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KSHE: Entering a Second Half-Century of Music

We didn’t really have any money, but some of that was by design; money was our parents’ thing. We hitchhiked to a lot of the places we went and shared most of the little we had. We didn’t have a flag or a salute, but we had the peace symbol and we stole WWII’s two-fingered “Victory” gesture and made it our own. We didn’t desire a lot of toys; a Frisbee would keep us entertained and help us clean the seeds from our herb. We didn’t have a uniform but faded jeans and a t-shirt were pretty close and we recognized each other upon sight. We loved black lights and incense and we felt at home in head shops and wherever else KSHE radio was played.

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KSHE was, for those lucky enough to be in its listening radius, an emblem. It was an icon and a badge of honor to be among the hip that were hipped. Sweetmeat was our mascot and music was a sacrament, proof that someone else got it, felt it, knew that the world was changing.

Pop radio, which was AM radio at the time, made music the filler between commercials. It was a rotation of the Top 40, repeated endlessly all day, plus a lot of jingles, gimmicks, contests and DJ patter. It had provided a noisy but effective platform for music. But by the mid-1960s music was expanding, musicians were applying more art to their work and albums were becoming more than a collection of hits. The Beatles stopped concentrating on 3 minute singles, quit touring and focused on albums, many based on their experiences with drugs like LSD. Curtis Mayfield was making “People Get Ready” and “Superfly.” James Brown sang “Say It Loud, I’m Black and Proud.” That stuff’s not playing on AM. It’s just not. Sex, drugs and rock and roll were not censor-friendly.

Fidelity was important too, “headphone music” was on the rise and music was no longer necessarily suited for a 3 inch automobile or transistor radio speaker. Albums from the Moody Blues, Pink Floyd, the Who and many others challenged the limitations of AM. Bob Dylan both called it and dealt it. His 1965 single “Like a Rolling Stone” clocked in at six minutes, over twice the length of a standard single. The song reached number 2 on Billboard but it was clear that long, angry diatribes were going to be the exception, not the rule for AM radio.

Something different was needed and the owners at KSHE found it, captured the zeitgeist and made St. Louis one of the early American cities that got it.

KSHE Studio in Crestwood
The original KSHE studio in Crestwood, Mo.

KSHE actually started years earlier in 1960, literally in a basement. Ed Ceries, a 20-year veteran of radio and TV, invested his life savings and built the station in his Crestwood, Missouri home. Keying off the SHE in the call letters, Ceries called the station “the Lady of FM,” hired all female announcers and played a classical music format. The teletype used to gather the news was next to the washing machine. Mrs. Ceries did her ironing in the room that also stored the record library and was the administrative office.

It was obviously a small operation but the connection with the audience was strong and listeners were known to bring their own classical albums to the home/station to suggest they be played. However, after about a year, Ceries succumbed to advertiser hesitance about the all classical format and began to play almost all middle-of-the-road music and there was plenty of that already. In 1964, Ceries sold the station to Century Broadcasting, headed by General Manager Howard Grafman.

Ron Elz, a giant in this story and in radio in general, was working with KSHE in 1967 and had recently been to San Francisco to hear what was going on there on the left coast, especially on KMPX FM. Elz, who has been in radio since the ‘50s and has worked under the moniker “Johnny Rabbitt” since 1962, is a certified radio legend and is inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What Elz heard in California struck him as important. Disc jockeys were playing deep album cuts, had eschewed the banter, had ceased talking over intros, were playing 3 or 4 or even 5 songs in a row without comment and, in some cases, were creating themes within these groupings. It was a revolution.

Also, FM was capable of much higher fidelity and could even transmit in stereo.

Elz convinced Grafman and Century Broadcasting to convert the struggling station to this new style and a year later Howard asked his brother Shelley to stop selling life insurance, which probably wasn’t a very difficult decision, and come to manage the station. Shelley, who had absolutely no experience in radio, took him up on it and then proceeded to hire staff. It is here that the genius or madness prevailed. Shelley hired high school students, or the very recently graduated, also with zero experience.

It could have failed. It could have gone down in blazing flames.

But it didn’t.

The time was right. We wanted to hear about our music, our culture, ourselves. We didn’t require that “radio voice” or banter. We wanted to hear someone who sounded like us: young, engaged, affected by the music and, most of all, hip.

And just like that a bunch of kids, all under the age of 21, none with experience in radio or broadcasting, along with Grafman as their leader, brought Album Oriented Rock radio to St. Louis.

kshe original Dj's

The studios were tiny and were situated along the north wall of the “66 Park In Theater,” in Crestwood. The old tube transmitters took up most of the building’s space; they overheated and ditches had to be dug to drain water away from pooling at their base. The building was hidden but certainly was found by the faithful. Listeners learned that there was a window into the studio space, a very uncommon feature, and they came to talk, to request and actually steal records, especially the ill-placed “L” section that sat right beneath the window. Per DJ Mark Klose, “So someone would call up and go, ‘Hey, man, how about some Little Feat?’ No. ‘Led Zeppelin?’ No. ‘LRB?’ Do you get the idea? I got no ‘L’s, man. They stole all my ‘L’s!”

Sunday evenings from 7 pm to midnight brought us the Seventh Day, a programming concept that continues to this day, where the station featured seven albums from seven different artists played in their entirety.

Ruth Hutchinson
DeeJay Ruth Hutchinson

Even the news was different on KSHE as the on-air personalities tossed away the tear sheets from the AP wire service and delivered the news in their own way, often with musical lead in that pertained to the content. Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla” and the Lighthouse classic “One Fine Morning” led us into the news and other features. KSHE was cultish, not corporate.

Early successes brought KSHE to events promotion like the KSHE Birthday Party, kite flying, the Valentine’s Day Massacre, Super Jams, the Thanksgiving concerts, the Pig Roasts and many other activities. Plus the KSHE Schtuff!

Early advertisers were limited to record stores, stereo stores, waterbed stores, head shops and pizza. But as the number of listeners grew, so did the potential for other advertisements.

The station really found its groove in the early ‘70s. It just couldn’t have gotten much groovier. The jocks were the best and were encouraged to break new and local bands, playing more than just the hits everyone else was playing. Whole albums were featured by artists as diverse as the Who, Arlo Guthrie, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, the Firesign Theater and Iron Butterfly. Foreign bands like Germany’s Lake were featured, as were Midnight Oil from Australia and Split Enz from New Zealand. Local bands like Mama’s Pride, REO Speedwagon, Styx, Cheap Trick and Head East got play time that would have probably never happened elsewhere and their careers were off and running.

We spoke with Joe Turek, the bass player and vocalist of Mama’s Pride, about KSHE and how their steady airplay and concert promotions helped make the band successful.

JOE TUREK AT RUSTY SPRINGS
Mama’s Pride member Joe Turek

“I joined the band in August of 1974 after an audition which went very well. I was playing in a bar band and waiting for the next semester of college to start,” said Turek. “We started playing at the River Rat on the landing, which was the precursor for Mississippi Nights and the owner loved the band and booked us opening for national acts. We connected with an agent out of Louisville and, as the story goes, we kept playing on the road, writing songs, getting more exposure as we went. Eventually, we went to Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record a demo of our original songs. The demo was a success and we were shopped to many recording labels including Atlantic Records who loved the band and signed our record deal in St. Louis in June of 1975.”

Shelley Grafman was one of our biggest fans,” Turek said, “and we had a close relationship with him. KSHE played our test press of the first LP even prior to its official release. Our song off our first LP, ”Blue Mist,” is KSHE’s #1 song and Mama’s Pride is in KSHE’s Hall of Fame.”

There was an ongoing rivalry between KSHE and KADI, just a few points down on the dial. Turek remembered a story involving his brother-in-law, Ross Gentile (pronounced Gentiley), who started working weekends at KSHE in 1973.

ROSS AND GEORGE HARRISON
George Harrison with Ross Gentile. Date unknown.

“As the story goes, KADI had a fire in the station with firefighters on scene and Ross rolled into the station for his shift and began playing every song with fire in the title. Richard Miller, the owner of KADI, who later became a good friend of Ross’s, started a heated exchange with Shelley Grafman that led to Ross getting suspended for a week. But with a little smile on Shelley’s face because he thought it was incredible. At that time, it was one of the most outrageous things anyone ever did on radio. Ross was a teetotaler!”

Many of the DJs went on to other successes after KSHE. Gentile was hired out of the station by A&M Records and had a very successful career earning gold and platinum albums working with Styx, Head East, Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Captain and Tennille, Supertramp and Peter Frampton. Peter Maer, a 1970 graduate from SIUE, worked at KSHE and went on to become the Senate and White House correspondent for NBC and CBS news. “Radio” Rich Dalton, whose face appeared on a Rolling Stone cover, migrated from KSHE to Internet radio. John Ulett went on to also be the PA announcer for the St. Louis Cardinals. Some went on to other adventures but, for most, their love of radio and music became their life.

ROSS AND PETER FRAMPTON
Ross Gentile with Peter Frampton 1977

As it goes, not all good things can last. By 1973 the number of FM stations in the U.S. had tripled but the corporate world caught up with Album Oriented Rock (AOR) and true, free-form radio was for the most part over. But not KSHE.

KSHE remains true to its AOR and progressive roots to this day, more than 50 years down the road. It, in fact, is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s Longest Running Radio Station with no change in format since 1967.

We love that we have such a piece of rock and roll history right here in our beautiful city and we would love for you to share your memories with us. Please share this article with your friends and share your comments about KSHE remembrances, the times, the music and the concerts.

What is GOOD ART? – by Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky

What is GOOD ART?
by Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky                                       http://www.StoneHollowStudio.com

Someone recently remarked to me, “Even when I see what I know is great art, I don’t know what makes it good.   I just don’t know much about art.”

That comment prompted a discussion. It caused me to realize that my non-artsy friend is probably not alone in wondering what determines ‘good’ art, that many people stroll through museums without understanding why certain works are lauded as great. And, sometimes notable art can be intimidating. There can be embarrassment in saying, “I just don’t get it.”

The feeling that one is not knowledgeable about art also prevents the purchase and collection of art from contemporary artists. And that’s a real loss, both for today’s artists and for those who surrender to the ennui of décor. Who knows what future-great artist is working in your area? What great works might a collector scoop up but doesn’t because of a lack of confidence? Art investment can be a gamble but it’s a risk that can also enhance your abode.

Learning the fine skills of art appreciation can take years, indeed a lifetime, to fully develop. University courses offer wonderful in-depth study of the intricacies involved to understand art.

My intention here is not to diminish that study at all, but to simplify it for those with limited time or interest. It is my strong opinion that anyone can develop an ability to appreciate art.

After much consideration, I think that which makes art ‘good’ can be distilled down to five basic questions that I believe remain true for all works.

Do you like it?

Certainly, personal taste determines what comprises a private art collection. There are simply things we like, and things we don’t, things we are drawn to and things that repulse us. The initial question need not be “Why do you like it?” but simply “DO you like it?”  Of course, the reason why you like a work can generate extensive examination and debate. And, because this particular qualification is so extremely personal, it should be restricted to private art collections. Without a doubt, the art you privately collect should be work you like. Nevertheless, for the museum visitor, this question can also lead one to cultivate a list of favorite works as well.

Does it draw you in for a closer look?

The urge to get closer to a work of art is a sure sign that it’s speaking to you.

Why does the work draw you closer? Is it because you are intrigued by the artist’s technique (brush strokes, manipulation of the material, etc.) and wish to study its detail? Some works have the ability to immerse the viewer when viewed closely. Good art pulls you in; it does not allow a viewer to pass it by. Equally, the urge to step far back and spend some time viewing the overall work can similarly denote quality.

Does it cause you to think?

Good art is not necessarily pretty art. It does not match your sofa nor blend into your color scheme. It might make the viewer uncomfortable. But, whether disturbing or delightful, good art triggers consideration.  Even if the work is not understood, the very fact that it prompts you to wonder about it indicates a depth of meaning. Good art reaches beyond the canvas or the clay or whatever medium it may be.

Is it innovative?

Innovation can be simple or complex. The cave paintings of Lascaux, France remain avantgarde even after 20,000 years. The Impressionists of the nineteenth century continue to engage us, as future art-lovers will be intrigued by the technological elements being utilized today by contemporary artists.

Does it compel you to return?

This final proviso is closely related to the very first offered in this list. Whether you like a work of art or are repulsed by it, if the work lures you back, it has touched you. Think of a work you have seen but didn’t like. You remember it, don’t you? If you disliked it, why do you remember it?  Art stirs the viewer. Art connects with you. If unable to revisit a work in person, study it in a book or online.

Art is much more than five simple attributes.  Arguably, there are many, many additional components that can be employed to qualify ‘good’ art.  I believe, however, that the above facets offer a solid starting point for art appreciation.

Armed now with some indicators of how to evaluate art, let’s consider how to experience art, particularly in museum collections.

Again, I offer my opinion and encourage you to consider this:

Who goes to a restaurant and orders every item on the menu in one sitting? So why then do we feel that we must see everything in a museum in just one visit?

Understandably, a person may visit a particular museum only once in a lifetime, perhaps while traveling abroad, for example. But which is better? To say that you set foot into all the exhibition spaces in The Prado, or to personally know the powerful emotion portrayed in Goya’s El Tres de Mayo (The Third of May)? To have sprinted upstairs and downstairs in the Chicago Art Institute, or to experience delight as if on the picnic in Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte?

To maximize your artistic experience to a museum, rather than racing through every gallery, select one or two exhibition areas (or perhaps only a few individual works) and visit just those, as you would visit a friend. Take your time to get to know them better. Observe what you have not before seen in the work. Think. Remember. Return to revisit those works, or to view different works in the same manner. If unable to return, explore online options. Your artistic experience will definitely be enhanced.

Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky is an award-winning artist whose work includes murals, drawing, illustrations,   sculpture, painting and photography but, for the past 39 years, she has carved herself a reputation as a master of the early American art form of scrimshaw.

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Mike and Emmet
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The Biltmore Club in Fenton: Gangsters, Gambling and Gin

“In olden days, a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking.
But now, God knows,
Anything goes.”

“Anything Goes,” by Cole Porter

As previously reported in our article on Jelly Roll Hogan, St. Louis and its surrounding counties were notoriously mobbed-up during the 1920s and throughout that failed social experiment called Prohibition. Stories abound in regard to shady characters and their actions to cash in on the loopholes of the era, along with the rampant graft and corruption. However, some stories also exist about the places the infamous frequented for fun.

Biltmore 01

The Biltmore Country Club opened its doors in 1929 as a casino for the well-heeled that needed a well-concealed place to spend the money they were bringing in. The club was built in Fenton on the border of Jefferson and St. Louis counties; in fact one of the lingering stories about the club is that, if it was raided by one of those counties, the patrons would be instructed to move to the other side of the building, out of the raiding jurisdiction.

Actually, a good deal of the early history is sketchy and difficult to put together since the whole thing was kind of on the hush-hush. The club was opened by Jimmy Miller, boss of the 4th precinct in the city and justice of the peace. Miller spared no expense in the construction of the club at a cost of $250,000 (over $3.5 million in current value) as he planned it to be a posh getaway for high-end clients, decked out in tuxedos, diamonds and furs.

Biltmore 04

In 1933, the ownership was taken over by one Harry E. Belford, aka “Hickory Slim,” a bookie and close friend of Al Capone. Not much is found on the Internet about Mr. Slim as, I’ve mentioned before, a low profile was pretty much de rigueur for the bootleg entrepreneurs of the day. Though Prohibition ended in 1933, gambling was still very much against the law and so the new owner purportedly had club employees with machine guns in each of the towers at the front of the building to welcome unwelcome guests. Capone was rumored to be a frequent guest and had ties to St. Louis’ all-Sicilian Green Gang.

When Jimmy Miller died in 1946, the ownership passed to Red O’Donnell, a Chicago businessman who made a flashy exit from life in the form of a heart attack and the crashing of his pink Cadillac into the trees outside the front gate of the club.

Biltmore 02

In 1951, Ed and Marie Campbell of High Ridge bought the club and announced that its gambling days were over, stating that “the only bones to roll will be chicken bones and T-bones!” The Campbells had moderate success and sold the club to Don Winter in 1972. Winter sought to bring in a younger crowd and made the venue into a live music and prom destination. During the ‘70s, the club, now dubbed a banquet center, hosted a great number of dances featuring St. Louis rock bands like Hot Shot and 96 Proof. Many of our readers might have memories, possibly somewhat hazy, of this era in the club’s history.

The Biltmore burned down in 1979 and it has been said that fire fighters saw oil or gas in the runoff water as they fought the blaze. Whether or not that is true, the fire was believed to be arson but no one was prosecuted. Mr. Winter chose to raze the building and sold the land instead of rebuilding. Today, the only vestige of the Biltmore Club is the name it gave to the office and shopping complex that now stands on the historic piece of land.

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Interview with Michael Silverman: Renaissance Man in the Age of Digital Music

The music industry is currently going through drastic changes that require a new mindset for today’s working musician, especially when it comes to things like distributing your music, getting gigs, going on tour or even having your recordings used in TV or movie soundtracks. Technology is screaming past many of us at a dizzying rate and, if seasoned musicians want to stay in the game, maybe even make a little money while they’re at it, then they need to embrace these new technologies and dive into the “new way” of doing things.

Michael Silverman’s musical success involves his ability to shift paradigms and his willingness to think “out-of-the-box.” He and his brother Rob, who is also Michael’s musical partner, stumbled into a “stream” of luck when they started distributing their music via online streaming services about a decade ago. Michael is a pianist and composer who, along with his brother, created the very successful touring band known as Bach to the Future, a fusion of well known classical tunes with jazz, rock and world rhythms. His new age and fusion recordings have found their way into the soundtracks of TV shows like “Two and a Half Men,” “The Good Wife,” HBO’s “The Leftovers” and “American Horror Story: Asylum.” There are also countless commercials.

Rob and Mike Silverman
Rob (left) and Mike Silverman, impresarios of the U. City and Chesterfield Jazz festivals.

The brothers have over 800 albums of music currently available on all of the major music streaming services, including Pandora and Spotify. Michael and Rob have also become organizers and promoters for several large annual events like the Chesterfield Wine Festival, the U City Jazz Festival, the Winter Jazz Festival at Grand Center, and they provide sponsorship for several other local festivals as well.

As if that wasn’t enough to keep the duo busy, Michael purchased the legendary Clayton Studios from Dick Ulett a few years back.

A musician myself, I was fascinated to learn the secrets that Michael knew about digital music distribution and his experiences with marketing his many projects. He had posted a comment on Facebook that caught my eye, about developing a meet-up place for artists of all types, painters, musicians, photographers, dancers, etc., who would convene on a regular basis to network and brainstorm with each other about the arts, marketing and collaboration.


Val: So, whatever became of the idea to unite artists for a coalition?

Michael: I’ve done a few things. As a starting point one night we did a “Jazz Career Night.” It was a free get together. I showed them things that I knew would be the obvious next step for a lot of people. I showed them how to distribute online and some of the other basic things an artist needs. You should have a CD, a video, a promotional picture, you should have a website, and probably a Facebook presence. That’s just a starting point.

If you want to be a touring artist, you need a technical rider. You need to have some other things like a bio that they can use in promotional materials for your upcoming concert. You need a stage plot. Once you have those things in place, when opportunity knocks you could actually go out and play a tour, or travel and play some big theaters. If you don’t have those things,theaters don’t know what to do with you. They don’t want to teach you how to do it.

I chose “Jazz” Career Night because I didn’t know if I could talk to everyone who was doing hip-hop and pop and reggae … I didn’t know … so I said let’s just start with the jazz musicians, but it turns out that it’s pretty much true across the board.

Another message I’m trying to get across to people is everyone thinks that streaming is the death of music, when it’s actually the best thing that ever happened for musicians. It’s an uphill battle to explain that to musicians, because they’re all sure that I’m wrong, but I’m sure that I’m right, because I make a living with streaming music. They just aren’t getting it that, sure you only get a fraction of a cent per play, but an album has a lot of plays on it. A person will often loop an album and you get paid forever for those listens.

Instead of selling an album and getting an initial splash and then those people own the record and listen to it whenever they want for the next 30 years, you keep getting tiny bits of money forever and ever for your recording, so that’s a good thing. It may not seem like you’re getting much, but people will keep listening and over time you’ll get paid forever.

When you started streaming, how long did it take to start seeing real revenue coming in?

Streaming has only become popular in the last three or four years. When the iPod came into being they opened the iTunes store and that was the first time 99 cent downloads were a thing, and Napster was over.

We didn’t really catch on to it for a while. We released some jazz fusion records that didn’t sell, because that’s what we really love. I also like to play solo piano music and that turns out to be more popular than jazz fusion. About 2007 we got into recording solo piano music and new age and relaxing titles, yoga music and so on.

At Christmas time, my Christmas records make a little bit every year, even the ones that I did ten years ago. It just builds up, like a little mountain slowly, cause the old titles are working and you record something new and it just sort of adds a tiny bit, and over time it becomes a living. Then you have more time to record and that’s when it kind of snowballs.

When I switched to streaming, I thought “this is probably over,” because how do you go from 99 cent downloads to a half cent a stream or less? It turned out very quickly that it was slightly more. Now that there are a lot more people streaming, it’s actually a lot more.  People are willing to discover music that they aren’t familiar with because they’re not paying anything. Very much like the way you’ll watch movies on Netflix that you wouldn’t have watched before. You wouldn’t have spent money on documentaries for instance. Suddenly documentaries are huge on Netflix.

Can you share some of your experiences and insights from being a festival promoter?

Music festivals are very popular and you can expose a lot of local artists to a lot of people very quickly. People won’t go and see your band on a Thursday night at a club downtown, maybe there’s a $5 cover or it’s hard to park. There are barriers to people coming to hear you.

We have wine and jazz festivals. Even if you aren’t there for the music, you have wine! The wine really brings most of the people, and then you get bands with 8000 listeners rather than 40. All of those local artists are getting a lot more exposure and having a great time, and all of the people that are there think it’s great.

So you have a free festival, lots of people come, and then you just call banks and people who want to sponsor that and want all of those eyeballs. They just want to put their name on the stage and it pays for everything. All of the biggest events in town, they’re always free, and that’s why.

Whatever you want to do in the arts, you have to think clearly about what people want and how people really operate, instead of just being a pure artist that is hoping people will discover you. You should make music or make art that is purely for your own enjoyment … the act of creation … but realistically, everybody that has ever made a living is trying to appeal to an audience. You have to think about how is the audience taking it in, how are they consuming music? You need to pay attention to that.

It’s addictive actually, to talk about this stuff, because a lot of musicians get excited, and when you have something to say that musicians are excited about hearing, you can’t wait to say it again.

Can you gIve us an idea of what your family was like and your introduction to music?

My father was in the Saint Louis Symphony until about ten years ago. A cellist. He did 42 years there, so I grew up around the Symphony. My mother also played cello, but not in the Symphony, and she played and taught piano for many years. They met because they had the same cello teacher as teenagers, and then they met again in college and eventually got married.

She had no interest in performing. She didn’t even particularly like being in the Symphony Hall, that was just sort of boring to her. She really hated to sit in there, but she loved music of course.

My brother and I, and my mother, all taught at Baton Music in the Loop back in the 1980s. I was a teenager and my brother was maybe 22 when we started. My mother was teaching there since we were kids. She did that for a long time, then she got tired of teaching music and started teaching GED up at the jail. She taught my daughter how to play cello.

I don’t play cello. My father scared us away from the cello. He made it seem too serious, too hard, too daunting to become cellists, but the piano is easy to bang on. My brother and I would make up things on the piano for years together. Lately we’ve been doing that in our show, my brother will come off of the drums and we’ll play something together and it gets pretty wild.

Was your mother your first piano teacher?

I guess so, but my brother (Rob) was probably the most important piano teacher. He’s four years older … he’s 50 and I’m 46. He figured out how to improvise with the blues scale, so he taught me how to do that and it was sort of the beginning of the craziness. We started playing duets and things when I was around six or seven.

Our biggest influence as kids was the band Rush. I had the Rush album “2112” and that’s the only album I listened to for many years. I was fascinated with science fiction, especially as a kid, so it was sort of a science fiction/progressive rock thing. It was a great influence for me.

What is it about Rush’s music that really grabs you?

I think that it’s really the drums. Neal Peart as a drummer. We learned everything about everything (from him). We learned odd time signatures! The other thing about him is, he is the only drummer I have ever heard that is a compositional drummer. You’ve probably seen people do air drums to Rush songs? They don’t do it to any other band ever!

We learned everything he did, and how he developed grooves throughout the song, how he developed them and built it up into solos at the end. That’s still how we think about music now. When we play with our group Bach to the Future, we take Bach tunes and turn them into Rush. Rob develops parts like Neal Peart and does it over classical music, and then we’ll do it in 7/8!

At some point I got a (Rush) book and it had the chords, that’s how I learned chords … from Rush tunes.

I was around music a lot. My neighborhood in U. City was highly unusual too, everybody played music and pretty much everyone played drums, but also played trumpet or piano or something like that. U. City was quite a place to grow up, and it was full of Symphony musicians! All of the Symphony kids lived there, so the level of musicianship was pretty high. Jeremy Davenport was in our age range and went to school with us. Peter Martin. Neal Caine who was with Harry Connick Jr.’s band, Chris Thomas who plays with Brian Blade … a whole lot of guys. It’s unbelievable how many people came out of there.

I played drums all the way through school because Rob had drums everywhere and I’d just learn what Rob was teaching me.

How does a drummer turn into a pianist?

Rob and I would bang on the piano, but he was really serious about drums. I think I chose the piano because we couldn’t play drums in the same band. When he was 19 and worked at Burger King he saved up his minimum wage money and bought me a keyboard to play in his band. He would always drag me along, so that was good. He’s really my biggest musical influence.

I went to a little bit of college and then I met my teacher at Forest Park Community College … my jazz teacher. Then I stopped going to school and would just take private lessons with him. I was playing so many gigs and things, I just stopped going.

Whenever I had a real strict teacher, I’d just quit. I don’t take direction well, but I have a good ear and I just kept figuring things out. If I had to I’d get a book out and I’d struggle through reading (the musical notation). I have a good sense of music theory. When I heard it, I could figure it out and I could understand it. I was always examining and breaking it down and being analytical about music.

These days you can learn from YouTube! Good lord! The things I’m learning now! I wanted to learn some gospel chords so I just typed in “Gospel Piano Chord.” When people tell me today that their kid is like I was, and say “We don’t want any strict teachers, he’s figuring it out,” I say just go to YouTube. Youtube will teach you so much more … you can rewind! If you don’t want to listen to that lesson, go to a different lesson. I think that’s where college is headed too.

My kids have so much access … my son has taught himself to draw magnificently … from YouTube. He’s eight years old and he just looks up how to draw whatever cartoon character, and there’s a very careful tutorial and an explanation by a real artist about these techniques, and he’s doing it, and he’s great at it! Now he’s into trampolining. There’s a tutorial for everything now. We had nothing!

Since Rob was older, did he go “pro” first?

Yes, he joined a Greek band when he was 15 and he learned how to play in 7/8  and 9/8 and all the odd little rhythms and timings. He learned a lot from that group. He really learned some very complex things and they really let him show off the whole time. He’s a real ham, so he developed his personality in that group too. We still do a lot of Middle Eastern rhythms, I think because of that.

How much time do you spend with your hands on the piano keys each day?

I hardly ever sit and play for long periods. I keep the piano in the living room at home and I’ll wander by and play for five minutes, probably eight or ten times a day.

When I got into writing jingles, 30 second commercials and things, that’s when I really learned about short term efficiency. There’s a reason that commercials are short. The music has to be succinct at the start, do it’s thing and … done!

How did you get into writing jingles?

One of my piano students, his parents made commercials. They asked me to write music for some hospital commercials. I had also been writing music for Six Flags for their onstage shows when I was in my early twenties, so I did everything. With a keyboard you can do so many things, you can sound like so many things. If someone needs a little piece of big band music, you can fake it. If you want some jazz or some rock or whatever, reggae and Caribbean music, you can do it all on the keyboard. Drum machines and bass lines … you could mock up anything. I had lots of weird opportunities that came up and I would do any kind of music. That helped me a lot to learn all of the styles.

I idolized Jay Oliver. Jay left St. Louis and went to L.A. and became a big shot in jazz, but he also did a lot of production. I remember, way back, the website JayOliver.com. It had a quote that said “Learn everything! Learn every style of music you can, learn about production, about arranging, learn about recording, just learn everything.” Don’t limit yourself. I was in my mid-20s, but that was a really influential website.

I started coming in here (Clayton Studios) to do jingles, like 20 years ago. It was always very exciting to come into this studio … this is St. Louis’ oldest studio. I liked the people who were working here. Dick Ulett, the owner, he decided to sell it and thought I’d be a good fit, so here I am.

What is your tie to WSIE? Does it still exist?

It doesn’t anymore, because they switched formats. They were purely jazz and now they’re … not. Dick Ulett, who owned this studio, was the program director until last summer, but we used to do a radio show together. We’ve revamped a lot of the shows, and we’re still playing them on the classical station about once a month. It’s kind of nice because we still have a show, but we don’t have to do any work. We’ll dig up an old one, re-edit it and put it out.

I’m trying to figure out if I can be involved in having a jazz station. I’d like to have a small one, a small radio station that maybe only covers a few blocks, but I’d like it to be a physical, terrestrial station, and then be an internet station.

I don’t just generally listen to whatever all the time, I dial in what I want to hear because (musicians) have very specific interests in music. For a lot of people, they don’t really know what it is that they want to hear. They’ll think “I’m in the mood for jazz,” and that’s why I think the jazz festivals are popular. They don’t seem to care much who’s in it. Jazz musicians will go “Oh wow! The Wooten’s are coming!,”  but most people think if it’s quality jazz they’ll listen to local players just as much as they’ll listen to Wynton Marsalis, or whatever. That’s why Pandora is popular because people don’t really know what they want. They’ll think “I like Bob Dylan, I’ll put on a Bob Dylan station,” and that’s really worked. I don’t listen to it because it drives me crazy. It’s never the right song coming on next.

I have had to learn to think about how non-musicians think.

The other thing is that a lot of us, we’re working on stuff that takes incredible chops. Whether it’s a classical fancy piece, or a big scatting thing that’s really complex, that’s what we think is cool. Most people, they might enjoy it for a minute, but they don’t go home and listen to that. Virtuosity is still cool, especially live, but they’re not listening to it at home. People listen mostly to ballads and music they can chill out to.

How did you make the transition to New Age music?

My mother had a George Winston record when I was a teenager, and she would play that album “December,” it was very popular. I could understand it and once I started to do it, I got hooked on it. As far as our jazz fusion band, really I always think of it as Rob’s personality. Rob is really sort of hammy and a show-off, but that’s not my thing. I enjoy playing frantic music, especially with him, but the other side of my musical personality is really mellow.

The solo piano thing … I’ll play with as much space and as light as I can and that seems to be where I get the biggest audience. George Winston led me to another pianist named Philip Aaberg and others. There’s actually a very big world of chilled piano music that people don’t know.

Musicians will think, “Well Coltrane isn’t getting a lot of listens,” but if he’s on an album called “50 Best Jazz Songs of All Time,” he is, because people are not going to connect deeply with each player the way that you and I do. They just like jazz, and they like chill-out jazz, and they want to mellow out to jazz, but they may not be paying attention to who’s playing on the radio, or on Pandora particularly. We have to think in those terms that they do like the style, they just don’t really know the artist. They may not ever really figure out that they’re listening to Charlie Parker in their whole lives. They’ll think, “Oh, I like that one,” and then they never even figure out who it is or care again. If they hear it again they’ll think, ‘Yeah, that’s the kind of thing I like.”

It’s a very surface thing, but it’s the same way that I like Monet. I think I like art, but I don’t know anything about it. I like wine. I don’t know anything about wine, I’ll say “I like sweet wine! What’s the sweetest one you’ve got? Oh, and it’s pink … I’ll take it!”

If the audience is essentially not paying close attention, are you able to get a following?

Yes. I have developed a real following, which is nice. We’re streaming over 3 million tracks a day, but a lot of it is on compilations. If only a half a percent of those people ever looked me up, that’s tens of thousands of people who have looked me up every day. My brother does a lot of solo drum music, but really the vast majority is solo piano music. We also have Caribbean music and all kinds of things in our catalog. We have a thing called “Christmas Rocks,” which is like a heavy metal guitarist playing Christmas tunes.

When I started streaming in 2007 and it started to work, I thought I have to figure out how to dedicate more time to this. Jingles never paid all of the bills, so I had to keep teaching for 20 years and I had really had enough. I was teaching 7 days a week, 50 students a  week, mostly kids.

I figured out how to put out a record every week, and then I was putting out records every two days for a while. You just play, you record it and then you release it and it’s done and you go on to the next thing. I would keep a list of things that I wanted to record, whole albums of stuff. Jewish piano music. American folk songs … patriotic music. Then I started doing compilations, and that’s when it really took off. I have an album called “Thanksgiving,” it’s always in the top 2 or 3 on Thanksgiving Day on the New Age chart. For a day and a half it gets massive sales every year from I guess around 2009 till now. Sometimes it’s #1. It’s really just a compilation of music that would be nice background music for Thanksgiving, but there it is … every year I get a little paycheck from that.

Do you produce anything that you have to pay royalties for, or is it all original?

Not much. At first it was all public domain or original music. I did a lot of classical favorites, which is weird because I didn’t grow up learning classical music, but as a piano teacher I learned all of the classics. I would just learn it with the kids and then I would have a repertoire, but I didn’t study it with any seriousness.

I don’t ever play any of them straight for the most part. I just do my own version of it, and then that’s kind of cool because then people want the sheet music of my version, so I have a sheet music store (online). I sell a few pieces a day, it’s nothing big, but that tells me that I have a fan base. I only have 40 pieces of music up, but I plan to have hundreds soon because people just keep asking for different titles.

I was saying the other day on Facebook that people should do cover songs. We did “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” because we always loved that music and we’ve been playing it every year for some event or another. The thing that really made us finally do it was that we play with this sax player, Eric Marienthal. We thought wouldn’t it be great if we did “Charlie Brown” and got Eric to play sax on it? So, we did the trio stuff here, leaving space for him, and he just filled it in (at his own home studio). It sounded like he was right here with us the whole time. I had to pay royalties on that, and that’s actually cheap. There’s nothing to it, it’s just a little bit of paperwork.

Do you pay royalties for pressings (physical CDs,) or just streaming (online)?

I hardly do any pressings. Once in awhile I’ll make a box of CDs of something, but of those 800 albums we’ve done, I bet we’ve done less than 20 of them as physical CDs. It’s all online.

That’s what I mean, you can release an album and … it’s an album! You don’t even have to think about it again. It’ll make money or it won’t. It’ll find an audience or it won’t, but move on to the next one. That’s how we operate.

Why aren’t you teaching? This info is amazing.

I want to do that, I want to talk about music marketing stuff. I don’t have any marketing background or anything, but I wrote a little e-book called “Music Marketing in the New Music Economy.” It’s 99 cents and 35 pages and it’s just all of the basic ideas that I talk about all of the time.

Now that we have (Clayton Studios) one of our goals is to not just be a recording studio, but have it be a place where artists can get all kinds of information. Also to help them get their music online, since some people just can’t seem to get from here to there. For $200 you can bring your CD in and we’ll put it in all of the (online) music stores for you. If they don’t have cover art, we can help hook you up with somebody who can make cover art. We hope to offer website services too, like basic websites, it doesn’t take much but many musicians don’t know where to begin. They don’t have a big budget and they think it’s too expensive.

A one page website with a little description and a picture and a link to a CD, contact information, maybe a YouTube video link all on one page. It doesn’t take long to put together and can be really useful. It’s the new business card. You don’t even need to have your gig calendar on there, send people to your Facebook page.

You have had your recordings used for HBO’s drama series “The Leftovers,” and your “Carol of the Bells” was prominently featured in the FX series “American Horror Story: Asylum.” How did you make that happen?

Music production supervisors will go look online and find music that they want to use. If you have a lot of music out there, you’re probably gonna end up being in some things. I get a lot of what are called “sync licensing,” which is great. They’ll say “can we use your music?,”’ and I’ll say “yes.”

Tunecore is the online distributor that I use, and they handle it all for you. They have a thing called Tunecore Publishing Administration, and for $50 you’re signed up forever. I did that and it’s paid off, so well. I’ve had so much of my music synced and they negotiate it all and I get quarterly checks from that. It’s really cool.

For “The Leftovers” I think it was a classical thing that I did. It wasn’t even an original piece, but I get a lot of my classical things placed in things. The Bach Air (“Bach on a G String”) was in “The Good Wife,” and my recording of “Fur Elise” has been in a lot of things. With “American Horror Story,” they basically scored a whole episode with my “Carol of the Bells.”

Did you know anything about the end product before you sat down and watched those episodes?

No, and they also don’t even guarantee that they’ll use it. They’ll make the whole deal, but they don’t guarantee anything. (My music) was going to be in the new “Despicable Me” movie and I was all excited about that one … but they couldn’t guarantee it. They kept saying “Yeah, it’s in there, it’s in there,” and then it came out and it wasn’t in there. They didn’t have to pay.

There are surprises too, like I won’t find out until something comes out. My brother got one in a Martin Scorsese movie called “Silence” that came out last December. They used two pieces, two solo drum things that he did. We didn’t know until I just happened to look on IMDb for my brother and I saw that the movie had just literally come out like that week! I hardly ever look at this thing, but I just looked him up to see if there were any credits and there it was, a Martin Scorsese movie. I was pretty psyched! And (Rob) was in a Ken Burns documentary, so he gets a lot of placement too. The funny thing is, his music was used in “The Leftovers,” his drum pieces were in there, and then the next season my music was in it.

Do you ever hear your music playing anywhere while you’re out?

I’ve had some funny experiences like that. Last year I was in Florida on the beach. We’re walking back into the hotel and there was a beach wedding. They were walking down the aisle, on the sand, and my “Canon in D Major” was playing. My kids were thrilled! I hear my stuff in commercials sometimes. There’s one in a Booking.com commercial, so yeah, it does happen.

I was in San Francisco and turned on PBS Kids and they were playing some of my music between shows on a PBS Kids promotion. It was funny, because I knew at the time that they hadn’t paid me. The other thing that I find surreal is that if I look my name up online there are people doing tutorials on how to play my original tunes.

Did you and Rob used to tour a lot?

We really only had one really big year … in 2013 we went all over with Bach to the Future. We did like it, but everybody in the band has young kids, so that got us forming big events in St. Louis. We figured if we have festivals in St. Louis we wouldn’t have to travel.

At the time we thought the only way we could get a big crowd is if you can leave town and go to another city, it’s their only chance to see you, so they’ll show up. And every city thinks that their city doesn’t support music because people won’t come out to see your band over and over, but the math doesn’t work out. If you had 500 people at your concert and you play every week, what do you have to have? Like 25,000 local fans spread out over the year? That’s just not gonna happen. It’s not that your city doesn’t support you, it’s just that they can see you anytime.

We love playing in little small towns where, when you get there, there’s like posters of your band in the windows of the stores. Sometimes it’s on a billboard. It’s really amazing. You don’t have to be U2 to get that kind of reception in these small towns. You’re the big deal of the day in the whole city.

We don’t go to Chicago … we’ve never played in Chicago or New York. We played once in New York as a showcase. You should go to the small towns, they’re so happy to see you.

Are you doing any touring these days?

We just do little one-off things. Mostly things we can drive to because we have weird instruments that are hard to transport. There’s lots of theatres within two or three or four hours from here … all over Missouri and Illinois and Iowa. We’ll drive out somewhere, do a concert, and then also we’re getting ourselves into more jazz festivals. We’ll fly out for those because they’re fun, they’re worth it. I love jazz festivals!

We played at Clearwater Jazz Fest. That was a thrill. We opened for The Commodores. (The jazz festivals) are not all jazz anymore.

About Bach

I grew up listening to Bach. My father is really classical. He really likes Bach and Beethoven and Mozart. I thought it was really interesting for our band, because Bach’s music isn’t … when you think of most music it’s chord changes with a melody. Bach’s music is fugal, which means two or more parts (playing simultaneously,) individual parts. When we had our trio and were playing the jazz fusion stuff, the bass parts weren’t always just bass parts. They were counterpoint lines a lot of the time. So we thought it would be cool to work out these two complex lines, but there’s no chord.

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We realized we could do a whole album of just Bach’s music, and then we came up with the name Bach to the Future, it was just a laugh, and became immediately sort of popular. Everywhere we went with that we’d hear, ‘Oh, that’s great! We’d love to have that.’ So, it was really an easy thing to book, it was a lot of fun.

I don’t really like to perform solo piano in concert. I get bored being all by myself on-stage, so I like to have this group. It’s with my brother, and the bass player we grew up with since I was four years old. We just grew up on the same street and he just kind of understands us, so that trio has been playing music for all these years.

I think it’s kind of exciting live, but it doesn’t sell well on the internet. Live music is different than recorded music. Musicians have to understand that if they want to do well. Smooth jazz is a perfect example.

If you listen to a smooth jazz radio station it’ll put you to sleep. Go see any of those artists live and they will blow your mind. They know that they have to make a certain kind of record that fits in the smooth jazz, chill out background. They can’t do the exciting stuff on the radio. It just needs to be kind of a groove, kind of simple. That’s what people listen to at home, but on stage if you do that, they’ll be bored. They’re not there to chill out. They’re there to hear some exciting music, so what you get are fantastic musicians doing concert tours, but they know that when they make a record that it will not fly, so they make a completely different thing for the radio. It’s a totally different experience listening to them on record compared to listening to them in concert.

The most popular jazz record of all time is “Kind of Blue,” by Miles Davis. It was so chill, but he didn’t play like that in concert. He went completely to the moon, you know? So, I guess it has been like that for a long time.


Approximately one week after conducting this interview with Michael, my husband and I took a short trip to Arcola, Illinois to do some antiquing. Shop after shop had soft piano music playing in the background. Public domain Christmas Carols, sometimes with a mellow jazz edge to them. Was it Michael? I don’t know for sure, but it definitely proved the point that he is in tune with popular culture in a way that most of us are not.

For more information about Michael Silverman, visit www.michaelsilvermanpiano.com.

Santa’s Magical Kingdom: The Ultimate Light Show

For nearly three decades, Santa’s Magical Kingdom has been a top wintertime attraction in far West County. Located on 35 acres near Six Flags in Eureka, more than four million lights and dozens of animated characters dazzle and delight thousands of visitors each year.

From April to October, the property operates as Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park, a family-friendly and award-winning resort offering a “back-to-nature vacation,” with amenities including a pool, free wifi, train rides, miniature golf and a chance for kids to interact with Yogi himself.

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Scott and Kathy Jones bought Jellystone Park in 1989 and admit they knew absolutely nothing about working in the hospitality industry or running a campground. Their sole intent was to find a space large enough to provide an annual Christmas light show each season.

Scott recalled that when he was young his family would travel to downtown St. Louis each year on Thanksgiving Day to view the Christmas lights and decorated storefronts. His dream was to provide families with a similar experience in the county, but on a much grander scale. Jellystone was just the right size and the campground would produce revenue during the Spring, Summer and Fall months.

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Driving through 2.5 miles of glistening forest, visitors will encounter several light tunnels and fountains, life size cartoon characters, Elf Land, Santa’s workshop and much more. For a more adventurous experience, visitors can board the wagon at Kringle’s Store and take an open-air ride through the shimmering wonderland. Blankets are provided.

Planning for the light show each year begins in February. Kathy points out, “Everything we do is 100% designed for us,” and the design team continually strives to incorporate new ideas and technologies in their presentation. In August the decorating begins and by mid-November the show is in full operation. It takes 8-10 weeks around the clock to get everything assembled, and about the same amount of time to take it all down. Kathy discloses, “We’re lucky to get open by April 1st for campers!”

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The first year that Santa’s Magical Kingdom opened, the region experienced one of the worst ice storms on record. The hilly terrain of the park was impassable for a good chunk of their season, but they were open long enough for the attraction to become a big hit. Now, 28 years later, Kathy reports that these early visitors are now returning each year with their own children and grandchildren in tow.

On their busiest nights there are approximately 50 crew members on-site to help run the show. Kathy advises, “I think it’s honest to God passion with which this is done. This is done because we really care about doing something wholesome for families.”

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That said, the couple puts a lot of effort into serving local charities by providing contributions and offering free admission to underprivileged children and families. This year’s efforts will benefit the BackStoppers, Variety the Children’s Charity of St. Louis and the St. Louis Area Foodbank. As in past years, visitors who bring a toy for donation, Mondays thru Thursdays, will receive $5 off of their admission.

Santa’s Magical Kingdom is open every night through January 7, including Christmas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Hours of operation are from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. most days, and open until 11:00 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

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General admission, per carload, is $22, with larger size vehicles like limos and buses costing up to $30. Private wagon rides are also available and require advance booking.

For more information, visit santasmagicalkingdom.com.

Schlafly Bottleworks Hosts Three Stooges Nights

Why would a hip, bespoke brewery like Schlafly Bottleworks host a Three Stooges Night once a month? Because we love them, that’s why!

I realize that Three Stooges fandom is a much divided enterprise. You either love them or you hate them.  So, there’s a chance that you might already be not reading this. But, if you’ve not already tuned out, you might find there is much more to the story of the three knucklehead, slap stickers than you had thought. I promise intrigue, alcoholism, Nazis, brain damage, beating deaths, acid burns, brotherhood and nice Jewish boys who made a business of poking each other in the eyes.

The four main Three Stooges (I know that’s confusing, but we’ll sort it out) were born nice Jewish boys. Three were brothers: Samuel (Shemp), Moses (Moe) and Jerome (Curly) Horwitz. They were born in Brooklyn, New York in 1895, 1897 and 1903, respectively. The fourth, and with Moe the most consistent Stooge constituent, was born Louis Feinberg (Larry) in south Philadelphia in 1902.

In the later years the group also included Curly Joe DeRita and Joe Besser (born in St. Louis!!), but in general they are thought of as lesser Stooges by fans. Both were added to the group in the ‘50s to replace Curly, who by that time had been damaged by the constant beating he took from the not-as-fake-as-they-look blows to the head that was part of the Stooges’ trademark.

Shemp and Moe, having no love or money for college, entered trade school, Shemp for plumbing (no wonder there were so many plumbing skits!) and Moe to be an electrician. Neither found the trades very exciting because they had their eyes on performing and vaudeville.

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In 1916, at the ages of 21 and 19, Shemp and Moe first put together a stage act and changed their last name to Howard. They kept at it until 1922 when they met a former schoolmate and successful vaudevillian, Ted Healy. Owing to Healy’s bossy nature (and severe alcoholism, we’ll get to that later), the trio was not yet known as The Three Stooges, but was billed as Ted Healy and His Stooges.

Cut to Louis Feinberg, or as we know him, Larry. Larry was son of a jeweler and, at the age of four, he was bringing a bottle of acid, used to test gold content, to his lips, thinking it was a beverage. His father noticed it and knocked the bottle away, but the acid fell on the boy’s arm, burning through his muscles all the way to the bone. The arm was skin grafted but was left weakened. Doctors suggested he take up boxing and he did, but his parents weren’t keen on it and also got him to take up violin. He excelled at both. Larry made money as a lightweight boxer and did well for himself but his violin led to him play with the Philadelphia Philharmonic at age 9. There was talk of sending the young man to a European music conservatory, but those plans were preempted by World War I.

Larry, who had changed his last name to Fine, took to vaudeville and was the master of ceremonies at Chicago’s Rainbo Gardens when he met Ted Healy and Shemp Fine, touring in the Shubert Brothers’ “Night in Spain,” in March 1928. Shemp was set to leave the production for a while and Larry was asked to take his place until Shemp’s return in September. Healy liked what he saw and when he signed a contract to perform in the Shubert’s new revue, “A Night in Venice,” in early 1929, he brought Shemp, Moe and Larry together for the first time, billed as the Three Stooges. The revue ran through the spring of 1930 and then the quartet toured as Ted Healy and his Racketeers for a while, culminating that summer with a trip to Hollywood to film “Soup to Nuts” for Fox Studios.

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The movie was not a hit. Healy, who might have looked okay under stage lighting and from a distance, was not a prime candidate for the movies. Plus, his comedy relied largely on ad libs and improvisation and he wasn’t seen as “Hollywood material.” On the other hand, studio executives saw something in the other three and only they were offered contracts.

Healy exploded. He told the executives that Howard, Howard and Fine were his employees and that he already had them under contract. The offer was rescinded. The trio broke away from Healy after hearing of his actions and he forbade them from using any of the material, considering it copyrighted. Healy even threatened to bomb theaters that the Stooges might dare to play.

I did mention that Healy was a volatile drunk, didn’t I?

Amazingly, a couple of years later, in 1932, Healy managed to patch things up with the boys and they began working together once more. But it didn’t last. Shemp was a nervous sort and Healy’s penchant for violence and his turn-on-a-dime personality, both fueled by prodigious quantities of alcohol, sent Shemp off on a solo career. The oldest Howard brother was gone, but went on to have a solid career in movies and shorts.

Moe suggested that his baby brother Jerome be considered as Shemp’s replacement. Jerome showed up for his meeting with Healy with long, curly hair and a handlebar mustache and Healy immediately pronounced him “not funny,” probably having something to do with a weapons-grade hangover. It has been reported that neither Moe nor Larry really felt that Jerry had any comic talent either but, you know, he was family. Shemp, however, either felt differently or just really, really wanted out of the group so, at his suggestion, a freshly-shaved Jerry stuffed himself into a too-small bathing suit and, carrying a tiny pail of water, burst in on a Stooges act on stage. The result was hilarious and Curly was born.

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The Stooges with Ted Healy in 1934, three years before his murder.

Healy put together a one year contract with MGM and the group shot some shorts and a couple of full-length movies but, in 1934, the contract was not renewed and the men went their separate ways.

Let’s talk a minute about Ted Healy. Look, the guy was very successful. He influenced Bob Hope, Red Skelton and Milton Berle, by their admission. But he was the definition of his own worst enemy. Not only was he drunk most of the time (and violent and explosive and mean), he was also stupid. He insulted Lucky Luciano’s heritage. He tried to rob Al Capone’s safe as a gag. He had an affair with Pasquale DiCicco’s wife, Thelma Todd, and DiCicco was Luciano’s eyes-and-ears man in Hollywood.

Todd ended up very dead in 1935, ruled a suicide but always thought to be the work of hubby DiCicco. Healy thought maybe he ought to lay off the actresses and he married a UCLA student, surely many years his junior (it’s been going on forever, hasn’t it?). But he did not lay off the booze. Nor did he stop acting like an ass. A couple of years after Todd’s death Healy was out celebrating the birth of his first child, already knee-walking drunk, when he ran into Mr. DiCicco, along with a young Wallace Beery.

Did Healy behave himself?

No.

He started a fight with Beery and then suggested they “take it outside.” They did. Beery and DiCicco beat and kicked Healy with savagery. Healy fell into a coma and died the next day. An autopsy, no doubt supported by Mr. DiCicco, reported that Healy had died of acute alcoholism. While his organs surely would have been ravaged by his drinking, the report left out a lot about the trauma associated with being pummeled to a pulp in an alley. Healy’s wife, and a new mother, complained about the lack of investigation. She was fired from the MGM contract player job she had landed and never worked in Hollywood again. Wallace Beery took a three month vacation in Europe.

By this time, the Three Stooges had been under contract for three years with another Hollywood sociopath, Harry Cohn, of Columbia Studios. They had made a couple of dozen shorts and five features for Columbia and their shtick of pie fights and violence had formed and taken root. In a town as insular and gossipy as Hollywood, it’s possible, maybe even probable, that the trio knew what had really happened to their former partner but it would have been bad juju indeed to have let on or demand further inquiry.

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The Stooges made 190 shorts for Columbia in their 23 years there. Their two-reel shorts became so popular that Cohn used them as leverage against movie theaters. He would not send the Stooges shorts they desired unless they agreed to play them before a great number of their not-so-great B movie features. But Cohn successfully held this information from the boys, granting them only one year contracts throughout their time there, telling them the market was dying for their humor and only renegotiating at the last minute. Moe, the group’s business manager, didn’t learn of Cohn’s con until they stopped making the shorts in 1957, learning only then of the millions of dollars that had been left on the table.

The Stooges were required by Columbia to make up to eight shorts per year in a 40 week period. The remaining time could be spent on their own or, often, touring to promote their act. The years from 1934 to 1941 were considered their prime and the shorts left few premises unturned. “Hoi Polloi,” in 1935, had a Pygmalion theme (with the boys attempting education).  Also in 1935, “Three Little Beers” depicted the boys doing their worst to a golf course. In “Disorder in the Court” the trio was cast as witnesses to a murder trial. In one of their most famous works, in 1940, the group became plumbers and nearly demolished a socialite’s mansion in “A Plumbing We Will Go.”

Then, in 1940 and 1941, respectively, the Stooges starred in two shorts that are among the favorites of aficionados and the Stooges themselves: “You Natzy Spy!” and “I’ll Never Heil Again.” Mind you, these productions were made while America was still neutral in the conflict already going on in Europe.

In “I’ll Never Heil Again” Moe played Moe Hailstone, patterned on Adolf Hitler, Larry played an ambassador ala Joachim von Ribbentrop and Curly played a character very similar to Hermann Göring. Hitler was not impressed and he put them on his personal death list. So that’s fun.

All of this started months before Charlie Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator.”  (Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!)

The group produced a great many works during the war years, including one poking fun at Japan, “The Yoke’s On Me,” in 1944. But it seemed that, with a limited formula, the boys and their directors were trying to outdo themselves. Production costs rose, more scenes were shot on location and more violence was worked in. The productions became viewed as lesser works, especially after 1942, but the increased violence brought about a more ominous result.

Curly, the hulking man child, had an inherent innocence stuffed, like his body, into a too-tight suit. Audiences ate him up like theater candy. The formula for the Stooges’ comedy became heavily reliant on Curly, and on physical abuse directed at him. Curly was very conscious about his head being shaved, now an absolute requirement for his character, and he felt it kept women from liking him. He began to drink and eat heavily and his weight ballooned, starting in the ‘40s. The constant violence the act required, in addition to his hard living, took a toll.

Curly’s performances began to suffer. His hands shook; he had trouble delivering and remembering lines; his blood pressure soared and he suffered a series of cerebral hemorrhages. The 1945 short, “If a Body Meet a Body,” shows Curly visibly debilitated. Curly continued to make shorts through 1947 but he suffered a stroke during “Half-Wit’s Holiday” that ended his career. He did manage a part in 1949’s “Malice in the Palace” as a chef, the only short to feature all four Stooges.

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A much thinner, mustachioed Curly as a chef in “Malice in the Palace,” from 1949.

With Curly unable to continue, Moe turned to his older brother, Shemp, and asked him to rejoin the group. Shemp was hesitant, having built a nice career of his own, but he knew that refusal would probably mean the end for his brother’s act. At the time, they believed that Curly’s ailments were temporary and that Shemp’s reunion would only be until Curly could return.

Curly, however, did not improve and comedian Buddy Hackett was approached to join. Hackett refused and Shemp signed on for a longer term. In 1952, Curly passed away of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Shemp made 76 shorts and one feature with the Stooges after his return. Larry, often a background character during Curly’s heyday, became more featured, even becoming the focus on “Fuelin’ Around” and “He Cooked His Goose.”  I liked those a great deal.

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The “Shemp years” also held another distinction: the Stooges invaded television, appearing on shows by Milton Berle, Morey Amsterdam, Ed Wynn, Kate Smith, Frank Sinatra and Eddie Cantor. But, three years after Curly’s death, in 1955, Shemp passed away, at age 60, from a heart attack.

Moe was devastated and wanted to disband the group but, ever the supportive boss, Cohn reminded him that the studio was owed four more Shemp shorts. Using recycled footage and a Shemp “look-alike,” Joe Palma (filmed only from behind), the group completed the final four owed under that contract, all released in 1956.

BesserA third Stooge was once again needed and Columbia insisted on someone they already had under contract. Joe Besser (our St. Louis boy!) made 16 shorts with the group from 1956 through 1958, the group’s final work under contract with Columbia.

In 1958, Columbia refused to renew the contract and things ended with a whimper. Moe went to the studio at one point to say some goodbyes, but since he didn’t have a current pass, was not allowed entry.  Without a contract, the Stooges thought they would try to make a go of personal appearances but Joe Besser’s wife became ill and he declined the notion of travel.

Moe and Larry were again searching for a third Stooge. Former burlesque performer Joe DeRita was chosen.

But a bit of a windfall was coming. The burgeoning television market was ripe for time-filling shorts and the Stooges work seemed perfect to fit the bill. In January 1958, Screen Gems, the Columbia television subsidiary, offered stations 78 Stooges shorts, most from the Curly era. They were a hit, so 40 more were released. By 1959, all 190 Columbia-produced Three Stooges shorts were available for broadcast.

Suddenly the boys were back in demand. It was suggested that DeRita shave his head in order to look more like Curly from their prime era and he became Curly-Joe. The lineup, billed as  Larry, Moe and Curly-Joe enjoyed a bit of a Renaissance, appearing in six full-feature films from ’59 to ’65 and they became one of the most popular and highest-paid live acts in the country. In addition to appearing on numerous television shows in the ‘60s, they filmed 41 short comedy pieces for “The New Stooges,” an animated series with 156 cartoons, in 1965.

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In 1969-70, the group was working on a series that would depict the Stooges as retired and traveling the world. During production of the pilot episode, Larry Fine suffered a stroke and was paralyzed, ending plans for the series. DeRita made an attempt at forming “The New Three Stooges” but the results were not good and he quietly retired.

Larry suffered more strokes and passed away in January 1975. Moe was diagnosed with lung cancer and also passed away that year.

Seventy years after their prime season, the Three Stooges are still popular. It seems they are still constantly delighting older fans and always managing to draw new ones. They have been a presence on television consistently since 1958. Theaters hold festivals of their work. While they may not have had the sophistication of Charlie Chaplin, or the subtlety of Buster Keaton, they did, as Steve Allen once said, “succeed in accomplishing what they always intended to do: they made people laugh.”

Schlafly Bottleworks, 7260 Southwest Avenue, in Maplewood, hosts “Three Stooges Night” the second Monday of each month from 7-9 pm.  The series is set to continue well into 2018.

Long live the Stooges!

The Nutcracker: Holiday Classic Keeps Dancers On Their Toes

Nothing quite captures the imagination of a child at Christmas-time like a live performance of “The Nutcracker.” This timeless masterpiece is by far the most often performed and most beloved ballet of all time. In addition, the musical orchestrations by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky are arguably some of the most famous symphonic compositions known to the world.

Each December the Dance Center of Kirkwood performs the complete production of “The Nutcracker,” featuring a large cast of 55 incredibly talented dancers who also happen to be teenagers.

At the helm of this annual production is Kathy Massot, director and choreographer, and the owner of the Dance Center of Kirkwood. As a youngster she enrolled in dance classes and became fascinated with ballet, which soon led to her dancing with the St. Louis Civic Ballet.

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Kathy Massot

After high school, Kathy went on to study at the National Academy of Arts in Champaign, Illinois, and performed in their company, the National Ballet of Illinois. A few years later, she made the big leap to New York City where she danced for 11 years with the Leon Faulder Dance Company and the Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians. During her time as a professional dancer, Kathy performed in countless productions all over the United States and Europe.

Like professional athletes, the physical demands on a dancer take their toll and most are forced to retire at an early age due to injuries. Kathy decided she wanted to stop dancing professionally before an injury caused her to miss a performance, and recalls “I felt like I had accomplished everything that I had wanted to accomplish and I felt satisfied. So I thought, it’s a good time to come back home. I always knew when I was done dancing that I was going to come back home. I was home-sick all of the time!”

Upon return to St. Louis, Kathy began teaching at the Dance Center of Kirkwood, and in 1999 bought the studio from the previous owner. It was at that point that she decided to produce her own version of “The Nutcracker” each year with her own students. She relays, “when I was a kid and a dancer, doing ‘The Nutcracker’ gave me such great memories, so I wanted that for my students. They work really hard, but we also have fun.”

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The two hour production is filled with fantastic costumes, colorful props, brilliant scenery, snow and, most importantly, a very large troupe of accomplished ballet dancers. The principal dancers in the roles of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier are Miss Chiao Shih, a teacher at the Dance Center, and Dustin Crumbaugh from the Big Muddy Dance Company. Jonathan White will play the role of Herr Drosselmeyer. The role of Clara will be played by Juliette Schulte and Emma Sandidge, with each girl dancing the lead in two of the four shows.

Kathy discloses, “it’s really cool because (the students) graduate from part to part. As they get better, get more advanced, they get into those tougher roles so they have goals for themselves. They start out probably in one of the younger parts and every year just work their way up the ladder. By the time you’re done, you’ve pretty much done the whole show and every part in it.”

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Conjointly, Kathy is the director of the Dance Concert Society of Kirkwood, a non-profit group that takes short performances of “The Nutcracker” into nursing homes and other facilities for the elderly and disadvantaged. Kathy advises, “We like to provide the community with good quality dance. We like to reach out to Assisted Living and Nursing Homes to get out and tell a story of dance.” She adds, “It’s wonderful to talk to people that live there afterwards. Many of them danced as children and it’s a great way to help brighten their day.”

The Dance Center teaches year-round classes in ballet, tap, modern and jazz. “We teach dancing, but we try to teach other things too,” asserts Kathy. “We try to teach comradery and anti-bullying. We only dress our students appropriately, we only let them dance to music that is appropriate for a child. The movement, the costume … everything. It’s just for kids, not kids trying to look like adults. That’s important to us. (Our studio) is a safe place for kids.”

SugarPlumFairyShe continues, “It’s a great place for them to build confidence, even if they don’t turn out to be a professional dancer, they build confidence, and develop friendships. They learn how to work and be responsible, show up for class, learn their dance and pull their own weight.”

Other public performances for the students throughout the year include recitals, competitions and participation in National Dance Week. In January the group has been invited to perform with a few other companies at the Grandel Theatre in a fundraiser to collect food for people in need.

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The Dance Center of Kirkwood is currently enrolling and is eager to get more kids and adults interested and involved in dancing. “We have summer camps now,” says Kathy, “from the ages of three and through every age group, as well as the older kids who have a week of dance intensives for tap, jazz and modern.”

Continuing, she points out, “Little kids will do camps that may encompass several disciplines like tap, ballet and jazz all in one. For the little people we do a lot of fun camps that do crafts, a “Frozen” camp, and I do a Nutcracker camp every summer for kindergarteners through 2nd grade, it’s a week-long camp. They make their own sets, learn the dances, work with props and make lots of Nutcracker crafts. It’s really fun. They are the choreographer, set designer, they do all of that. I try to teach them everything involved and help them think it through.”

Performances of “The Nutcracker” will be held at the Robert Reim Theatre on Saturday & Sunday, December 16-17, with shows at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. The group will also perform a preview of the second act at the Saint Louis Art Museum on December 9th, at 1:15 pm in the Main Hall.

For more information, visit www.dancecenterkirkwood.com.

Nothing Says Happy Holidays Like 125 Tubas Playing Christmas Carols

tubachristmas-16_23095141963_o.jpgImagine dozens and dozens of tubas playing Christmas tunes in unison. It sounds a little weird and maybe a hoax, but Tuba Christmas is most definitely real. The free concert begins at 2 p.m. on Saturday, December 9 at the south end of the St. Louis Galleria near the entrance to Macy’s.

This year marks the 44th annual celebration of Christmas with tubas. The international event originated in 1974 when Harvey Phillips created it as a tribute to his tuba teacher, William Bell. The first Tuba Christmas was held in Rockafeller Plaza Ice Rink in New York City.

tubachristmas-24_23639578611_o.jpgNowadays, you’ll find Tuba Christmas concerts in nearly every big city and even some small ones.

Tuba players are a different breed. The instrument requires a bit of strength to hold upright, and it takes quite a bit of wind power to generate the notes. It’s not a dainty instrument like a piccolo. Nevertheless, many St. Louisans play the tuba, as is evident at Tuba Christmas, where you’ll see nearly 125 tubaists honking out “Silent Night,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and other favorites.

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Hiram Martin at Tuba Christmas.

One local tuba player who participates in the event began playing the instrument at a young age. Hiram Martin is a retired area high school bandleader who loves golf, fishing and his tuba.

“I love playing the bass notes!” Martin said. He started out on a much smaller instrument in grade school, the violin. He also plays a bit of piano.

“My band instructor encouraged me to take up the tuba,” Martin said. “One reason was there weren’t many kids interested in it, so there wouldn’t be much competition!”

That’s when he hoisted the 30-lb. beast of an instrument for the first time. He was hooked, and has played it ever since. When Tuba Christmas comes around each year, Martin and thousands of other tuba players around the world will join together for their annual holiday extravaganza.

For more information, visit: www.tubachristmas.com.

A Jewish Joke: New Jewish Theatre presents a drama about a comedy

New Jewish Theatre presents the one man play, “A Jewish Joke” written and performed by Phil Johnson. Set in 1950’s Hollywood at the height of McCarthyism, the play focuses on a very dark time in U.S. history when many careers were ruined by friends and colleagues with just a whisper.

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Bernie Lutz is a hot-tempered comedy screenwriter and a partner in the writing team of Lutz and Frumsky. The duo write scrips for the Marx Brothers, Danny Kaye and for NBC. The play takes place at a time when Lutz and Frumsky’s new movie, “The Big Casbah,” is about to premiere and potentially give their careers a huge boost.

Bernie finds out that he and his partner, Morris Frumsky, have been placed on a “blacklist” for their ties to Communists in the movie industry. Asked to rat out Morris, his friend of 30 years, Bernie must choose between saving his career or his self-respect.

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“A Jewish Joke” runs November 29 – December 10. The New Jewish Theatre is located in the Wool Studio Theater in the Arts & Education Building of the J’s Staenberg Family Complex at 2 Millstone Campus Drive in Creve Coeur.

For information, visit newjewishtheatre.org.

Reader’s Delight! Jewish Book Festival Kicks Off November 5

Adreon-2 copyCool fall weather is a clear signal to go indoors and do indoorsy stuff—like reading a good book. If you’re looking for a great read, and some insight from the author him or herself, the St. Louis Jewish Book Festival will start on November 5.

The annual event has been introducing readers to noted Jewish authors for nearly forty years. All lectures by participating authors will be held in the heart of St. Louis County at the Jewish Community Center at 2 Millstone Campus Drive.

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Senator Barbara Boxer.

This year’s festival kicks off with Senator Barbara Boxer of California. Sen. Boxer will talk about her new memoir, The Art of Tough, which details her career.

On Monday, Nov. 6, local authors will be featured, including Korean War veteran Leonard Adreon. As a Marine corpsman, Adreon bore witness to the brutal horrors of war, detailed in his new book Hilltop Doc.

Another local author, Ron Kaplan, will discuss his book on “Hammerin” Hank Greenberg, one of three Jewish sluggers who have hit home runs in a World Series game. Trivia buffs—can you name the other three? See the end of this article to find out if you were correct.

Sepinwall-2 copy.jpgOn Sunday, Nov. 11, it’s TV Time with critics Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoiller Seitz, who will discuss their book entitled simply TV, chronicling vintage classics to modern masterpieces.

Jeff Rossen from The Today Show will appear on Saturday, Nov. 18 to discuss his new book Rossen to the Rescue.

Tickets to the festival and a complete schedule are available online at the Jewish Book Festival website. You can purchase tickets for individual lectures (most are about $20) or a complete festival Premier Pass for $99.

And for the sports trivia experts–the answer to the World Series home run derby, the names of the other three Jewish major leaguers to hit home runs in the series are:

  • Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros
  • Joc Pederson of the L.A. Dodgers
  • (St. Louisan) Ken Holtzman of the Oakland Athletics

Bregman and Pederson hit their first homers in the first two games of the 2017 World Series, followed up by one each in game four (both hit in the 9th inning).