Monday, November 23, 2009

JACK ELLSWORTH is back and WALK's got him.

First there was Marconi, then crystal sets, followed by New York City's WNEW with Martin Block. Then, here on Long Island there was a fellow, a former U.S. Marine Corps Combat Correspondent by the name of Jack Ellsworth, who started his disc jockey radio show "Memories in Melody" on radio station WALK in Patchogue and held rein for some thirty years.
Well, Top 40 stuff filtered therein and Jack, his wife Dot, and their Newscaster partner George Drake, picked up their 78's and started a new radio station called WLIM, also in Patchogue. They kept the same format of Big Band music and invited some big name visitors to the station, names like Larry Elgart, Ray Anthony, the great Benny Goodman ( who stayed all day) and the entire Glenn Miller Orchestra with Larry O'Brien. Jack had already interviewed Sinatra and Crosby earlier, and they both contributed soundies for the new station's promotions.  
Upon Jack's 50th Anniversary in 1997 as a disc jockey, Sinatra wrote him, saying: "We've traveled many musical miles together, my friend. I am delighted to send cheers and bravos to you on 50 marvelous years of championing our kind of music.
"As I raise a glass of bubbly, I thank you for  your generous support of my career --- you're a good man." 
Back in 1941 Jack's story began:
"I received a phone call from popular jock Art Ford, who later had an all-night show on WNEW called the Milkman's Matinee. Art was running a Bing Crosby show on station WBNX in the Bronx, and he had heard I had a great Crosby record collection.  He asked me to bring them up to his studio.  I was a teenager and very impressionable. I was thrilled to be a radio show guest."
Jack became a frequent visitor on Art's show, talking about all the greats.  Smitten with the radio bug while at Brown University in 1947, Jack hosted a show on campus, using his Art Ford credentials.  There was no monetary compensation, but he thoroughly enjoyed spinning the 78s that so influenced his life. 
" I applied for a disc jockey job with a station that had a WNEW style format and got the job. After three years of top ratings, I accepted a similar position at WVNJ in Newark, New Jersey, and in 1950 I heard about a station in Huntington, Long Island called WGSM, and obtained a similar job there. A year later I went to work for WALK.
Jack met his wife Dot in 1951 and married her in November. She had been a legal secretary. They settle in Bellport and he began work at WALK, and in 1963 was promoted to station manager. In 1975 he became President, General Manager and CEO.
In 1980 WALK was sold. Jack and George Drake's bid was outbid and so they started WLIM.
During his 30 years at WALK Jack interviewed many heavyweights like Doris Day, Dick Haymes, Les Paul and Mary Ford as well as Sinatra and Crosby, among others.
"There is a uniqueness in radio," Jack says, "When I put on Glenn's 'Moonlight Serenade,' I could cry from its solemn beauty. People can close their eyes and take themselves back in their life they first heard the classic tune. It's great therapy, and always pleasant listening, unlike the frenetic  music of today."
Well, now Jack has been back at WALK, 1370 AM with his same show "Memories in Melody " for a few years now.  I have spent some time with Jack on the air being interviewed for some of my books. One day I brought the one and only Jerry Vale to the station as a surprise for Jack while he was on the air. Well, he jumped up and hugged Jerry and turned the show over to him and his music. He had never met Jerry Vale, but had talked to him on the phone many times. It was a great reunion of sorts and everyone at the station was very happy to witness the meeting of two giants of music. 
So, Jack is back home at WALK where he first started. Jack is over eighty now and you would never know it.  Dot is over 21 and still sets the music for the show and guides Jack by programming titles and future formats. They are a great team. Dot is Jack's CEO. And Jack just loves it. 
In early 2003,  I invited Jack to a book signing in Stonybook with Bing's wife, Kathryn. Jack brought his photo collection and showed it to Kathryn who really enjoyed seeing it. It was the first time they had met. At the podium Jack introduced Kathryn who graciously sang a song in tribute to Bob Hope who had passed away just a few days earlier.
Day by day Jack Ellsworth continues his music. Just today, November 23,  2009, Jack played some Glenn Miller favorites, three Woody Herman tunes with Woody singing "It Must Be Jelly, ' Cause Jam Don't Shake Like That," and a few Buddy Clark favorites including "South America - Take it Away." There was also an opening selection with Count Basie, and always a Ella Fitzgerald and Nat "King" Cole piece played during each show.  
You had better tune in 10-12 daily to 1370 AM radio. 
If you don't, you are really missing something.
God bless Jack and Dot Ellsworth and "Memories in Melody."  

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Remembering the irreverant but brilliant Bandleader Artie Shaw

When I spent time talking to Artie Shaw back in the late nineties, he was a most difficult subject, although once he allowed himself talk about his life as a musician,  he certainly became interesting and even subjective, always praising his band's musicians.  Artie's depth as a thinker and reputation as a constantly analyzing musician followed him from his restless days as an outspoken  bandleader right up to the end of his days.
Well, Artie Shaw died on December 30th 2004 at the age of 94 and will indeed be remembered. Not so much for his list of marriages to movie stars Lana Turner, Evelyn Keyes and Ava Gardner,  among others, but for his superlative career in music.
Artie Shaw was an accomplished musician, a star of great magnitude, but when he thought he had enough of the disciplined life of a band leader and realized he could no longer spend every day playing and playing the clarinet to remain a perfect musician, he stopped playing and stopped leading his band taking off to become a writer.
" I did all you can do with a clarinet, any more would have been less," he once told me.
During the 1930s and '40's he was at his peak with recordings of "Begin the Beguine," "Frenesi" and "Back Bay Shuffle." His quintet, the Gramercy Five, performed within the band with a handful of its own hits. He never would talk about his great hits because he said we was sick of playing them over and over and over, and his favorite recordings were the ones he would make " the following session."
"When we recorded Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine," in 1938, we soared, even though it was the 'B-side . That tune was nowhere, and suddenly a guy named Artie Shaw comes along and makes a record of it with a totally different arrangement, and it becomes a hit. How do you figure it?" Artie said, "You seek perfection and settle for what you get."
"Begin the Beguine" is always high on the list of listener polls, even today.
During the war, his group of U.S. Navy musicians traveled widely throughout the South Pacific and entertained the troops in very trying times under very difficult circumstances until he and his group actually became sick with combat fatigue and could not go on performing.  After some R & R in Australia, he returned the the states very bitter. 
Sure, Artie was volatile, but he was also superbly intelligent. His book, "The Trouble with Cinderella," first serialized in a music monthly, was a fine piece of writing and mirrored his life.
Today, the Artie Shaw Big Band still performs under the leadership of Dick Johnson, a superb clarinetist and protégé' of Shaw himself.
I asked Artie what would be his epitaph, and he replied:
"He did the best he could with the material at hand. But, the material in my hand was not very good. But, I did the best I could."
Goodbye to the irreverent Artie Shaw, who added: "You know Richard, my new epitaph will be, after this interview.......'Go Away.' "

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Dick Haymes Society Reviews “Mr. Rhythm – A Tribute to Frankie Laine”

From Big Band Newsletter – Sept/Oct 2009

Lovingly assembled, this book obviously comes from Richard Grudens’ deep affection for both Frankie Laine the person and the performer. It is as much a scrapbook as it is a biography although it tells the singer’s story completely. It is as if you had access to Frankie Laine’s personal box of memory photos and newspaper clippings saved over the decades of his stardom. We counted 210 photographs, some very personal family pictures, some professional photos used to promote his recordings.

Foreword by Clint Eastwood

Grudens has collected comments and articles from several observers of the music scene. There is a foreword by Clint Eastwood recalling his boyhood appreciation for the singer’s “That’s My Desire” and his later work with him in the movie “Rawhide” for which Frankie Laine sang the theme. Music historian Henry Pleasants contributed a comment.

Connie Haines with Frankie

Tony Cooper of the Frankie Laine International Appreciation Society is quoted as are Connie Haines, Rhonda Fleming, Joe Franklin, Julius LaRosa and Maria Cole, among others.

Highlight of the book may just be the personal diary Frankie Laine kept on his overseas tour to Britain, France and Italy in 1952. In his own words, he writes of both his personal and professional experiences during that trip. One other key part of the tribute is an interview conducted by Gary James in 1993 when Frankie Laine’s autobiography “That Lucky Old Sun” was published. Random articles list the Laine gold records, lists of singers who inspired him, his dance marathon days and his meeting and marrying actress Nan Grey in 1950.
In those earliest days when Frankie Laine’s first successful recordings were released, the name Carl Fisher always appeared as musical director on the record label. Even when Laine moved from the Mercury label to Columbia Records and the orchestra conductor was noted as Paul Weston, Carl Fisher’s name was listed as the pianist. One of the parts of the book tells of the vital part Carl Fisher played in Frankie Laine’s stardom, explaining how important their musical partnership was and hot it ended tragically with Fisher’s death from a heart attack in 1954 at age 41.

Carl and Frankie Rehearsing

The other Laine influence given a key part in the book was Mitch Miller, the A&R director for Mercury Records, and then for Columbia Records when Frankie Laine moved to that label. While at Mercury, it was Miller who asked Laine to sing a cowboy song following the issuance of “That’s My Desire” and “That Lucky Old Son.” Laine argued he’d lose fans of those songs but Miller prevailed and the new recording turned out to have equal commercial and artistic success. It was “Mule Train.”

Frankie Laine was a San Diego resident at the end of his life, but never actually retired. He was active in charity causes and even recorded a CD in the nineties. This book tells it all.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

John Miller - Nephew of Glenn Miller - a REVIEW

It's our luck that John Miller who leads a great band in England, and is the nephew of Glenn Miller just returned today from Spain with this great review of his band. We are the very first to see this glowing report of one of Europe's finest big bands. Read it through and enjoy!

As always with Saga Holiday trips, the hotel was great, the food excellent and the staff wonderful.

John Miller with Peanuts Hucko

We go on lots of Saga Holidays and they have never disappointed.

To say that the holiday with The John Miller Orchestra was the best holiday we have had, ever, would be an understatement. We went principally to hear the Big Band of course, there's nothing like the sound of a good big band in full flight, but the experience was so much more. We've watched and loved all the major Bands over the years, but never dreamed we could get so close to the real heart of a band.

We got to eat and chat with some of the best musicians in the United Kindom and they were all so approachable and friendly. We were so surprised and pleased.

Eddie Mordue, who played Baritone Sax with the Ted Heath Band, plays Lead Alto with The John Miller Orchestra and has worked with every major Star you can name. Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Shirley Bassey and scores more would request that he be included in the line up of bands that were formed for their tours. He is a great story teller and is like a walking history of the music business and he isn't alone in this category.

Andy Prior with John

Allan Beever is the ride Tenor Sax man and has worked for every band in the country for the last 50 years. More great solos and stories.

Lead Trumpet, Bobby Cutting, played famous trumpet solos every night. You Made Me Love You, What's New and the rest. Brilliant stuff.

Pete Beavis has played trumpet all over and is the “Limerick King”. I suggest you don't get him started if you don't have someone to carry you back to your room when you're weak from laughter.

The Trombone section is to die for. The lead, Cliff Hardie, has a great jazz band of his own and was heavily featured producing some marvelous solos and, surprise surprise, sitting in the section was none other than Barrie Forgie, the leader of the BBC Radio Big Band. I always knew him as a leader, a much sought after arranger and a personality, but never realized he was also such a fine trombone player. More stories times 10. Fantastic.

Bob Howard was the drummer and if there is a better drummer in the world, who cares. When your dazzled to your capacity you can't take in any more. Every night he lifted us and showed us something new. Amazing.

By the end of day two, this didn't seem like a concert or a dance anymore. It was like a private party with a bunch of friends getting together, playing music with all 150 of us having a gay old time. In this happy atmosphere, we made some great new friends.  We didn't just get Miller music either. Since Glenn Miller knew every one in the business, they could play anything and it had a smooth and logical connection.

Leading this wonderful mob of musicians, and setting the tone for the week, was Glenn Miller's nephew, John Miller. He was the most gregarious of the lot. He was warm, friendly, funny and everywhere. And, even though he claims to be lousy at it, he even remembered all our names. His personal drive and energy went a long way to making our holiday so enjoyable and unforgettable.

John sings with the Band and on our last morning he serenaded us en mass under our balconies.

What a guy. One of the great personalities of our time and he's our friend, now. Margaret Saddington gave some lovely informative chats about Bands and Singers. She loves Ella.

Me too.

We had a day trip into the lovely and historic city of Seville and there were some fascinating excursions to the wetlands for some nature and bird watching and lots of other things to do.

The Saga reps took such great care of us I can't thank them enough. Icing on the cake.  Don't take my word for all this, wherever John Miller and his Orchestra are playing, come along and see for yourself. You will love it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jukebox Saturday Nite-Margaret Whiting

I first met song star Margaret Whiting in 1985 at Westbury Music Fair,  now called Capital One Theater.  When radio station WNEW showcased their Make Believe Ballroom show that starred famed disc jockey William B. Williams, practically a one man institution known to all as William B. His catch-phrase was always, "Hello, World!"

Margaret loved William B. and agreed to sing on the show along with balladeer Billy Eckstine, both backed by one of my old friends in this business, Larry O'Brien,  music director of the world famous Glenn Miller Orchestra. Margaret and I sat down and had a long talk about her famous dad, Tin Pan Alley songwriter Richard Whiting, who wrote some pretty good tunes: " My Ideal," " Til We Meet Again," "Breezin'Along with the Breeze,"
" She's Funny That Way," The Japanese Sandman," and "Ain't We Got Fun," and many more. Margaret often recorded the songs her father wrote.

We also recounted her own career up to that time, her great recording claim to fame being her 1952 endearing version of "A Tree in the Meadow," although her first big hit was "That Old Black Magic," written by Johnny Mercer, the prolific songwriter who helped her grow up, acting as surrogate father, after her dad died in 1938 when she was still just a young girl.  Her recordings of "Moonlight in Vermont" and "It Might as Well Be Spring" are also signature songs. The latter title is also the title of her biography. Margaret is undoubtedly one of the best singers of the golden age of music, classed with the excellence of Helen Forrest, Connie Haines and Rosemary Clooney.

Well, bringing you up-to-speed, Margaret and I will were guests at the 2009 Al Jolson convention in Lynbrook, New York where she  received A Lifetime Appreciation Award from the International Al Jolson Society. I introduced her to the guests.  Margaret once appeared with Al Jolson on a major radio show Alexander's Ragtime Band.  She loved Jolson. Today, I received a letter  from Margaret:

"My aunt, Margaret Young, was in vaudeville with Jolson and my mother and father were two of his biggest fans. He always said that he loved my mother, Eleanor, and sang songs to her in the audience when she was watching him,  and, of course, my father wrote some songs for him, too. Then, when he came back strong after they released his film The Jolson Story in 1947,  I went to Hillcrest ( Country Club in California) to have lunch with him and I did a show with him on the air and saw him quite a few times in different places during his comeback success. Jolson was one of the most magnetic personalities that I ever can remember seeing and I think he earned the title of the World's Greatest Entertainer."

Margaret lives in Manhattan. Her work today consists of her efforts on behalf of the John Mercer Foundation which she leads. The Foundation is committed to preserving the music of Johnny Mercer and his fellow songwriters of the Great American Songbook.

Well, Margaret and I picked up where we left off, although we have talked and exchanged letters over the years.   During lunch, we continued our talks about her experiences with my next book subject, Frank Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board, as William B. once dubbed him. The book will be entitled SINATRA SINGING.  In my book STAR*DUST-The Bible of the Big Bands, my wife Madeline photographed Magaret and I in the same pose we did in 1984 at Westbury and she placed the photos side-by-side. We hadn't changed a drop. Check it out. Richard

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Andrews Sisters and Patty Andrews

It's Apple Blossom Time coming up again. .....

On February 16, 2010 the truly great girl singer of the 1940s (the girl who helped shape American music during the second World War with her two sisters, Maxine and LaVerne) Patty Andrews will be 92 years young.

Patty and I have been friends for many years, ever since our interview in the early eighties when I wrote a magazine article about the Andrews Sisters. She utilized it for selling her then single act in L.A.

I had always been in love with the Andrews Sisters. Ever since I first heard heard Patty and her sisters vocalize "Bie Mir Bist Du Schoen," it was the beginning of my long-running affection for them.

The three gals from Minneapolis were personal entertainers for many a serviceman during the war years with their hits "Rumors are Flying," "I'll Be with You in Apple Blossom Time," and "Rum and Coca Cola."

By her own description, Patty is a very happy and contented girl living in a beautiful, Tudor-style house near Encino, California with her husband and manager Wally Weschler.

Earlier, when they were kids attending dancing school, they began mimicking the popular Boswell Sisters. They entered the Kiddy Reviews during the summer months on the Orpheum Theater Circuit in Minneapolis. One of the headliners on the show invited the girls to become a permanent part of his touring show. They performed five shows a day sandwiched between movie showings. They copied the Boswell's charts.

"When you are young, there is always someone you look up to," Patty told me just before Christmas, "so we did what they did and it helped launch our career." They sang "Shuffle Off to Buffalo," "When I Take My Sugar to Tea," and "I Found a Million Dollar Baby in a Five and Ten Cents Store."

Patty sang the lead and solos, Maxene the high harmony, and LaVerne took the third part, even though they had no formal training.

"We would work all day until we perfected new songs in our own new, bouncier style. It was then we realized we had something special to offer." And offer it they did joining up with a big band and began singing on the radio in New York with Billy Swanson's band at the famed Hotel Edison. It was to be their big break, as Dave Kapp, Vice President of Decca Records heard them on the car radio and rushed to the hotel and signed them the following day.

Decca had them record consistently with all the greats including Bing Crosby, Al Jolson, Dick Haymes, Bob Crosby, Woody Herman, Jimmy Dorsey, and every known big band, in a seventeen year triumphant run, as Jack Kapp, President of Decca, took them in hand and guided them to great success as he did for Crosby and many others.

Remember "The Boogie, Woogie, Bugle Boy from Company 'B'," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," "Beer Barrel Polka," "Pistol Packin' Mama," "Joseph, Joseph," "Hold Tight," "South America, Take It Away," and "Ferryboat Serenade." I reminded Patty that Ferryboat was my personal favorite. It just clicked with me, but all their songs are great and you can buy them anywhere today in CD form. However, it was "Rum and Coca-Cola" that sold a whopping 7 million records in a time when a million records were hard to sell. The girls also sang those songs at the Stage Door Canteen during the war to help entertain servicemen along with other volunteer celebrities.

Later, the girls performed in movies with Abbott & Costello, the Ritz Brothers, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. The movies were The Road to Utopia, Buck Privates, Argentine Nights, Follow the Boys, Stage Door Canteen, and In the Navy.

In 1950 the Andrews Sisters capped their career when they performed at the London Palladium. They broke up a few years later. Patty went on to perform as a single in the 1980s with bands like Tex Beneke, who was fronting the great Glenn Miller Orchestra, then went out on his own, too. She recorded two great hits with Gordon Jenkins Orchestra, "I Want to Be Loved" and "It Never Entered My Mind" being at her melodic best.

To effectively write about the Andrews Sisters, it would take a book. It would take another book to write about Patty Andrews own single career.

With Maxene and LaVerne gone, Patty has retired, although she regularly attends jazz festivals where she meets old friends and enjoys great, live music - music she has always enjoyed both listening to and singing. 

Happy Birthday a litle early Patty Andrews. We love you in advance. Thanks for all that beautiful music. And thanks for the photo you sent me last Christmas.

Frank Sinatra

I'm working on a  new book about the Chairman of the Board:   Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra had an absolutely amazing career that covered all the bases of show business. Writing about him will be both easy and difficult. It was always impossible to hold an interview with him during his later years. I met him several times while at NBC in New York; Once at a Martin and Lewis telethon, and again in my Broadcast Ticket office with RCA V.P Mannie Sacks. This book will be about the music, how he survived above all the competition, how he grew from one career to another, his singing voice always improving, expanding and finding a crescendo of great success.

Connie Haines, who sang shoulder to shoulder with Sinatra back during their Harry James and Tommy Dorsey big band days, told me she was uncomfortable authorizing CD issuance of her duets with him on songs like "Let's Get Away from It All," and "Snootie Little Cutie" on record labels because of the potential legal problems that would be invoked by the Sinatra clan, even though she knows the Sinatra daughters Tina and Nancy. When she was performing in Atlantic City with a "Sinatra" type get together songfest called "Ol' Blue Eyes," the FBI literally burst in and arrested the promoters and scared the hell out of a number of seniors who were attending. The promoter got off, but only after paying an attorney lots of bucks after standing before a judge.

I have always enjoyed the great Sinatra recordings, especially those he made with Dorsey, and subsequently, those he made at Capitol with Nelson Riddle, but I have never enjoyed reading about the disruptive parts of his life: the marriages, the fist fights, the underworld connections, and those never ending disputes with the press. None of that will be in this book. I have left all of that to others who have written before me. However, Sinatra tried to make up for all that negativity by anonymously contributing lots of money to worthy people in need, even if he never met them, and to causes including Sloan-Kettering Hospital, where there is a wing that bears his name, and the Barbara Sinatra hospital charities in California.

So, my book about Frank will be composed of tributes from others like Connie Haines, Harry James, Jo Stafford, Nelson Riddle, clarinetist Johnny Mince, William B. Williams of The Make Believe Ballroom radio show, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, and Frank Sinatra himself. It will tell of his early career when he had only hopes, but, as Jo Stafford once observed early on: "We knew he had something special."

You will especially enjoy the words from Connie Haines, whom we lost a year ago: "Frank and I didn't always get along in those days, but Frank showed his true colors one night - even though we were feuding when singing tunes like "Let's Get Away from It all," and "Oh! Look at Me Now" -when my dress suddenly caught fire because someone tossed a lit cigarette down from the balcony and it got snared in my gown netting. Tommy was still vamping, unaware of what was happening. But, Frank reacted quickly by throwing his suit jacket over me and flinging me to the ground, snuffing out the flames-probably saving my life. We talked about it a few years ago when I appeared with him on television for his 80th birthday. Yes, Frank was really a good man although his ego frequently got in the way. And he was the very best singer of all the singers. That is certainly clear by now."

That's Life. That's what all the people say.
You're riding high in April
Shot down in May
But I know I'm gonna change my tune
When I'm back on top in June
I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king,
I've been up and down and over and out and I know one thing
Each time I find myself flat on my face
I pick myself up and get back in the race

Well, that's Frank Sinatra for sure.

Jerry Vale will write the introduction, as he was truly a friend of the Voice.  If anyone wants to put their two cents into the book (only about the singing) we would be happy to include it.  Contact Richard if you would like to add some comments or story about Frank's singing.