Sid Mark: An Interview With The Legendary Philadelphia Disc Jockey
Sid Mark is a Philadelphia institution. For the last fifty years (!), he has hosted the popular radio show, "The Sounds of Sinatra" exclusively devoted to the man and his music. (The show currently airs on WPHT 1210 AM: "Friday with Frank": Fridays 6pm-8pm ET; "Saturday with Sinatra": Saturdays 8pm-10pm ET; "Sunday with Sinatra": Sundays 8am-1pm ET.) Prior to that, during the post-bebop and hard bop eras, Sid hosted a long-running program called "The Mark of Jazz," playing all jazz and conducting interviews with many of the greats of the time. Today, Sid is a gentleman of diverse experience, hosting the Sinatra show, loving his family, making many public appearances, and advocating for various causes, especially infantile autism (his grandson suffers from that condition).
Sid's passion for Sinatra is boundless and constant. I interviewed him partly on account of my puzzlement about how he could be so single-mindedly obsessed with one performer. Admittedly, Sinatra is a cultural icon, an almost mythological figure who has symbolized the hopes, dreams, ideals, and struggles of two generations of Americans. Admittedly too, Sinatra was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, singers of all time. Even a music magazine as far removed from the crooning style as Rolling Stone paid him tribute. But nevertheless I was curious why someone would dedicate year after year to a Sinatra radio show. Sid Mark just goes on playing Sinatra records for a large audience of listeners, without any motives other than genuine admiration and affection for "Frank."
However, what many of his fans don't realize is that prior to his Sinatra program, Sid was a jazz show hostone of the first anywhereand a prime mover in making jazz happen in the Philadelphia area. Music is propelled by people like Sid Mark. His dedication and his affection for the musicians has spawned many a career, kept the music in focus for the public, and fostered a positive climate in the music business. I caught up with Sid on the phone early on a summer morning in June, and we had a simpatico conversation, which went as follows:
AAJ: Sid, I'd like to pick your brain about Sinatra and your radio show, "Sounds of Sinatra." Then we'll turn to the general subject of jazz, more specifically jazz in Philly and your former radio program, "The Mark of Jazz," and finally some talk about Sid Mark the DJ, the person, and the humanitarian.
SM: Well, it's interesting, Vic. I looked up your writing on All About Jazz, and it seems we have a lot of similar interests, not the least of which is that one of my best friends was Al Stauffer.
AAJ: Al was one of the most wonderful people, and possibly the best bassist, I ever knew.
SM: And one of the people I was actually responsible for when it came to her success was Nina Simone.
AAJ: I know that Nina spent some time in Philadelphia.
SM: She started her career in Philadelphia. In her autobiography, she said the reason for her success was a white Jewish disc jockey, Sid Mark. She said, "If I knew him today, I don't know if I'd kiss him or smack him in the mouth!" (laughter.) That's a quote. We had a hell of a relationship! By the way, did the tribute concert by her daughter ever take place?
AAJ: It was performed at Town Hall last year. From what I understand, it was extremely successful.
SM: I love that picture of the two of them together.
AAJ: She's been very active in promoting Nina's legacy.
SM: Nina was something else. We had hours of discussions on the numerous radio and TV shows we did together. When I discovered her, she was just playing piano at a little joint in Philly at 22nd and Chestnut. It was a bar, and she wasn't singing, just playing the piano.
AAJ: She was originally planning to be a concert pianist.
SM: She went to Julliard for that. I'm getting ahead of myself, but anyway, at the time I was working at a jazz room called the Red Hill Inn in Pennsauken, New Jersey. I brought her in, she started singing, and for some strange reason people objected and wanted her to just play the piano! Boy, they were proven wrong.
AAJ: Well, let's switch our discussion to the Sinatra show, which is your main gig these days and has been so for the last five decades. It occurs to me that for you to do a radio program exclusively playing Sinatra recordings for years on end, your passion for Sinatra must go very deep, even more so than the dedication of many of the Sinatra fans out there. What is it that makes that connection with him so profound for you?
SM: First of all, while his music was primary, it wasn't just the music, it was the man himself, because Frank was so multidimensional. Aside from just being the world's greatest vocalist, he was an incredible movie actor. He contributed to every known charity and helped more people than anyone can imagine. And he was actually a nice guy! You'd never hear women arguing about Frank. They all liked Frank. But you'd hear guys argue! "Well, I'd like to wear a hat like him." "You like him, but I don't!" But especially there was his musicality. With me working at a jazz room, the Basie band would come in, and I'd hang out with the guys, and they'd all be talking about Sinatra. I was only 22 when I started at the Red Hill Inn, and my job was driving the musicians over from the hotel.
AAJ: I understand the Red Hill Inn was one of the great jazz rooms of all time.
SM: Oh, it was. As a young man starting out, I was the driver. I'd pick up Ellington, Basie, whatever. My job was to pick up the leader. Invariably, the conversation would get around to Sinatra. They all admired him. The guy in the Basie band I became friendliest with was Al Grey, the trombonist. He said that when he got to Vegas, he was going to tell Frank about me, this kid in Philadelphia. My interest was so piqued by Sinatra's music and his personality that if there's such a thing as man love, I just loved the guy. He could pretty much do what he wanted to do. At one point, he was as down as any one of us will ever get. In the 1950's he lost his record and movie contracts. No one would hire him. He disappeared for almost a year and did nothing. And then he made the single largest comeback in showbiz, about the same time I was starting out. So I had the greatest admiration for this guy. And the fact that all the musicians loved him and he loved all the musicians really cemented the bond for me. And that was my initial foray into Sinatra.
AAJ: So it really was a total identification with him. And I understand that he basically picked himself up out of the bottomno one gave him a break, so to speak.
SM: When he was selected the Man of the Year of Time Magazine and had his picture on the cover, they asked him, "Who do you credit for your comeback?" He said, "No one. I did it myself." And it was true. No one would touch him at that point. He was finished.
AAJ: Much later, you actually met him. Tell us about that fateful encounter.
SM: That was thanks to Al Grey and [jazz and cabaret singer] Sylvia Syms. They told him about me and the radio show. Frank loved Al Grey. Basie cut an album titled Sinatra at the Sands in 1966. At that time, I was at the station WHAT-FM [Philadelphia], an all jazz station. I decided to go with that album for the entire week! That helped the album to top the charts. When Frank heard about all that, he invited me to Las Vegas for the weekend. Well, when we got there, nobody knew who we werewe didn't have any reservations. So I called Sylvia Syms in New York and told her my problem. She said, "Don't worry. I'll take care of it." She called Frank's "number one" guy, Jilly Rizzo, andwowhe took us in for dinner with Frank!
Jack Benny and Mary Livingston were at the table, and also Milton and Lucy Berle, Leo Durocher, little Nancy Sinatra, Jimmy Darren. They had no idea who I was! Frank introduced me: "This is Sid Mark from Philadelphia." Then, believe it or not, Sinatra came over and pinched me on the cheek and said, "I'll see you after the show." I said, "I don't have tickets for the show." He said, "You don't need tickets. You're sitting at our table." Everybody was totally surprised that I would get all this attentionwho is this guy? We spent the whole evening together. I always say how hard it was to come back to reality after that! When I returned to Philly, my wife said, "How about taking out the garbage, Sid!" (laughter.) Real life!
AAJ: Such is life!
SM: I always loved live music. When I was a kid, my parents took me to the Ice Capades, where they had a full orchestra. I was thrilled by that sound of the full orchestra.
AAJ: Who were some of Sinatra's favorite musicians and vocalists?
SM: Mabel Mercer. Supposedly, when Frank was a kid, he and Sylvia Syms would go into New York to hear Mabel Mercer and listen to her phrasing. Then they'd go and listen to Billie Holiday. Holiday was one of the most important influences on Frank. He was also influenced by Louis Armstrong, as was Tony Bennett. And of course, as a kid, Frank listened to Bing Crosby. Actually, contrary to the myth, though everyone was trying to sing like Bing, Frank really didn't want to emulate him.
AAJ: Frank was listening a lot to the Tommy Dorsey band.
SM: Yes, and of course Harry James.
AAJ: Steve Allen, who was a terrific pianist, singer, and composer himself, wrote an article about Sinatra.
SM: I knew Steve well, too.
AAJ: Steve took the position that Sinatra was not only a pop singer, but one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time. Do you agree with that assessment?
SM: The critic Ralph Gleason said that as well, in one of the liner notes. He compared Frank to Segovia, even Picasso. He said that what they were to their art, Frank is to jazz vocalizing.
Frank Sinatra with Judy and Sid Mark
AAJ: What makes Sinatra so important to jazz?
SM: Well, for example, like the great Johnny Hartman, Frank always had his unique interpretations. He never sang the same way twice. Whether it was "I've Got You Under My Skin" or "The Lady is a Tramp" and so on, Frank enjoyed bending and twisting a note. Also, his whole thing was that he was the musicians' musician. He'd rather hang out with Basie than a U.S. President. Even in his later years, he went out on the road with Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, and of course a zillion times with Basie and Ella. He recorded with Ella, Neil Hefti, Johnny Mandel.
AAJ: During his low period in the business, Sinatra did a great jazz concert and recording with the Red Norvo Quintet.
SM: A great one. In Australia. It's a classic. Also, Sinatra played the Newport Jazz Festival with Basie. The band was on stage and they were saying, "Where's Frank?" His helicopter came down and landed next to the stage. No rehearsal. Boom. They broke it up! He finished the set, got in the helicopter, and was gone! That was Frank. He'd call you up and say, "Let's go to dinner." You'd end up flying with him to Houston for dinner because that's where the Dodgers were playing that night!
AAJ: Did you ever think of writing a book about him?
SM: I did. Just as recently as two months ago, my daughter set me up with a literary agent. He said the book would make a lot of money. He asked me to come up with a title, so I thought of something Frank often said when he left you, "If Anybody Hurts You Call Me." But when we got down to the nitty gritty, I found that I just couldn't do the book. Frank used to say to me, "I like you because I know you'll never write a book about me." That just stuck in my head.
AAJ: What was his reason for saying that to you?
SM: I think it was because when you are invited into someone's inner circle, you become a friend. You should be discrete and not write books about friends.
"The Mark Of Jazz"
AAJ: Sid, our website is starting a project on the history of jazz in Philadelphia. For a long time before "Sounds of Sinatra," you hosted a radio show called "The Mark of Jazz." It was the primary jazz show in the area during those years. So I'd like to pick your brains a bit about the program and also the jazz scene back then. Exactly when was that show on the air?
SM: We started around 1956, and we went on for eighteen years. When we started, we were the only full-time jazz station in America, and it was 24 hours, all jazz. One of our other DJ's was Chris Albertson, who won a Grammy for his liner notes for a Bessie Smith recording. We had Joel Dorn at age 19, who spun off to become one of the great producers at Atlantic. Among the musicians he recorded were Roberta Flack, Hubert Laws, Yuseff Latteef, and Roland Kirk. We did well, and after eighteen years, we were very popular and won many, many awards but couldn't get the money to sustain it any longer. We did "guest shots" from eight to nine in the evening when we had musicians come in from out of town. Everybody who was anybody in jazz did the show. The only one who didn't was Miles Davis. I once sat down with him and asked, "When are you coming on my show?" He said, "Do you want me to come on the show and say, 'Mother Fuer?'" (laughter.) He just didn't want to do it.
AAJ: Who were some of the folks that did show up?
SM: Of course, Nina Simone always came whenever she was in town. We introduced a young girl who was a secretary in New York for John Levy, the manager of the Modern Jazz Quartet and of Chris Connor. Well, his secretary was Nancy Wilson! We listened to her tape and the rest is history. We interviewed and introduced Ramsey Lewis and Ahmad Jamal. My personal favorite, and we became very good friends, was Maynard Ferguson. There was Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Oscar Peterson and Diz (they came on the show together), Dakota Staton, Gloria Lynne.
AAJ: Who were the local musicians around town at that time?
SM: There was Red Rodney. And we used to have a local band at the Red Hill Inn that fronted for the other groups. It consisted of Jimmy Wisner, Billy Root, Dave Lovett, and Al Stauffer. And [pianist] Bernard Peiffer, who lived in Philadelphia, used to work there a lot. One time we had him as an opening act for [comedian] Lenny Bruce. Don't ask me how I booked that, but I did.
AAJ: That's quite a combination!
SM: Anyway, Bernard was on, and it was very noisy in the club. He was miffed about it and he was going crazy. He got up, walked to the microphone, and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, fk you all!" And he walked off the stage! (laughter.) People fell on the floor! And then Lenny got up and said, "I would appreciate it if you gave this guy a chance to play!" Bernard was brilliant, and such a nice man! I can remember Michel Legrand on my radio program, and he asked me, "Do you know Bernard Peiffer? How can I get in touch with him?" He wanted to meet Bernard.
AAJ: What do you recall about Billy Root?
SM: Billy played baritone sax. He was kind of a strange guy. And his brother, Frank Root, played drums. Billy stayed close to Philly even though he did go on the road with the various bands. But the band that worked the Red Hill Inn the most was the Jimmy Wisner Trio. We had various vocalists, and Jimmy's band was strong enough to the point where Mel Torme took them on the road.
AAJ: Do you recall any of the nightclubs in Philly at the time?
SM: Sure. There were two big nightclubs. Peps was at Broad and South. The Showboat was just around the corner. We used to go down there at one o'clock in the morning for the last set. Everybody was there, all the headliners. But the one that started it all was the Blue Note. Radiowise, the guy who started jazz in Philly was a guy named Oscar Treadwell. He passed away, and Charlie Ventura, the saxophonist, took over the show. Charlie also ran his own club in South Jersey called The Open House.
And then when Charlie decided to go on the road, a guy from New York, Harvey Husten, came in to do the radio show. And in my opinion, Harvey is the single most responsible person for keeping jazz alive in Philadelphia during all those years. He really had a strong radio program, on WKDN in Camden. They had a huge signal, and it went everywhere. Unfortunately, Harvey passed away when he was only 31 years old. He had hired me to work at the Red Hill Inn to work with him so that when he wasn't there, I could represent him. And he said to me, "If you ever want to get on the air, record an hour, bring it to a radio station, and tell them that you'll work for free." That's exactly how I got started on radio.
AAJ: What station was your show on?
SM: WHAT-AM and FM. I was there for 45 years.
AAJ: And you told me you did some TV work?
SM: I did the TV version of "The Mark of Jazz" for five years. For PBS.
AAJ: Who were some of the musicians who appeared on the TV show?
SM: Well, for whatever reason, my good luck charm was Johnny Hartman.
AAJ: My favorite.
SM: He always did my first show of every season. It was a given, because we liked each other. And, well truth be told, my mother liked him! (laughter.) And we had Buddy Rich. Maynard Ferguson would do two shows every season with the big band. Ramsey Lewis, Ahmad Jamal. I had George Benson on, and I said, "Why don't you sing something?" He said, "I'm not a singer."
AAJ: These are some very progressive musicians you're talking about.
SM: I had most of these guys before they became famous. I had Lou Rawls. He used to call me "Mr. Mark." I had Jimmy McGriff, Jimmy Smith, a lot of organ players, Jack McDuff.
AAJ: How about guitarist Pat Martino? He did some work with McDuff.
SM: I think I used to have Pat when I featured local guys. And I knew Pat quite well during the time when he went through that illness. They didn't know what was wrong with him at the time, but it turned out to be an aneurysm. I had Anita O'Day on the show. Anita and I were friendly because she worked at the Red Hill Inn. On the show, everyone worked for scale. We had no rehearsal, just a sound check. Live.
AAJ: You're talking about so many of my heroes and favorites of the time.
SM: You know, people have asked, "Where did you go to college?" I said, "I went to the University of Red Hill Inn."
AAJ: A good university! What about the Latin Casino?
SM: That was only big stars: Tony Bennett, Bobby Darin, Buddy Hackett. But my favorite story was when we booked Prez into the Red Hill Inn. I was really nervousthe great Lester Young. So I picked him up at the Walt Whitman Hotel. It was snowing, and I was afraid to have an accident with him in the car. So he gets in the car with his cape and his pork pie hat. He said absolutely nothing! No hello'sjust sat in the car, not one single word, and looking straight ahead. About a mile away from the club, it's icy, I hit the brakes, and the car goes into a tailspin. I yelled, "Oh my God, Prez, what should I do?" He put his hand on his hat, turned around, looked at me, and said, "I'm just followin' and swallowin'!" (laughter.) Thank God we were OK, and I got to talk to him over dinner at the club.
AAJ: The people who knew Prez, they all loved him.
SM: He adored Sinatra, and believe it or not, he loved Roy Rogers.
AAJ: Didn't he have a platonic affair with Billie Holiday?
SM: She gave him the name Prez. She was the "First Lady" and she gave him the name "The President." And when Billie worked the Red Hill Inn, that was one of the thrills of my life, because it was the end of her career. She was in really bad shape. The club owner told me to be on 24 hour call for her while she was in town for the week. Believe it or not, I brought her my mother's chicken soup on a Friday night, the Jewish Sabbath. I thought she'd die. She loved it!
AAJ: It was the fortuitous meeting of two cultures! (laughter.)
SM: Her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, had just come out. I have an autographed copy. She had a terrible life, but as racked up as she would be before the set, somehow when the lights went up, she was able to sing.
AAJ: So many musicians then suffered the nightmares of drugs and alcoholism.
SM: Chet Baker once opened for us on a Friday night. And the narcs came in looking for him. Chet was stirring his coffee, and I noticed that the bottom of his spoon was burned. I knew he was cooking drugs with it. They eventually busted him the night he closed.
AAJ: Well what about some of the young lions in Philly then: Coltrane, Benny Golson, McCoy Tyner?
SM: Had them all on the program. I had the only radio interview that Coltrane perhaps ever did. And I interviewed Thelonious Monk, his only radio interview as well. One of the callers to the show asked Monk, "Why do you wear that silly hat all the time?" And I figured, "What a stupid question!"
AAJ: You had a call-in show? That must be unique in the history of jazz.
SM: That lasted until I had Sonny Stitt as a guest. The questions from the callers reached a new low, so I ended the phone calls then.
AAJ: How does it feel to you now when you remember these times that are part of your distant past? Was it an exciting time for you?
SM: Frank [Sinatra] always said to me, "If you love what you do for a living, you'll never work a day in your life." That's how it was for me. I couldn't wait to get to the radio station each day. And then there was TV and three clubs going at the same time. And then another club started called Just Jazz. It was the last of those great clubs.
AAJ: I love jazz, and feel sad that it isn't as big a draw as it used to be, except for a few name acts. There are fewer clubs, and fewer opportunities for the musicians. I'm wondering if you have any thoughts about how we could bring back the big audiences.
SM: We've got to bring back the thrill of it somehow. I remember how excited I was when Oscar Peterson came to the Red Hill Inn with Herb Ellis and Ray Brown. It was thrilling. Like they were movie stars. That's the way it still is in Japan, but not here.
AAJ: I remember when my trombone teacher, Alan Raph, was in New York, and he introduced me to Gerry Mulligan and the guys in his big band. It really was thrilling. They were heroes. Willie Dennis, Clark Terry, Bob Brookmeyer. Wow!
SM: Clark Terry is another good friend of mine. And I remember Gerry Mulligan at the Atlantic City Jazz Festival, which was enormously successful. Gerry asked me to hold a seat for Judy Holiday, his wife, the movie actress. He asked us to keep it low key so as not to get the crowd all worked up. But she came in and shouted, "Hi. I'm Judy Holiday!" And everyone went wild. At another gig, I remember Miles Davis cancelled at the last minute, and fortunately we were able to bring in trombonists J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding to fill in for him. What a great sound they had. Frank's favorite trombone player was Milt Bernhardt.
AAJ: There was that famous recording of "I've Got You Under My Skin," where Milt did his solo in the wrong key, and Frank kept it in because it fit so perfectly with the song.
SM: The other trombonist was George Roberts.
AAJ: He was one of my idols. I was studying bass trombone at one point, and he was the greatest of them all, along with my teacher Alan Raph, who began to specialize in bass trombone at the time.
About Sid Mark Himself
AAJ: OK, now let's talk about you a bit. First of all, what do you think are the most important qualities of a great radio DJ?
SM: Most important, love the music you're playing. Unfortunately many of the DJ's today are doing what they're told to play by the station. In my case, I still have the prerogative to pick out my selections. No one tells me what to play.
AAJ: Today, there's a real bad trend where the managers control the music, in recordings, radio, everywhere.
SM: Today, I have a magnificent state of the art studio at the CBS facility overlooking the city. The staff suggested that we could computerize all the music and have it punch up automatically. I said I don't want that. I want my CD players in there. I know where all the music is in my collections. I don't need a computer doing it for me. If someone makes a request, I pick out the CD and put it on. I want to segue the records my own way. Since I've been doing it successfully so long, they went along with me. To me the music has always been the most important thing, not me. For some of the DJ's, their ego is most important.
AAJ: Some folks in our region know you best as a humanitarian. I wonder if you could tell us a bit about what you're doing in the community and what causes you champion.
SM: My primary cause now is autism, because my grandson is autistic.
AAJ: The psychologist on WHYY, Dan Gottlieb, recently wrote a book, Letters to Sam, about his relationship with his autistic grandson.
SM: I know Dan. Dan and I were "Grandparents of the Year" last year for the walk for autism with Marcia Rose. As a matter of fact, there's a gathering coming up for autism that CBS is underwriting. I'll be there with Larry Mendte and some others. [Marcia Rose and Larry Mendte are prominent Philadelphia newscasters.] I just wish I could do more.
AAJ: Given your knowledge of autism, do you feel they are making progress in treating it?
SM: I really do. Knock wood, our little guy has just made incredible progress. His thing is that, at age five, he can read anything. The other day, he came over and said, "Zadie, do the PSA"the public service announcement. And I said, "Which one do you want?" And then he did it! I tell him about Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, and he corrects me. He says, "It's not Jimmy, it's James!"
AAJ: That's wonderful. We knew a kid with autism who went to Harvard and became a noted researcher.
SM: That's great. You know, when my station went over to talk radio, they insisted I do a talk show in addition to "Sounds of Sinatra." So I did it, and on my shows, called "Shadows and Reality," my co-host was Dr. Jack Greenspan. This was a call-in show. Jack used to take me on grand rounds at various mental health facilities. At one place he told me, "I defy you to tell who are the patients and who are the doctors!" I couldn't tell them apart! At another place, the guy in charge of the place wet himself! Then we went over to the Institute of Pennsylvania Hospital, and by contrast, the Institute was like going to Caesar's Palace. Jack showed me the best and the worst in the mental health field. Jack always said being a therapist was not medical, it was an art form. You have to learn how to listen.
AAJ: What are the most important things to you in life besides music?
SM: Well, my family of course. I have four children, three boys and a girl, all grown. I like the fact that they've all succeeded, but none of them followed me. I always hoped, though, that one of the boys would be in the studio doing Sinatra, and I'd be able to transmit the legacy, but that's not going to happen.
AAJ: You only mentioned your wife once in this interview. Do you have a good relationship?
SM: Excellent. She keeps me on the straight and narrow. She's an enormous jazz fan. She can tell by the music I choose to play on my show what kind of mood I'm in! If I'm in a bad mood, you're gonna hear three hours of ballads! I remember Frank Sinatra, Jr. had the greatest line about "Only the Lonely." He said, "Here's a ballad that should only be sold by prescription." (laughter.)
AAJ: When are you going to take a vacation?
SM: I haven't been on a vacation in twenty-five years.
AAJ: Shame on you! Don't you have urges to travel, do something different?
SM: No, no. I'm on vacation when I'm on the air.
Sid Mark (center in white) with various regional media professionals
on the set of "The Mark Of Jazz," WHYY-TV, 1969.
AAJ: Do you have a spiritual approach or a philosophy of life?
SM: Well, I think I believe there's something beyond what we have here. I'm still hoping that somewhere along the line, I'll have a chance to sit down with all these musicians who have gone and reminisce. Frank's up there with Dean and Sammy and Basie waiting in that jazz club in the sky. Reminds me of a great story I like to tell. A DJ goes to heaven, and St. Peter meets him at the gate. He says, "Where do you want to go? You can go anywhere you want." Just then, a band starts playing "I've Got You Under My Skin," "All or Nothing at All," "All the Way," "New York, New York." So St. Peter asks the angel, "What's that?" He says, "That's Nelson Riddle in the studio rehearsing." So the DJ asks, "Can I go in there?" St. Peter says, "You can go anywhere you want." So not only is Nelson Riddle there, but every great musician who ever lived. Stan Getz is in the sax section. Al Grey is playing trombone. Buddy Rich is on drums. Maynard is on trumpet. And they're playing all Sinatra stuff. Just then, somebody walks into the room, with the hat pulled over his eye and the raincoat over his shoulder. So the DJ asks the angel, "Is that Sinatra?" He says, "No, that's God. He just thinks he's Sinatra!"
AAJ: (huge laughter.) We know what you dig, man!
SM: I think they're all up there. I'm not anxious to get there, but I'm hoping I'll meet them when I do.
AAJ: To conclude, what message would you like to give to young, aspiring jazz musicians who visit our website?
SM: They should listen to the Old Masters to hear what it's all about. Listen to Paul Desmond, Johnny Hodges, Stan Getz, Lester Young, Buddy Rich, Philly Joe Jones, the other Joe Jones, and listen to what they were able to do. During that era, we were passionate; we considered improvisation "the last frontier of individuality." You gotta hear it before you play it. Discover the roots. Find out what it was all about. And there are some great films around. There are a couple of great Newport videos. My advice is to go sit down and listen. What they were doing back then was incredible. Peterson with Ray Brown and Herb Ellis! Chris Connor! And when Kenton came in, it was magic time. The list goes on. It's incredible.
AAJ: Billy Eckstein had a band with Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon in the sax section!
SM: Well, Maynard's original band was called the Birdland Dream Band. And they had all the great playersSlide Hampton, Don Sebeskyand they were all kids then, of course, but so talented.
AAJ: You're just bringing back for me a lot of wonderful memories from my college days.
SM: A really sweet thing was that all these guys wrote theme songs for my show. Clark Terry wrote a song called "Time to Mark Time." Maynard played my sign-off theme, "Frame for the Blues," written by Slide Hampton. Jimmy Wisner wrote a beautiful song called "Sidney's Soliloquy," which was recorded by Mel Torme.
AAJ: Slide Hampton is still very active.
SM: And of course Sebesky does all this stuff in Hollywood now. And Lennie NiehausI just saw a movie and he did all the music. All the guys that worked for Kenton were brilliant. How about Johnny Richards? He was at the Hill a few times. A great arranger. He wrote "Young at Heart." Never made a penny from it. You're bringing back many memories for me today as well.
AAJ: I know. They were remarkable times, and there was such an excitement then.
First two photos courtesy of Sid Mark.
Last photo courtesy of Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia