Archive for the Dixieland & Early Jazz Category

Mayer and Evans: The Cowboy and the Girl

Posted in Broadway, Dixieland & Early Jazz, Hollywood (History), Music, Singers, Singing Comediennes, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2017 by travsd

April 24 is the birthday of big band and jazz piano player Ray Mayer (Ray Maher, 1901-1949). Originally from Lexington, Nebraska, he started out in circuses and in some bands organized by trombonist and songwriter Larry Conley. In 1928, he teamed up with singer Edith Evans, whom he seems to have met while recording sides for Brunwsick Records. They were both high profile enough that they were able to play the Palace that year, and be featured in the Vitaphone shorts When East Meets West and  The Cowboy and the Girl, which is chiefly what they are known for today. The act is sort of like Blossom Seeley and Benny Fields, but if Fields were much more like Will Rogers — a gun-chewing, wisecracking country bloke in chaps. And the gag is that Evans is more urban and sophisticated. It’s a good act, but 1928 was a terrible time to start a vaudeville act. Vaudeville was dead by 1932. The following year, the pair got married and retired the act.

Evans appears to have left the business at this point, but Mayer worked steadily. He appeared in scores of films until his death, often B movie westerns, mostly bit parts. And he’s in half a dozen Broadway shows from 1940 through 1946, including the original production of Louisiana Purchase and Eddie Cantor’s Banjo Eyes. Mayer died in 1949 while on traveling to a performance. More about the pair can be learned at

To find out more about vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. For more on early  film please see my book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc

Happy 100th Birthday to Jazz!

Posted in Contemporary Variety, Dixieland & Early Jazz, Music, PLUGS, SOCIAL EVENTS with tags , , , , , , on February 26, 2017 by travsd



On Feb. 26, 1917, exactly 100 years ago, The Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB) made the first-ever commercial jazz recording,”Livery Stable Blues,” for the Victor Talking Machine Company. An instant hit, selling close to a million copies, the record paved the way toward establishing jazz as popular music and ushered in the Jazz Age. (Naturally, jazz itself had been developing and percolating for years, even decades prior to this, and took several years after this gain mainstream popularity, but today is without a doubt an important cultural benchmark).

The Grand St Stompers will celebrate this historic occasion, as well as paying homage to one of the members of ODJB, J. Russel Robinson, for his contribution to jazz and American popular music with an all-new show! Robinson was an American ragtime and jazz pianist and composer whose early hits included “Sapho Rag” and “Eccentric.” Known for his blues-influenced playing style, Robinson joined the Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1919. Among his hits for ODJB were composition such as “Margie,” “Singin’ the Blues,” and “Palesteena.” In 1977, Robinson’s “Singin’ the Blues,” a 1927 recording by Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

The concert will start with a talk and antique gramophone presentation by MICHAEL CUMELLA (aka Phonograph DJ Mac), the host of WFMU Radio’s Antique Phonograph Music Program.

This night will be dedicated to the great Rich Conaty, who for 40 years, every Sunday night, spread joy to the lovers of hot jazz with his irreplaceable Big Broadcasts. Rich tragically left us in December. On the day of the concert, we will remember Rich and sign off the night with his trademark “Aloha.”

The Grand St. Stompers Octet:
Gordon Au – trumpet, arranger / Molly Ryan – vocals / Matt Koza – soprano sax, clarinet / Dan Block – tenor sax, clarinet / Jim Fryer – trombone / Dalton Ridenhour – piano / Rob Adkins – bass / Jay Lepley – drums

85 Avenue A (btwn 5th & 6th Sts, Manhattan, NY)

Sponsored by Wits End


General Admission – $10
Reserved Table Seating – $20
PRIME Reserved Table Seating – $25
DOOR Price +$10 on all ticket levels

General Admission – $20
Reserved Table Seating – $30
PRIME Reserved Table Seating – $35
Once the ADVANCE ticket block is sold out, tickets will be available at the DOOR price.
Presented by Hot Jazz Productions Inc & PM Music Enterprises (Peter Marcovicci)

NOLA: Day Two

Posted in AMERICANA, Dixieland & Early Jazz, EXHIBITIONS & LECTURES, FOOD & DRINK CULTURE, Jazz (miscellaneous), Music, Travel/ Tourism with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 6, 2015 by travsd

Continuing yesterday’s thread...

Friday, November 6

Seize the Day! The Marchioness generally sleeps later than me, so on our first full day in New Orleans, I arose and spent an hour or two running from pillar to post photographing destinations that had no opening or closing times. Morning is a pleasant time in the French Quarter. A lot of WORK happens, from the crack of dawn. The classier places all hose down their sidewalks (let’s not talk about what might be on them to clean). Deliveries come to the restaurants and bars. A lot of repair and maintenance and touch-up seems to be happening to these historical old buildings constantly…painters and masons and carpenters seem to be bustling around everywhere constantly just as a matter of course.

And of course, early bird tourists like me are up, some of them with cups of beers or cocktails. And everywhere, these picturesque mule-drawn conveyances, operated by tour guides:

Mule-drawn conveyance

I was curious to see Basin Street and the former Storyville area, important locations in the birth of jazz (Basin Street Blues, anyone?) even though nothing is there anymore. Well, there is something new there now. My thumb:

Basin street sign

At any rate, I often like to go where things were even when there’s no “there” there anymore. Storyville was the special Red Light District established by city leaders 1897-1917. Musicians like Jelly Roll Morton cut their teeth playing in the saloons and whore houses there, before it was torn down by a different set of city leaders.

Congo Square

I’ve wanted to make a pilgrimage to this spot half my life. Congo Square is in many ways the birthplace of American music and dance. I came to honor the ghosts of the anonymous people (black slaves) who knew how to use their time off correctly! Today it is surrounded by Louis Armstrong Park, in the neighborhood of Treme. 

Tennessee williams streetcar house

Tennessee Williams lived in this apartment on St. Peter Street when he wrote A Streetcar Named Desire. 

Le Petit Theatre

Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carré — one of the oldest community theatres in the country, organized in 1916

LaLaurie House

The Lalaurie House, site of unspeakable tortures; today quite haunted. It is said the mistress of the house, Delphine LaLaurie mistreated the slaves in her charge to the point of dismemberment, disembowelment, murder and the desecration of corpses. All while playing the hostess at society parties. When the facts came out the people of New Orleans were so outraged they rioted. Kathy Bates’ character on American Horror Story: Coven was loosely based on her. 

St Peter Theatre

Site of the first theatre in New Orleans, the St. Peter, built 1791.

the spanish theatre

Site of the Spanish Theatre.

By now, the Marchioness was up and we embarked on sight-seeing proper. We caught our first glimpses of the gorgeous Jackson Square, bordered by the Pontalba Buildings, the St. Louis Cathedral, Cabildo and The Presbytère (more on those later), as well as the Mississippi River Waterfront. It is always bustling with musicians and fortune tellers.

NOLA sign 3

We were on the way to Cafe du Monde to get their famous beignets.

cafe du monde logo

But the line was prohibitively long….so we went back that night and enjoyed them then instead. They are delicious — quite like zeppole.

Jackson Sq and Cathedral (Carolyn)

From the river side we caught this wonderful view of the plaza, the Cathedral, Cabildo and the Presbytère.


We poked our head in the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum. This was about it!

Madame Norma Wallace Parlor 2

We were amused to see that this old whorehouse is available for lease! Any takers?

Then it was off to historic St. Louis Cemetery #1  and the adjacent Saint Expedite church, hilariously misnamed when crates arrived marked “expedite”. The cemeteries of New Orleans are famously unique. Because of the swampy nature of the ground and the fact that it is below sea level, bodies can’t be buried underground, but in above ground tombs resembling houses. Many feel that zombie mythology arose partially out of this unique situation, because….use your imagination.


The real grave of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau! 


This is where Karen Black had her acid freak-out in Easy Rider (1969):


Then it was off to the Musée Conti Wax Museum, a place I’ve wanted to visit for ages. It was literally around the corner from our hotel and we had the entire place to ourselves:


Here is their Marie Laveau display. Her chauffeur is clearly a zombie. I photographed nearly every display at the museum (covering all of New Orleans history, plus many famous horror characters) — I think I will devote a whole post to the museum next Halloween!


Then it was off to the Voodoo Museum — a small museum containing 3 or 4 rooms of genuine artifacts related to the practice of voodoo. Rich in atmosphere — I want to go back!




Then a brief stop in the Voodoo Authentica store, which was my favorite voodoo emporium until I later stopped in Reverend Zombies.


We also managed to stop into Madame John’s Legacy, one of the oldest buildings in the city, an 18th century Creole plantation house, built 1788. Sound like we did a lot? The French Quarter is densely packed, every other building seems to be a tourist attraction of some sort.


We tried to get into Preservation Hall that night but it was SRO, so we wrapped up the evening at Maison Bourbon where we enjoyed a pleasant couple of sets by the very solid quintet the Loose Change Jazz Band. It wasn’t a trade down. I loved ’em! They didn’t like picture taking but I photographed the stage during their break:

maison bourbon

That evening we made our way to Canal Street, our first stirring out of the French Quarter. It was kind of like stepping back into the 21st century after having spent a day in the 18th and 19th — McDonalds, Starbucks, CVS, department stores etc. And we saw this! The statue of Ignatius J. Reilly from John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. We also saw lots of Lucky Dog stands around town. 

Statue of Ignatius J. Reilly

For Day Three go here. 

Mound City Blue Blowers

Posted in Dixieland & Early Jazz, Music, Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc. with tags , , , , , , , on October 14, 2015 by travsd


Today is the birthday of William “Red” McKenzie (1899-1948).  Originally from St. Louis, he became a prominent Jazz Age figure by playing the kazoo and comb-and-tissue paper!

In 1923, with musical partner Jack Bland, McKenzie formed the Mound City Blue Blowers. McKenzie played comb, Bland played banjo, Dick Slevin played kazoo, and Frank “Josh” Billings played percussion (often whisk brooms struck against a suitcase). They cut several hit records, made two performance films, and were popular in vaudeville and on radio. Some of the top jazz men of the day sat in on on their records, including Jack Teagarden, Coleman Hawkins, Glenn Miller, Pee Wee Russell, Jimmy Dorsey and Bunny Berrigan. McKenzie was also a crooner and sang with his own orchestra outside the Blue Blowers, as well as with bands like Paul Whiteman’s. The Blue Blowers folded in 1936. McKenzie retired from show business in the late 1930s, although he returned as a singer from 1944 through 1947.

For more on vaudeville historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


Bee Palmer: Transplanted the Shimmy

Posted in Dance, Dixieland & Early Jazz, Music, Singers, Stars of Vaudeville, Vaudeville etc., Women with tags , , , , , on September 11, 2014 by travsd


Today is the birthday of Beatrice “Bee” Palmer (1894-1967).

Originally from Chicago, Palmer began performing in local venues before moving to New York in the late teens. With her she appears to have brought jazz and the Shimmy. She was largely identified with the latter dance and claimed to be its originator, although Gilda Gray, Mae West and others made the same claim. Whatever white dancer brought it to mainstream show biz first though, it was almost certainly appropriated from African American dancers. Palmer  performed in both the Ziegfeld Follies and Midnight Frolics in 1918 and was voted Most Popular on the Keith vaudeville circuit in 1919. Palmer not only danced but sang, and originally accompanied herself on piano as well. But it was her dancing that made her notorious, both celebrated and reviled — many commentators considered her the equivalent of what we now thing of as a “stripper”. In 1920 she toured the big time with a tab revue written by Herman Timberg called “Oh, Bee!”. By then she worked with accompanist Al Siegel, whom she married while on tour in 1921. Later that year she had an affair with boxer Jack Dempsey which resulted in public scandal and a lawsuit for alienation of affections. Palmer and Siegel reconciled a few months later and would remain married through 1928 (Siegel went on to work with a young Ethel Merman). Palmer worked with a succession of jazz bands (including the New Orleans Rhythm Kings) and accompanists throughout the 1920s and early 30s on Keith, Orpheum and Loew times, returned to the Midnight Frolics in 1921 and appeared in the Passing Show in 1924. She moved back to Chicago and retired in the mid to late 30s. By then vaudeville had died, and her brand of performance was no longer popular in night clubs.

While she never release any records during her lifetime, she had actually privately cut many during the teens and twenties, which have survived. Here’s one she made in 1929 with the support of Paul Whiteman:

To learn more about vaudevilleconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.



To learn more about silent and slapstick comedy, please check out my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc


Why George Segal Plays the Banjo

Posted in Dixieland & Early Jazz, Hollywood (History), Jews/ Show Biz, Movies, Music with tags , , , , , on February 13, 2014 by travsd


Today is the birthday of George Segal (b. 1934). Most of us know him as a likable comic (sometimes dramatic) actor and (like Elliott Gould and Dustin Hoffman) one of the first generation of New Yorky Jewish males to achieve leading man status in Hollywood, as opposed to being a) comedians, b) character actors, or c) downplaying their identity. Though Segal started getting national exposure in the early 60s, I think of his peak as the mid-1970s, in movies like Robert Altman’s California Split (1974), The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox with Goldie Hawn (1976), the disaster movie Rollercoaster (1977), and the comedy Fun with Dick and Jane with Jane Fonda (1977). Younger people know him from his stints as a regular on the sit-coms Just Shoot Me (1997-2003) and The Goldbergs (now). But what I really want to talk to you about is why George Segal plays the banjo.

If you’ve ever seen Segal on a talk show (or increasingly in the context of a role he’s supposed to be playing, like on a sit-com) surely you must be aware that he plays the banjo. You know this because he foists it upon you, he imposes it like an obnoxious relative, one who enjoys being obnoxious and relishes your eye-rolling. His enthusiasm for the instrument is child-like, always has been, and God bless him for it. Segal’s thing is Dixieland and that’s the thing I want to talk about, because as time goes on, and audiences get younger and younger, it seems to me that when he does his thing he must be increasingly hanging out there like a lost puzzle piece. A single puzzle piece, lacking the rest of the puzzle. He just kind of seems like a kook, or the last dodo, because there’s never any context for it. And there actually IS some context. Did you ever stop to wonder “Why Dixieland?” That style was well on the way to being over when Segal was born! But fortunately there are other pieces of the puzzle out there, and when you start to put them together it starts to add up to an interesting thread of jazz and pop culture history.

Here’s another piece of the puzzle, a clue, hanging out there in plain sight. Woody Allen, who plays clarinet in trad jazz bands, is about the same age as Segal. As is the cartoonist R. Crumb, who plays banjo in the same types of bands. (These examples will grate on actual jazz fans because they are merely celebrities from other fields who play jazz for pleasure. As it happens there are guys in the field who’ve devoted their whole lives to it, but their names are less well known to the general public. The best known outfit is the Preservation Hall Jazz Band). But think for a minute how old these guys are. They’re the wrong age. When they were young adults in the late 50s and early 60s, the mainstream music embraced by the older generation was big band inflected pop (Frank Sinatra); younger people listened to rock and roll or folk. So where are these other guys coming from?

Here’s your context!

First we have to rewind. Originally what we now call “Dixieland” was just jazz, right? In the teens and twenties that New Orleans style, with lots of simultaneous improvisation, and a line-up that included banjo, clarinet, trombone and trumpet or cornet (adapted from marching bands) was what defined the music. But then, in the 1930s and 40s the music began to change. Big bands and then swing became popular, with sophisticated arrangements, and guys using charts, and improvisation restricted to solos by key instruments at certain moments. Now, those of us who are interested in pop culture history have a simplistic tendency to think about everything as a progression. Thus, when you talk about jazz history, it tends to be: “Early jazz, followed by big band, followed by be bop, followed by free jazz and fusion, etc.” But in reality it’s never been that clean. When big band and swing became popular with mainstream audiences, there were many holdouts in the jazz community who were insistent on maintaining the purity of the earlier style. They became known pejoratively within the jazz community as “moldy figs”: conservative, reactionary, resistant to the new. To be playing what we now call Dixieland, the style of 1918, was considered pretty uncool in 1938.

By the time of be bop in the 1940s, this musical argument achieved greater clarity. Be bop itself was a radical movement with a fringe audience at best. In some ways it was a return to the anarchy of jazz’s beginnings, but in many other ways it broke new ground. The moldy figs became like jazz’s extreme right wing to be bop’s extreme left wing, for it was just as radical, just as eccentric a choice. By the 1950s, the choice to be a moldy fig became a lot cooler. Young people don’t have the baggage older people do about the styles their parents are backing away from. Louis Armstrong, one of the inventors of jazz, had a lot of hit records in the 50s and 60s. Dave Van Ronk writes about this period in The Mayor of MacDougal Street; early in his career he came down on the side of the moldy figs and played banjo in Dixieland bands, which were popular and got bookings in the 1950s!  And if you think about it, it begins to make a lot of sense. There would be this kind of crossover between trad jazz and folk, for example. Early mainstream folk had a lot of banjo in it. Looking backwards for inspiration was big. Trad jazz was even more popular in the U.K. (I wrote a bit about this in No Applause) and a lot of this crossed over into rock and roll and pyschedelia in the 60s. The Lovin’ Spoonful originally played jug band music; Janis Joplin had initially sung classic blues in the Bessie Smith style; and Paul McCartney had a grounding in trad jazz because of his father. The list is long.

So this the context. George Segal began playing in Dixieland bands in college in the 1950s, because oddly enough, there was an audience for it then! It was kind of hip! By 1967, thanks to his success as an actor, he was able to record his first Dixieland record The Yama Yama Man (named after the 1908 song). In 1974 he released another album A Touch of Ragtime. By that time Dixieland was WAY out of fashion again at least in the kind of versions he put out on the record. But Segal never stopped playing with various trad jazz ensembles throughout his career. And now we’ve reached a unique time when there is a simultaneous subculture for every style of music, be it Dixieland, be bop, doo wop or 80s technopop. And burlesque and vaudeville too have toeholds however tenuous.

Here’s Segal with Teresa Brewer performing Alexander’s Ragtime Band. His banjo playing is a little buried in this arrangement though!

To learn more about show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.


And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Mediaalso available from etc etc etc chain%20of%20fools%20cvr%20front%20only-500x500  

King Oliver: Dippermouth Blues

Posted in African American Interest, Dixieland & Early Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , on December 19, 2013 by travsd



Today is the birthday of the great jazz pioneer Joe “King” Oliver (1881-1938), a cornet player and trumpeter often considered a sort of link in the chain between the legendary Buddy Bolden and Louis Armstrong. He started out playing in brass bands in the fabled Storyville section of New Orleans around 1908, where he was considered one of the hottest musicians in the city. A decade later he left NOLA and settled in Chicago in the early ’20s to form his popular Creole Jazz Band, and later his Dixie Syncopators. Bad health and financial setbacks forced his decline throughout the 30s, killing him by 1938.

Oliver was highly influential in his employment of mutes on his horn. You can hear him do that on his 1923 of “the Dippermouth Blues”, Oliver’s own composition, which is likely named after Armstrong, who played in the band and was sometimes known as Dippermouth. This tune’ll get the blood flowin’. I just had to play it twice I liked it so well!

For more on show biz historyconsult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famousavailable at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. 


And don’t  miss my new book Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from etc etc etc


%d bloggers like this: