A Punch in the Nose

17 10 2010

Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake
Noble Sissle (L) and Eubie Blake

“Songwriter and performer Noble Sissle, a longtime partner of the ragtime pioneer Eubie Blake, recalled Jolson’s unprompted act of kindness in 1919 after a Hartford restaurant refused to serve the two black musicians. A local newspaper mentioned the incident, and, Sissle later recalled: ‘To our everlasting amazement, we promptly got a call from Al Jolson. He was in town with his show and even though we were two very unimportant guys whom he’d never heard of until that morning, he was so sore about that story he wanted to make it up to us.’ The next evening, Jolson treated Sissle and Blake to dinner, insisting that ‘he’d punch anyone in the nose who tried to kick us out.’ ”
New York Times, Oct. 22, 2000 Read the rest of this entry »

On the lighter side:”Boswell’s version of Jolson’s life”

16 10 2010


James Boswell (author of "Life of Samuel Johnson", 1791)


by Miles Kington. The London Independent,  Oct. 9, 1995

There is a new musical based on the Al Jolson story coming soon, and to coincide with it they are reissuing a revised version of Michael Freedland’s 1972 book on the great man.

I have looked through the Freedland book and it seems a fair enough account of his life to me. However, it cannot pretend to compare with the greatest book ever written in this area. I refer, of course, to that enduring classic of biography, Boswell’s Life of Jolson. Read the rest of this entry »

The significance of “The Jazz Singer.”

1 09 2010

Kol Nidre - Barrios
excerpt from:  A Song in the Dark: the Birth of the Musical Film
by Richard Barrios (1995)

The most detectable asset of The Jazz Singer is the conviction put into it – Warners’ and Alan Crosland’s belief in the project and Jolson’s belief in his powers as a musical entertainer. Whether the material was worthy of belief is another issue; what matters is that this story carried a force that more conventional screen fare lacked. Jewish themes were not uncommon in 1920s cinema, not only trivia of the Private Izzy Murphy/Kosher Kitty Kelly variety but sensitively considered dramas such as Humoresque (1920) and His People (1926). Read the rest of this entry »

Jackie Wilson’s tribute to Al Jolson

26 05 2010

In 1961, Jackie Wilson recorded a tribute album to Al Jolson,  “You Ain’t Heard Nothin’ Yet,” which included the album liner notes below – and which were the only liner notes he ever wrote for an album: Read the rest of this entry »

Eddie Cantor meets Jolson

12 04 2010

from “Take My Life”, by Eddie Cantor (1957)

While I was still a stooge for Bedini and Arthur, still rushing around backstage at Hammerstein’s taking suits out to be pressed or seeing that Jean Bedini’s laundry was back on time- a fellow in blackface wandered onto the stage one day. He was from Lew Dockstader’s Minstrels. Now he was doing a single and there was something electric about him that sent a thrill up your spine. He sang and talked; but he was more than just a singer or an actor, he was an experience, and he was to become the most romantic figure of a romantic era, the King of it. Al Jolson. Read the rest of this entry »

Jerry Lewis in the “Jazz Singer”

12 04 2010

From “Life with Father” by Krin Grabbard (in Enfant Terrible!: Jerry Lewis in American Film By Murray Pomerance)

The narrative of father-son tension was undoubtedly what attracted Lewis to the original Jazz Singer. As in all versions, Lewis’s rendering of the story does not confront anti-Semitism. The only problem remaining to face a Jewish entertainer is opposition from is father, thus placing even more weight on the oedipal narrative. But in Lewis’s version, little else remains from the original or even from the various remakes. Read the rest of this entry »

Jack Benny dedicates Jolson’s memorial

1 04 2010

from Jack Benny, , by Mary Livingstone Benny, 1978

On September 23, 1951, when, according to Jewish tradition, the monument–a magnificent statue of Al, bending on one knee, exactly the way he performed when he sang “Mammy”–was formally unveiled, it was Jack who delivered the memorial address:

Read the rest of this entry »