In addition to teaching History of Jazz in the spring, I also host a weekly radio program, "Sunday Night Swing," on WQLN-FM, Erie's public broadcasting station. The program is aired each Sunday from 9:00 to 11:00 Eastern Time. You can hear it streamed live over the Internet at www.wqln.org. Simply click the "Listen Live" button.
Musically, I am a product of my father's enthusiasms. Dad fell in love with jazz in high school. For years, he was a small town barber who amassed a big time record collection. He played records all the time, and I soaked them up--though I didn't realize I was doing so.
A few bands were still on the road back then, and dad took us to see any band that came within a hundred mile radius. We saw Count Basie, Harry James, Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, and Bob Crosby. In 1966, Dad took us to see the Duke Ellington Orchestra in a small high school gymnasium in Casey, Illinois. I was impressed. I decided right then to become jazz saxophonist and play just like Johnny Hodges. Sadly, a lack of talent and imagination drove me to the less glamorous but more stable profession of teaching.
Sunday Night Jazz reflects my musical interests and knowledge. The core is mainstream with an emphasis on musical history and swing. At times we drift toward traditional jazz and hear some Dixieland. At other times we drift toward classic pop with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Nat "King" Cole and Bing Crosby. There are always big doses of the big bands and creative soloists.
The Closing Jingle: "Goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are."
I occasionally get questions from jazz students--and sometimes younger listeners--asking about the program's closing moments, "who is that guy and who is Mrs. Calabash"?
"That guy" is Jimmy Durante. He was one of the 20th century's great comedians and vaudevillians. He was noted for his big nose, gravelly voice and butchering of the English language.
Jimmy Durante closed every performance by taking off his battered hat, holding it over his heart, looking wistfully skyward and saying, "And goodnight Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are." He was asked many times about "Mrs. Calabash" but never made a comment. Did she exist? No one knows, but whether she did or not, it's one of the great closing lines in show business. After an evening of songs and jokes, we leave the theatre to a world of reality, which always involves a few regrets.