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Tuesday, October 9, 2012



COMMENTARY © James A. Harrod, Copyright Protected; All Rights Reserved

The TV Guide listing for the August 13, 1956 Stars of Jazz show noted that the Pete Jolly Trio would be appearing with members Pete Jolly, piano; Bob Neel, drums and Bob Bertaux on bass (Neel’s named is often incorrectly given as Neal).  For reasons unknown the TV Guide did not include the appearance of one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time, Billie Holiday.  The Pete Jolly Trio and Billie Holiday were alternating sets at Jazz City.  At this point in time Jazz City at 5510 Hollywood Boulevard where it meets Western Avenue was the dominant jazz club in Los Angeles.  If the Miles Davis Quintet was coming to Los Angeles, they would be booked at Jazz City.

Billie Holiday was accompanied on piano by Corky Hale who had appeared previously on Stars of Jazz as the featured vocalist opposite Shelly Manne and His Men on the July 16, 1956, broadcast of the program.  Following her appearance on Stars of Jazz, Corky was approached by Jerry Grey asking her to come to Las Vegas to sing and play piano for his band during a summer engagement.  On the first day of rehearsal Grey told Corky that they had booked a last minute act who would be appearing with them that evening, and Billie Holiday joined the band on the rehearsal stage.  Billie was used to being accompanied by the likes of Oscar Peterson or Jimmy Rowles and was a bit skeptical when she saw the young blonde Corky at the keyboard.  That skepticism vanished during the rehearsal as Corky demonstrated her deft skill at backing a vocalist.  Billie told Corky that “You is my little girl” and asked Corky to come to Los Angeles for her engagement at Jazz City and the appearance on Stars of Jazz.  Bob Neel and Bob Bertaux provided rhythm back up for Corky as she accompanied Billie on the show.

Billie Holiday’s appearance on Stars of Jazz was near the end of her career, she would pass away three years later on July 17, 1959.  Her recording career spanned the two previous decades and major record labels like Commodore, Decca, Columbia and Norman Granz’s Mercury, Clef, Norgran and Verve labels.  Her album covers by artist David Stone Martin are among the most memorable and distinctive in her career, and fans cherish mint copies of these highly sought after releases.

Pete Jolly would appear on Stars of Jazz six times during the two and a half years the show was on the air as featured soloist as well as filling the piano chair in other groups appearing on the show.  The August 13, 1956 show was his first time on the show and he was the featured instrumental jazz artist with his trio.  Jolly had quickly become a part of the west coast jazz scene in Los Angeles after relocating to the west coast from Arizona.  His first recording contract was with RCA Victor and by the time that he appeared on Stars of Jazz Jolly had four LPs in release as leader.

Jimmie Baker was the “hands on” producer who put together each show.  He would meet with the executive producer, Pete Robinson, and the writer, Bob Arbogast to formulate the story line that would tie the show together, and he would meet with the jazz artists in advance of the show to discuss the music to be performed, song selection and duration.  The thirty minute “live show” had to be scripted down to the second, no room for an extra chorus, or an extended solo unless it was in the script.  There had to be time slots to feature the sponsors message and the show had to wind down on time so as not to encroach on the next program in the evening schedule. If a guest was taking too long to respond to a question, Bobby Troup had to be ready to cut them off, politely. 

Jimmie Baker was a frequent guest at Ken Poston’s Los Angeles Jazz Institute events.  A special presentation of Jimmie’s Stars of Jazz and Jazz Scene USA productions was held at the LAJI “Cool and Crazy” event in May of 2002.  Ken Poston conducted an interview with Jimmie and at one point asked Jimmie to recall any special occasion or highlight that remained in his mind regarding the Stars of Jazz series.  Jimmie quickly replied that having Billie Holiday on the show was the peak experience for him.  He recalled that after meeting with Billie to discuss her musical numbers he asked if he could do anything for her during the remainder of the afternoon.  Billie said that she would love to see Hollywood.  Jimmie had a convertible at the time and they set off driving the avenues and boulevards that made Beverly Hills and Hollywood famous.  Jimmie drove the length of Mullholland Drive and Billie marveled at the expanse of Los Angeles.  When Jimmie finished his reminiscence of that afternoon with Billie Holiday he had tears in his eyes. 

The above photo by Howard Morehead is © Howard Morehead Collection/CAAM.  Morehead was a frequent visitor to the stage of Stars of Jazz as were William Claxton and Ray Avery, both of whom were present and took photos of this edition of Stars of Jazz featuring Billie Holiday.

Billie Holiday on Stars of Jazz

The production script of this show is missing from the Jimmie Baker archive. The following credits are taken from the YouTube video. 

Production credits: 
Host: Bobby Troup
Executive Producer: Pete Robinson 
Producer: Jimmie Baker 
Director: Don Whitman 
Technical Director: Al Hayward 
Lighting Director: Vincent Cilurzo 
Audio Engineer: Chuck Lewis 
Video Engineer: Gene Lukowski 
Cameramen: Sal Folino, Jack Denton 
Art Director: Edgar Lansbury 

The ABC network granted permission to the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service to distribute the Stars of Jazz shows to armed forces overseas via their transcription service. The AFRTS guidelines stipulated that all commercial content had to be removed from the program.  Thus the commercial spots for Budweiser Beer and Schweppes Quinine Water were removed by the transcription service.  The August 13, 1956 program was Show #3 in the AFRTS series, transcription master #AF-6727 dated August 2, 1957.

The photos that greatly enhance this presentation have been provided courtesy of the Ray Avery Estate.  The author would like to extend a most heartfelt thanks to Cynthia Sesso, Licensing Administrator of the Ray Avery Photo Archives.  Please note that these photos remain the property of the Ray Avery Estate and are used here with permission.  Any inquiries regarding their use, commercial or otherwise, should be directed to:  Cynthia Sesso at CTSIMAGES.

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