LEWIS, Ted: Is Everybody Happy?

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'Is Everybody Happy?' Original Recordings 1923-1931

As the jazz and dance band world of the 1920sand '30s continues to fade into oblivion, onlythe most powerful images retain their vividness.

One of the most indelible of these is animpeccably dressed man with a clarinet and abattered top hat, leading a dance band thatentertained millions during the turbulenttwenties. Ted Lewis began with a dance bandbut his vaudeville smarts enabled him to outlastthe Depression, defying plummeting record salesby doffing his hat, pointing his jaunty clarinet tothe heavens and asking the musical question, 'IsEVVrybody HAPPeeee?' For many, the nameTed Lewis means pure, unadulterated corn, outof-date even in his own time. But there was alot more to Lewis' music than his squeaky,hokey clarinet playing and saccharine nonsingingvocal style. On much of the music hewaxed between 1923 and 1931 there existssome of the hottest jazz of the period.

Lewis was born Theodore Leopold Friedmanon 6 June 1892 in Circleville, Ohio. As a boy, hewas excited when travelling circuses came totown, triggering a desire to become a performerhimself. Taking up the clarinet, Ted joined hisbrother Edgar, a cornetist, in a local boys' band.

Although his parents tried sending him tobusiness school, Lewis bolted and went intovaudeville when he was only fourteen. By 1910he had formed his first band and the next yearmoved to New York. By mid-decade, he wasperforming with a comedian named Eddie Lewis,resulting in an erroneous billing listing the teamas Lewis and Lewis. 'Ted Lewis' sounded betterthan 'Ted Friedman' so the young vaudevillianchanged his name.

After working at the College Arms Cabaret,Lewis joined Earl Fuller's Rector NoveltyOrchestra at Rector's Restaurant, becoming asensation with his antics on the clarinet. In1917, the success of the Original Dixieland JassBand at the rival Reisenweber's Cafe resulted inLewis accentuating the barnyard animal effectsused by members of the ODJB. Two years later,he started Ted Lewis & his Band, takingmembers of Fuller's group with him. He alsobegan a long association with Columbia Recordsthat would last until 1933. It was during thisperiod that he made his most successfulrecordings.

During this time, Lewis developed his imageas a showman, adding a silk top hat to hiswardrobe, which he had won in a game ofchance with a hansom cab driver parked in frontof Rector's. He took to asking the rhetoricalquestion, 'Is everybody happy?' which soonbecame his catchphrase. He didn't sing hissongs as much as he talked them, in a sing-songy lilt that was parodied for years to come(Al Jolson often comes to mind when listening toLewis' vocals). Billing himself as 'the top-hattedtragedian of jazz', addressing his audience as'folks', and using phrases like 'yes, sir!' adnauseum, Lewis was the audiovisual embodimentof a carnival barker (there is even a photographof Lewis in top hat and tails, leading his bandmembers,who are dressed as circus clowns).

By 1925, Columbia was taking out full-pageads in The Talking Machine World, promoting hispersonality more than his dance band. Lewis'early recordings included jazz standards such asTiger Rag and Tin Roof Blues as well as moresedate dance band numbers. By the late '20s,Lewis recognized the trend toward hotter musicand began hiring superb jazz musicians,including stalwarts Muggsy Spanier on trumpetand George Brunies on trombone. But despitethe high grade of musicianship in his band, themain drawing card was still Lewis himself.

In 1929, Columbia produced a specialrecord label just for Lewis' recordings: a strikingsilver and black design complete with a hatdoffingLewis drawing along with an attentiongettingsleeve that featured additional emotingposes by Lewis. Along with Columbia labelmates Paul Whiteman and Guy Lombardo, TedLewis and his Band was one of the best sellingacts in show business; at his peak in the late'20s, Lewis was earning $10,000 a week from hishighly successful stage shows.

Ted Lewis' clarinet playing was a combinationof different styles; first and foremost wasthe early stage of jazz clarinet playing, in whichnovelty effects reflected the inclination towardbroad entertainment that was prevalent invaudeville during this period. On occasion,Lewis also played alto sax, as you will hear onone of his signature numbers, When My BabySmiles At Me, and a mawkish version of TheSweeheart Of Sigma Chi.

But there is another element to his playingthat differs from that of slap-tonguingclarinettists like Boyd Senter and WiltonCrawley, a more klezmer-like influence that nodoubt stemmed from his Jewish roots. Listen toThe New St. Louis Blues and you will hearelements of this, not only played by Lewis, butespecially by violinist Sol Klein (several otherLewis musicians were of Jewish heritage,including cornetist Dave Klein, saxophonistHymie Wolfson, and violinist Sam Shapiro).

Despite Lewis' injecting his overwhelmingpersonality into his records, one can hearevidence of his skill as a bandleader, especiallyon those recorded in 1927 and '28, when Lewisused the talented but doomed reedman DonMurray, an alumnus of the Jean Goldketteorchestra with Bix Beiderbecke. Murray livensup the otherwise ordinary novelty train songHello Montreal! with some lively clarinet andsax take-offs. Lewis' hiring of FrankTeschemacher and Jimmy Dorsey for severalsessions in 1929 and 1930, as well as landingBenny Goodman in 1931 also evidence Lewis'eye for talented jazz reedmen. It is conceivableto surmise that Ted Lewis may have wanted tobe a jazz man but was either stuck in his 'yes,sir!' persona or could not play the hot stylehimself.

At times, the Lewis bands of the late '20sand early '30s swung as hard as the similarlyconstructed small groups led by the likes ofFrankie Trumbauer, Miff Mole and Red Nichols,even including a Venuti-like hot solo by SolKlein, with Harry Barth's tuba assuming the roleplayed by bass saxophonist Adrian Rollini.

Highlights of these years include recordings ofsongs such as Clarinet Marmalade and YellowDog Blues and the appearance of guest pianistFats Waller on Dallas Blues, featuring one ofWaller's earliest vocal performances.

One of Ted Lewis' chief admirers was BennyGoodman, another musician of Jewish heritage,who in his formative years played for tips doingan imitation of Lewis on the clarinet. On13 April 1931, Goodman joined his former idolon what is considered by many to be Lewis'hottest recording, Dip Your Brush In TheSunshine, on which Lewis gets carried away byGoodman's virtuosity and absolutely revels in it,urging Benny on with exhortations of 'Paint it,Benny! Paint it! Aww, do it, Benny! Paint it blue,Benny! Sky blue, Benny!' By the time MuggsySpanier takes over with a muted trumpet solo,Lewis' enthusiasm has become unbridled: 'Paintit red, Muggsy! Paint it red! Red hot! Red hot!That's it!' It's probably Lewis' best and mostnatural moment on record and shows that hislove of jazz wasn't just commercially minded.

After he left Columbia in 1933, Ted Lewiscontinued his career, surviving the Depression tobecome a relic of the 'hotcha' 1920s. Heappeared in motion pictures, including astarring role in Here Comes the Band (1935) andwas the subject of a screen biography, entitled IsEverybody Happy (1943), with Michael Duanaplaying Lewis. Satisfied with his place in history,Lewis never tired of the caricature he created forhimself, and parlayed it into a comfortabledenouement to his career. With his wife Adahacting as his business manager, Lewis performedregularly until his retirement in 1965. He died in1971 at the age of 79. In 1977, his wifeestablished the Ted Lewis Museum in his hometown of Circleville.

Cary Ginell - a winner of the 2004 ASCAP/DeemsTaylor Award for music journalism
Disc: 1
Good Night
1 When My Baby Smiles At Me
2 Ted Lewis Popular Favorites
3 The New St. Louis Blues
4 Some Of These Days
5 The Sweetheart Of Sigma Chi
6 Keep Sweeping The Cobwebs Off The Moon
7 A Good Man Is Hard To Find
8 A Jazz Holiday
9 Jungle Blues
10 Hello Montreal!
11 Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble
12 Clarinet Marmalade
13 She’s Funny That Way
14 You’ve Got That Thing
15 On The Sunny Side Of The Street
16 Yellow Dog Blues
17 Just A Gigolo
18 Dallas Blues
19 Dip Your Brush In The Sunshine (And Keep On Painti
20 Good Night
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