Monday, June 28, 2010


Fern Spaulding Jaros had an extraordinary life in music, beginning with a career as a vaudeville instrumentalist, singer, and dancer and ending as a solo pianist; she died February 6, 2010 at the age of 102, in Webster, Texas, near Galveston.

Born in 1908 in Loveland, Ohio, her father was an accomplished musician and teacher. She first learned to play on a cornet, and then picked up trombone, mellophone, baritone, tuba, and French horn, at a time where there was plenty of prejudice against women who played instruments not considered appropriate for their gender.  Fern loved music and would let nothing stop her from playing it.

Fern’s first public performances were with her family’s orchestra, providing music for graduations, fairs, and other civic functions. The family moved to California in 1922 and Fern graduated from Manual Arts High School in 1925. She performed with a series of all-girl bands, and sometimes with her sister-in-law, Blanche, who played accordion, among other instruments: The Gibson Navigators (1926-27); Babe Egan and Her Hollywood Redheads (1927-30); Mary and Her Platinum Blondes (1931-32) and The Gypsy Wayfarers (1935-36); later she played in the Chicago Women’s Symphony (1941-48); and with Ada Leonard and Her All-Girl Orchestra 1949-1953. A review in the 1920s stated: “Fern is an exceedingly accomplished trombone player and a leader in the comedy moments.” She was also very beautiful. While with Babe Egan’s band, she toured Europe and appeared in the first German sound film, playing trombone.

While playing with Babe Egan’s band at the State Lake Theatre in Chicago, she met Jerry Jaros whom she married in 1931. They lived in Cicero, Illinois, and had three children: John, David, and Gail. Fern became a member of the very successful Chicago Women’s Symphony Orchestra (1941-1948). They moved to Los Angeles in 1948 and opened music stores in Westchester and later in Phoenix, Arizona. In 1951 she founded and directed the Westchester Youth Band for the training of young musicians, directing the group for 20 years. She appeared in episodes of “I Love Lucy” and “You Bet Your Life,” with Groucho Marx. Widowed in 1973, she moved to Lake Elsinore where she played with the Sun City Symphony; she moved to Texas in her nineties where she continued to perform well into her nineties. She played piano to entertain seniors in her retirement home.

Fern met saxophone player/band leader Peggy Gilbert in Sioux City, Iowa in the 1920s and were friends until Peggy’s death in 2007. I wrote about Fern in my book, Peggy Gilbert and Her All-Girl Band (Scarecrow Press, 2008) and included several pictures of her. She is also in my documentary film of the same title ( I met Fern on March 8, 1986 at the Tribute to the Pioneer Women Musicians of Los Angeles, a reunion that I produced at the Ambassador Hotel Ballroom in Los Angeles, sponsored by the International Institute for the Study of Women in Music at California State University Northridge. Peggy and Fern were a part of a network of women instrumentalists who helped one another get jobs, including work in film, television, and night clubs. Fern very generously shared with me programs, news clippings, photographs, and her memories of her early days in all-girl bands.

At age 89, in a letter Fern wrote, “I can’t believe this girl from Loveland, Ohio, played professionally for 80 years, started when I was 9. My dad was a terrific musician and taught us all except the piano. Did you know we played for my sister’s graduation in 1917? Doesn’t seem possible that I’m still alive.”  Fern was extraordinary, she inspired several generations of musicians, and she will be remembered. She is survived by her son, John Jaros, daughter Gail McQuary, granddaughters Stacy Jaros and Deborah Demartinos, and two great granddaughters.

Oh, by the way, I’m writing a book on Babe Egan and the Hollywood Redheads and welcome any information anyone has about this amazing all-girl band from the 1920s and 30s.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Arranger and composer Van Alexander (b. 1915) is considered by many to be the dean of contemporary music arrangers; he also knows how to tell a joke. Among his colleagues, he is considered to be one who did it all, from big band, stage shows, television, film, and records, yet through it all, has enjoyed an enviable family life and extended circle of devoted friends and admirers. Finally his memoirs have been written, with Stephen Fratallone, and published by Bear Manor Media ( and on Amazon).

With a forward by Alexander’s former student and dear friend, Johnny Mandel, the book is a chronicle of the music end of the entertainment business of the 20th century. Alexander leaves little out and includes the good, the bad, and (even a few moments about) the ugly, but with grace and a deep appreciation for the charmed life and career he has. The writing style is light and breezy, as if he was regaling us with these stories in person over a drink in a favorite night spot, not bogged down with unnecessary detail, bitterness, or regret.

Van Alexander formed his own band in the late 1930s and played theaters into the 1940s. He was hired by Bob Crosby in the late 1940s to work in Hollywood and Alexander worked extensively as a composer, arranger, and conductor for film scores. 

As one would desire, the book is full of fascinating stories about people he has known and with whom he worked: celebrities Ella Fitzgerald, Chick Webb, Benny Carter, Dean Martin, Les Brown, Kay Starr, Tex Ritter, Mel Blanc, Bob Crosby, Morey Amsterdam, Gordon MacRae, along side the not-so-famous, yet talented musicians who should not be forgotten, including the guys who played in his bands. The photographs from Van’s personal collection are reason enough to take a look at this book. Preparing a memoir like this is a labor of true love and a lovely gift to his wife of 70 years, Beth, his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. But is also a gift to those of us who fervently hope that 20th century music makers continue to be appreciated and the dynamic American music legacy is well documented for future generations.

Thank you, Van. You make us all proud. [Published originally in The Overture, September 2009.]

Sunday, June 20, 2010



On May 17, 2010 I heard Berkeley Price play the Artie Shaw Concerto for Clarinet (arrangement by Ted Parsons for concert band) at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center in a concert presented by Antelope Valley College. Price conducts the Antelope Valley Concert Band and the Antelope Valley College Clarinet Choir and serves as Professor of Music Theory. The Artie Shaw concerto was conducted on this concert by guest conductor Dr. David Newby and also featured Lucas Zumbado on drums.

A leading musician of the swing era, Artie Shaw’s (1910-2004) clarinet concerto was featured in the movie Second Chorus (1940) and shows the astounding range of Shaw’s own clarinet playing and great technical facility. Shaw started to perform professionally in the mid-1920s, both jazz and classical music. Compositionally, Shaw was influenced by Stravinsky and Debussy. This year marks the centenary of Shaw’s birth and many performances of this and other Shaw works are being heard around the world. Berkeley Price played this concerto brilliantly and with pizzazz. It was thrilling to hear it and Price should play this concerto any chance he gets. I heard the Antelope Valley Concert Band last year and they have made extraordinary progress in a very short time.

Berkeley Price holds both the Master and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees from the Eastman School of Music where he studied with Peter Hadcock, Eli Eban, and Kenneth Grant. His solo and ensemble tours have taken him to Europe, China, Ukraine, Japan, Greece, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and throughout the United States. Congratulations to Berkeley Price and Antelope Valley College and happy 100th birthday to Artie Shaw.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kim Richmond Concert Jazz Orchestra

On Monday night June 14, 2010 I heard the first set of The Kim Richmond Concert Jazz Orchestra at Typhoon Restaurant at the Santa Monica Airport. [The list of players is in my blog posting below.] Kim is a prolific composer/arranger, band leader and saxophone player. A seasoned musician, he's worked with Stan Kenton, Louie Bellson, Bob Florence, Bill Holman, and Vinny Golia, among others (, and in addition to this big BIG band, he has a sextet and other smaller groups. Being able to hear live this symphonic big band sound with some of the best jazz musicians in the world is a good enough reason to be in L.A.

The set began with a Richmond original chart called "Augustana," featuring first trumpet Bob O'Donnell and Glen Berger on tenor sax. Next they did Richmond's arrangement of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" (Arlen/Harburg) featuring Alex Budman (flute) and guitarist Tom Hynes, that seemed particularly poetic with airplanes taking off into the last rays of the setting sun. Next they played Richmond's Gil Evans-inspired arrangement of "Passacaglia (a Larry Koonse tune) and "My Funny Valentine" (Rogers and Hart), with Richmond playing the solo on alto, reminiscent of that dreamy, romantic smoked-filled room sax sound of the 1940s.

The band then premiered Richmond's ingenious bop chart of "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" (Allie Wrubel/Ray Gilbert) featuring duets by first alto player Alex Budman with Jonathan Dane (trumpet), followed by Rich Eames on keyboard. This is an unsentimental, rip-roaring, calamitous arrangement, and I loved it. To slow things down a bit, they played Richmond's arrangement of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" featuring tenor sax solo by John Yoakim and Rich Eames on keyboard. The band could have done a better job blending on those supporitve lush harmonies on this tune.

The set concluded with Richmond's original composition "Anchor of Hope" (2007?), a big symphonic jazz orchestra work lasting more than 20 minutes, and certainly the highlight of the set. The colorful writing is full of grand gestures and Richmond takes us to unexpected places on his epic quest. Extraordinary percussionist Ralph Razze held the piece together during its many complex transitions, which ranges from a heroic theme that sounds like it would work for the main title of an adventure flick to a completely incorrigible trombone solo by Joey Sellers that disinigrates into bedlam (as the rest of the band drops out); followed then by a tenor sax solo by Glen Berger that trades off with trumpeter Jonathan Dane (again the band drops out so the soloists can finish their business); winding up with a light yet exotic tropical island sounding section featuring orchestral woodwind writing followed by electric guitar solo (Tom Hynes), ending with a thrilling trumpet solo played by Ron King. Richmond thinks architecturally with all of his big band charts and is a sensitive, thoughtful musician; he's poetic even when striving for that large epic symphonic grand statement; the band surrenders and goes along with him on this journey.

There was no cover charge or minimun at Typhoon and the food is excellent and reasonably priced that works out well for LA jazz fans; Typhoon's always draws a full house for jazz on Monday nights. By all accounts I should have stayed for the equally compelling second set. Next time. As usual the audience was full of great talent, too: Peter Myers and his lovely wife, Don Shelton, Frank Macchia, Jeff Clayton, and Annie Patterson.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


This news from Kim Richmond: "Next Monday for a performance of the Kim Richmond Concert Jazz Orchestra. New material and tried and true pieces to be played.
WHERE: Typhoon Restaurant, 3221 Donald Douglas Loop South, Santa Monica Airport
WHEN: Monday, June 14,2010 sets are 8 PM and 9:30 PM
WHO: Woodwinds: Alex Budman, Phil Feather, Glen Berger, John Yoakum, Bob Carr
Trumpets: Bob O'Donnell, Ron King, Steve Huffsteter, Jonathan Dane
French horns: Stephanie O'Keefe, Jean Marinelli
Trombones: Bruce Fowler, Joey Sellers, George McMullen, Morris Repass
Rhythm: Rich Eames, piano; Tom Hynes, guitar; Joel Hamilton, bass; Ralph Razze, drums
Leader, conductor, alto and soprano saxophone: Kim Richmond.
No cover charge
Convenient parking

Friday, June 11, 2010

Singer/Drummer Jerrie Thill, 4/16/1917-5/13/2010

Recently I lost an old friend, Jerrie Thill, who had celebrated her 93rd birthday in April. The last time I heard her singing, it was at jazz trumpeter Stacy Rowles' (1955-2009) memorial in January, at Local 47 of the AFM, even though Jerrie was lugging around an oxygen tank. She hugged me and told me she was "hanging in there" but hadn't been well.

Jerrie was a singer, entertainer, drummer (self-taught, but rather unusual stick techniques), and a Life Member of Local 47 of the American Federation of Musicians. Jerrie was the drummer/singer for the senior citizen women's Dixieland Jazz band, Peggy Gilbert and The Dixie Belles. I produced their one and only recording for Cambria Master Recordings (in 1986), wrote a book (Peggy Gilbert and Her All-Girl Band, Scarecrow, 2008), and made a documentary film about them ( Jerrie had joined the Dixie Belles in 1974 and played with them for more than 20 years. The highlight of Jerrie's career perhaps were the national television appearances with Peggy Gilbert and the Dixie Belles, including "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson," "The Golden Girls," "Married...With Children," and "Trapper John, M.D." (the latter one, without Peggy), not to mention various national news programs.

Born in Dubuque, Iowa, (named Geraldine Wissing), Jerrie started performing professionally in her late teens. She was in all girl bands in the 1930s, touring vaudeville in the waning days of that tradition. She moved to Los Angeles in 1945 and played drums at the Flamingo Night Club in Hollywood from 1945 until 1952; she toured in Ada Leonard's all-girl band in 1953-54, and played with The Biltmore Girls in the mid 1950s. Her early life in the business was rough, mostly because of The Great Depression, and oh boy, did she have stories to tell. Jerrie had street smarts, a sharp tongue, and could be very funny. She would describe herself as "a tough old broad;" she survived two bouts of cancers. But, oh, did she love entertaining the crowds! In 1984 she began playing at the vintage Mexican restaurant, El Cid, in Silver Lake for a Sunday jazz brunch, and held court there for more than 25 years. Her website is still up: and there are some clips of her playing on

Only the piano player Georgia Shilling is still with us from the original band members of The Dixie Belles. A grand generation of old gals. Peggy Gilbert died in 2007. These were seasoned jazz musicians who knew what was what. How fortunate we were to have known them! The Peggy Gilbert and The Dixie Belles cd is still available: and I still have a box of the original lps, if you want one for your vinyl collection. Jerrie sings, "When You're Smiling," her signature tune and these women play Dixieland jazz like they had invented it. [The photo above shows Jerrie with bass player Feather Johnston, in their Dixie Belle costumes.]

When The Goddess made Jerrie, we can be certain, she threw away the mold.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Mike Lang Trio at Catalina's

On Friday, June 4, 2010, I had the pleasure of hearing The Mike Lang Trio at Catalina's Bar and Grill (6725 Sunset Blvd.) in Hollywood. A well-known studio recording musician, Lang has more than 45 years of professional work behind him and is still one of the busiest and hardest working guys in show business. One of the most recorded keyboardists heard on film, television, and commercial recordings internationally today, few know his name, even though they certainly know his playing. In many respects, Mike is a "musician's musician"--many of his most avid fans are other musicians who know exactly what it takes to make it all sound so smooth and easy.

With Michael Valerio on bass (known as a versatile player in classical, pop, and jazz) and drummer Jimmy Paxson (long associated with Stevie Nicks, Alanis Morisette, among others), The Mike Lang Trio did a single set, beginning with Mancini's "Days of Wine and Roses." Lang knew Mancini, played in Mancini recording sessions, and recorded an entire disc of Mancini tunes in 1994 on the Varese Sarabande label (currently available for digital download from iTunes).

Sensitive and expressive, Paxson always goes for the gradations of colors and textures that best support the music, listening carefully to everything happening around him; sometimes using his hands lightly on the drum heads, large fuzzy mallets for long sustained cymbal rolls, and whatever else might be needed at the moment. Lang said that he has learned a lot by playing with Valerio and that says a lot about Valerio's musicianship. Valerio pleased the audience with his glorious acoustic bass playing, but less would have been more in some passages. I would have preferred a richer sound when he played electric bass--more like what we heard on his acoustic bass. Lang's playing is clean, balanced, economical, yet he knows how to intensify the playing, thickening up the textures and giving it full force when required. It is this dynamic range and power that makes him a joy to experience, but I love his playing most when it is gentle and introspective. Lang produces a gorgeous, even tone at the piano, but at Catalina's it was perhaps mic-ed too close for comfort, making it sound unnecessarily harsh at times.

Bebop jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's tune, "Little Sunflower," started out with bass, after Lang acknowledged that legendary percussionist Emil Richards had inspired him to revisit the tune from the 1960s. Next they put three tunes back to back in honor of Bill Evans: "Peace Piece" (Bill Evans), "Flamenco Sketches" (Miles Davis-Bill Evans, 1959) and "Some Other Time" (Leonard Bernstein). This was followed by the old standard "All the Things You Are (Jerome Kern) which demonstrated the brilliant agility of the trio.

In honor of Jerry Goldsmith's widow, Carol, who was in the audience, the trio played music from the film "The Edge" which had served as the end title for Jerry's score (Mike Lang is heard on the original improvised track). Next they played Mike Lang's heartfelt tune "Mandela, " dedicated to Africa and Nelson Mandela. The tune begins as a freedom anthem, turns into a gospel number, and becomes a funky dance tune. Lang needs to get this down on a recording and get it into a film before someone takes it from him--it is that good. I first heard it when Mike played it with bassist Abraham Laboriel, Jr. at an ASMAC luncheon (American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers) in the fall, 2009, and loved it then, too. The set ended with one of Lang's favorites, "My Funny Valentine," paired with Leon Russell's "A Song for You."

The audience was right there with the trio from the first note until the last, applauding enthusiastically throughout the set, including a whole host of astoundingly good musicians like Ralph Grierson, Don Davis, Jimmy Bond (Wrecking Crew bass), composer/pianist Ric Mandel, British sax player/composer John Altman, among others. You can hear Mike on Tuesday night, June 15 at 8 pm at Charlie O's with John Altman's band. (Thanks to Pierre Andre for allowing me to use his photo here from the show.)

Sunday, June 6, 2010


Welcome to Jeannie On Jazz. Watch this blog for future posts on The Mike Lang Trio at Catalina's (review, June 4, 2010), Tribute to Jazz Drummer Jerry Thill, Babe Egan and the Hollywood Redheads, along with reviews of new books on Cafe Society, Hazel Scott, Lena Horne, and Hoagy Carmichael.