EVEN DURING A PANDEMIC LOCKDOWN, THE MUSIC NEVER ENDS!
Here I am, folks, obediently sequestered in an “undisclosed location” – and sharing a seldom-heard torch song treasure from the golden pens of Johnny Mercer and Jimmy Van Heusen. It was recorded twice by Frank Sinatra, but was relegated to the B-side of two different singles. The Song is “Empty Tables” and the accompanist is the talented Stuart Seale.
In Hollywood back in 1978, getting your name in TV Guide was an early indication that you had “arrived.”
That was then. It was my very first network television role and on a top-ten rated show! And, whaddya know… suddenly, POW! There I was – in TV Guide! Okay, maybe I wasn’t quite ready to start writing an Emmy* acceptance speech yet, but I did feel like I was finally in the ‘big leagues” – even if I was still only a bat boy on the team.
Now, exactly forty-one years later, through wistful eyes, it all seems rather naive, amusing – and, in some ways, sad. Penny Marshall is gone. So is her brother, legendary comedy producer Garry Marshall – and Jack Somack, who starred in the classic 1969 “Spicy meatball” Alka Seltzer commercial. My buddy Phil Foster, too – along with so many others.
I look at who we beat the pants off of in the ratings that week, and I see TV icon Merv Griffin and one of my boyhood idols, Jack Paar, along with the hilarious Dody Goodman and brilliant Hans Conried. Also, TV perennial Dr. Joyce Brothers, comic Stu Gilliam and the insanely funny Pat McCormick, who later became one of my dear pals. At 6’7″, he was often (and aptly) referred to as “The World’s Tallest Leprechaun.”
I miss them. They’re all gone now – and so is the authoritative importance of TV Guide – along with that entire innocent and wonderfully funny world of network TV comedy which we all inhabited – so at home in that combination stage, playground and madhouse.
But forty-one years ago today, at the age of 28, I was starting to feel like I had finally “arrived” – on a cloud of enthusiasm and blissfully unaware of the ultimately tenuous nature of it all – and of us.
12 December 2019
*The term “Emmy” is a registered trademark of The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, (NATAS).
As a very young boy, JFK and the 1960 Presidential campaign represented my initial awareness of politics – a civics awakening.
Like most others my age, on November 22, 1963, I was in school, (in Mr. Leonetti’s Biology Class), when the P.A. system suddenly and quite unexpectedly blared loud static and then a voice, rudely interrupting our puzzled teacher mid-sentence. Of course, we all laughed.
But there was no school announcement. Just a radio newscast.
We initially thought it was a prank – until we listened to the words. Those horrifying words.
It wasn’t long before the entire school was dismissed and we all started wandering home, with tears flowing and a suddenly unsettling empty place inside each of us which I don’t believe has ever been refilled – even to this day.
How does a young American boy grieve and demonstrate honor and respect for a fallen President?
After the usual ways, I used my meager young lad piggy-bank money, saved from my weekend job, to purchase this bronze memorial medallion and this plate block of memorial US stamps in honor of our President.
They’ve been a personal treasure for over a half century.
I took them out to hold them for a moment today. There was an uneasy familiarity about them. It’s been a long time.
While I can’t say that they bring me any pleasure, I can say that they’re important to me because they represent my tiny bit of personal connectivity to that tragic moment in our history when I believe our nation’s innocence was lost – and those of us who remember it, feel like we were all right there together when it happened.
But I think they’re most important to me for a different reason: They also bring back just a glimmer of a poignant reminder of how truly magical and full of hope and promise the world felt to a young boy — on November Twenty-FIRST, 1963.
THE WINDY CITY REALLY SHOULD BE CALLED “MUSIC CITY” because I’ve found that there’s arguably a more vibrant music scene in Chicago (especially jazz) than in many other cities you’d expect to be at the top of the list – including New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Nashville, Atlanta – and, yes, even New Orleans!
CASE IN POINT: ONE OF AMERICA’S GREAT SAX MEN resides and plays weekly at Chicago’s legendary Andy’s Jazz Club – and that’s Mike Smith. Together with the Jordan Baskin Trio, they provide Chicago jazz lovers and visitors with a hearty helping of truly tasty tunes.
A RECENT VISIT had Mike inviting me onstage to croon and swing a few with his stellar group. Well, he didn’t have to ask twice.
CLICK ON THE PHOTO for a very short snippet of our improvised live performance that night. Enjoy! And, if you find yourself in the Chicago area, be sure to drop in to Andy’s Jazz Club. If it happens to be on a Wednesday, you’re in for a special treat when Mike, Jordan and the gang hit the stage.
Well, not really – but, in the wonderful world of broadcasting, anything’s possible… especially when the iconic “Uncle Floyd” Vivino is at the microphone!
Floyd is a New Jersey cult figure and a world-wide show business icon from his long-running kid’s TV show (for adults), “The Uncle Floyd Show” to his being sung about in the legendary 2002 David Bowie song, “Slip Away.”
CLICK ON THE PHOTO to hear Floyd, on his popular radio show, presenting a tune from my album, “If Love Were All”(Kabockie Records KCD-1031 / KLP2-1031) and following it with a classic but seldom-heard tune from Thomas “Fats” Waller, “Florida Flo.”
So — technically, I guess I can say that I was “Fats” Waller’s opening act – at least on Floyd Vivino’s radio show, I was!
I’ve never claimed to be a Sinatra impressionist or “tribute artist” (although he was certainly a tremendous influence on me – and every other singer of The Great American Songbook).
But singing a classic Cole Porter tune like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” with a big band swinging the Sinatra trademark Nelson Riddle arrangement, I just couldn’t resist paying homage and tribute to “Ol’ Blue Eyes” and “The Chairman of the Board.”
So I hope you enjoy this brief glimpse of my humble but joyous voyage into Sinatra Land with the Shout Section Big Band.
As a jazz vocalist, that’s what a really swingin’ big band is to me. It’s like being backed up by a mighty jet engine – lifting us all off the ground together – and letting me sing like I’m dancing in the sky. There’s simply nothing like it.
IF YOU’RE IN THE CHICAGOLAND AREA (or can get there!)… don’t miss this! We’re gonna have a ball!