Thomas Edward Yerxa
If you heard “YERXA(ELEGY MOVEMENT FROM THE JITTERBUG SUITE)” for the first time without any background information regarding its origin you might have assumed it was from a classic black & white film from the 1940s or early 1950s. Arranger/composer credits for “Yerxa” belong to George Handy and Hal McKusick, written for the debut of the Boyd Raeburn orchestra on Ben Pollack’s Jewel label and recorded October 15, 1945. The Billboard review of March 23, 1946 noted “Yerxa gets preferred play, weaving a silken sax across subdued backing which makes for some particularly fetching orchestral color. Piano and bass set the scene for mellow mood building, with Hal McKusick’s sax taking a soulful ride from rim to center.” The duo also penned “Tonsilectomy” for the October session. Handy had a hand in two other charts for the October session, “Rip Van Winkle” and “Forgetful.” Nat Finston tapped Handy for a December 15, 1945 session with the Vivien Garry Trio where Handy included arrangements of “Tonsilectomy” and “Rip Van Winkle” for the session. Handy replaced Wini Beatty, the trio’s regular pianist, for this debut recording session for Finston’s newly formed Sarco label. Handy’s penchant for bizarre and “tongue-in-cheek” titles can be traced to his first band as a kid with Herbie Fields.
Barry Ulanov wrote a profile of George Handy that was published in the May 1946 edition of Metronome. He noted: “Raymond Scott saw and liked some of George Joseph Robert Abraham Hendelman’s work when Herbie Fields was playing tenor for him, and he was impressed. Scott used a few of Handy’s arrangements.”
Metronome reviewed the two 78 singles produced from the October 15, 1946 session in the April 1946 edition: “Boyd Raeburn Tonsilectomy A- Forgetful B + Yerxa A Rip Van Winkle B+
The full force of this brilliant band is at last beginning to reach records. These sides are excellent examples of arranger-composer George Handy’s ingenuity and skill and particular ability and taste in his use of resources larger than those of jazz in jazz forms.
Dave Allyn sings Handy’s own tune, “Forgetful,” with baritonal expertness, sustaining pitch over fetching but challengingly difficult backgrounds. Ginnie Powell manages similarly with “Rip Van Winkle,” which is more Handy, which George introduces himself with some amusing dialogue.
“Tonsilectomy” is not eventful for its musical figures but rather for what Handy does with them, fitting muted trumpet and tenor solos into a bright band background, getting a simple jump effect from what is after all complex scoring. More complex, but not at all confused, is “Yerxa” (Elegy Movement from the Jitterbug Suite, according to the subtitle), credited to Hal McKusick as well as George. Here Hal’s alto, Frankie Socolow’s tenor and the writing share the abundant glory of a slow, tender, gorgeously scored and played piece. Boyd and George and Hal are to be congratulated. (Jewel 223-4/5-6)”
Cash Box reviewed “Rip Van Winkle” and “Yerxa” in April of 1946 – “Boyd Raeburn and his band are rated one of the top dozen in the country and we must admit we’ve heard better work than on this disk. “Rip Van Winkle” is a novelty number spiced a bit by the vocal of Ginnie Powell. “Yerxa” is all instrumental and just fair Raeburn. High school and college youngsters like the Raeburn crew so this disk should go well in boxes on or near schools and campuses.”
“Yerxa” was named for Thomas Edward Yerxa, better known as Ted Yerxa or “The Lamplighter” whose columns for The Daily News and jazz session broadcasts from the Streets of Paris nightclub in Hollywood in the mid 1940s frequently featured Boyd Raeburn. Ted Yerxa was a member of the tenth generation of Yerxa’s, the name a mutation of the Dutch name Jurcksen (also Jurckse, Juckse). He was born in St. Paul, Ramsey, Minnesota, on April 18, 1896, the son of Herbert Randolph Yerxa and Minnie Stough.
Ted Yerxa interrupted his college career at Kenyon to assist in the war effort in Europe. His 1917 passport application noted that he was applying for a passport in order to go to France to join the American Volunteer Ambulance Corp. The application by Yerxa’s sponsor assured the State Department that Yerxa had been accepted as a volunteer for the Corp and that his sole purpose in going abroad was to serve in this capacity. Yerxa’s service in the ambulance corp might not have happened. A notice in the Minneapolis Star Tribune of August 1918 announced that he was engaged to Miss Florence Curtin and that he was enrolled in the U. S. Naval Reserve Flying Corps and was stationed at Pensacola, Florida. He finished his course work at Boston Institute of Technology, and took balloon training at the Naval facility in Akron, Ohio. Yerxa completed his college education at the University of Pennsylvania where he continued membership in the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity. When Yerxa settled in Los Angeles his activities frequently involved efforts on behalf of service personnel and the U.S.O.
He married a former actress, Evelyn Adamson, in 1930 and initially settled in Long Beach. Adamson’s sole appearance was in Defying The Law, a 1924 epic where she had a supporting role. The film was a hit in San Pedro where the newspaper ad for the Mark-Strand Theater was accompanied by a column that noted many scenes in the movie were filmed in San Pedro harbor. Some sources state that Miss Adamson had other movie roles, but the IMDB cites only Defying The Law.
During the first years of their marriage Yerxa worked in the automotive retail field as a salesman for the Marmon automobile. Details regarding his transition to newspaper and radio work remain elusive.
The first “With the LAMPLIGHTER After Dark” columns appeared in the The News, a Los Angeles daily newspaper in 1940. Yerxa’s initial focus in his columns was entertainment and dining out. The column offered a survey of the current popular nightclubs and restaurants with special attention noting the featured cuisine and live entertainment. His column urged readers to apply for a “Lamplighter” card that allow members to obtain discounts and special privileges at restaurants and nightclubs.
Yerxa also promoted current records that were available in music stores in his newspaper column and on his “After Dark” radio spot on KMPC and KHJ. Personalities featured in April of 1940 included Larry Kent, Matt Weinstock, Patti Moore, Gus Arnheim, Neil Hamilton, John Pollack, Dick Rogers, Dale Jones, Ray Pearl, Eva McVeigh, Salvatore Santaella, Bert Rovere, Laird Cregar, Vivian Yarbo, Tony Pastor, and Kay Foster.
Newspaper ads for Yerxa’s program featured his full moniker, “With the LAMPLIGHTER After Dark” beginning in July when several broadcasts were remotes from the Paramount Theater. Guests throughout the balance of 1940 included: Skinnay Ennis, The Oomph Glamour Girls (from Paramount), Ray Stillwell, Cora Malone, Evelyn Roth, Al Roberts, Flora Robson, Ray Grill, Felix de Cola, Jimmy Lunceford, Janet Wolfe, Gracie Dunn, Leon La Fell and His Cappy Barra Boys, Chuck Foster, Ed Krautch, Sue V. Barker, Maxine Coleman, Mary Lou, Dave Manley, Jack Dunn, Bob Murphy, Beth Reynolds, Gordon Bishop, Ben Pollack and Armide, and Jimmy Walsh.
Yerxa’s weekly columns in the The News continued to promote the “Lamplighter” card as an essential ticket that entitled bearers to special benefits, no cost to obtain, just send a stamped self addressed envelope care of the Lamplighter or call at Miss O’Dair’s desk at The News. The gallery above shows a snapshot from every month in 1941. Yerxa signed his column “By T. E. Y.”
The radio interview spots on KHJ continued in 1941 as well. The roster of guests included: Jimmy O’Brien, Wal Wilson, Steve Merrill, Curtis Mosby, Gai Moran, Lynn Geil, Henry Grant, Nat Cole, Noah Beery, Everett West, Russ Morgan, Hal Dean, Marvin Dale, Richard Himber, The Merry Macs, Henry King, Dorothy Comingore, Skinnay Ennis, Charlie Marlow, Johnny Black, The Andrews Sisters, Al Donahue, Cliff Nazarro, Peter Ray and his Tray, Earl Carroll, Billy Horowitz, Sammy Wolfe, Jackie LeMaire, Arthur Ross, Harry Owens, Les Barnett, Lyle Griffin Drew Page, “Dusty” Neely, Harry and Pauline Carroll, Billie Holiday, Dave Bull, Louis Ashe, Delores Gray, Freddie Slack’s Orchestra, Evelyn Keyes, Joe Turner, Stan Kenton, Lois Galloway, Joe Chastek, Clyde McCoy, Grace Hayes, Neville Fleeson, Bob Zurke, Wingy Manone, Muriel Lane, Bob Laine, Charito and Betty Reilly, Hoagy Carmichael, Paul Webster, and Art Tatum.
Yerxa’s The Daily News columns in 1942 introduced a new feature, Disc-Delving, where current record releases were highlighted. The concept carried over into a new radio spot on KHJ, and additional full page spreads like the December 12, 1942 issue.
The “With the LAMPLIGHTER After Dark” 1943 columns followed the same format and layout as previous years where it typically occupied one third of an entire page. The familiar logo with the man in the fedora holding a lamp continued to be featured.
The Daily News gave Ted Yerxa’s “Disc-Delving” feature expanded coverage in 1943 with many columns taking up an entire page including associated ads for venues where the highlighted artist was appearing.
The online resource that makes this research possible is the newspaper.com site. The News and The Daily News have only recently been added to their database. Prior to that a visit to the local library and a microfilm request was the only way access to this trove of Los Angeles musical history. I am pleased that they responded to my request to add these newspapers to their database. The first eight or nine months of 1944 have not been added or perhaps copies of January through August and September 1944 are not available? Yerxa’s “With the Lamplighter” columns for October appeared in eight editions.
Yerxa’s columns always included some celebrity watching. The 11-01-44 column noted that Artie Shaw and Ava Gardner, the Phil Harrises, and Deanna Durbin and Bob Landry had been seen at Sugies Beverly Hills Tropics. The Streets of Paris featured Big Sid Caplett (sic – Catlett) and Eddie South in jam sessions every Sunday afternoon as noted in the 11-03-44 edition. The column got the spelling right in the 11-08-44 column. The 11-10-44 edition confirmed that the Catlett/South sessions were “a howling success.”
Some highlights from the Lamplighter December 1944 columns: Sophie Tucker at Florentine Gardens, Sid Catlett & Johnny Morgan at Streets of Paris, Red Nichols and His 5 Pennies at Topsy’s, Zero Mostel at Clover Club, Lucky Millinder at the Orpheum Theater, Illinois Jacquet at the Swing Club, Red Callender Trio at Club Royale, Spade Cooley at Riverside Rancho, and the Jerry Teuber Trio at The Haig.
Yerxa’s “Lamplighter After Dark” radio program on KFI aired Monday through Friday from Midnight to One A.M. His guests during September/November 1944 included: Tommy Dorsey, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Spade Cooley, Lionel Hampton, Earl Carroll, Freddy Martin, Pee Wee Hunt, John Hubbard, Zutty Singleton, Elsa Lanchester, Spike Wallace & Art Tatum, Spike Jones, Frank Veloz, and Frankie Masters.
The Daily News featured Ted Yerxa’s “With the LAMPLIGHTER” column regularly throughout 1945. The gallery above offers a sampling from each of the twelve months. Yerxa had cultivated many jazz artists during his newspaper and radio work over the years and his next endeavor in 1945 focused on broadcasting jam sessions from Billy Berg’s and the Streets of Paris.
Two Lamplighter columns from 1945 noted that Mrs. Ted Yerxa, Evelyn Yerxa, was active in the music realm as well. The March 21 column noted that Evelyn Yerxa and Walter Donaldson had collaborated on “I Wrote A Letter to the Man in the Moon.” The April 6 column – “ABOUT TOWN: The prolific new tune team, WALTER DONALDSON & EVELYN YERXA have added “My Heart to Let” to their “Man in the Moon.” Evelyn Yerxa also collaborated with Kay Starr on a tune – “Frying Pan” when Starr was active with the Lamplighter label.
Yerxa’s initial jazz session broadcasts emanated from Billy Berg’s Supper Club at 1356 North Vine Street in Hollywood over KPAS, 1110 on the radio dial. Broadcasts from March through June included: Mildred Bailey, Jack Teagarden, plus anonymous “great jazzmen” honoring the music of Duke Ellington, Benny Carter, Bob Crosby, and the King Cole Trio.
Lamplighter jazz session broadcasts in June through December moved to the Streets of Paris at 6726 Hollywood Boulevard. Jazz artists featured included: Benny Carter, Jimmie Lunceford, Joe Thomas, Tommy Tucker, Buddy Rich, Joe Turner, Eddie Miller, Jack Teagarden, Norma Teagarden, Zutty Singleton, Count Basie, Georgie Auld, Barney Bigard, Monette Moore, Corky Corcoran, Willie Smith, Arnold Ross, Allan Reuss, Eddie Miller, Miguelita Valdez, Wingy Manone, Bobby Hackett, Oscar Pettiford, Eddie Heywood, Harry the Hipster, Stan Kenton, Valida Snow, Herb Haymer, Lionel Hampton, “Skitch” Henderson, Manny Klein, Howard McGhee, Les Paul, Kay Starr, Ray Linn, Milton Raskin, Al Hendrickson, Jimmy Stutz, Mahlon Clark, Gene Krupa, and Hollywood 4 Blazes.
The Daily News edition of October 18, 1945 announced that Ted Yerxa’s first in a series of twelve modern jazz concerts would be presented on Tuesday, October 18th, at the Philharmonic Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles. The concert featured Eddie Heywood, Harry “The Hipster” Gibson, Kid Ory’s Dixie Band, Allan Reuss Trio, Mabel Scott, and Joey Preston, an eight year old drummer sensation. Yerxa’s second concert was advertised as a “Lamplighter Jive Concert” and was presented in the same venue on Saturday, November 3rd featuring: Les Paul Trio, Ivie Anderson, Joe Turner, and an All-Star Band with Emmett Berry, Barney Bigard, Cal Gooden, Oscar Pettiford, Calvin Jackson, and Herbie Haymer. The reception of the concert series must not have been the success that Yerxa had hoped for and only the two concerts are documented in the newspapers from 1945. A concert featuring the Boyd Raeburn orchestra never occurred. A newspaper item from November of 1945 announced that Raeburn had temporarily disbanded his orchestra.
Yerxa’s Daily News columns in 1946 continued to highlight his jazz sessions at Streets of Paris. The March 6, 1946 edition noted that A San Francisco Lamplighter Jazz Society was being established with jam sessions to be held every Sunday afternoon at the California Theater Club, 1650 Post Street. The regular announcer for Lamplighter sessions, Fred Shields, would fly north every week to assist in the launching of the series.
The Mellodee Club at the corner of Slauson and Van Ness hosted a new Lamplighter jazz session series beginning in June of 1946. Jazz artists slated to appear at the new series included: Kay Starr, Charley Venturo, Clyde Hurley, Eddie Miller, Milt Raskin, Teddy Napoleon, Eddie Beal, Ray Linn, Allan Reuss, Billy Hadnot, Frankie Laine, Wini Beatty, Barney Bigard, Zutty Singleton, Barney Kessel, Vivien Garry Trio, Arv Garrison, Benny Carter, Wingy Manone, and “Bumps” Meyers,
The Disc Delving columns in 1946 reverted to a single column in the The Daily News. Xerxa’s involvement in tracking record releases most likely was one of the factors that led him to form his own record label in 1946. Yerxa arranged for his radio broadcasts from Billy Berg’s and Streets of Paris to be captured on airchecks and some of these sessions were used on his Lamplighter releases.
Lamplighter label images from online sources and the Bill Emery collection. The last two acetate images with the red border labels are from the Emery collection with Kay Starr performing “Kay’s Blues,” “You’re Just About Right For Me,” “Where or When,” and “Baby Won’t You Please Come Home.”
ANOTHER RECORD COMPANY STARTED ON COAST; TO DO AD LIBS
The Billboard, February 2,1946
“HOLLYWOOD, Jan. 26. — Ted Yerxa, Lamplighter columnist for the The Los Angeles Daily News, is making the latest bid for recognition in the record field with his forthcoming label to be known as Lamplighter Records. Yerxa says he has already cut 28 sides by various jazz names, including Vic Dickenson, Barney Bigard, Ray Linn, Willie Smith, Zutty Singleton, Red Callender, Allan Reuss, Milt Raskin, Eddie Beal and a couple of vocalists.
Yerxa has become close to innumerable top-drawer jazz sidemen bandleaders through his weekly jazz session broadcast over a local radio station from the Streets of Paris cocktailery and a goodly number of these name musicians are expected to record for his Lamplighter label.
Unlike most jazz sides put out by the various recording firms, Yerxa is cutting only ad libbed stuff. Nothing rehearsed. Sides will be ten-inchers and sell for 75 cents. Distributing deals are being worked out. Platters are to be pressed in the East.”
Yerxa’s entry into the record business was also noted in the March 1946 edition of Metronome under the New labels column: “Lamplighter: firm owned by Ted Yerxa, columnist for Los Angeles Daily News: 28 sides already cut by Coast jazz stars . . . ”
The first notice of Yerxa’s Lamplighter releases appeared in the January 4, 1946 edition of The Billboard under the Advance Record Releases column. Lamplighter LL-101 featured Wini Beatty with the LAMPLIGHTER ALL STARS – Barney Bigard (cl), Red Callender (b), Allan Reuss (g), Zutty Singleton (d), and Wini Beatty (p, vcl) performing “Wini’s Blues” and “My Complaint, Baby.” Lamplighter LL-104 also featured the LAMPLIGHTER ALL STARS with the addition of Vic Dickenson (tb), Ray Linn (tp), Willie Smith (as), and Calvin Jackson replacing Beatty on piano performing “My Melancholy Baby” and “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
The Billboard reviewed Lamplighter LL-101 in the April 4, 1946 edition. “New label bows in with a conventional blues twosome that that passes the ear test. Altho meager material proves a handicap, Wini Beatty does a sincere job in chanting Harlemese. She gets support from quintet headed by Barney Bigard (ex-Duke Ellington clarinetist) with Red Callender on bass, Allan Reuss’ guitar, Zutty Singleton (now with Slim Gaillard Trio) setting drum beats, and Miss Beatty knuckling the ivories while she vocalizes. Bigard’s down-to-earth clarinet helps save these sides.”
Jack Gutshall handled distribution and promotion of Yerxa’s Lamplighter releases. Gutshall’s full page ads in Cash Box provided enormous exposure for all of the Lamplighter line. An ad in the April 24, 1946 edition promoted all four of the initial releases: LL 101-104.
Lamplighter LL-101 was listed again in the April 27 edition of The Billboard along with Lamplighter LL-102 featuring another LAMPLIGHTER ALL STARS line-up with Eddie Beal (p), Barney Bigard (cl), Red Callender (b), Allan Reuss (g), Zutty Singleton (d), and Claude Trenier (vcl) performing “Young Man’s Blues” – Parts One & Two.
Ted Yerxa placed an ad for Lamplighter Records in the May 4 edition of The Billboard that occupied one quarter of page 44 and featured the first four Lamplighter releases. LL-103 featured The Hollywood Four Blazes – George Crawford (p, vcl), Ulysses Livingston (g), LeGrand Mason (b), and Roy Porter (d) performing “As Long As I Live” (vcl) and “Dark Eyes” (inst).
The Billboard reviewed Lamplighter LL-102 & LL-104 in the May 25, 1946 edition. “Deep blue spins from “Young Man” as Claude Trenier chants a convincing Harlemese number. Backed by Eddie Beal’s piano, Barney Bigard’s clarinet, Red Callender’s bass, Allan Reuss’s guitar and Zutty Singleton’s drums, race ditty boasts plenty of musical merit and deserving its two-side stretch. For top-notch instrumental work, “Melancholy Baby” and “Georgia Brown” are winners. Added to the group are Calvin Jackson on piano; Ray Linn, trumpet; Vic Dickenson, trombone; and Willie Smith, alto sax. Without vocals cramping their style, boys ride out in fine form. “Baby” takes a moderate beat with jump fireworks held for “Georgia.” Jackson’s pianistics, Bigard’s clary and Linn’s torrid trumpeting make “Georgia” a bellringer.”
Ted Yerxa purchased a local recording studio as noted in June 15, 1946 edition of The Billboard. “HOLLYWOOD, June 8 — Ted Yerxa, local entertainment columnist who entered platter biz recently with a label called Lamplighter (title of his column), has purchased recording studios to cut his own stuff as well as do work for other record outfits.
Studio is former Broadcast Recorders, Inc., which specialized in off the air recordings. Understood Yerxa retains contract studio had with CBS web for off the air recordings.”
Metronome reviewed Yerxa’s first four Lamplighter releases in June 1946 issue: “Lamplighter All-Stars: “My Complaint, Baby” A “Wini’s Blues” B + “Young Man’s Blues” A- (two sides) “My Melancholy Baby” B + “Sweet Georgia Brown” B+
Six sides by three somewhat similar groups, all with the same name. Best is the first, primarily because of Wini Beatty, a rare songstress who phrases wonderfully and with a beat and who also plays exceptional piano. She gets fine support on this and on the slightly less spontaneous reverse from Red Callender and Allen Reuss, whose strong rhythm help Zutty Singleton play the best drums we’ve ever heard him put on wax. “Young Man’s Blues” comprises two sides of heartfelt singing by the excellent Claude Trenier and also has fine solos by Barney Bigard and Reuss, who plays without an amplifier. The last two sides have, besides Callender and Reuss, some amusing Vic Dickenson trombone, relaxed Barney, modern, fiery piano by Calvin Jackson, the usually fine Willie Smith alto, and, on the last side only, some tremendous, Louis-like trumpeting by Ray Linn. These sides are a really auspicious debut for Ted Yerxa’s Lamplighter label (Lamplighter 101/2/4)”
“Hollywood Four Blazes – “Dark Eyes” B+ “As Long As I Live” B
Great Ulysses Livingston guitar and good George Crawford piano on the first of these light sides. Crawford tries to sing like Nat Cole and doesn’t on the reverse. (Lamplighter 103)”
Lamplighter LL 105, 106, 107, and 110 were featured in an ad for Jack Gutshall’s distributing company in the July 20, 1946 edition of The Billboard. The Charlie Venturo 78s were released in a three disk album, Jazz Gems, Vol 1, as well as being available separately for purchase.
The Kay Starr single, LL 110, “Love Me or Leave Me” and “Sweet Lorraine” was her second release for Lamplighter and promoted as her “latest and best” in the Gutshall ad. Evidently LL 108 was not assigned to a Lamplighter release. Dave Dexter, Jr. wrote the liner note for the Charlie Venturo Jazz Gems set.
The Venturo album was reviewed in the September 1946 edition of Metronome: “Charlie Venturo – “Stomping at the Savoy” Parts I & II – “The Man I Love,” Parts I & II – “I Don’t Know Why” – “Charlie Boy”
This album of six sides, described as “honoring Charlie Venturo” (who has since changed his official billing to Ventura) illustrates vividly the difference between jam sessions converted into records and performances that were recorded especially for records. The first four sides are re-recorded from actual broadcasts from the Streets of Paris, a Hollywood night club. On them are Venturo, Barney Bigard, Red Callender, Barney Kessel, Harry Fields on piano, and Ray de Geer, alto. The last two sides are regular studio records, with Venturo, Bigard, Milt Raskin, Allan Reuss, Nick Fatool and Red Callender.
Supposedly the advantage of the first four sides is the spontaneity and un-awareness that they were being recorded. Offsetting this are the disadvantages of terrible balance and recording, sides ending or beginning in the middle of a chorus, applause noise covering up the playing, etc. On the last two sides, though, the men are well recorded and balanced, set up a nice little riff theme on “Charlie Boy,” and play their best because they are aware they’re being recorded!
Pleasantest surprise of the jam sides is the alto of Ray de Geer, who of course is well known as featured clarinetist with Charlie Barnet. However, to annotator Dave Dexter, de Geer was merely “formerly with Red Nichols and other satellites.” Of whom, or what, is Nichols a satellite? (Lamplighter Album I)”
Yerxa’s last two documented releases on Lamplighter, LL-111 & LL-112, featured Bob Zurke. The boogie-woogie pianist had acquired the nickname, Tom Cat on the Keys, early in his career, and his long running engagement at the Hangover Club on Vine was regularly noted by Yerxa in his weekly Lamplighter columns in The Daily News. “Body and Soul” on LL-111-A and “Workin’ My Way” on LL-112A were taken from Lamplighter broadcasts on KHJ in 1943. The reverse sides of the two 78 singles, “How Am I To Know” and “Who Are You” were recorded in Chicago.
The following excerpts from the Wikipedia entry (and more) for Zurke offer some background on his career:
“Born Boguslaw Albert Zukowski in Hamtramck, Michigan on January 7, 1912, he was already using the name Bob Zurke professionally by the age of 16 when he first recorded with a group led by pioneering female jazz bassist Thelma Terry. At that time, Zurke also began to work as a copyist for the Detroit-based booking agency run by Jean Goldkette. Through the end of 1936, Zurke worked in various Detroit clubs, mostly as a band pianist, and occasionally went on tour with other groups; it was in this period that Zurke developed a long friendship with pianist Marvin Ash, who would later go on to record some of Zurke’s compositions.
At the beginning of 1937, Zurke was hired by bandleader Bob Crosby to fill in for Joe Sullivan, then ailing with tuberculosis. It was with Crosby that Zurke gained notice; he contributed arrangements to the band’s book and was a featured soloist on several numbers, including his arrangement of Meade Lux Lewis’ “Honky Tonk Train Blues,” which became a hit. In 1938, Bob Zurke was named the winner in the piano category in the Reader’s Poll from Down Beat and, in the course of Alan Lomax’s Library of Congress interviews, was singled out by Jelly Roll Morton as the “only one (jazz pianist of the present time) that has a tendency to be on the right track.”
In March 1939 Joe Sullivan returned to the Bob Crosby Orchestra and Zurke subsequently worked with the William Morris Agency to form his own band. They debuted at an RCA Victor recording session in July 1939 as Bob Zurke and his Delta Rhythm Orchestra, recording, among other things, Zurke’s best known original compositions “Hobson Street Blues” and “Old Tom-Cat on the Keys.” Critical and public reception of both the records and the Delta Rhythm Band’s first appearances were initially positive, but Zurke proved to be unreliable, unpredictable and somewhat volatile as a leader, partly due to his alcohol dependency and alleged drug use. The band came to a halt not long after its final RCA Victor session in May 1940, which also proved Zurke’s last visit to the commercial recording studios; afterward Zurke served a jail sentence in Detroit for failing to pay alimony to his first wife, whom he had divorced in the late 1930s.
After a period of wandering from job to job following his release from jail, Zurke remarried and resettled in Los Angeles in late 1941. In August 1942, Zurke began an engagement at the Hangover Club in L.A. that he held until the end of his days. In December 1943, Zurke made one final recording, synchronizing an original piano part to the Walter Lantz cartoon Jungle Jive (in the Swing Symphony series), one of his most difficult and challenging solos. On February 15, 1944, Bob Zurke collapsed at the Hangover Club and was taken to the hospital; he died the following day of complications of pneumonia aggravated by acute alcohol poisoning—he had just turned 32.
While Bob Zurke’s fame did not long outlast him, it was considerable from the time he joined Bob Crosby and his playing was widely admired by his peers and colleagues. According to pianist Norma Teagarden, Zurke had small hands and needed to develop special techniques to adjust for his lack of reach; this led to him developing a technique and style uniquely his own. During his lifetime, Zurke was considered one of the finest white boogie-woogie pianists at a time when such players were few. His ability as an arranger and transcriber helped to put pieces by non-readers into a playable, published form, such as in his transcription of Joe Sullivan’s “Little Rock Getaway” Zurke published two folios of jazz piano solos and several sheet music editions of single pieces; in addition to that, 14 original compositions from Zurke are known.“
Kay Starr’s recording career with Ted Yerxa’s Lamplighter label got off to a rocky start as chronicled in the March 16, 1946 edition of The Billboard: “Pollack, Yerxa Tiff Over Kay Starr Paper
HOLLYWOOD, March 9 — Ben Pollack, Jewel Record head, is preparing a counter suit against Ted Yerxa, Los Angeles Daily News Lamplighter entertainment columnist, who has his own Lamplighter Record label, in connection with singer, Kay Starr’s recently filed suit to kill her Jewel recording contract. Pollack claims Yerxa induced Kay Starr to commit a breach of contract with Jewel with promises to build her via his Lamplighter label. Starr contends in her suit that Pollack promised to build her name via record releases, but all she received was $400 for four sides and no build-up. Pollack states he has a standard record contract with her which has a couple of years to go and he will hold her to it unless Yerxa wants to buy the contract for $5,000 which Pollack claims he lost on the deal because her platters did not sell.”
The outcome of the lawsuits mentioned above did not merit coverage in newspapers or the music press of the time. Contrasting the Jewel sides with the Lamplighter sides one could easily reach a conclusion that Pollack bears major responsibility for the failure of the Kay Starr sides to recoup his investment. Pollack assembled a large ensemble of jazz musicians for the June 26, 1945 recording session including multiple strings. The choice of songs for the session included: “Should I?” by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed, “Honey” by Simons-Gillespie-Whiting, “I Ain’t Gonna Cry” by Pack-White-Broughton, and “Don’t Meddle in My Mood” by Cindy Walker. While all of the composers and lyricists were well known and respected in the industry, these particular songs were not chart toppers. The last two had single interpretations as noted by Lord’s Jazz Discography, the Pollack session with Kay Starr. In contrast, the Lamplighter sides featured a smaller ensemble sparked by the swinging guitar work of Allan Reuss with equal time given to the rest of the ensemble that placed Starr’s vocalizing in the forefront.
The Billboard – September 7, 1946 – KAY STARR AND THE ALL STARS – (Lamplighter 110) “Loved Me or Leave Me” — “Sweet Lorraine”
“There’s plenty of musical meat in this needling, with Kay Starr pitting her sultry pipes to the stellar support of Barney Bigard’s clarinet, Red Callender on bass, Vic Dickenson on trombone, Calvin Jackson’s Steinway, Ray Linn’s trumpeting, Allan Reues’s guitar, Zutty Singleton handling hides and the alto saxlng of Willie Smith. Ballad tempo is retained for both faces. Piano and bass blend to intro Miss Starr on Loue Me, with clean cut sax and muted trumpet sharing solo flights between vocal choruses as the others blend for a quality ensemble effect. Sparkling keyboard knuckling adds to the value of the backside, especially the runs in thirds. Also effective, guitar and bass going to double tempo on final 16 bars.”
“It’s the instrumental backing that makes these sides count. With Barney Bigard wielding a facile fingered clary, Zutty Singleton on drum, Red Callender’s bass, Vic Dickenson’s trombone, Ray Linn on trumpet, Calvin Jackson knuckling the ivories, Willie Smith’s alto sax and Allan Reuss’s groovy guitaring, Kay Starr has little trouble putting over her Harlemese -styled vocals. After a short solo clary intro on Gone, side takes off to a lively pace with Miss Starr nicely filling the vocal bill. Backside finds lads giving out with some fine instrumental work as Miss Starr chants the jazz classics in fine style. Particularly noteworthy is Bigard’s wailing clarinet, Linn’s trumpet and Smith’s well-phrased sax take the spotlight between choruses on Love Me, with Miss Starr convincingly projecting the wordage for Lorraine as Calvin Jackson’s pianistics tempt replays.”
Record label owners are often accused of failure to promote their artists and place the blame for poor sales on the label’s proprietor, perhaps not taking into account that the owner wants substantial sales as much as the artist. Yerxa tirelessly promoted his label via his newspaper columns and his radio work. His distributor, Jack Gutshall, placed full page ads in Cash Box regularly – a sampling from seven isuues of the magazine shown at left.
Gutshall also placed major ads in The Billboard like the ad shown above that featured Kay Starr and Charlie Venturo in large bold face type in the ad to promote their latest releases on Lamplighter.
Yerxa’s failed attempt as jazz concert impresario and the abrupt end of Lamplighter releases in the fall of 1946 signaled that all was not well. Evelyn Yerxa filed for divorce in September of 1946. She asked that Yerxa be restrained from disposing of community property (the Lamplighter label was jointly owned). The divorce was granted on September 16, 1946.
Ted Yerxa’s “With the LAMPLIGHTER” columns were sporadic in 1947. January, February, October, November, and December were represented at newspapers.com with nothing retrieved from the other months. Lamplighter jam sessions at Mellodee also tapered off in 1947. A competing newspaper, The Southwest Wave, was active in 1947 with a similar column, Los Angeles After Dark, penned by W. B. Granger that covered the same territory as Yerxa’s columns in the The Daily News. The Granger columns appeared regularly throughout 1947 in the weekly African-American newspaper.
The Mellodee Lamplighter jazz session on January 9th featured Barney Bigard, “Bumps” Meyers, Zutty Singleton, Wini Beatty, Milt Raskin, and Benny Carter. The following week a few new names were added, The Treniers, Morty Corb, Don Cannon, Larry Ballew, Jack (Zoot) Sims, Jimmy Rowles, and Forry (Chico) Hamilton. The January 15th column noted that Esquire magazine gold and silver Awards were bestowed on Benny Carter, Oscar Moore, Vic Dickenson, Barney Bigard, Willie Smith, King Cole, Barney Kessel, Lester Young, and in the “New Years” band, Lucky Thompson, Dodo Marmarosa, and Red Callender. Wini Beatty’s “My Complaint, Baby” was selected as one of the “Records of the Year” by Metronome, and several other Lamplighter Records releases received a mention – Kay Starr’s “Sweet Lorraine,” “Saint Louis Blues,” and “Love Me or Leave Me” plus Claude Trenier’s “Young Man’s Blues.”
Yerxa’s January 17th column noted that Lamplighter may record a series of modern styled sides with Jimmy Rowles and that the latest releases on his Lamplighter label were two sides by Harry Fields and two more by blues-singer-pianist Wini Beatty. There is no evidence in The Billboard or Cash Box to support this. The January 22nd column announced a jam session scheduled for the Susie Q with Howard McGhee, Harry Babasin, Arnold Ross, Ziggy Elmer, and Jimmy Giuffre. Yerxa confirmd that Bobby Short was holding forth at The Haig and the upcoming Sunday jazz session at Mellodee would include the Treniers, Barney Bigard, Zutty Singleton, “Bumps” Meyers, Jimmy Rowles, Artie Shapiro, Bernie Philips, Forry “Chico” Hamilton, and many others in his January 31st column.
The February 2nd column highlighted the “Celebrity” series to take place on Tuesday nights at the Club Morocco on Vine Street. The series was organized by Maynard Sloate and Addie Hanson. The kickoff show featured Benny Carter, Barney Kessel, Harry Babasin, Arnold Ross, and Herb Jeffries. Maynard Sloate also organized jam sessions at Susie Q on Hollywood Blvd. The mid February jazz session at the Mellodee featured Wini Beatty who had just returned from a successful engagement in Reno along with Red Callender, Jimmy Rowles, Zutty Singleton, “Bumps” Meyers, Ernie Sheppard, Teddy Buckner, and Forry “Chico” Hamilton. Billy Berg’s was also hosting a jazz session with Al Killian, Eddie Beal, Charlie “Baron” Mingus, Chuck Thompson, and Buddy Collette.
Lamplighter columns during the remaining months of 1947 noted: Duncan Pruitt’s HANGOVER CLUB on Vine is a must for jazz enthusiasts, Billy Berg’s was presenting two schools of jazz – Kid Ory and his Dixieland two-beat plus the Mills Brothers, Tex Beneke was at The Palladium, Lionel Hampton then Count Basie at The Meadowbrook, Tommy Dorsey was at Casino Gardens, Wini Beatty & Rickey Jordan at Bob Lewis’ CARNIVAL ROOM, Pete Daily’s Chicagoans at the HANGOVER, Matt Dennis at The Haig, Spade Cooley at the Santa Monica Pier Ballroom, and to cap the year Gene Norman was presenting a jazz shows at the Long Beach Auditorium (12/26) and the Shrine Auditorium (12/27) featuring Kay Starr, Benny Goodman Sextet with Red Norvo, Mel Powell, Pete Johnson, Joe Turner and a host of other great jazzmen.
An obscure California law protected pressing plants when label owners failed to pay for record pressing runs produced by the plant. Ownership of the pressing masters would be held by the pressing plant until accounts were paid in full. Yerxa had indicated early on that he was planning to have his records pressed in the east. The divorce proceedings most likely resulted in the cessation of Lamplighter releases while final settlement details were worked out by the courts. A short column in the April 17, 1948 issue of The Billboard noted that all of Ted Yerxa’s Lamplighter masters, nearly 200, were acquired by Coast Records who owned all pressing and sales rights of the recordings. The images above of Coast 9001 are courtesy of the Bill Emery Collection. Bill noted on the sleeve that the tune on 9001-B was actually “Riffin’ The Scotch.”
Ted Yerxa’s “With the LAMPLIGHTER” columns resumed their normal frequency in 1948 with all twelve months showing multiple posts as he continued to monitor nightclubs, restaurants, celebrities, and the music industry. The Lamplighter jazz sessions ceased to be noted and featured in his columns, and the radio spots disappeared as Yerxa left the airwaves. The Newhall Signal newspaper carried a brief report on November 25, 1948, that Thomas E. Yerxa, age 52, of Los Angeles sustained critical injuries Sunday when his car went out of control at a curve on the Piru road six miles west of Castaic Junction.
Ted Yerxa’s Lamplighter masters exchanged hands again in 1949. A notice in The Billboard reported that C. W. Coleman of Long Beach purchased them at auction. All of the Crystalette label images above are courtesy the Bill Emery Collection.
The Billboard – March 26, 1949 – Starr Masters To Crystalette
“HOLLYWOOD, March l9 – Group of 20 platters etched by Kay Starr for defunct Lamplighter Records were sold at auction Monday (14) to C. W. Coleman, owner of Crystalette Records, Long Reach, Calif. Starr etchings were a portion of approximately 150 masters liquidated by the Los Angeles bankruptcy court to settle claims against Ted Yerxa’s label. Coleman is understood to have paid $2,250 for the entire works.
Starr sides were etched more than two years ago before the thrush zoomed to present prominence and inked disking pact with Capitol Records. Group of masters, which includes many standards, will be released on Crystalette, with first sides set for early marketing.
Other masters included single sides featuring jazz instrumentalists Red Callendar, Milt Raskin, Allan Reuss, Charley Ventura and Barney Kessel.”
Ted Yerxa continued to do newspaper work in the 1950s. He returned to the airwaves in 1951 with a 1:00 AM time slot on KFVD. The Valley Times published his “Along The Fun And Sun Zone” in 1953. A short column in the Los Angeles Evening Citizen News in 1954 noted that Yerxa was the local advertising manager for Down Beat. The Los Angeles Daily News featured similar reporting in the 1950s with columns by Ray Hewitt called “The Spotlighter.” Yerxa pioneered this coverage providing an intimate weekly analysis of what was happening in Hollywood and greater Los Angeles. The coverage was immediate as opposed to Metronome’s monthly publication or Down Beat’s bi-weekly tabulations. The activities of Norman Granz and Gene Norman overshadowed Yerxa’s endeavors in the concert and live jam session field, but Yerxa’s efforts deserve credit and recognition as an advocate of jazz in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Yerxa’s Los Angeles Times obituary got his age wrong, Yerxa was 62. His wife died soon after.
A nod of thanks to the following people who have assisted and contributed to this celebration of Thomas Edward Yerxa: the late Bill Emery, Jeffrey Sultanof, Cynthia Sesso, Nick Rossi, Coen Hoffman, and Ken Poston. A very special thanks to Nick Rossi for positively identifying Johnny White as the pianist with Benny Carter at the Club Morocco.