Thursday, November 18, 2010

Babe Egan and The Ravenna Theater, Los Angeles

The band’s first extended job was performing at the Ravenna Theater from June 17-September 19, 1925. The theater was also known as the Chotiner’s Hollywood Ravenna, seating for 798 people, was located at 233 N. Vermont Avenue. The architect was Richard D. King. The band played at the beginning of the show followed by an accompaniment for the newsreel. Then the Wurlitzer pipe organ would take over so the band could prepare for its big featured performance. 

The opening souvenir program booklet for The Ravenna indicated that Max Chotiner was the President; H.W. Chotiner was the Secretary-Treasurer and the General Manager was H.W. Woodin. According to, the theater which had a single screen was at one time owned and operated by Fox.

The program booklet published the earliest photograph of the band and listed it as “The Orchestra” with this description:

“Babe Egan’s Ravenna Redheads; Exponents of Classical and Popular Music. Nowhere in Sunny California will you find a musical organization such as this. Miss Egan, widely and very favorably known on every vaudeville circuit of the country, has long been designated as 'Queen of Syncopation,' therefore the Ravenna patrons are to be congratulated on the stroke of good business that secured the services of Miss Egan and her Redheads."

Band members included Mildred Stevenson; Dorothy Sauter, Edith Griffith, Juanita Klein, Estelle Dilthey, Bottom row, Elva MacNair, and Anne Rehnborg. I would enjoy hearing from anyone who remembers this theater or heard Babe Egan's band.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Researching Babe Egan and Her Hollywood Redheads

Babe Egan (1897-1966)  was a violinist and bandleader who had an all-girl band called the Hollywood Redheads that was very successful from 1924 until 1933.  They toured those years as a vaudeville act throughout the United States, Canada, and in Europe.  In the 1980s, I met several of the "girls" who had played with her and heard the amazing stories about Babe and her band.  Many women musicians in Los Angeles who knew her and who had played with her band said she was a terrific musician and inspired them to go into music professionally. I wrote about Babe and her band in my my book, Peggy Gilbert & Her All-Girl Band (Scarecrow Press, 2008).  In the next couple of weeks on this blog I will share with you some of my research.  I am writing a book about the band and keep running into snags--things that I just can't figure out. 

In many ways, doing such research is like being a detective.  I have very few items that Babe wrote herself. Most all of the documents are from the band members' recollections and from newspaper accounts.  Sometimes it is difficult to separate the promotional materials (hoopla) from what actual took place.  Researching vaudeville history is always difficult because there were tens of thousands of vaudeville performers and hundreds of venues. An earlier post on this blog was about one of Babe's trombone player Fern Spaulding Jaros who played with Babe's band. The other musicians included: Estelle Dilthey (drums), Billy (ie) Farley (banjo), Edith Griffith (piano), Dot Sauter (bass),  Mildred Stevenson (trombone and violin), Anne B. Rehnborg (trumpet),  Shirley Lee Thomas (trumpet), Marie Connor (saxophone), Audrey Hall Petroff (saxophone), Jerry Mark (saxophone), Juanita Klein (saxophone and clarinet), Virginia Maupin (trumpet and violin), Miriam Stiglitz (saxophone), among others.  I would appreciate any information my readers have about Babe and her band members. Anyone else interested in jazz history of the 1920s and vaudeville?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Review of Hazel Scott Biography

Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist from Café Society to Hollywood to HUAC. By Karen Chilton. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2008.

This recently published book sheds new light on the complex issues of racial, ethnic, and gender conflict in mid-century American jazz and entertainment industry history by focusing on trailblazer Hazel Scott, while providing new information on some key figures.

Hazel Scott (1920-1981) was a pianist, singer, composer, arranger, actress, and civil rights leader—an extraordinarily talented, dynamic, and gorgeous woman with phenomenal success as an original cross-over artist, bridging classical music, jazz and music for Hollywood films (playing herself). She challenged and broke down some of the barriers (racial and gender) of the times with her hurricane- force personality and power, but at a considerable personal cost. Scott was like a high-wire trapeze artist who performed without a safety net. The audacious Scott became an international super star at a rather young age and then descended rather rapidly to obscurity. By 35, she was broken, full of self-doubt, depressed, and suicidal. Sometimes it is just too hard to be the first and only. Hazel Scott was a woman of great dignity and personality, with backbone and grit, but not without personal contradictions.

New York-based writer-actor, Karen Chilton is the coauthor of I Wish You Love, the jazz memoir of vocalist Gloria Lynne. Chilton’s own preparation as a classical pianist at the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago proved to be great asset in her work on Hazel Scott. An audio version is also available of this biography.

Although essentially a celebrity biography, this book contains detailed accounts of the “Jim Crow” discrimination she encountered in Texas, State of Washington and in Washington, D.C., among other placed. Originally from Trinidad, her family relocated to Harlem in New York City in the 1920s. A child prodigy, she auditioned at Juilliard School at 8 years of age, at 14 played Town Hall, and by fifteen was on the same bill with Count Basie at Roseland Ballroom. She knew and worked with Billie Holiday, Art Tatum, Fats Waller, and Lester Young. First appearing in 1939 at the age of 19 at the Café Society (recommended to Josephson by Billie Holiday), she was a standard on the bill there where she played her jazz renditions of music by Chopin, Bach, and Rachmaninoff. She worked in Hollywood where she challenged the studios’ treatment of black actors.

Her complex and tumultuous marriage in 1945 to controversial Harlem minister and black congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., was widely covered in the press. She refused to perform for segregated audiences, and an outspoken advocate for civil rights. Stunningly beautiful and very sexy, she played with abandon and freedom that was tantalizing and exhilarating (Some of her film clips can be seen on, if you have never seen a Hazel Scott performance.) She joined the expatriate community in Paris after her dealings with the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy era. Scott asked to appear before HUAC and made some statement that implicated others, including Barney Jospehson. This book provides a lengthy account of the situation and Scott’s position. Many of her old friends and associates felt she was guilty of “naming names” in her testimony and ostracized her.

This is an authorized and uncritical biography, but a major contribution to African American and gender studies in music, made possible by Hazel Scott’s son, Adam Clayton Powell III, who provided Chilton photographs, recordings, and Hazel Scott’s journal writings which Hazel Scott had hoped to turn into a memoir she intended to title “Scott Free.” Many things are stated as fact in the book cause one to react, “According to whom? Who says?” Many things that Hazel Scott wrote in her diaries represent only her opinion, perspective, or spin, but may not be entirely truthful or factually accurate. Additional research to collaborate what was found in Hazel Scott’s personal papers and diaries is in order. But for now, at least we have Hazel Scott’s perspective on her own and dramatic high-flying life. One hopes that the primary sources upon which this book is based will find their way into a research collection and be made accessible to others interested in Hazel Scott. Although the book is indexed, contains some fascinating photographs, and includes a discography, filmography, and bibliography, it does not include a list Hazel Scott’s compositions (including her ingenious arrangements). One hopes that this book will inspire other scholars in jazz, women’s studies, and African-American history to take a closer look at Hazel Scott’s legacy and realize that there is more to the story than a prodigy who seemed to many to be her own worst enemy.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Syd Hoff's FAN DANCE


To supplement my recent post on the biography of Barney Josephson, I wanted to let you know about Syd Hoff's FAN DANCE.   In the book, Cafe Society (reviewed below) there is a reproduction in black and white of the mural by Syd Hoff which was created for the original Cafe Society in the late 1930s.  When I saw the reproduction in the book, I said to myself, "Hey, I know that work!"  It hangs in my favorite Mimi's Restaurant on Los Feliz Blvd. in Los Angeles and I love to eat in that room so I can enjoy viewing the work. So how did this piece of art end up in Los Angeles, I wondered?  My friend, Michael Sheehan, did some research and found a website dedicated to Syd Hoff (http://www/  Syd Hoff's niece, Carol Edmonston, who lives in Fullerton, California, also wondered why the reproduction of this mural was in the Mimi's Cafe in Tustin and eventually figured out that the 5' x 10' reproduction is found in 44 of the 116 Mimi's Restaurants throughout the United States.  She contacted Mimi's and asked that they credit her uncle Syd (1912- 2004), for the art work, so now there is a plaque next to each of the 44 reproductions crediting Syd Hoff.  Hoff, you may know, wrote Danny and the Dinosaur, a very famous children's book, but he was also a prolific cartoonist for The New Yorker.  There is still a mystery to solve about the location of the original piece of art and how the mass production of the piece was accomplished (without his signature).  Perhaps you have a clue to share with Carol Edmonston?  Perhaps you share my love of Syd Hoff's work?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Café Society: The Wrong Place for the Right People by Barney Josephson with Terry Trilling-Josephson. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2009 (“Music in American Life Series.”) With a foreword by Dan Morgenstern.

Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist from Café Society to Hollywood to HUAC. By Karen Chilton. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2008.

Two recent books published by two academic presses, shed new light on the complex issues of racial, ethnic, and gender conflict in mid-century American jazz and entertainment industry history by focusing on some trailblazers, while providing new information on some key figures. Both books are labor-of-love social histories/memoirs of impresario-producers, entertainers and musicians, who contributed to American popular culture and commercial music, jazz, film, radio television and recording industry. Both books incorporate and weave together material gleaned from press reviews, magazine articles, and other contemporary accounts, with personal recollections of people who were involved (either written or oral histories). Most fascinating are the personal recollections, distinct voices heretofore not heard, including businessman-impresario Barney Josephson and pianist-singer Hazel Scott.

Café Society: The Wrong Place for the Right People tells the personal story of Barney Josephson (1902-1988) , founder and owner of the infamous interracial New York City nightclubs Café Society Downtown in Greenwich Village (opening in December 1938), Café Society Uptown (openings in October 1940), and later, The Cookery (which started presenting live entertainment in 1971). A remarkable and visionary man, Josephson was a true humanist who created a place where artists of all ethnic and racial backgrounds could perform for mixed audiences when segregation was the routine on the New York nightclub scene and most nightclubs were under mob jurisdiction. The décor of these nightclubs included satiric murals lampooning “high society.” Josephson commissioned many artists to contribute to the unique décor of his establishments, including Syd Hoff, Abe Birnbaum, John Groth, Gregor Duncan, William Gropper. Anton Refregier, and Christina Malman. Josephson told them, “You’re free to paint what you like, absolute freedom.” (p. 26).

Josephson presented the best of jazz, blues, spirituals, gospel, boogie-woogie piano, and the American songbook, performed by the best and the brightest entertainers, including Billie Holliday, Lena Horne, Hazel Scott, Paul Robeson, Mildred Bailey, Kay Starr, Sarah Vaughan. Big Joe Turner, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Mary Lou Williams, Big Sid Catlett, and comedians Jack Gilford, Imogene Coca, and Zero Mostel; and dancer Pearl Primus, among others. Barney Josephson was an ardent friend and confidant of some amazingly talented musicians and fostered their artistic development by offering regular work and long-term contracts. Many who were given an important first break at Café Society went on to have major careers in radio, film, television, and as recording artists. Music producer John Hammond was Josephson’s key talent advisor in the early days of Café Society. Ivan Black, a friend from Josephson’s high school days, was his maverick press agent.

Underlying this epic posthumous memoir is a story of enduring love and devotion. Although this book is written in first-person, it is the work of Barney Josephson’s last wife, Terry Trilling-Josephson (they met in 1979, when he was 76), and is based on her taped recorded and transcribed interviews with Josephson at the end of his life. Trilling-Josephson, an associate professor of communications and performing arts of The City University of New York, former actress and speech pathologist, describes her husband as a “marvelous raconteur” and recognized the value of his recollections for jazz history. Two years after his death, she returned to the project to create a posthumous memoir. She interviewed many of the musicians and performing and visual artists from Barney’s life; some contributed their own memories of him to the book. She did some research and wove together his words, her interviews, press clippings, reviews and testimonies of people from Josephson’s life into this memoir. Some of book has the tone of a fond eulogy, yet other parts read like a “show business tell all.” Although a patchwork job was required to put it together, the book is generally a well-paced and fascinating read. Sometimes the chronology seems a bit muddled with some tales told out of order and a few repetitive passages, but generally it works well and make an important contribution to the literature.

This memoir contains a poignant account of life during the Great Depression, American race relations, and the inquisitions of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which focused it zealous attention on Josephson’s brother, Leon, who had ties to the Communist Party, USA. Barney Josephson was tarred with the same brush during the Red Scare which forced the closing of the Café Society. Barney Josephson re-emerged later opening a hamburger restaurant, The Cookery where he eventually added live entertainment to the very intimate space, including Mary Lou Williams, Albert Hunter (who made a comeback there at age 82 in 1977, after twenty years out of the business, working as a nurse), Helen Humes, and Susan McCorkle,.

The book also details Josephson’s long and complex relationship with Hazel Scott (later to become Mrs. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.) as her employer and manager. He was outraged by her “false testimony” against him when she appeared at a HUAC hearing (at her own request) that she performed for certain benefit concerts because Josephson insisted she do so; he said that he left the decision up to the performers whether or not to contribute a performance to benefit various causes (many identified by HUAC as communist-related organizations. Her side of this story is found in the Hazel Scott biography to be discussed in the next post.)

Some gossipy tidbits seem vindictive and may have been included to settle old scores. The tone and details of some of these reports may be hurtful to people and their families and should have been edited out, for example, the name of his lover and intimate details of his sex life at age 21. Some things should be forgotten; Barney Josephson’s role in the history of twentieth-century American music should not.

Next time:  a review of the Hazel Scott biography.

Monday, July 12, 2010

ASMAC Golden Score Awards July 22--Shaiman and Nestico Honored


On Thursday evening, July 22, 2010, The American Society of Music Arrangers & Composers will host the Annual Golden Score Awards, hosted by actor/producer Rob Reiner, at the Universal Hilton Hotel in Universal City. The 2010 Golden Score Award will be presented to the multi-talented award winning film, television and theatrical composer, lyricist and arranger Marc Shaiman. And, the Award for Lifetime Achievement in Arranging will be presented to the prolific arranger / conductor Sammy Nestico.

Performances for the evening include Actress, Singer, Comedienne Jenifer Lewis; Tony Award winning Actress & star of Hairspray on Broadway Marissa Jaret Winokur; Jazz greats John Clayton and Johnny Mandel and surprise guests TBD! The Citrus College Blue Note Orchestra will also perform.

Marc Shaiman’s career began as a theatre/cabaret musical director. His work with both Bette Midler and Billy Crystal led to his involvement in their films and the rest is history. Marc’s lengthy filmography now includes Broadcast News, Beaches, When Harry Met Sally, Misery, Sleepless in Seattle, The American President, The First Wives Club, Ghosts of Mississippi, The Wedding Planner, The Bucket List, Hairspray I and II, among others. Television credits have included "Saturday Night Live," multiple Academy Awards (including 2010), Emmy Awards, The Tony Awards, Jay Leno, Bette, and Martin Short plus multiple specials. Theatrically and on the concert circuit he has worked with Bette, Billy, Peter Allen, Patti LuPone, Nathan Lane, Martin Short, Tracy Ullman, Robin Williams, Hairspray, The Odd Couple, and more.

At the age of 17, Sammy Nestico became the staff arranger for WCAE Radio in Pittsburgh; he joined the USAF Band in Washington, DC as a staff arranger and subsequently became the leader of the famous Airmen of Note for 15 years. Sammy spent 14 years with the Count Basie Orchestra (winning 4 Grammy awards) while simultaneously being engaged by Capitol Records as arranger/orchestrator, co-writing the equivalent of 63 albums for them. He has arranged and/or conducted for Phil Collins, Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson and more. His numerous television credits - Merv Griffin, Goldie Hawn, "The Tonight Show," Bob Hope, "Mission Impossible," "Hawaii Five-O," "The Bob Newhart Show," "Charlie’s Angels," "M.A.S.H." and many more plus feature films and national commercials.

The evening begins with cocktails and silent auction at 6pm, followed by dinner at 7:15 pm and awards and entertainment. Funds raised will benefit ASMAC’s educational programs, workshops, master classes, and fund several scholarships. For information on tickets, please call 818-994-4661.  If you want to sit at my table, tell them at The Proper Image and they will give you a special price for your ticket.  I am very proud to serve on the Board of this special organization and hope you will join us for what should be a fabulous Hollywood kind of evening.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Composer, Arranger, Orchestrator Don James (1938-2010)

I'm sad to report that Don died last week in Los Angeles after years of dealing with some chronic health issues. Born in Chicago, Don James attended Hyde Park High School where his classmate and best four-hand jamming friend was Herbie Hancock. He graduated from the Chicago Musical College of Roosevelt University as a music composition major and piano minor. Later Don studied at the Ecole Normale de Musique  in Paris with an emphasis on counterpoint, sight-reading, piano, and composition; he studied composition with the formidable and legendary Nadia Boulanger.

Upon returning to the United States, Don worked with jazz bass trumpeter Cy Touff for over a year at the Happy Medium in Chicago and began his recording and arranging career. After a two year period in the Army as a Band Training Instructor, Don returned to Chicago where he worked as a conductor/pianist/arranger on many record dates and industrial shows.

In 1969 Don returned to France where he co-composed the music for the "Lido de Paris" with a French team. Three more shows followed and he then moved to Los Angeles to begin composing, arranging and orchestrating for "The Ice Capades," doing 13 seasons from 1974 - 1986 with another show in 1992.

Again Don returned to Paris to do four shows for the Moulin Rouge before returning to the United States to work on many television variety shows, winning two Emmy Awards. One was for "Ben Vereen - His Roots" and the second for "Baryshnikov on Broadway." Then Don worked on "The Tim Conway Show" as dance arranger for the Don Crichton Dancers and the dance arranger for the “Mermaids” on Love Boat. Animation music work followed for DIC and Hanna-Barbera including music for "The Smurfs," "Paddington Bear" and "The Wizard of Oz" (an animated version). Don worked on more than two dozen feature films as arranger, orchestrator and, at times, ghost composer. Some of the films include Assassination, Messenger of Death, Crime and Punishment, The Fifth Monkey and Those Lips, Those Eyes. He was a member of SACEM, the French performing rights society.

Deeply concerned about the future of the profession and the working conditions for arrangers and orchestrators, Don James served for many years on the Board of the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers.  I spoke to him a couple of days before he died and he was upbeat. He was working on a new arrangement, was optimistic that health-wise he was back on track, and felt good about getting back to his writing. Guess it isn’t always up to us. We'll miss you, Don.  Thanks for your comradeship.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Jazz Vocalist Janet Lawson Teaching in Sigulda, Latvia

The year Janet Lawson for nominated for a Grammy, she got beat out by Ella Fitzgerald. Golly. Janet is an amazing jazz musician, scat singer, and composer, who lives in New York City. One of her albums (1993, The Janet Lawson Quintet, CD 1101) is available from Cambria Master Recordings, a Southern California label, at (I produced this re-release of her two lps). From July 15 through 24, 2010, she will give master classes at the Sigulda Arts School in Sigulda, Latvia. Lucky young musicians. She is currently an instructor at the New School in New York City and is well known on the East Coast for her performances at festivals, theaters, clubs, and master classes/workshops. The director of the summer school is Guntars Zvejnieks ( Fascinating how scat singing breaks down all language barriers. Fascinating how jazz has become an international language. The main theme this year of the Sigulda master classes is "Freedom in Music," and the school "aspires to enrich each young musician's knowledge and understanding of the concept of freedom in music." Here, here!

About her teaching, Janet wrote, "I am committed to improvisation which is about trusting, about being in the moment, about being free, about relating, about communicating. I really felt and still do that I need to express my authentic self. Our society needs to live in harmony while encouraging the individual to find their own true voice. This is what I teach in my jazz clinics. I found my true voice through improvisation." Visit her web site at

Saturday, July 3, 2010


Alan Broadbent was ASMAC's monthly luncheon speaker on June 23 at Catalina's in Hollywood.  Long a major force in jazz as a pianist and arranger, he's the guy who accomanied Irene Kral on those amazing vocal albums, he did arrangements for Natalie Cole, and plays with Charlie Haden's Quartet West (since the mid-1980s).  His album with 'Round Midnight, a trio with bass player Brian Bromberg and drummer Joe LaBarbera, recevied wide-speard critical acclaim.

Born in 1947 in Auckland, New Zealand, he remembers intensely the first time, at age eight, he heard Chopin and how he became tuned into the emotional power of music. "I played Chopin and my friends played rugby." Broadbent started his professional career playing piano and writing arrangements with the Woody Herman Orchestra (1969-72), including arrangements Blood, Sweat and Tears tunes.  He moved to Los Angeles in 1972, and after some lean times, got a call in 1974 to play with Nelson Riddle's band at the Beverly Hilton, beginning a a gig as Riddle's painist for a decade.  During those years he played many session recordings for David Rose, Johnny Mandel, and Henry Mancini.  Then, according to Broadbent, "The writing thing happened while I was driving from the Radford to Columbia studios"  and he told the ASMAC audience that Mahler's music always inspires him. He admist that he spent a couple of years learning to hear instruments (instead of only the piano).

He's accompanied Sheila Jordan, Sue Raney, Rosemary Clooney, Mel Torme, Karrin Allyson, Mary Stallings, Judy Niemack, and Carol Sloane.  He recorded three ballad albums with Irene Kral (Where is Love, Kravel Space, and Gentle Rain).  He's performed with Chet Baker, Warne Marsh, Scott Hamilton, Bud Shank, Shelly Manne, Bill Berry, Bill Perkins, Gary Foster, Bob Brookmeyer, Jack Sheldon, Don Menza, and Peter Christlieb, among others. His solo piano CD is on the Concord label.

In addition to playing piano, Broadbent is well known as an arranger and conductor, including a stint with Natalie Cole on her "Unforgettable" tour.  He's written for her and they did three albums together (Take a Look, Holly and Ivey, and Stardust).  He's writing for orchestra, including a recent Steve Tyrell Sinatra project. He's conducted and arranged albums for Mel Torme, Scott Hamilton, and Marian McPartland.  Did I mention that he's been nominated for several Grammy Awards?

Impressing the ASMAC audience with his sincerity, humility, and unabashed love for music, Alan is a poetic, pure musician; he's a very soft spoken gentle man, and an amazing talent.  He ended his talk by playing the piano. How fabulous to meet him and hear him talk about his life and career and being reminded why we are in music even when times are tough in the entertainment business. Here he is in a photo with violinst-composer Marcy Vaj. 

If you don't know about ASMAC (American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers), I'd suggest you visit the website:  They have a big event coming up July 22, 2010, honoring Marc Shaiman and Sammy Nestico that will be the subject of future posts.

Thursday, July 1, 2010


Catalina Popescu is one of the amazing women of jazz in Los Angeles and she was appropriately honored by the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers at their June 23, 2010 luncheon. The beloved Catalina is the most gracious, lovely, and welcoming host you'll ever meet.  She is a fabulous chef and her venue, Catalina Jazz Club, 6725 W. Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, is the Los Angeles performance home of countless jazz musicians from here and around the world. ASMAC is particularly grateful to her for the fabulous luncheons the organization presents there on a regular basis, including talks and performances by composers, arrangers, performers. Here she is with Ray Charles, ASMAC Vice President, and her certificate of honor. Visit for details about their upcoming events.  The next ASMAC luncheon at Catalina's will take place August 18, 2010 featuring Hollywood flutist Louise Di Tullio.  ASMAC's web site is and on July 22 they will present their Golden Score Gala Dinner, honoring Marc Shaiman and Sammy Nestico.  In the meantime, Catalina, we hope you feel the love and appreciation flowing your way from ASMAC and the entire Los Angeles music community.

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.