  Or, once you’ve calmed down after this performance, you may want to invent a more demure metaphor, and I invite you to do so.

I associate AVALON with numberless Benny Goodman small-group performances and Goodman-inspired performances, but the song was “written” and published in 1920 — composer credits Billy Rose, Al Jolson, and Buddy De Sylva (to figure out who actually “wrote” this would tax my five wits, especially since its initial melody came from Puccini’s TOSCA).  However, it remains a reliable uptempo jazz standard for performers with certain associations.

Here is the strain from Puccini, sung by that Caruso fellow:

Hear Sonny, Marty Eggers, string bass, and Jeff Hamilton, drums, make a meal out of it at the Evergreen Jazz Festival:

By the way, no matter what MyLife might say, there is only ONE Jeff Hamilton.  Accept no substitutes.

May your happiness increase!

“SAMMY THE DRUMMER”: SOME THOUGHTS ON SAMMY WEISS

Sammy Weiss and Frank Sinatra

Drummer Sam (or “Sammy”) Weiss played in New York with many of the most prominent jazz musicians of the ’30s and early ’40s, including Louis Armstrong, Adrian Rollini, Wingy Manone, Miff Mole, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey. He also worked with Louis Armstrong, Paul Whiteman, Louis Prima, and Erskine Hawkins, among others. After moving to California in 1945, Weiss led his own successful orchestra and worked freelance. He led bands throughout the ’60s, and also worked in television; his TV work included appearances on The Jack Benny Program in 1961 and 1964. He died in 1977.

Here are Jack, Sammy, Wayne Songer, and others doing a “hilbilly” sketch:

And going back a few decades, a Weiss appearance with Gene Kardos in 1934:

Here I pause the official biography for a moment, to say that one of the most pleasant aspects of JAZZ LIVES (which I began nine years ago this year . . . no presents, please) is that people find me.  Some months back, I got a cheerful message from Jayne Weiss, Sammy’s daughter, who had noticed that I had mentioned her father in a blogpost.  In our conversation, I mentioned that her father was remarkable in making the transition from sideman to bandleader to personality, “Sammy The Drummer.”  And she said, “That was exactly who he was.  He was a personality.”

Sammy was one of the cast of characters on the Jack Benny television show: this episode is based on New Year’s Eve, 1961:

Here are some of Jayne’s thoughts.

Since my dad’s death, people are always finding things and sending them to us, so I got a hold of my cousin Brian, who does web design, and we are going to create a website for my dad, with discographies, clippings, photographs, videos. In 1971, my mother started to write a book about my father, because he had a very interesting story.  She had written to Ralph Edwards of THIS IS YOUR LIFE, but the show was being cancelled.  But I found the letter and the story she had written about him.  I have a letter from Artie Shaw and telegrams from Jack Benny.  He was with Jack Benny for twenty-five years, radio and television.

Sammy Weiss and Mickey Katz

He was from the Lower East Side, a very poor family, because his father, who was a bootlegger, had died when he was very young and he had to help support the family. He was self-taught at thirteen; he took rungs of a chair and made drumsticks, then took parts of the chair and tin plates and made a set of drums.  And he would sit at the front of the building and entertain the neighborhood.  One day a neighbor came by and asked Sammy if he would get a few friends together and play their daughter’s wedding. He was maybe fourteen, a big, tall guy.  Having no drums, he would rent a set, and he got a band together .  They paid the band three dollars, and my father decided that this was for him.  At fifteen, he started his career.  Then he started playing in the Catskills, fall and winter, dances, weddings, bar mitzvahs.  In 1933, he was playing at the Stevensville Lake Hotel, where he met my mother.  (They were married for thirty-seven years and had five children.)  

Now, my mother, who looked like Jean Harlow, was already engaged to Henny Youngman’s brother-in-law.  But when Sammy met my mother, he walked her all around the hotel, introducing her to everyone as his future wife. When she went to break up with the brother-in-law, he locked himself up in a room with a gun and threatened to kill himself.  Unlike Sammy, my mother came from money: her father was in the pants business and one of his customers was Bugsy Siegel.  Her parents were opposed to the marriage because Sammy didn’t seem as if he could support a family. Then she was in the hospital, seriously ill with peritonitis, with her father at her bedside, praying for her to get well.  She looked at him and said, “I’ll only live if I can marry Sammy.”  And she got well.

You know, he was the first drummer for Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Artie Shaw.  He was with Goodman at Billy Rose’s Music Hall in June of 1934. But when they went on the road, he didn’t go, because he wanted to stay home and raise a family.  

That’s why Gene Krupa showed up, and Buddy Rich, because Sammy stayed in New York.  In fact, when I was young, I went with my dad to the musicians’ union on Hollywood and Vine, I was crossing the street and Buddy Rich was crossing the street the other way, coming towards us, and the two of them stopped in the middle of the street, hugging each other, and I was standing there, going “What the heck?”

He moved to the West Coast in 1945 because my older brother got very sick, and the doctors told him that my brother couldn’t survive another winter.  Luckily, the Jack Benny Show was moving west. When he and my mother first moved out to California, their house had a room separate from the house where the musicians would jam, also because my brothers were musical.  There were always people coming and going, and they used to say that my mother cooked in army pots because there were so many.  Maurice played trumpet, drums, and piano.  My brother Allan sang and played drums.  And Jack played clarinet, saxophone, drums, and piano. And they all had bands.

I was twelve years younger, so I remember hearing about all of this, but I was little. I played piano, violin, and guitar.  My father always used to say I had perfect pitch, because he would call across the room, “Hit A,” and I would hit it.  One day they got a notice in the mail, “Come to _____ School.  Your daughter is playing first-chair violin in the orchestra.”  They didn’t even know.  I had found a violin in the garage, took it to school, and learned how to play it.

On radio, he worked on WNEW and then went on staff with WNBC. He had his own radio show called JAMMIN’ WITH SAMMY, and worked with Paul Whiteman, Kate Smith, Walter Damrosch, “Manhattan Merry-Go-Round” with Abe Lyman — also with Mark Warnow, Freddie Rich, Ray Bloch, Raymond Scott, Paul Lavalle. He could read, play piano, and all the percussion instruments.  He was on the Carnation Show, Meet Millie, Edgar Bergen, the Colgate Hour, Russ Morgan, Jack Carson, Lucky Strike, Al Jolson, Steve Allen, Burns and Allen, Victor Young, Dinah Shore.  My mother took Dinah Shore to pick out an outfit for her first audition in New York. My father accompanied Tony Martin at the Cocoanut Grove.  In 1953, he did a movie with Frank Sinatra, THE JOKER IS WILD.  He recorded with Johnny Guarneri and Slam Stewart for Savoy Records.

On the Benny Show, he was a character.  He was bald.  They actually wrote a show about me, in May 1951, “When Sammy’s Wife Has a Baby.”  The joke was that everyone went to see the baby in the hospital, and someone says, “How did you know which one was Jayne?”  “She was bald!”  Jack and Mary Benny bought me my layette when I was born.

He had his own band for private parties and conventions, dances. In November 1957 he had a month’s engagement at the Hollywood Palladium, “playing the kind of music the public has always loved.”

He was wonderful.  Definitely Mister Personality.  A wonderful father who loved his kids.  I had the best parents ever.  He was so involved.  We would have lots of people for the holidays, for Thanksgiving.  Wherever we went, if we would walk into a restaurant, “Oh, my God! Sam!”  And he was such a sport. My mother would yell at him because he would always pick up the tab. “Bring me his check.”  People knew him at the market, on the golf course.  He could golf during the day and work at night.

There’s a famous steakhouse, Monty’s in the San Fernando Valley. On my twenty-first birthday, we went there for dinner.  Over the years, I heard “Me Tarzan.  You Jane.” jokes constantly.  That night, sitting at the bar, was Johnny Weissmuller, drunk.  My father didn’t realize just how drunk Johnny was, but he said, “Look, it’s my daughter’s birthday, and her name is Jayne.  It would be such a hoot if you came over and did your shtick.”  There was an outdoor patio, and Johnny opened the doors and did the Tarzan call, then came over to the table and said, “You Jane.  Me Tarzan.”  I wanted to die, to crawl under the table.

Sammy was on every Mickey Katz album.  My mother actually sings on one. Mickey and Grace Katz were very dear friends of our family. In fact, I  have a picture of Joel Grey before his nose job, dancing with my mother at one of the bar mitzvahs!  Mickey did my father’s eulogy.  I knew Mannie Klein (his wife was nicknamed “Dopey”) and he gave me a nickname when I was about three.  They would sit me on the piano, and call me “Quackwee.”

He passed away in 1977 from pancreatic cancer.  He was only 67. My older brother also contracted that cancer and died at 75.

Many thanks to Jayne Weiss and her brother Allan for their memories and memorabilia: they’ve made their father come wholly alive once again.

May your happiness increase!

CLARINETITIS: TIM LAUGHLIN, JIM BUCHMANN, DAVE BENNETT (November 29, 2014)

AVALON, “composed” in 1920 by Al Jolson and Vincent Rose, owed so much to a Puccini melody that Puccini’s publishers sued and won.  Thanks to Chris Tyle for the facts here.

AVALON sheet

Between 1920 and 1937, AVALON was a popular composition recorded by Red Nichols, Isham Jones, Coleman Hawkins, the Quintette of the Hot Club of France, Jimmie Lunceford, and others.  In 1937, Benny Goodman featured it as a quartet number (with Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton, and Gene Krupa) in the film HOLLYWOOD HOTEL — also recording it for Victor, performing it in 1938 at his Carnegie Hall Concert.  Benny performed it hundreds of times in the next half-century, and a performance of that song has been a way for contemporary clarinetists both to salute him and to dramatize their aesthetic kinship with him.

AVALON label

As a delightful point of reference, here is the 1937 Victor, a lovely performance by four men clearly enjoying themselves expertly:

That recording is, in its own way, a joyous summit of swing improvisation.

On November 29, 2014, at the San Diego Jazz Fest, Tim Laughlin (leading his own New Orleans All-Stars with Connie Jones) had already invited clarinetist Jim Buchmann to join him for a few songs.  Then, Tim spotted clarinetist Dave Bennett and urged him to join in.  I thought that AVALON might be on the menu for three clarinets. Not that Tim is in any way predictable, but AVALON is familiar music — with known conventions — in the same way that a group of saxophonists might call WOODSIDE or FOUR BROTHERS — music that would please the crowd and the route signs are all well-marked.

Connie Jones and Doug Finke sat this one out, but Connie’s delighted reactions mirror every nuance of the music.

The other members of this band: Chris Dawson, piano; Marty Eggers, string bass; Katie Cavera, guitar; Hal Smith, drums, are deeply immersed in both the tradition of Goodman AVALON’s and how to make it alive at the moment — Chris and Hal create their own variations on Wilson and Krupa most beautifully.

This one’s for my friend Janie McCue Lynch, and for students of the Swing School everywhere.

(For those correspondents who say “This is TOO Swingy!” in the tone of voice one would discuss a contagious disease, you are exempt from watching this.  But you’ll miss deep joy.)

See you all at this year’s San Diego Jazz Fest: we’ll all gather.

May your happiness increase!

8:45 PM, MORE OR LESS

What time is it?

8 45

One recipe for happiness (there are many) follows below.  Take a wonderful song by Harry Warren and Al Dubin — I know it first from the Jolson Decca — ABOUT A QUARTER TO NINE.  Then, take one of my favorite singers, Banu Gibson, and match her with the swinging David Boeddinghaus at the piano in a 1990 duo-session:

Please listen closely — from the clock-chimes at the start to the delicious mixture of Banu’s warm but controlled voice (her lovely intonation and pitch and swing) and David’s rollicking piano.  The only thing wrong with this recording is that it is the length of a 78.  So I have to play it several times in a row.

ABOUT A QUARTER TO NINE

I know there are many other recorded versions of this song — not only Jolson, but Dean Martin, Mavis Rivers, Susannah McCorkle, Bobby Darin, Chick Bullock, Wingy Manone, Ozzie Nelson, Combo De Luxe, Spats Langham / Keith Nichols, Sarah Spencer, John Sheridan, and others.

But the one that wins the prize for Decline of the West, 1962-style, is this classic by one Debby Woods, who flattens out the melody, rides right over the chord changes, and in general (although she may have been an adorable person) does unintended violence to what I think is a great song:

and the flip side of this 45 — what archaic terms those are now! — is a Woodsian rendering of this Thirties classic, JUST ONE MORE CHANCE, which I refuse to post here — even though it is more faithful to the original — out of respect to Bing and Hawk.

But now you know.  When someone wants to argue with you over the thorny question, “WHEN does life begin?” you can answer “At eight forty-five,” smile and slip away unnoticed.

May your happiness increase!

SONGS MY FATHER TAUGHT ME

My father, circa 1928

My father, circa 1928

My father, Louis Steinman, would have been one hundred on December 26, 2015.  From him I get my handwriting, my taste for salty foods, my sense of humor, my willingness to engage strangers in conversation, and much more.  He loved a wide variety of music, from Rossini to Jolson to Broadway show tunes. Although he didn’t share my enthusiasm for jazz, he tolerated it, and without him I would never have seen Louis (the other one) live in 1967.

He sang bits of songs that he had heard in his childhood, and I (not the most curious of children) do not remember asking him, “What is the name of that song, and when did you first hear it?”  But a number of songs came direct to me because of him.  It was only after his death that I learned what a few of the mysteries were.  I offer a few songs below in his honor, in versions he might have heard in his childhood.

I knew this song only as “Leaves come tumbling down, ’round my head.  Some of them are brown, some are red”:

When I was a fretful child, easily upset and teary, I would hear this (wlthough he didn’t know the verse):

and on a more jubliant note:

and even a silly one that I saw him sing to my eldest niece while she was very young:

Thank you, Dad, for all you were and all you gave.

May your happiness increase!

GLENN CRYTZER’S PEGU CLUB ALL-STARS (Part Two): MIKE DAVIS, TOM ABBOTT, TAL RONEN (July 26, 2015)

waitin-for-katy-mel-thompson

Before you begin, here‘s Part One: NIGHT AND DAY, IS IT TRUE WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT DIXIE?, and MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS.

Pegu club cocktail

Delicious-looking, isn’t it?  But let’s talk about music.

A delicious place and delicious music: the Pegu Club, named for a famous gin-based cocktail (London dry gin, bitters, lime juice, orange curacao, for the curious, served in what we once called Burma, is located at 77 West Houston Street, one floor up.

Glenn Crytzer PCAS

On Sunday evenings from 6:30 to 9:30, guitarist / singer / composer Glenn Crytzer leads a quartet — its personnel varies from week to week — that offers an unusually wide-ranging jazz repertoire in the most comfortable surroundings.

On July 26, the three members besides Glenn were Tal Ronen, string bass; Tom Abbott, reeds, Mike Davis, trumpet.  Here four more highlights of their very refreshing first set.

WAITIN’ FOR KATY (memories of Ben Pollack and a young Benny Goodman and of romantic encounters that don’t quite work — summed up so poignantly in the bridge.  Katy or Katie was otherwise occupied and I think she stood up our young man).  Thank you, Glenn, for introducing me to the verse, too:

GET OUT AND GET UNDER THE MOON:

POOR BUTTERFLY:

HOW ABOUT YOU

HOW ABOUT YOU? (a gorgeous Burton Lane tune with sweet lyrics by Ralph Freed — the voice in my mind is Judy’s — that I’ve heard no other group play):

Glenn has very thoughtfully laid out the schedule of players here so you can plan your Sunday post-brunch-before-facing-that-tomorrow-will-be-Monday descent back in to reality.  I plan to visit there again.  It’s a delightful spot.

May your happiness increase!

GLENN CRYTZER’S PEGU CLUB ALL-STARS (Part One): MIKE DAVIS, TOM ABBOTT, TAL RONEN (July 26, 2015)

Pegu club cocktail

A delicious place and delicious music: the Pegu Club, named for a famous gin-based cocktail (London dry gin, bitters, lime juice, orange curacao, for the curious, served in what we once called Burma, is located at 77 West Houston Street, New York City, one floor up. Glenn Crytzer PCAS

On Sunday evenings from 6:30 to 9:30, guitarist / singer / composer Glenn Crytzer leads a quartet — its personnel varies from week to week — that offers an unusually wide-ranging jazz repertoire in the most comfortable surroundings.

On July 26, the three members besides Glenn were Tal Ronen, string bass; Tom Abbott, reeds, Mike Davis, trumpet.  Here are three highlights of their very refreshing first set.

First, a song that is an admitted “classic” of “The Great American Songbook,” but one I’ve never heard a jazz group play in live performance in the preceding decade of intense listening.  What a delight to hear NIGHT AND DAY:

Something almost as rare, although Mike likes this song and has performed it at other gigs — the 1936 IS IT TRUE WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT DIXIE? by Gerald Marks, Sammy Lerner, and Irving Caesar.  1936 was late to be writing a song about people eating possum [this is the first mention of possum in more than seven years of JAZZ LIVES — make of that what you will].  The cover of the sheet music shows Al Jolson in blackface in a characteristic gesture, a picture I thought the world didn’t need.  So it’s not hard to imagine Jolson saying, “I need another song with Dixie in it,” although he didn’t cut himself in on this one. A catchy melody nonetheless:

MY HONEY’S LOVIN’ ARMS — associated with Bing and Eddie Condon — played beautifully here:

Glenn has very thoughtfully laid out the schedule of players here so you can plan your Sunday post-brunch-before-facing-that-tomorrow-will-be-Monday descent back in to reality.  I plan to visit there again.  It’s a delightful spot.  And there’s more to come from this rewarding first set.

May your happiness increase!