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Monday, May 14, 2012

Peggy Gilbert & Her All-Girl Band DVD Now Available

I'm pleased to announced that the Peggy Gilbert & Her All-Girl Band DVD (Jaygayle Music Productions) is now available on Ebay. I wrote, directed, and scored this documentary and it is 75 minutes in length. It was narrated by Lily Tomlin. It has been shown at film festivals, colleges and universities, but has not been available for purchase.

As a performer on saxophone, clarinet, violin, and vibes, as well as a singer, arranger and contractor for women musicians, Peggy Gilbert (1905-2007) was a one-woman support network and staunch advocate for women since the 1920s. A professional tenor saxophonist for more than 80 years, she inspired generations of musicians and displayed a vivacity that belied her age, right up to her death at the age of 102. Perhaps she lived so long in order to tell the stories of the remarkable women musicians of her generation who broke down the barriers before them as female instrumentalists. This documentary tells Peggy Gilbert's story with more than 800 rare photographs of women musicians and all-girl bands (from The Peggy Gilbert Archive). Her last band, Peggy Gilbert and The Dixie Belles, played hot Dixieland jazz on national television, at jazz festivals, and in concerts from 1974 until 1994. Appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Golden Girls, Ellen, Simon & Simon, and other sitcoms, made them famous coast-to-coast, even ass octogenarians. This band is featured on the film's soundtrack, along with my original score.

"A joyful celebration of one woman's extraordinary life,"--Leonard Maltin. 

 "If male jazz musicians could achieve royal rank, providing us with a Duke and a Count, Peggy Gilbert's career was clearly a testament to her progression from Princess to Queen Mother."--Larry Gelbart.

If you love this DVD, don't miss: Peggy Gilbert & The Dixie Belles Jazz (Cambria Master Recordings compact disc), and my biography of Peggy, Peggy Gilbert & Her All-Girl Band (Scarecrow Press, 2008).

Visit peggygilbert.org for more information about this DVD and the production.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Trumpeter Jane Sager dies at 97



The current issue of The Overture (Local 47, AF of M, May 2012) announced that trumpeter Jane Sager has died.  The article was written by her long-time friend, Norma Petersen. Jane Sager was born in Milwaukee June 4, 1914, and played violin and piano as a child. she supported herself while attending Stephens College by playing trumpet.  After college, she moved to Chicago to study with Edward Lewellyn of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; with the Platinum Blondes of America, touring Cuba; with Rita Rio’s all-girl band; and with Ada Leonard on USO tours. She also played with Peggy Gilbert, and with Ina Ray Hutton on TV in the 1950s. In addition, she played in Johnny Richards’ (1911–1968), a.k.a. Johnny Cascales, orchestra during World War II, as well as a CBS Studio band in Hollywood; with the house band for the Casino Gardens; and with Charlie Barnet and His Orchestra. Jane started her own all-girl band and comedy show called “The Frivolous Five,” with other veteran women musicians. She played several times on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and with Jack Benny’s Las Vegas and Tahoe comedy shows. Jane Sager describes her role in the creation of Ada Leonard’s All American Girls Band and her USO tours in chapter 8 of Sherri Tucker, Swing Shift: All-Girl” Bands in the 1940s (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000).

In her August 1979 women-in-music column in The Overture, Peggy Gilbert wrote about Jane: “…There were many top musicians in her [Ina Ray Hutton’s] orchestras, including trumpeter Jane Sager, who has not only played with the best of the men’s bands around the country but has taught them how to play their instrument and is now considered one of the finest trumpet teachers and coaches in the country.”

Jane Sager had a music studio at Highland and Selma near Hollywood Boulevard for many years and taught some of today’s best trumpeters. According to Ann Patterson, “Jane was a good lead trumpet player, a good jazz player, worked with well-known male bands as well as top female bands, and has had little recognition considering her talents. She was also an amazing teacher. The best in Hollywood were trained by her when they were young and ‘repaired’ by her when they were seasoned pros with problem chops.” On January 11, 2002 Jane Sager and Peggy Gilbert were honored with Lil Hardin Armstrong Jazz Heritage Awards by the International Association for Jazz Education at their 29th annual convention in Long Beach. [The Overture, February 2002, p. 24]. I took this picture of Jane and Peggy that day, receiving the award from Ann Patterson, shown here with other attendees.  For the last seven years Jane lived in Morro Bay, California.

Rest in peace, dear Jane. You were brave; you were bold. You won’t be forgotten!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

115th Anniversary of the Birth of Florence “Babe” Mary Egan, May 1, 1897

             Mary Florence Cecilia Egan, known as “Babe,” was born May 1, 1897 in Seattle, Washington, and died February, 1966, in San Gabriel, California. Her parents were John G. Egan (1857-1913), a newspaper reporter and editor, and his wife, Alice Cecelia Doran Egan (1857-1928).  Babe's family and professional connections, encouragement and support were crucial to her  success. Descendants of Irish-American pioneers and adventurers who settled the far western United States in the second half of the nineteenth century, Babe was infused with the “can do” American spirit. She moved to Hollywood in 1919 and worked on silent film sets, playing her violin to inspire the actors' performances.
            In 1924 she formed a band, Babe Egan and the Hollywood Redheads, which became one of the first all-female bands to hit the big time in the United States.  She was a charismatic, dynamic, determined, and talented musician and band leader, and had she been a man, she would be included in all history books about popular American music of the 1920s. But because of the discrimination faced by women  instrumentalists of her generation, Babe and her band are barely mentioned, even as a footnote in jazz history.  However, when one goes back to the periodicals of the 1920s and 30s, one discovers not only were they successful as a band on the vaudeville circuit, but they were among the most successful and financially rewarded musicians of their generation. Babe earned more than $50,000 a year in the late 1920s and was considered to be one of the highest paid women in vaudeville and her band inspired a generation of all-girl bands that followed, not to mention countless individual women to become instrumentalists. She earned and spent a fortune.

            These engaging "Queens of Syncopation" were adorned with rave reviews for their act, from the first engagement until the last: "This act has delightful smartness and dash;"  "A positive syncopated sensation!" "Nine sparkling live wires in a whirlwind of syncopated melody," "A whirlwind of rollicking mirth and rhythm," An Octette of Sunkist California beauties," "Red Hot Mama Stuff," "The Gaity Girls from the Golden West," "A riot of syncopation," "Not only red-headed, but red hot!" "A jazzy, snappy orchestra."

            Babe Egan and Her Hollywood Redheads was a novelty act that set off a craze for such all-girl groups. But it was more than a novelty act because of its high level of musicality and show business savvy. Their kind of performance was known as a "flash act" in vaudeville, because it included a couple of hot jazz numbers with women in glamorous clothes "to close the bill."  Babe's act featured music, with the 9 to 12 members of the band playing as many as 30 different instruments during a single show. The high-energy presentation included vocal numbers, solos, specialty dances, skits, all with a collegiate twist, sexy, yet proper enough for European royalty and for family entertainment in the heartland of America.

            I have written about Babe Egan and her Hollywood Redheads in my book, Peggy Gilbert and Her All-Girl Band (Scarecrow Press, 2008) and mention them in my documentary film (same title as the book) which will soon be released on DVD. Currently, I am writing Babe Egan’s biography, an amazing American story about a brilliant woman musician. Hard to believe that she was born 115 years ago—I live with her each and every day as I research and write her life story.  I’d appreciate hearing from anyone who has information on Babe and the band. I’m looking desperately for their Vitaphone discs and any other recordings.  [Photo caption: Babe Egan on the Million Dollar Pier, Atlantic City, New Jersey, June 1927.]

             


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Babe Egan and the Hollywood Redheads at Berlin Wintergarten Theatre, 1929

 Babe Egan and the Hollywood Redheads did a year-long European tour in 1929, and performed at the Wintergarten in Berlin from August 1 through October 1, 1929. The day before the Redheads opened, they were required to appear at the theater to have their pictures taken and for a rehearsal. The theater manager and the house orchestra leader wanted to change the Redhead's act but couldn’t speak English well enough to explain to Babe what they wanted.  Babe was adamant that they leave her act alone and a loud argument ensued. Just in a nick of time, the girls’ dogs came into the theater and charmed the manager into submission. After opening night, their billing was changed from 3rd to 10th because they were such a hit.  While performing at the Wintergarten, the Redheads stayed at the Central Hotel, near the Zentralbahnhoff.

One of trombonist Fern Spaulding Jaros’s solos with Babe Egan and the Hollywood Redheads was “When Day is Done” and while in Berlin she had the thrill of performing it at the Wintergarten with the composer in the audience. The song, originally called “Madonna, Du Bist Sch├Âner als der Sonnenschein” (in English, “Madonna, you are more beautiful than the sunshine”) was written by the German composer Dr. Robert Katscher (also a dentist).  Dr. Katscher told Fern, “You play my song better than even Paul Whiteman’s soloist.”  Paul Whiteman’s orchestra made this tune famous in the United States with their recording on Victor (#35828) featuring cornet soloist Henry Busse.  B. G. De Sylva wrote an English lyric in 1916.  Katscher (1894-1942) was a Viennese Jewish composer and arranger, who eventually died in exile in Hollywood.  He also composed “The Wonder Bar” and co-composed with Cole Porter, the musical “You Never Know” (1938) (generally agreed to be a failure).

Here is the band's Berlin Wintergarten poster and a 1929 postcard showing the spacious stage of the where they performed. The Wintergarten Theatre opened in 1887 and was destroyed by Allied bombs in June 1944.—Jeannie Pool is writing a book on Babe Egan and the Hollywood Redheads and welcomes any information readers may have about the Berlin Wintergarten Theatre.