Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Worcester Reclamation of Artie Drelinger

By Chet Williamson

The jazz history books and encyclopedias have saxophonist Art Drelinger born in any other place but here.

For instance, the listing in, Who’s Who of Jazz by John Chilton states that Drelinger was “born in Gloucester, MA on August 20, 1916.”

The date is correct, but the horn player is a native son whose birth certificate states that he is in fact from Worcester.

Also, Drelinger was a member of Associated Musicians of Greater New York’s Local 802. He became one as far back as 1937. When he died the organization’s newsletter read: “Born in Worcester, Mass., Mr. Drelinger began his career as a musician at age 14. During the big band era, he played with Paul Whiteman, Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker and many other jazz legends. He later was a member of the CBS staff orchestra for 35 years, doing such shows as Ed Sullivan and Carol Burnett. He was widely respected as a fine musician and continued to play until he was 85.”

Downtown Worcester, circa 1940s

Drelinger died in 2001 in Del Ray Beach, FL. He was 86. Shortly after his passing, Worcester Telegram & Gazette reporter Scott McLennan sorted out some of the confusion of Drelinger life, while honoring his memory.

Saxophonist Drelinger, far left, Columbia studios, 1947 (Gottlieb)

McLennan contacted Drelinger’s brother, Harold or “Hal,” a local drummer and charter member of the Local 143, musician’s union. He also quoted a feature in Sounds, the Worcester Musicians Association's newsletter. It stated that, Art Drelinger left Worcester “as a teen-ager in the 1930s, first moving to Boston, then to New York City. His talents were quickly spotted by Adrian Rollini, who featured the young Drelinger in a swing band that played a 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. gig seven days a week.

Adrian Rollini

According to Chilton, Rollini was a bass sax and vibes player who in the mid-1930s organized his own club, Adrian’s Tap Room at the Hotel President in New York

He also notes that Drelinger worked at that venue in 1936, but “also worked with Red McKenzie, and Wingy Manone at the Famous Door in New York.”

Drelinger’s time in town may not have been long, but his accomplishments were duly noted and served as an inspiration to many local musicians who stayed in Worcester.

Wingy Manone

Drelinger on tenor with bowtie

"Artie was a name, name musician," drummer George Melikian told McLennan.  The one-time business agent of the Worcester musician's union local, Melikian also said, "These guys studied music, took classes and played all different kinds of shows. There are not a lot today who do all that."

From the 1915 Worcester Directory

Drelinger was interviewed by The Los Angeles Times in 1990. Writer Perry C. Riddle asked him about his childhood. “My folks were very poor,” he said. “When I was about 12, some people took an interest in me, bought me a saxophone and gave me lessons. When I was 16, I moved to Boston, 40 miles away. My parents knew I was close by and it was just one less mouth to feed. I was old for my age, kinda hip as far as taking care of myself. I got a job playing a little nightclub.

“When I was almost 17, I went to New York and checked into a little room on 47th Street. The only window was in the roof. The toilet was in the hall. My first job was in a place called Adrian's Tap Room, 10 o'clock till 4 in the morning, seven days a week; and we got a sandwich at night. Very little money, believe me. When you're a kid that age, it doesn't matter whether you eat good food; you just want to play music. You have that drive to play. ‘If I don't make it, I'll die.’ That's the kind of enthusiasm I've always had.

Hotel President, home of Adrian Tap Room

“We used to eat on 11th Avenue, The Professor's, where guys on a panic used to go. A panicker was a musician who was waiting around for a job. Two little meatballs and a piece of bread, and it was the greatest for a quarter. I started playing jazz joints and getting club dates, whatever I could do.”

In the late 1930s, Drelinger spent a good deal of time on the road, barnstorming from town to town in a variety of bands. In the Times interview, he shared his memories of the road.

“We were supposed to work in Columbus, Ohio, on a Friday night, in the wintertime,” he said. “We're all broke, all young. We get there Friday, there's no date, the date's Saturday night. We have no place to sleep. We sleep in the railroad station, freezing cold. Everybody's got no money. That's being on the road.

“Traveling in beat-up cars; having flat tires in the snow, no money, but loving every minute of playing. If you enjoy it enough, you'll take all the pain. If you don't enjoy it, you get out. I enjoyed it all.”

At the time of the interview, Drelinger was 74 years-old and living in Studio City, CA. Riddle noted that the saxophonist “went on to play with the Benny Goodman and Paul Whiteman orchestras. He had a long run with the CBS Orchestra in New York and made one nervous appearance under the baton of Arturo Toscanini. He concluded his professional career playing with television studio orchestras in Los Angeles.” 

Benny Goodman
Giving details of his biographical account, Drelinger said, “I played with Benny Goodman for about eight months, about 1938, '39. Then I played with Paul Whiteman for two years. Whiteman was a wonderful guy. We recorded "Rhapsody in Blue." I loved every minute of it. I was 19, maybe 20. From Whiteman I went to CBS.

“I was 30 years at Columbia Broadcasting, on staff. I recorded with Charlie Parker, Louie Armstrong -- all the famous records. On the Sullivan show, I played 1,650 one-hour shows in 23 years; and on the Gleason [show] 15 years. We did all the "Honeymooners."

“I had one show that was on 25 seconds a day. We had a little jazz band. There were six of us, and we did a Spic 'n' Span jingle following the Jack Smith show. That was live; it was radio. Five times a week, 25 seconds a day. That's all we did for a whole week's salary, $135. In those days that was a lot of bread. That was 1944, '45.”

By the time he was in his seventies, Drelinger had doubled on a section full instruments, including flute, clarinet and bassoon and remained an active musician.

“I'm going to play as much as I can,” he said at the time. “When people stop calling me; that'll be my cue that I have retired from music. I don't think of any other thing that I could have done in my lifetime that I would have enjoyed more. It's sad to see your life go old, but if you've had a happy life, it's not that bad. “If you enjoy it enough, you'll take all the pain. If you don't enjoy it, you get out.”

Drelinger in the studio
Arthur Drelinger

DOB: August 20, 1916 (Worcester)
DOD: August 16, 2001 (Del Ray Beach, FL)

Parents: Morris and Lena (Lavine)

Playing experience: Arian Rollini, Red MacKenzie, Wingy Manone, Eddie Cantor, Louie Armstrong, Paul Whiteman, Sy Oliver, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Joe Lippman, Jack Teagarden, Jerry Gray, Raymond Scott, Bunny Berigan, Jack Jenny, Carl Kress, Sarah Vaughan, Will Bradley, Doc Cheatham, Benny Carter, Lucky Thompson, Pee Wee Erwin, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Johnny Hartman, and Raymond Scott.

Raymond Scott and his toy piano

Highlights: Played on Louie Armstrong’s recordings of “C’est Si Bon” and “La Vie en Rose,” “After You’ve Gone” with Paul Whiteman’s Sax Soctett, “Everything I Have is Yours,” sung by Billy Eckstine, “Dedicated to You” by Sarah Vaughan, “A Fine Romance” by Billie Holiday, the album Charlie Parker with Strings, and solos on Bunny Berigan’s recording of “I’m an Old Cowhand.” 

Television shows: Arthur Godfrey, Ed Sullivan, Carol Burnett, and staff musician at CBS.

Jackie Gleason
 Video Clips

Louis Armstrong

“C’est Si Bon”
“La Vie En Rose”

Doris Day – “No Moon At All”

Billy Eckstine -- “Everything I Have is Yours”

Billie Holiday

“My Sweet Hunk ‘O Trash” (w/Louis Armstrong)

“No or Never”

“There is No Greater Love”

“You Can’t Loose A Broken Heart”

Charlie Parker – “April in Paris

Artie Shaw – “Show Me the Way to Go Home”

Artie Shaw

Sarah Vaughan – “Nearness of You”

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1 comment:

  1. This was my grandfather...I never met him, but I know he was great.