Posts Tagged ‘Sammy Davis’


Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Television reality shows, specifically amateur talent competitions, focus on everything from singing and dancing to cooking and home remodeling.

Think there will ever be a reality/competition program devoted to jazz?

You never know, but the fact is, there actually was one, and it had all the qualities of today’s programming, excepting the fact that this one was anything but an amateur show.

Around 1962, an somewhat elderly gent and jazz fan–whose name escapes me– who had served in the production department of Universal Pictures for years had an idea for a television pilot.

His concept was simple: Pit two, “name” jazz groups againist each other in friendly competition, hire celebrity judges and a celebrity host, determine the winner by the amount of audience applause, award the winner $6,000 in cash and the opportunity to slug it out against another group the following week, and give the loser a generous $4,000.

This actually happened. The title was “Championship Jazz” and the television pilot was filmed before a live audience in 1962. Voice of America’s famed WIllis J. Conover was hired as host. Writer George T. Simon and Woody Herman signed on as celeb judges.

The bands? The Dukes of Dixieland, and none other than the Gene Krupa Jazz Quartet featuring Charlie Ventura.

This is an absolutely incredible program and is the only filmed record of Gene’s famed group at the time, which also featured pianist John Bunch and bassist Knobby Totah, playing “Drum Boogie,” “Dark Eyes” and “Big Noise from Winnetka.”

I won’t divulge the winner.

As great as this was, it never made it to television, and that’s sad, because groups being considered as future competitors included the Modern Jazz Quartet, Oscar Peterson Trio, George Shearing Quintet, etc.

Wow! went to great, great lengths to obtain a screening copy (with time code at the bottom of the screen) of this superb and semi-legendary half-hour program.

It’s listed under “The Champ” (the second half features the entire Krupa/Rich drum battle sequence from the Sammy Davis TV program of 1966)

If you don’t have it, you should. This is, after all, reality.

Jerry Blavat: The Geator Heats up the Book World

Monday, May 7th, 2012

A “Jerry Blavat,” a.k.a. the “Geator with the Heater,” could not be invented today. Or any day, for that matter. In his impressive autobiography, as told to Steve Oskie, “You Only Rock Once,” the legendary Philadelphia broadcaster maintains that “the street” was his “classroom.”

What a street–and what a classroom–it was, as the Geator wisely and instinctively utilized those street smarts to fashion a tremendously successful career as entertainer, radio and television host, music visionary, music industry executive, promoter, talent booker, night club owner, deal maker, hit maker, almost-movie star, friend to celebrities, the rich, the powerful and the famous, from Sammy Davis and Frank Sinatra to Walter Annenberg and Sidney Kimmel.

Though an astounding six decades as an entertainment icon–beginning in the 1950s when he danced on television’s American Bandstand–he never lost his feel for his beloved streets of Philadelphia, and the street kids he called the “yon teens.” Today, those fans are the “beyond teens,” and they still love him and everything he does, whether hosting oldies rock shows at the Kimmel Center or doing fund-raising appeals for Public Broadcasting.

This charismatic, human fireball, seemingly had “it,” whatever “it” was, before he even hit 20. The record industry used Jerry Blavat as its ears in the early days and it became common knowledge that he could pick a hit. As head of the committee that picked the recordings to be played on Bandstand, the Geater was a stickler for ensuring that it was the “original” artists that got played, i.e., Little Richard’s version of “Tutti Frutti” rather than Pat Boone’s sanitized cover of it.

Though all of his years, he would never, ever sacrifice the integrity of the music or his love for it. As a consequence, the color-blind Blavat has kept dozens of artists from the golden days working, and he always tried to make sure they were presented properly. Despite lucrative offers, he would never change his innovative and electric, rapid-fire method of on-air delivery. Indeed, it could be argued that what Blavat did over the decades on WCAM and WHAT radio, to name two, foreshadowed rap as a valid musical form.

It wasn’t all “discophonic” for Jerry, and his unflagging loyalty to his friends–including American Bandstand’s first host, the tragic Bob Horn; and reputed Philadelphia crime boss Angelo Bruno—hurt his career and virtually stopped it in its tracks for a while. Because of his friendship with the Bruno family, law enforcement officials showed the Geator no mercy, and investigated—read, hounded him—for years. Ultimately, he came up clean, and they couldn’t even get him for spitting on the sidewalk.

“You Only Rock Once” is fascinating and honest encyclopedia of the world of entertainment and music in Philadelphia and beyond. My hat is off to the Geator for recognizing the likes of Allen Sussell, Bernie Lowe, Kal Mann, Dave Apple, Artie Singer, Harry Chipitz, Sid Mark and many other figures who contributed so much to the evolution of the entertainment industry.

Blavat has good words for almost everyone—only Mike Douglas and Hy Lit are deservedly not cast in the brightest of lights—but one wishes he would have said more about friends like Sinatra and especially, his close association with Sammy Davis, Jr. I don’t doubt that, in the case of Davis, Blavat continues to adhere to the code of privacy. In a tabloid world where everyone is willing to yak it up for a few bucks, Jerry Blavat proves to be the pleasant exception.

One wouldn’t think Jerry Blavat to be a jazz maven, but it’s important to note that, believe it or not, he discovered jazz guitar icon Pat Martino; gave Wes Montgomery his first shot on national television via the Geator’s “Jerry’s Place” television program; and helped the sagging career egendary saxophonist Charlie Ventura, when Chas returned to Philadelphia after he was forced to leave Las Vegas under veiled circumstances.

I met Ventura during his stint co-hosting “Jerry’s Place” and ultimately formed a musical and personal association with Charlie Ventura, my musical idol, which lasted until Chas’ death in 1992.

If “You Only Rock Once” is ever made into a major motion picture, as it should be, there is only one man who could play the title character: Jerry Blavat. After all, while Bruce Springsteen may be “The Boss,” the Geator with the Heater is the Big Boss. With, naturally, the hot sauce.


Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Thankfully, the presidential election is over. And thankfully, someone else will be the President of the United States as of January 20, 2009. I have no quarrel with the character or intellect of John McCain, though I have been questioning the latter via his interesting choice of Sarah Pallin as Vice President. President Elect Barack Obama deserves our respect and support. Yes, he may be a bit short on the experience side–which is why his choice of Joe Biden as VP was such a good one–but above all, Obama is, quite simply, an inspiring presence on a scene that really needs some inspiration.

But let’s get our priorities in place. Sure, the economy is in shambles as is just about every other area of our society, and sure, we’re at war. But we all know what the most important issue is here at the site: Jazz.

With that in mind, our crack team of investigative reporters has discovered the President Elect’s history with jazz and his true feelings about it.

According to a February 8, 2007 profile in the Honolulu Star Bulletin newspaper by B.J. Reyes, which covered Obama’s time spent at a Honolulu prep school, “Barry” Obama started listening to jazz in earnest while he was in junior high school. “Barry was into things that other kids our age weren’t into,” said a one-time Obama school mate Dean Ando. “I remember when we went into a record store just to browse. He went through the entire jazz section while we were there. That affects me to this day. He’s the one who introduced me to jazz. When everyone else was into rock, Obama was into jazz.”

In terms of his favorites, those in the know claim that Obama is a big fan of Miles and Coltrane. And Herbie Hancock made an appearance in one of Obama’s television commercials. No word yet about the President Elect’s feelings about Eddie Shu.


There’s a new book out on Sammy Davis, Jr., entitled “Deconstructing Sammy,” written by a newspaper and magazine investigative reporter named Matt Birkbeck. My recommendation? Pass it by.

Whatever your feelings about Davis, there is no denying that he was among the most versatile and energetic of performers. No one has come along before or since who had the range of talents he had, which included singing, dancing, comedy and some swinging instincts as a multi-instrumentalist on drums, vibes and trumpet. His knowledge of jazz was encyclopedic, and in terms of breaking down racial barriers in the entertainment industry, Davis was a maverick. . Until he sadly became a caricature of himself in later years, he was something to see, and I was fortunate to have seen him many times. I spent some time with him at Atlantic City’s Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino shortly after he had hip replacement surgery in 1985. I was struck by the fact that he didn’t seem to be a happy fellow until he hit the stage. Remembering that he was responsible for engineering only one of two filmed appearances (that we know of) of Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich together (available on “Buddy Rich Jazz Legend” and “Gene Krupa: The Champ” on this site), and recalling that drumming was once a part of his stage act, I asked if he was still playing. “I put the drums Buddy gave me in storage,” he said. “The more I listened to Buddy the more I realized I could just never, ever be that good. No one could. So I gave them up.”

Unfortunately, Sammy Davis is best known today, if he is known at all, for things other than his music. And that’s what this book is about. It focuses on his alleged mob ties, admittedly legendary tangles with the Internal Revenue Service, the suffering and illness of his widow, and other juicy tidbits that have nothing whatsoever to do with why Sammy Davis, Jr. was famous during his lifetime. And presumably, it was Davis’ fame as an entertainer that made the publication of this book possible, but author Birkbeck all but ignores his talents, capabilities and contributions as an artist. “Deconstructing Sammy” has my vote for the most depressing book of the year. It’s like watching an autopsy. If that’s your taste…solid. Go out and buy one of Sam’s records or DVDs instead.

The 100th birthday of the man who made the drums a solo instrument, Gene Krupa, will be upon us on January 15, 1909. Modern Drummer magazine plans a tribute of sorts, and in the newest issue of Down Beat magazine, one of my favorite human beings, John McDonough, has a good piece on Gene and several other drumming legends, including Sid Catlett, etc. McDonough, of course, continues to refuse to acknowledge the existence of the Krupa or “Legends of Jazz Drumming” DVDs, but that’s not going to change. There is serious talk of a few major, major events that will celebrate Gene’s 100th, so watch this space. Carefully.


We often get emails about the availability of Krupa big band charts. There are several sources out there, but one of the very good ones is, who also offer just about every commercially -issued DVD and CD in the universe. Charts include “Disc Jockey Jump,” “Boogie Blues,” “Opus One,” “Leave Us Leap” and several others. On some of the Krupa charts I’ve obtained through the years, the orchestrations were about 89 percent faithful to the originals. There were some wholesale changes made here and there, for reasons that I still cannot figure. I hope the ones out there today are a bit closer to the originals. The only way to ensure complete accuracy is to go to the expense of having someone transcribe the charts right off the record.


Our good colleagues at are now in the Beta testing phase of what is certain to be an incredible, 24-hour internet drum channel. Even at this early testing stage, DrumChannel is incredible. Log on and join up to read incisive bios, get lessons, trade information, view vintage footage (check out the promos of the legendary Buddy Rich show from the Statler Hilton hotel) and much more.


We continue to do our bit for the economy by offering everything we’ve got for $10 per. But again, we do ask that you please seriously consider buying more than one item at a time so that we can continue to provide free shipping all over the world. Until then, keep swingin’

Bruce Klauber
November, 2008