Living Era’s Radio Stars
of America series continues with a septet
of items dating from 1947 to 1950 devoted
to that irreplaceable slice of Americana,
Al Jolson. Though he was past his best years,
and not long from his death in October 1950,
he still gives a fair idea of the ham and
the charisma that went into his act.
He guested on the Chesterfield
Programme with Bing Crosby and on The Eddie
Cantor Show and there are also examples of
his appearances on the Kraft Music Hall, this
time with Burns and Allen, and also with Edward
G. Robinson. Unlike some items in this series
the aural quality is first class; no deterioration
or interference and a good state of preservation.
The extent to which these shows still live
depends on the quality of the original material
and the rapport between artists. There’s also
the business of ad-libbing, which I find goes
a long way and when it happens it’s invariably
a thrill, so tightly scripted were the scenes.
Crosby is the straight man
in his encounters with Jolson and fun is generated
through their (few) slip-ups in Crosby
in "Look" They have an enviably
relaxed rapport and nothing sounds stagey
or over–rehearsed and doubtless it wasn’t.
They sing together of course – the shows were
studded with Jolson’s stentorian Down South
pieties – and make an oddly congruent pairing,
the suave crooner and the bellicose black-face.
With Cantor, on a slightly thinner recording,
we get a veritable encyclopaedia of Jolson’s
Greatest Hits; he and Cantor take off each
other’s singing styles and give a Toot
Toot Tootsie Goodbye together.
The appearance of Edward
G. Robinson gives plenty of opportunities
for Jolson to act scared. Actually Robinson,
as we know, was one of the most cultured men
in show business and turned the pages for
soirées at the Barbirolli’s and elsewhere;
chamber music and art were his passion but
tough guys were his persona and he doesn’t
disappoint. How delightful also to hear from
Oscar Levant, the show’s MD. If you thought
that TV talk show hosts spinning banter with
their bandleaders (think Carson, think Letterman)
something of a 1970-80s novelty act, think
again. People have always done it.
Plenty of variety then, though
you do get two Swanees and two Californias.
And pleasing to hear the emolliently generous
Der Bingle and the more acidic Cantor work
equally well with the ageing Jolson. Excellent
notes complete a good package and a good appendix
to Living Era’s other Jolson discs.