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.