Monday, October 25, 2010



From Django Reinhardt to Jimi Hendrix, the names that commonly appear on argument-starting lists of the greatest and most influential guitarists of the 20th century are familiar. But there's one flat-picking virtuoso from South Philadelphia typically left out of the conversation, whose music has receded into obscurity despite a trailblazing career cut short by his tragic death in 1933: Eddie Lang. That's an injustice an aggregation of local musicians and Lang enthusiasts are doing their best to redress, starting with a multi-act show that will bring Lang's music to life at Chris' Jazz Cafe in Center City on Monday. It's the 108th anniversary of the birth of Lang, who died of complications from a tonsillectomy that his friend and collaborator, Bing Crosby, urged him to get. And it's been declared Eddie Lang Day in Philadelphia in a proclamation from Mayor Nutter that "urges all citizens to be aware of Eddie Lang's history-making musical legacy as well as the role of Philadelphia in the development of early jazz music."

And it's about time, say ardent fans of Lang, frustrated that such a prodigiously talented and innovative figure could be all but forgotten by all but jazz cognoscenti. "He's somebody who died at a young age who had a brief, meteoric career," says Aaron Luis Levinson, the Grammy-winning Philadelphia record producer who helmed Rediscovering Lonnie Johnson, the 2008 release that re-created three of the historic guitar duets between Lang and African American guitarist Johnson that broke the recording industry's color line in 1928 and 1929. At Chris' on Monday, all 12 of the duets - which Lang recorded under the pseudonym Blind Willie Dunn so as to not arouse suspicion of music miscegenation - will be reprised by guitarists Jef Lee Johnson and Jonathan Dichter, who will "play" Lang. "He's not someone anybody ever remembers to talk about when they talk about Philadelphia music," Levinson says. "There's something really unfair about cultural memory. It's like anything that happened before Elvis Presley gets treated like it happened in the dinosaur age." Lang's life story may be little known, but it reads like an unwritten screenplay about a dazzlingly talented, thoroughly modern musician.

Born Salvatore Massaro in 1902, Lang took his stage name from a favorite basketball player for the club team the Philadelphia Sphas (an acronym for the South Philadelphia Hebrew Association). The son of an Italian American immigrant instrument maker was among the pioneers of the flat-picking style (which involves playing with a plectrum held by, rather than attached to, the fingers) and is credited with popularizing the guitar over the louder, previously more prevalent banjo, as a key instrument for the jazz bands of the 1920s. So much so that the historical marker across the street from the Saloon restaurant in Lang's old neighborhood at Seventh and Clymer Streets, put up in 1995, proclaims him "the Father of Jazz Guitar." Along with his childhood friend, violinist Joe Venuti, Lang laid the foundation for the improvisational gypsy jazz stylings of Reinhardt and his violin-playing counterpart, Stephane Grappelli. Crosby biographer Gary Giddins writes that in contrast to Venuti's merry-prankster personality, Lang was "quiet, thoughtful and responsible, a ruminative Catholic." In A Pocketful of Dreams: Bing Crosby, The Early Years, 1903-1940, Giddins writes that after cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, Lang and Venuti were "arguably the most influential white jazz musicians of the 1920s, serving as a sort of template for the famed European jazz ensemble of the 1930s, the Quintette du Hot Club de France." Lang and Venuti made their names together playing in Philadelphia and Atlantic City showrooms, and according to Dichter, a music historian as well as a guitar teacher at the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, toured in England with the novelty band the Mound City Blue Blowers.

 In 1929, they were hired by bandleader Paul Whiteman, and it was there that Lang first began to accompany Crosby, who said of Lang's playing: "He made you want to ride and go." Giddins calls Lang Crosby's "jazz conscience," and the singer's "most intimate friend, almost certainly the closest he would ever have." Crosby brought Lang for the 1932 film The Big Broadcast. He also negotiated a deal for Lang to have speaking parts in all his movies, which is why he urged him to have an operation to rectify the chronic hoarseness attributed to tonsillitis. Richard Barnes, a guitarist and photographer who lives in Aston, is the driving force behind Eddie Lang Day in Philadelphia and will perform at Chris' with his band, the Blackbird Society Orchestra. He'll also do a number of Lang-Venuti duets with violinist Michael Salsburg. Barnes first got the Lang bug after he saw Leon Redbone perform in West Philadelphia in the early 1990s. "That was my exposure to 1920s music," Barnes says. "I got a couple of CDs, and when you listen to Paul Whiteman, Bix Beiderbecke, there was always this one guitar player that I really liked. It was totally different. Not strumming. "Not blues. He plays in an almost pianolike style. Very interesting chord inversions, always complementing the singer. A real distinct sound. It turns out it was Eddie Lang."

 Barnes put an ad on Craigslist this year, reading "Eddie Lang Day, This October." One of the interested parties to inquire was Mike Hood, who suggested Chris' as a venue, and will play on Monday with his band Cornbread Five. The event will raise money for the Eddie Lang Music Scholarship Program for underprivileged children, and Barnes hopes to turn it into an annual Eddie Lang Festival at Chris' every October. Barnes, who says business for his 1920s-style Blackbird Society Orchestra is looking up thanks to interest in HBO's Atlantic City mob drama Boardwalk Empire, got the idea to approach the Nutter administration from one of his first musical memories. "When I was 13, my first concert was seeing Elton John at the Spectrum," he remembers. "And there was a picture of Frank Rizzo in the newspaper with Elton John, when he declared it Elton John Day. I thought it would be so cool if I could get the mayor to do that with Eddie Lang." The attention is well-deserved, says Dichter, who plays in a band called Beau Django, and who talked to Les Paul about Lang's influence before the guitarist's death at 94 last year. "He said it was just too long ago," Dichter says. "It's convenient to forget." Barnes says he's always on a mission to bring Lang's music to a wider audience. "I'm not trying to form the fan club or anything," he says. "But I do think that people would appreciate this music and enjoy it. It's something you don't hear all the time."


Tuesday, October 19, 2010


On October 13, 1957 the Ford Motor Company purchased air time on CBS for a program called "The Edsel Show." This was done to promote their new car, the Edsel. Sort of an infomercial in the form of a variety show. While the very word "Edsel" would soon go on to become synonymous with anything that was a bad idea, the show itself -- and there was only one -- was a rousing success. One of the show's highlights was this rendition of Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong and his band performing the Cole Porter song "Now You Has Jazz," which they'd performed a year earlier for the film "High Society." The performance shown here is essentially a recreation of the song as it appeared in the film with Crosby introducing each of the band members during the song. The band shown here is the same as in High Society, with the exception of Squire Gersh on bass (Arvell Shaw was the band's bassist in High Society)...

Friday, October 15, 2010


Here is another great PSA with Bing selling US savings bonds from the early 1970s. He even speaks a little bit of Spanish. It's a short clip, but a rare one...

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Postscript to Crosby’s Wine Cellar Treasure By RICHARD SANDOMIR

The discovery of a copy of the broadcast of Game 7 of the 1960 World Series in Bing Crosby’s former wine cellar led some readers to raise an interesting question: if Major League Baseball owns the copyright to World Series broadcasts, why did it have to pay the Crosby estate for the rights to televise the game on the MLB Network in December and release a DVD? Matt Bourne, a spokesman for M.L.B., said that baseball’s contract with NBC at the time granted the game’s copyright to the office of the baseball commissioner.

So what did baseball buy that it did not own? “We purchased from the Bing Crosby estate what we understand is the only physical copy of the game,” Bourne said. The Crosby estate “maintains possession” of the five kinescope reels made of the game, he added, but “cannot exploit them for commercial gain and cannot sell them for additional copies to anyone else.” Only baseball will benefit financially from the DVD sales, Bourne said. Philip Hochberg, a Washington-based sports and communications lawyer, said in an e-mail: “Baseball in essence bought access to the sole copy and is now going to air and copyright the telecast on MLB Network, which will actually be something different than what Crosby owned (because of the various additional elements which will go into the telecast).” Bob Costas is to host the presentation of the game and will presumably interview some of the participants.


***Here is an interesting article I found online regarding Bing's son***

Bing Crosby's son made sweet music on the fairways of the Old Course, 35 years after playing there with his late, great father. Harry Crosby was among the talented amateurs — including Hollywood actors Samuel L. Jackson, Hugh Grant and Kyle MacLachlan and Radio 2 DJ Chris Evans — playing alongside professionals in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship. Harry was competing in the four-day championship for the first time.

He said, "The last time I played the Old Course was with my father, probably in 1975. I was just a kid of about 15 and I have fond memories of it. "We would stay at Gleneagles and swing by Turnberry and then play here." Now an investment banker, Harry partnered Italian Matteo Manassero over the Old Course, Kingsbarns Golf Links and Carnoustie Championship. Although he missed the final cut with a team score of 10-under, he said, "We had a great time." He was not the only amateur to enthuse about the 10th annual Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, which took over from the Alfred Dunhill Cup in 2001. England football legend Sir Bobby Charlton finished on two-under with professional Benn Barham.

He said, "I've played in all 10 Alfred Dunhill Links Championships and they have all been fantastic." Australian spin bowling legend Shane Warne was paired with Peter O'Malley and they finished on 12-under. Shane said, "Peter played beautifully. It's fantastic to watch the pros go out there and play the way they do."


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

OCTOBER 14, 1977

It is hard to believe that Bing Crosby has been gone now for 33 years. I was only 3 when he died, so I did not recognize what the magnitude of his passing meant. Even though I was too young then to remember it, I remember the date of October 14, 1977 as if I was a witness to his passing. More younger people should learn about what Bing Crosby meant to the entertainment world, and realize that Bing was a great innovator as well. The memory of Bing Crosby was sadly diluted in the 1980s and 1990s, but hopefully a new generation will discover the talent and magic that is Bing Crosby.

The year 1977 began poorly for Bing. In March 1977, during a televised concert to celebrate his fifty years in show business, he fell backwards into an orchestra pit headfirst. He ruptured a disc in his back, and was hospitalized for a month. After recovering, he made appearances all over the world, from Norway to England to tape a Christmas special, which featured David Bowie the famous Christmas duet. After taping the special, he recorded his final album, Seasons. Bing’s next stop was the London Palladium for a two-week engagement. Then he and his band went to Brighton where they performed their final performance on October 10. The next day Bing was a guest on the Alan Dell radio show, where he sang eight songs with the Gordon Rose Orchestra. Later that day he posed for photos for the Seasons album. The next day Bing headed for Spain to play golf .

On the afternoon of October 14, 1977, Bing was playing at the La Morajela golf course near Madrid, Spain. He finished 18 holes with a score of 85, and with a partner, defeated two Spanish golf pros. After his last putt, Bing bowed to applause and said, "It was a great game." He was about 20 yards from the clubhouse, when he collapsed from a massive heart attack. His three golfing companions remarked that he did not look tired and was even singing around the course, though he seemed to be favoring his left arm near the end of the game. They thought he had slipped. They carried him to the clubhouse, where a physician attempted to revive him, to no avail. Bing Crosby was dead on arrival, at the Red Cross hospital. He was 74. A few hours after learning of her husband’s death, Kathryn issued a statement, "I can’t think of any better way for a golfer who sings for a living to finish the round." Their son Harry, 19, and the family’s former butler, Alan Fisher, flew to Spain to accompany Bing’s body back to LA. The most widely heard voice of the 20th Century and maybe all time was silenced on that fateful day on October 14, 1977...


Here is a very interesting story of a local singer by the name of Harry Brannon, and his tie to Bing Crosby...

Harry Brannon was an American popular singer born on June 19, 1920 in Gloucester City, New Jersey. Brannon was characterized by his contemporaries as "having a voice sweeter than Bing Crosby's." In fact, in the late 1940's, Brannon was frequently introduced as "Frank Sinatra with a voice" at Andy's Log Cabin near Camden, New Jersey. Brannon regularly introduced new pop songs in a live format over New York City radio on the WOR Mutual Broadcasting Company broadcast coast to coast. Early in November of 1949, Brannon sang Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer over the airwaves for WOR, promoting the Gene Autry classic. By November 25th, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer began its appearance on the music charts. Various popular artists had initially turned down the opportunity to promote the record, including Bing Crosby, due to its slow tempo.

However, after hearing the faster and more upbeat Brannon rendition, Crosby sang his own rendition during his CBS Chesterfield radio show on December 14, 1949. Brannon is known to have recorded at least two songs during his short career in music. Both were released in early 1948. One was titled Orchids in the Snow, written by composer Edward A. Khoury,and the other was titled I'm A Tumbleweed, written by Rusty Keefer. In March, 1954, Bing Crosby, still mourning the recent death of his wife Dixie Lee, was considering retirement. Almost immediately, plans were made by a Hollywood production company to issue a biopic of the famous crooner and approached Brannon (who possessed a similar appearance to Crosby) to play the lead. As Brannon mulled over the offer, he became aware of organized-crime connections to the project. Brannon "dragged his feet" and put it off as long as possible until Crosby, reveling in the success of his recently released film White Christmas, rescinded his retirement plans and the biopic was shelved indefinitely.

Due to a deferred movie career and through the prompting of his wife, Pauline Woolman-Brannon (ex-wife of stuntman Harry Woolman), Brannon left New York City (and the recording industry) in late 1954 and resettled in Gloucester City, New Jersey. Brannon took a management position at a nightclub called Lew Palma's House of Fun on Powell Street. Brannon was a regular performer in it and lived with his family on the second floor. Through his wife, Brannon soon became affiliated with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, presently known as the Community of Christ, and was ordained as a priest by the mid-1960s. Brannon's adopted son, Harry Gerald Brannon, a Sergeant in the United States Army, died in South Vietnam on August 15, 1966 at age 30. Harry, known as Jerry, was the biological son of stuntman Harry Woolman. Harry Brannon died of Alzheimer's disease on December 29, 1991 at age 71.

Monday, October 11, 2010


Del Mar Racetrack is an American Thoroughbred horse racing track at the Del Mar Fairgrounds in the seaside city of Del Mar, California, 20 miles north of San Diego. Operated by the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, it is known for the slogan: "Where The Surf Meets The Turf." It was built by a partnership including Bing Crosby, the actor Pat O'Brien, Jimmy Durante, Charles S. Howard and Oliver Hardy. This video is an interesting video. We get a first hand look at Del Mar. It is kind of like experiencing what Bing did when he went to Del Mar all those years ago...

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Here is a rare find. Here is a public service announcement featuring Bing Crosby from 1972 talking about arthritis. It seems as if Bing had a touch of it. It is a short video but very interesting...


THE STAR MAKER(1939) is one of the rarest Bing Crosby movies. It has never been released on video, let alone DVD. In the movie, Bing plays a character loosely based on vaudville producer Gus Edwards. The movie is not really based on fact, but the movie is really charming. Bing works well with children, and here are some of the great musical numbers from the film...

Friday, October 8, 2010


Del Mar racetrack, the famed California landmark that Bing Crosby founded in 1937 will be sold... The city of Del Mar has reportedly reached a preliminary agreement to buy Del Mar Race Track and the surrounding fairgrounds from the state of California. According to the San Diego Union Tribune, legislation was introduced late Wednesday in the state legislature that would authorize the sale of the track and 400 acres for about $120 million. Other details and the actual purchase price are still to be determined. "The activities we know and love at the fairgrounds will undoubtedly continue," State Senator Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, was quoted by the paper. "For all intents and purposes it will look and feel the same." Kehoe expects the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club to continue conducting horse racing at the facility, which concluded its 71st season last month. However, fair board member Barry Nussbaum told the newspaper he was stunned by the developments. "Why this would have to happen in the middle of the night without consulting experts who run this facility is flabbergasting," Nussbaum told the paper. Del Mar opened for racing in 1937 with Bing Crosby collecting tickets.


Bing and Bob Hope's duet of "Chicago Style" is one of the best duets they did. Sadly, it is a largely forgotten song. It was recorded by the duo on Decca Records, and it was also featured in their move THE ROAD TO BALI in 1952...

Friday, October 1, 2010


Hopefully one day THE KING OF JAZZ(1930) will be released on DVD soon. It is a landmark movie, and despite it turn 80 years old it is an amazing movie. This revue presents its numbers around the orchestra leader Paul Whiteman, besides that it features a young Bing Crosby having fun with the Rhythm Boys...


Bing Crosby’s two-acre gated tennis court estate in Toluca Lake is being offered for $6,595,000. The singer and actor lived on the property from 1936 until early January 1943 when the 20-room house was gutted in a Christmas-tree fire. Damage to the structure and its contest was estimated at $200,000, and the family's cocker spaniel, a complete collection of Crosby's recordings and his golf trophies and pipe collection were lost.

The rebuilt Southern Colonial on the site, behind a circular motorcourt, has large stately rooms, high ceilings and an open floorplan with all main rooms lined with french doors leading out to the grounds. There are six bedrooms, 5.5 baths and five fireplaces in 7,132 square feet with a living room with marble fireplace, a billiards room and a den with a wet bar. The two-acre gated grounds include rose gardens, fruit trees, vegetable gardens, a bocce court, a lighted tennis court with Crosby’s original grandstand, a gazebo, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool with separate spa. The 2.5-bathroom cabana has changing rooms, an outdoor living room with a built-in barbecue and a kitchen. There is also a a two-bedroom, two bathroom guest house with a kitchen.

After Crosby, subsequent owners included actor Andy Griffith in the 1980s and actor Jerry Van Dyke and his wife, Shirley, who sold the home to the current owner in 1997 for $1.93 million. Crosby achieved international fame with his recording of Irving Berlin’s White Christmas from the film Holiday Inn. The song was the No.1 hit in late 1942 and stayed at the top of the chart for 11 weeks. Crosby won the best actor Oscar for Going My Way (1944) and teamed with Bob Hope for the “Road to” pictures. The estate, at 10500 Camarillo St., was previously offered at $7.395 million. Ginger Glass of Coldwell Banker Previews and Shirley Duenckel and Jon Molin of Ramsey Shilling & Associates have the listing...