My esteemed correspondent Mr. Jones (“Stompy” to his poker friends) writes,
You mentioned Eddie Condon’s Floor Show. We got a TV early, in the fall of ‘49. There were lots of little musical programs in those early, primitive days of live TV: Morton Downey, the Kirby Stone Quartet, a black pianist-singer named Bob Howard, others. I think they were all 15 minutes. They were filler; the stations didn’t have enough programming to fill their schedules. (Hey, we thought it was exciting to watch a test pattern!)
I watched Eddie Condon’s Floor Show (on channel 7) before I knew anything about jazz. I remember immediately noticing this trumpeter who played out of the side of his mouth. They had a regular segment in which someone from the studio audience (probably 15 people dragged in off the street) requested songs for the band to play. Once somebody requested “Rag Mop”. In those days, when a novelty like “RM” hit, it hit huge. For a few weeks it would be everywhere, I mean everywhere – then it would disappear without a trace. (The same thing happened with “One Meatball” and “Open the Door, Richard”.) Well, it was the fall of ‘49 and the Ames Brothers’ record of “RM” had just hit – only it hadn’t hit Condon and his cohorts, so when somebody requested it, the Condonites were incredulous and dismissive. I remember them laughing derisively saying “There ain’t no such song” or some such. Too bad they didn’t know it was just a blues. Wild Bill would have played the hell out of it.
You can see our Stromberg-Carlson with 12-1/2” screen in the attached photo, taken during my Bar Mitzvah party in Jan. ‘52. Amazing that such larger-than-life memories (Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, the Army-McCarthy hearings, Edward R. Murrow, Sugar Ray Robinson, Toscanini conducting with fire in his eyes, countless Dodger games, Jackie Gleason breaking his leg on live TV, my first encounter with Wild Bill Davison) could have come out of such a little box!
That one of my readers saw the Eddie Condon Floor Show on television is wonderful and startling. For those of you who aren’t as obsessed as I am with this particular bit of jazz history, I will say briefly that Condon, who was organizing jazz events before most of us were born, had angled a few brief television programs in 1942 — when the medium’s reach was unimaginably small. Then, in 1948, he began a series of programs that offered live hot jazz with everyone: Louis, Lips Page, Billy Butterfield, Roy Eldridge, Muggsy Spanier, Jonah Jones, Jimmy McPartland, Cootie Williams, Wild Bill Davison, Dick Cary, Jack Teagarden, Cutty Cutshall, Benny Morton, Brad Gowans, Big Chief Russell Moore, Peanuts Hucko, Ernie Caceres, Sidney Bechet, Pee Wee Russell, Willie the Lion Smith, James P. Johnson, Earl Hines, Count Basie, Gene Schroeder, Sammy Price, Ralph Sutton, Cliff Jackson, Joe Bushkin, Teddy Hale, Avon Long, Jack Lesberg, Zutty Singleton, Sid Catlett, George Wettling, Kansas Fields,Buzzy Drootin, J. C. Heard, Buddy Rich, Lee Wiley, Rosemary Clooney, Sarah vaughan, Thelma Carpenter, June Christy, Johnny Desmond, Helen Ward, and on and on . . .
In case some of the names surprise you, Condon’s appreciation of good music was deep and never restrictive. Ironically, his name is now associated with a blend of “Dixieland” and familiar routines on Twenties and Thirties pop songs.
Some music from the Floor Shows was preserved and eventually issued on the Italian Queen-Disc label. To my knowledge, nothing from these recordings (and the collectors’ tapes) has made it to CD.
In addition, no one has found any kinescopes (they were films of television programs, often recorded directly from the monitor or set) of the programs. We continue to hope. Perhaps one of my readers has a pile of 16mm reels in the basement. Let me know before you begin the obligatory spring cleaning! My father was a motion picture projectionist, so such things are in my blood.