Al Jolson Home Page|The IAJS|Milwaukee 2012 Jolson Festival

International Al Jolson Society
62nd Anniversary Jolson Festival
Thursday, May 17, 2012 through Sunday, May 20, 2012/CENTER>
Brookfield Suites
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Report by Ed Greenbaum:

First--and best--the folks who attended were absolutely delightful. The warmth, laughter and friendship were infectious throughout the weekend. An easy, happy group of Jolson fans.

The afternoon presentations were as follows: We began with an audio tribute to Jolie by Eddie Fisher, Eddie Cantor and Harry Akst, circa 1958. That was followed by David McCarthy's newest audio/visual show--matching some rare Jolson photos to outstanding Jolson vocal tracks, the highlight of which (for me) was: Jolson In Korea. Listening to portions of Al's live show for the GI's while seeing photos of his last tour of duty was powerful, to say the least.

Paul Bowers' presentations consisted of his stunning video of Al's Shubert years, containing the results of Paul's visits to the Shubert Archives--talk about rarities! This college-level presentation is astounding. Then Paul presented the debut of his new CD--"Jolson On Kraft"--a 28-track disc of remastered material from the KMH programs, edited in such a way as to sound like a live concert with Jolson and Levant, with Al singing some of the greatest American classics of the first half of the 20th century. The sound quality is absolutely superb. Every copy on sale at the Festival was sold out--but you can order one via this website. Do not miss it!

Jon Sonneborn read a chapter to us from a book he is writing, and although fiction, Mr. Jolson is a big part of it. Very interesting--to say the least! Then Jon played for us his latest discovery--excerpts from Eddie Cantor's appearance on a 1937 Lifebuoy program (something we've never heard before) and then two more Lifebuoy tracks, one of which is a clever satire about Darryl Zanuck's recent signing of a movie star named Simone Simone, as sung by Al, Martha Raye and Sid Silvers. The sound quality of this new material needs cleaning and boosting--and that is being done now so these treasures can soon be available to all Society members. Thank you Jon for your generosity.

I then presented some interesting Jolson audio tracks and explained the back story for each, giving perspective and historical context for them. Then Jon and I presented "Say It With Songs" to our audience, many of whom had not seen the film before. We then had Q&A when the film was over, leading to an interesting conflict of opinions about the film's merits (or lack of same!)

Society President Jan Hernstat's Jolson auction was as entertaining as usual--a stand-up comic with a New York edge--selling off valuable and rare Jolson items--and netting, in return, valuable funds for the Society treasury. If you've never seen Jan in action before, you've missed quite an experience.

Our nighttime entertainment commenced on Thursday evening with our informal Karaoke during which many of us took the mike, pretended we knew what the blazes we were doing--and just pressed ahead. Mercifully, our pal John Barleycorn was there to help out, as he usually is at our Karaoke sessions. (I'm hoping that Marc Leavey, our Webmaster, was not recording it, as he did for all of the other the entire weekend's events.)

Bill Campbell did two shows for us, one on Friday eve and one on Saturday. He included such tunes as "Gotta Get Back To New York," "What Do You Want With Money?'" "You Are Too Beautiful," "Hallelujah, I'm A Bum," "Just One Of Those Things." "Oh, Susannah," "My Little Sunshine," "I Got Lucky In the Rain," "Black Eyes Susans," and "My Blue Heaven." Bill is a fine gentleman, and was in great voice. A real trouper and a classy, "Class A" friend of the Jolson Society. Thanks, Bill.

Tony B.'s show on Friday night was sheer joy. With his friend Dave Gross at the piano, Tony wowed the crowd with "Let Me Sing And I'm Happy," "For Me and My Gal" and "California, Here I Come." He then did a beautiful rendition of "Sweet Sixteen," dedicated to Dolores' teenaged granddaughter, seated in the audience--a really touching, special moment for her family. Then Tony did Skip Mack's favorite Jolson tune, "Mammy, I'll Sing About You." Then came "Remember Mother's Day," "Is It True What They Say About Dixie?," "April Showers" and "You Made Me Love You."

Then, by popular request (from one person,) he had our Jan Hernstat come onstage to do a few tunes together: "Rosie," "Margie" and "Red, Red, Robin." (Okay Jan, no teasing. Tony was great.) After wrenching the mike back, Tony continued with "Back In Your Own Backyard," "A Real Piano Player" (with Dave as Jimmy Durante), "Amomng My Souvenirs," "Swanee," "Anniversary Song," "Sitting on Top of the World," "I Can't Give You Anything But Love," "I Only Have Eyes For You," "Robert E. Lee," "Avalon," "Sonny Boy," "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," "Don't Let It Get You Down," "It's Now Or Never" (as Elvis!), "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime" (as Dino), then back to Jolie in "Rock-A-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie melody," "Carolina in the Morning," "Bye, Bye, Blackbird," "Darktown Strutter's Ball," "My Mammy" and finished with Bobby Darin's moving, closing number, "And Now the Curtain Falls."

Tony B. is a national treasure. I don't know what the Jolson Society would be without him.

On Saturday night it was Richard Halpern's turn in the spotlight. The theme of Richard's show was "Jolson in the Movies," and starting with Al's last starring feature--"The Singing Kid" in 1936--Richard worked backwards toward "The Jazz Singer in 1927--and included: "I LOve To Sing-A," "You'reb The Cure For What Ails Me," "About A Quarter To NIne," "She's A Latin From Manhattan," (by the way, Richard, dressed on white tuxedo jacket, looked much like Al Howard did in the film), "Come To The Wonder Bar," "Goin' To Heaven On A Mule," "You Are Too Beautiful," "Hallelujah, I'm A Bum" (with Bill Campbell joining Richard on stage), then "Hooray For Baby and Me," "Let Me Sing And I'm Happy," "I'm In Seventh Heaven," "One Sweet Kiss," "It All Depends On You," "Sonny Boy," "Dirty Hands, Dirty Face," "Toot, Toot, Tootsie!," "Blue Skies" (complete with all the dialogue between Jakie and Mama!), "Mother of Mine," and "My Mammy." Terrific stuff, sung with gusto and panache and spontaneity.

Richard asked for requests, and did "Sister Susie,." "I'll Say She Does," "May Papa Doesn't Two Time No Time," and "I Want To Be A Lifeguard"--as sung by Popeye the Sailor! Richard's show was a joy.

Sunday morning was the farewell meeting, with awards given out by Jan to those who work so hard to keep Al's memory alive. Jan himself was awarded the Irvin Warwick award--the highest award the Society offers--for his outstanding nine years of tireless work to keep the Society alive and well. Jan is the glue that holds the whole thing together, and despite merciless teasing and ribbing from us, we love the guy. (Jan, I wrote that the way you told me to.) See what I mean?

The Festival closed with David McCarthy's beautiful visual presentation---Jolie sing "I'll Be Seeing You" behind snapshots of the guests from near and far (England, Australia, Scotland) who were there for this delicious, weekend-long tribute to The World's Greatest Entertainer.

Special thanks to Skip and Lois Mack for running the festival this year. It was flawless, seamless, and absolutely terrific---all thanks to the two of you.

Next Year: Palm Springs, California! And plans are already underway to make that festival the biggest and best ever!

Be sure to contact the IAJS Video Department for the DVD of this, and other, Jolson Festivals.

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Updated 09 Feb 14