Zardi’s – 1951/1952
Ray Hewitt’s “The Spotlighter” column in the January 4th edition of the Daily News highlighted the vibrant entertainment scene kicking off 1951 in Los Angeles. The list of artists ran the gamut from top name jazz vocalists like Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Ella Fitzgerald to society orchestras like Phil Spitalny and Ted Fio Rito. Traditional groups were very much in evidence as well: Ted Vesely at Beverly Cavern, Ben Pollack at Club Bayou, Zutty Singleton at Club 47, Muggsy Spanier at Tiffany Club, and Red Nichols and His Five Pennies at Sardi’s – continuing their extended run that began in 1950.
Hewitt’s list noted the emerging popularity of modern groups like the Red Norvo Trio at The Haig and the George Shearing Quintet at Club Oasis, but failed to mention Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All Stars who were beginning to define the new West Coast sound of jazz with visiting/rising jazz artists like Sonny Criss and Teddy Edwards.
Red Nichols was profiled by The Valley Times writer Ted Kovach in their May 26, 1951 edition. Kovach interviewed Nichols at his home in North Hollywood and used direct quotes from Nichols throughout the profile. Red’s comments provide a first-hand account of his colorful career.
Red Nichols, Veteran Jazz Giant, Valleyite
By Ted Kovach
Red Nichols, now a North Hollywood resident, stands out as one of our “giants” of jazz. The famed cornetist began his colorful career the day he was born, May 8, 1905, in Ogden, Utah.
On that day, Red’s father, professor of music at Weber College decided that his son should become a musician. However, it wasn’t until three years later that he began giving little Red cornet lessons. His first public performance was at the age of five when he played a cornet solo of “My Country” at Weber College.
Papa Nichols was so impressed with Red’s performance that he started him on violin and piano at the age of six. He continued on all three instruments until he won a scholarship to the Culver Military Academy in Indiana. “I left Ogden when I was 15,” says Red, “but I was kicked out of the academy because I was caught smoking. Being the son of a Mormon, I disgraced my family and everyone else. I don’t feel badly about it anymore though,” he continued, “because they let everyone smoke three years later.”
“In 1922, I traveled around Indiana, Ohio and Michigan with the ‘Syncopated 5’ which was a co-operative band,” he said, “During that time, Hale Byers, a saxophone player with the Paul Whiteman band was visiting in his home town of Gary, Indiana. He heard me play at Lake James, near Gary, and went back East to tell Whiteman. I received a wire from Paul to join the band, but I turned down the offer.”
“Instead, I took a job with Johnny Johnson at the Rodd Fenton Farms in Asbury, N.Y. In the fall of ’23, I organized my own band, through Johnny, and opened at Suskind’s Pelham Heath Inn in New York City. This was my first own group,” said Red. “I was called ‘Red Nichols and his Redheads,’ but I was the only redhead in the band. Joe Venuti and Dudley Fosdick helped make up my first band.”
“I had this group until the early part of 1924, during which we made records for Vocalion, Gennett and Edison.” It should be noted that these recordings are now among the most rare collector’s items.
“I free-lanced for awhile, recording with other bands, then returned to record with my band again. This second band, ” he continued, “was composed of ‘pick-up’ men. We were now called, simply ‘The Redheads.’ I used such men as Jimmy Dorsey, Fud Livingston, Eddie Lange, Artie Schutt, Vic Burton, Perry Botkin and Miff Mole. I used this line-up for records only, however.”
“During the latter part of ’24, Red joined the California Ramblers for eight months, during which the band recorded many, now priceless, sides for Columbia and Okeh. He used the nucleus of the Ramblers’ band to form numerous recording bands at the same time. These smaller groups recorded under a variety of names.
“In 1925 I came to the West Coast to join a band that Phil Harris was playing drums in. That was the first time I had seen my folks since leaving for the academy. They had since moved from Ogden to San Francisco. Dad,” continued Red, “had charge of the California Boys Club Band. After a short stay in Los Angeles, I returned to New York and joined Ross Gorman’s band.”
“Gorman’s band played for Earl Carroll’s Varieties, he said, “It was during this job that I met my wife. She was a dancer under the name of Barbara Meredith, but her real name was Willa Inez Stutzman. It was in 1926, while still a member of Gorman’s band, I signed with Brunswick Records as ‘Red Nichols and his Five Pennies.’ The Pennies consisted of Miff Mole, Artie Schutt, Eddie Lange, Vic Burton, Jimmy Dorsey, and myself,” Red stated. “I joined Paul Whiteman for a short time in March, 1927.”
“Later, went into business with Don Voorhees. We signed up and organized the Columbia Broadcasting System Music Dept. At the same time, we also put on Joe Cook’s ‘Rain or Shine’ radio show and assigned Joe Venuti as conductor.”
“In the fall of ’27, I was on CBS using two names; the ‘Pennies’ and the ‘Captivators.’ This continued for a year. Then I brought my band to Fatty Arbuckle’s Plantation in Culver City. We returned to New York again in ’29 and went into the George Gershwin show, ‘Strike Up the Band.’ The show ran for a year. Then we went to the Park Central Hotel in New York City. There, we were billed as ‘Red Nichols and his Orchestra Featuring the Five Pennies.’
“In 1931, we opened another George Gershwin show, ‘Girl Crazy.’ Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden and Gene Krupa were included in this band’s line-up.”
It was with this show’s band personnel that Red recorded the famous Brunswick series.
From 1932-1935, Red traveled the country working the finest ballrooms and hotels. Then he went into commercial radio, using a band composed of 30 musicians on NBC.
Red gave up the music business in 1941 and worked as a welder at Pacific Bridge Shipyard in Alameda until 1944.
He re-organized during 1944 and has been on the West Coast most of the time.
Red Nichols and His Five Pennies were the featured jazz artists at Sardi’s throughout most of 1950. They had a month off in August and September of 1950 when they were replaced by Ted Vesely and His Dixieland Band. The Nichol’s group remained at Sardi’s during the first three months of 1951 until April when Nappy Lamare and His Strawhat Seven took the stand at Sardi’s.
The Valley Times published a profile of Nappy Lamare in their November 24, 1951 edition by the same staff writer who profiled Red Nichols, Ted Kovach. Lamare’s direct quotes display his humorous side.
NAPPY LAMARE REVEALS STORY OF HIS CAREER
By Ted Kovach
Valley Times Music Writer
“Mr. Dixieland” better known as Nappy Lamare, comes from a long line of New Orleans printers.
“My folks wanted me to be a printer, too,” says Nappy. “But that went out the window when I was in high school playing first the trumpet, and later, the banjo.
The New Orleans-born musician first learned to pick out banjo chords by peering over a pianist’s shoulder. “When I turned 15.” says Nippy. “I qualified to join a five-piece band that played silent picture theater pits. The job didn’t last long. The manager fired us after hearing us play ‘Hot Lips’ as atmosphere music for a Chinese flicker in which a gal was being murdered!
“He paid the guys in the band a dollar each. Me? Nothing! He didn’t think the banjo was appropriate in a pit band.
“That was sure a strange band,” recalls Lamare. “The drummer played like a mechanic. He’s still a mechanic. The violinist, one Moses Wisemann, always seemed to rush the music . . . play in a hurry. He’s an auctioneer now.
“We called the band ‘The Midnight Serenaders.’ It sounded more like the ‘Midnight Raiders!” Nappy’s first professional job was in Bucktown, just outside New Orleans. The dance hall boasted “the largest variety of slot machines in the South”—a real high class joint!
When the hall had no customers, the musicians would stop playing and gather under a large window. When a car drove by, the musicians stuck their horns out the window and “blew their heads off” in hopes of luring in the driver.
… Nothing but the finest place of employment for Mr. Lamare.
Nappy was employed, not because he had developed a spread chord sound that emphasized a moving base line, but because he had a battery-powered red light that glowed inside his instrument.
“The other guys in the band’ were much older than I,” explains Nappy, “Whenever a customer would order drinks for the band, the leader would say ‘No kid, that’s no good for you.’ He’d take all the drinks and pour them into one big pail. They’d mix all the drinks during the evening together, and when the joint closed proceed to divide the pail among the older musicians. “Most of those guys are dead now.”
The late Robert Ripley used one of the musicians as a believe-it-or-not subject. His name was Willy Guitar. He played bass and lived on Music Street In New Orleans.
Willy was a character of sorts. He had carefully cut a trap door in his bass. Many a time he would stop in the middle of a song, yell “I’m hungry!” And reach in the trap door for a sandwich. “I can’t recall the name of that band,” Nappy searched his memory. “But I think the leader’s name was Blessy.”
“The jobs were different in those days than they are today. We were once hired to play an anniversary dance at a house of ill-repute.”
Nappy gained much valuable musical experience as a result of his rich New Orleans heritage and six months with the Blessy band. As a young kid, he had bummed around with Ray Bauduc, who later held the high chair of “America’s Foremost Drummer.”
In 1928, New Orleans clarinetist Johnny Bayersdorffer asked Nappy to wander with him to Chicago, where jazz was rumored to he prospering. The two youngsters arrived in Chicago only to find the rumor was none other than a rumor.
They stayed there two weeks with no prospects of work in sight. Disheartened, Nappy leafed through a Sunday newspaper and fell upon a story relating the success of jazz in New York nightclubs and ballrooms. They set out for New York to find Nappy’s friend Billy Burton.
Burton welcomed the sight of the two musicians and immediately hired them to his band.” The band was what you might call a ‘loud band.'” explains Nappy. “The management passed out cotton balls free to the patrons at the door.”
The summer engagement with the Burton band in Atlantic City was a memorable one for Nappy. It was during this job that he met his wife. Alice Ryan, then singing in the floorshow with her sisters. They married in New York three years later.
By this time, Nappy had switched to guitar and was developing a style that soon became the envy of every guitarist. The dance era was forthcoming and Nappy was ready for it. His “choked” strumming application brought vitality and freshness never before heard in a rhythm section.
He had come into his own and was being noticed. Men like Jack Teagarden, Bix Beiderbecke, Bud Freeman, Pee Wee Russell and the Dorsey brothers went out of their ways to hear him play. Nappy’s contribution to the American music scene was later evidenced by his winning music journal polls four years in succession.
Nappy left the Burton band to work in Havana, Cuba, with the Buddy Baldwin orchestra. After a short stay, he returned to New York, where he could hear the history-making Ben Pollack band. Ben added him to the band along with Charlie Spivak, Eddie Miller and Tommy Toonan.
Nappy was surrounded by some fast company in the Pollack band. The personnel also included men like Matty Matlock, Yank Lawson, Jack Teagarden, Joe Harris and Gil Bowers, to mention a few.
As has often been said, the Pollack band was the musical sensation of America for several years and finally disbanded In California in 1934.
Gil Roden became the “business head” for a nucleus of the band that wished to remain intact. Nappy was among them. The nameless unit looked for a leader, trying out Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden and finally Bob Crosby.
Thus the Bob Crosby band was born. The year was 1935. The same year Benny Goodman made “swing” history at the Palomar Ballroom in L A. The band, sometimes called “Pollack’s Orphans,” became an overnight sensation.
Crosby was merely the “guy with the stick” who would stand in front of the band, look pretty and sing a few solos. The band members had formed a corporation; each owning a piece of the band, sharing in its profits and employing Bob Crosby as its leader.
The band piled up an impressive list of best selling records for Decca. Now all these sides are collector’s Items. “The Bobcats,” a small combo within the band, also found its share of fans.
“The hand broke up in 1942,” recalls Nappy. “We were losing many men to the draft.”
Lamare remained in the Los Angeles area to work the Paul Whiteman, Baby Snooks and Johnny Mercer radio shows. During 1945-46 he headed a small band that recorded for Mercury.
In 1947, he bought a Ventura Blvd. nightclub —”Club 47″— together with “Doc” Rando (saxophonist) and Noni Bernardi (Kay Kayser, saxophonist and arranger) . . . now a Valley building contractor).
In 1949 he organized a Dixieland band that included Zutty Singleton, Pud Brown, Johnny Costello, Stu Pletcher, “Goat” Hatch, Brad Gowans and Donald O’Conner’s kid sister, Patsy, as vocalist.
The band immediately went on tour, signed with Capitol Records and was picked to be featured on KTLA’s “Dixie Showboat.” The TV show, which starts its third year in February, is seen on 42 Paramount television network stations throughout the nation.
Nappy commutes between his Van Nuys home and Sardi’s Hollywood Restaurant nightly, where he’s heen playing to capacity audiences.
Nappy Lamare and His Strawhat Seven continued their popular run at Sardi’s through the end of 1951. Sardi’s kicked off 1952 with a double bill at Sardi’s: Pete Daily and His Chicagoans plus Nappy Lamare and His Strawhat Seven. Daily’s Chicagoans in 1952 included Pete Daily, cornet; Pud Brown, tenor sax and clarinet; Burt Johnson, trombone; Skippy Anderson, piano; Budd “Goat” Hatch, tuba; Len Esterdahl, banjo; and Hugh Allison, drums.
Benny Carter opened at Sardi’s on March 28, 1952. In addition to the musicians named in the article reprinted below, Carter’s All Star group probably included Harry Babasin on bass.
The Los Angeles Evening Citizen News profiled Benny Carter’s All Star group performing at Sardi’s in Ann St. John’s “On The Town” column, April 15, 1952.
Benny Carter opened at Sardi’s on March 28, 1952. In addition to the musicians named in the article reprinted below, Carter’s All Star group probably included Harry Babasin on bass. The Carter ensemble remained at Sardi’s umntil mid June when Nappy Lamare returned to the bandstand.
Benny Carter. Off-beat maestro currently ripping it up at Sardi’s with one of the hottest combos in town. Benny is a four-threat man. But the saxophone is his favorite instrument. He is cosmopolitan, suave and charming. But he will tell you that he was born on San Juan Hill in New York City. That’s the section known as The Jungles. A little of the jungles got into his music.
Carter had his own band with the BBC In London for a year and a half. Most of the players were Scotchmen. There were also a few Englishmen, and one Welshman. He refuses to say which nationality made the best hep cats. “I liked it there,” he says. “I want to go back some day.”
His present outfit is made up of brilliant musicians. Ben Webster, on the sax, was with Duke Ellington for years. Freddie Otis beats a mean ivory, and George Jenkins is simply sensational on the drums. . . . Benny arranges a good deal of music for pictures. He did three sequences for “American in Paris.” and appeared in some of the scenes. At present he is working on “Snows of Kilimanjaro.” He thinks nothing of a director calling him up and saying: “I need three minutes and 20 seconds of music with a blue feeling.”
In addition to the film work noted above, Benny Carter was very active in recording studios for a variety of labels during this period. Sessions earlier in 1949 included dates for the Modern label and most recently sessions for RCA Victor and Norman Granz’s Norgran label.
Nappy Lamare returned to Sardi’s on June 20, 1952. The ad in the Daily News announced a name change, Cardi’s. The same issue of June 20th elaborated (briefly) “. . . So they changed the name of Sardi’s to Cardi’s at Hollywood & Vine. It’s still the same management and good food with hot Dixieland music. In fact, Mr. Dixieland himself, Nappy Lamar (sic) & his band open there tonight.”
Frank Bull and Gene Norman held their 4th Dixieland Jubilee at the Shrine Auditorium on October 5th. Rosy McHargue filled in at Sardi’s when Nappy Lamare was scheduled to take his Strawhat Seven to the television studio for the weekly broadcast of Dixieland Showboat. Rosy’s Ragtimers were one of the featured combos at the 4th Dixieland Jubilee: Rosy McHargue, clarinet; Bob Higgins, trumpet; Moe Schneider, trombone; Pete DeSantis, piano; Ray Leatherwood , string bass; and George Defebaugfh, drums.
Lamare’s group continued at Cardi’s until November when the Mel Henke Trio opened in mid November. The Dixieland music policy had been interrupted previously with the booking of Benny Carter’s modern jazz combo. The Mel Henke booking signaled that Cardi’s was altering the musical menu again for their customers.
The Los Angeles nightclub scene in the summer of 1952 witnessed some radical changes. The Haig was booking modern jazz combos that were drawing capacity crowds at the small club. A few blocks away at the Tiffany Club Charlie Parker was continuing a modern jazz policy that built on previous engagements by the Oscar Peterson Trio, the George Shearing Quintet, Billie Holiday backed by a modern combo led by Wardell Gray, and a Johnny Hodges combo.
The Mel Henke Trio had been making the rounds at Hollywood nightclubs and piano bars. Earlier in the year the trio was at the Saddle & Sirloin, Mayfair Room, Encore Room, and Café Gala. Mel Henke enjoyed a dedicated following in Los Angeles. His recording career began in Chicago with Collector’s Item and Vita recordings. His recent activity included sessions for RCA Victor, Trilon, Tempo, and Decca. Henke’s piano chops were highlighted on the Trilon recording of “The Unfinished Boogie” with the Vido Musso Orchestra, recorded earlier by Trilon with Viviane Greene. The Mel Henke Trio finished out 1952 at Cardi’s.
The Roy Harte Jazz Archive photos that greatly enhance this presentation have been provided courtesy of CTSIMAGES. The author would like to extend a most heartfelt thanks to Cynthia Sesso, Licensing Administrator of the Roy Harte Jazz Archive. Please note that these photos remain the property of the Roy Harte Jazz Archive and are used here with permission. Any inquiries regarding their use, commercial or otherwise, should be directed to: Cynthia Sesso at CTSIMAGES.