54th Anniversary Jolson Festival
The Festival began with the customary, unofficial, and totally unscripted Thursday Karaoke Night in the Lounge of the Embassy Suites hotel. With Kevin Deevey on the Karaoke machine, Jan Hernstat and Richard Halpern running the show, working the crowd, and egging on folks to sing, lots of folks, your friendly webmaster included, rose to the occasion and took the mike to embarrass themselves with a Jolson song or two. Even the occasional bystanders at the bar were entertained.
On Friday, the actual Festival began, with Jolson memorabilia for sale to those in attendance, including several new items. Friday's announcement was of a new CD in the IAJS series, the Best of Jolson, which was a double LP album, now available in CD issue. With tracks beautifully restored, this will be a must have addition to any Jolson collector's library. Sales were brisk at the Convention, and the CD will be added to those available from the Society's audio department.
On Friday afternoon, Society webmaster, Marc Leavey, addressed a packed room with a talk entitled "Al Jolson - The Jewish Jazz Singer." Accompanied by video clips, this presentation showed an interesting aspect, often overlooked, of Al Jolson, and his relationship to the people of his heritage.
Friday evening's dinner show was an interesting and informal program. With Bruce Bider on the piano for both nights, the first evening's entertainment included Society president Jan Hernstat, whose singing can be appreciated by clicking his picture, at left, as well as Hank Bogdala, who entertains locally with Jolson numbers, along with Society favorites William Campbell, Rudy Wissler, and Richard Halpern.
Saturday morning saw a return to the memorabilia room, where two new video items were presented for sale to the members of the IAJS. In DVD format, these were the Jolson movie "The Singing Kid," complete with trailer and Owl Jolson cartoon, and a Jolson Documentary DVD, including both the Joseph Cotton narrated "Immortal Jolson" and the "South Bank Show." As with the other material, these are now available to the membership of the IAJS through the video department.
After a presentation of the movie "Wonder Bar," the Jolson auction was convened. Before beginning, President Jan Hernstat announced the recovery and restoration of the missing film clip from "The Jolson Story," in which Larry Parks, as Al Jolson, sang the song "The Cantor on the Sabbath." The clip was shown to the assembled, and an opportunity to obtain a copy was given to those in the room. As with other material introduced at this Festival, members may now obtain a copy from the Society, a full announcement will be on the website.
Saturday evening's program began with the usual Hernstat introductions and material, including acknowledgement of the assembled past presidents in attendance. The entertainment portion of the evening began with Bill Campbell presenting material in his unique Scottish style, complete with costume change on stage. Click Bill's picture to see and hear one of the numbers from Saturday night.
Taking the stage next was Society favorite Rudy Wissler. Rudy showed the range of his talents, going far beyond recalling the numbers he had dubbed for Scotty Beckett, playing the young Al Jolson, in "The Jolson Story." He also related stories and tales of just what happened during the production of that film, keeping the crowd in the palm of his hand. You can hear one of these unique numbers by clicking on Rudy's picture, at left.
Richard Halpern, who has amazed Festival audiences with a wide range of Jolson material over the years, closed the show with an amazing performance, concentrating on Jolson's radio numbers. He acceeded to requests at the end, singing some of Jolson's standards, but the material in his planned act included many numbers not normally performed at these gatherings. For a sample, click on Richard's picture at right and enjoy his opening number.
Sunday morning saw the usual wrap-up meeting, with awards and comments on the proceedings. Next year, we'll be off to Newcastle, England, for the 55th year of the International Al Jolson Society. See you there!