Just back from the Orlando Jolson celebration and I had to get to the computer to post a quick review. It was by any measure a success, a warm and very happy three day affair.
First, a huge "thanks" to the hosts, Sue and Tom Nestor (ably helped in so many ways by Skip and Lois Mack, of course). Tom was all over the place seeing that every aspect was done properly. (One of my favorite moments was finding Tom--dressed to the nines in a tuxedo, looking like he was ready for a night out on the town, but instead carrying wires, tools, duct tape and Lord-knows-what-else from one end of the hotel to the other---because it had to be done just right! Tom supervised every aspect of the celebration and seemed to be all over the place all at once. (And on top of it all, he sang "Old Man River" a capella---NOT an easy task!) Tom is a classy guy and never loses his cool.
The karaoke on Thursday night was great fun. Paul Bowers (a vaudevillian at heart, obviously) can also sing!! Dr. Marc Leavey serenaded his honey with "You Made Me Love You," sung as only a doctor can. And our newest (and youngest) Jolson Society member, Nigel Dreiner ("Chaplin" here on our Forum) performed (with his own musical accompaniment on CD) "That Haunting Melody"---Jolson's very first recording. Nigel is a delightful and eager newcomer. He is going to become an important part of our Society's future. (I don't know how many times he was told: "You're 22? I have shoes older than that!" by some of us older fellas---but I hope that Nigel knows that we said it with joy and love for a great young man who says that he cannot get enough of Jolson---(and that ain't bad!)
Bill Campbell's Karaoke of Jolie's "When the Mighty Organ Played Oh Promise Me" was extraordinary. Quite a guy. And Tony B. couldn't resist popping into the karaoke room for a quick song or two--but hey, after having heard some of the Society members' belting out their favorite Jolson numbers, he figured he'd better stop by to keep his job safe! After all, there was some really stiff competition going on! (Well, okay, sort of...maybe. But we had fun--and that's the whole point!!)
The Memorabilia room was stocked with some exciting new items---the audio and video departments have been working overtime to have some terrific new releases available for the festival this year. I'm sure that Marc will make the details available for all to read.
Steve Rothschild's Jolson Lip-Synch show was well done and great fun. An interesting mix of Jolson tracks, too--not just "the usual" stuff but some lesser known ones. Steve will be hosting the next festival--2009 in Phoenix. I spent some quality time with him discussing plans for it, and I really liked what I heard.
On Friday afternoon we all saw a presentation of Andrea and Jen's Jolson film project. As you know, these two fine youngsters from Germany are film students who have been working for years on a Jolson documentary--a work still in progress (they were busy all weekend in Orlando STILL filming and interviewing)--and the final result will be something very special, for sure. They are a most impressive team, and as I write this they are on their way to the west coast to continue their work. Bright, sharp, talented, clever artists with a dream.
Friday's night's show included Jan and Andrea's touching video tribute to Rudy Wissler. Elaine was in the audience, of course, with her sister-in-law. (As they say, you could hear a pin drop while we all watched Rudy once more).
Bill Campbell came on next, decked out as "Bumper"--and did a medley from "Hallelujah, I'm A Bum." 'Deeelightful', as TR would say. (If you don't know who TR was, shame on you). Bill loves to sing. It shows.
Tony Babino come on next and did the finest show I ever heard him do. What a pro. His natural ease on stage breaks the barrier between audience and performer (something somebody else did so well some decades ago). He took requests, sang a duet with Jan Hernstat (note to Jan: how much did that cost you??) and did a Tony Bennett tune--much like Bennett himself. (Another "Tony B!")
Those of us who have seen Tony for years know what we're in for when he takes over the stage. But on Friday night there were a number of "newies" in the audience and their comments after the show just about said it all.
On Saturday afternoon, I presented some Jolson vocal tracks that were interesting and (I hope) entertaining...but that was just a warmup to Jan's traditional auction which followed. If you haven't seen him 'go into his dance' as an auctioneer with a New York edge to him, then you've missed one of the best shows in town. And while keeping everyone entertained playfully, he gets serious work done painlessly. The money raised goes straight into the Society coffers, helping to keep us afloat financially.
The big show Saturday night starred Bill Campbell again, his second show of the weekend. To my ears, his rendition of "I Got Lucky in the Rain" was just splendid, in particular. (I love the song and he did full justice to it). And then to my surprise, Bill did his James Cagney impression. Not the usual one that we all do at parties, but one with full body language, a face that morphed into Cagney's--and even some of Jimmy's hoofing!
Richard Halpern was dynamite. His tribute to "The Singing Fool" contained all of the songs on the soundtrack (including "Spaniard"---sung just as Jolie did). Richard took requests from the audience--(a rough crowd, for sure, who wanted no part of "Swanee" or "Mammy" or "April Showers"----but rather yelled for such delicious rarities as "Sister Susie's Sewing Shirts For Soldiers," "My Papa Doesn't Two Time No Time," "I'll Say She Does," and "Mr. Radio Man." He sang the verse--and then choruses I've never heard--and nailed them. Just an incredible performance.
Then Richard had young Nigel and Bill come up on stage for a rousing rendition of "If You Knew Susie"---ending in perfect harmony. Unrehearsed and absolutely terrific.
After the show there was a goodly amount of serious conversation around the bar regarding the Federal Reserve System's contemplated one-quarter percent rate cut. We also debated the possibility of Poland leaving NATO, as threatened, then turned to a discussion of the latest in the "string theory" debate of cosmic physics.
Nah. (You know what we talked about. And sang about).
Sunday morning Jan thanked those responsible for the Orlando celebration and handed out the appropriate citations. He then introduced next year's host at the Phoenix convention--Steve Rothschild and his lovely wife--who gave us a hint as to what's in store for us in '09.
And I can't wait.