Monday, March 24, 2014

Wunnerful, Wunnerful, Worcester

By Chet Williamson 

Norman Bailey
Russ Klein
They weren’t exactly hipsters in squaresville, but they did bring their understanding of jazz to a national audience. They were trumpeter Norman Bailey and saxophonist Russ Klein, who played weekly on the "Lawrence Welk Show." Both musicians were born in Worcester and both men had a long history of playing together.

The Lawrence Welk Orchestra

Bailey joined the Welk orchestra in 1952 and remained with the institution until 1973. He was born on February 6, 1913 and began playing his first jobs at a 13 years-old with a five dollar trumpet. He was a graduate of Becker Jr. College in Worcester. His first band of note was the Jerry Goodwin Orchestra, a general business ensemble that played all the local hotels and nightclubs, as well as at weddings and functions.

In 1934, he joined the Freddy Martin band and played lead trumpet. Martin’s group came to prominence in 1940. According to Internet Movie Database (IMDb), he was best known “for his hit songs adapted from classical themes, his many hits on RCA Victor and Capitol records included "Cumana," "The Hut-Sut Song," "Bumble Boogie," adapted from Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee," and his theme song, "Tonight We Love," adapted from the first movement of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto.”

The Freddy Martin Band 

The Martin band played many of the best hotels in New York City’s, including the Bossert Hotel, Roosevelt, and the Ritz-Carlton. The band also played the Coconut Grove in Los Angeles and Martin is credited with the distinction of being the musical director for Elvis Presley's first Las Vegas performance.

Bailey remained with Martin until 1951. He then stepped away from music taking a position at Northrup Aircraft where he worked on missle development. A year later he received a call to join the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. At the time the group was broadcast from the Aragon Park from Ocean Park, CA over station KTLA. Later it would be picked up for syndication by ABC and aired nationally.

According to the site,, Bailey’s trumpet playing was the stuff of legend. There are tales stating that he was so good, “never had to practice.” He was known as ‘Iron Lips,’ “mainly because he never got tired …. If there was ever the standard-bearer of excellent trumpet players from the Welk orchestra, Norman Bailey would fit the bill.”

Bailey’s playing has been featured on countless Welk’s shows. His most memorable and best documented solos include his performances of “Sugar Blues” and “Hot Lips.”

Bailey left the show in 1973 and gave one of his trumpets to Johnny Zell, one of his protégés, who first auditioned for Welk at the age of 15. He would later become a member of the orchestra.

Johnny Zell and Bailey

The Welk family website also noted that Bailey had two daughters. “One of them, Janice, made several guest appearances on the show where she displayed her talents as a singer. He was also good friends with the Lennon Sisters and their family, and until he left in 1973, was truly a professional and reliable music maker for all.”

Bailey died in Los Angeles on July 11, 1984. He was 71.


Klein was born in Worcester on July 23, 1917. According to the Welk family site, he first started playing the woodwinds at age 11, and turned professional at the age of 14. Like Bailey, Klein came to national attention with the Freddie Martin band.

Billboard magazine in the column, “On The Stand,” which covered “orchestras playing hotels, nightclubs, ballroom locations and one nighters” reviewed a Freddy Martin show at the Coconut Grove in the Ambassador Hotel, Los Angeles (June of 1946 – both Bailey and Klein were in the band at the time). “It takes only a quick listen to know why the Martin work is in the six consecutive year at this way hotel spot,” the Billboard writer said. “Crew is tops and dishing out smooth tempi for dancing and listening ….

Klein, third from left, front row, clarinet

Band’s wide library range includes everything from oldies, such as ‘Ten for Two’ to ‘Warsaw Concerto,’ generous smatterings of novelty ditties, current ballads and occasional south-of-the-border tunes complete well rounded fair. Arrangements generally showcase sections rather than instrumentals. Ork work is smooth, effortless and reflects confidence built up after five years working together in one spot.”

The Martin band was heard on such radio shows as “The Elizabeth Arden Show,” “The Maybellene Show” and “The Campbell Soup Show.” Klein can be heard with Martin on such albums as The Uncollected Freddy Martin, Mr. Silvertone and Classic and Boogie Woogie: The Original Recordings. In the 1950s, Klein played on both the Red Skelton Show and with David Rose.

Among his studio credits include solo work on Chubby Checker’s “The Twist.” His working group played in the Brazilian Room the Beverly-Wilshire Hotel. 

Here’s a clip of the tune –

In 1957, Klein joined the ranks of the Welk band, as part of his “Music Makers.” He is credited with modernizing the orchestra’s sound with his “jazzy sound and superb musicianship” and before his stint was up, Welk often referred to Klein as "the greatest saxophone player in the world." He was also considered one of the best improvisers ever to play in the band.

Klein and Peanuts Hucko

The Lawrence Welk Show was one of the longest and successful shows in television history. The first episode aired in July of 1955. The final show was broadcast on April 17, 1982.

Explaining its success, writer Todd Vanderworff said: “Welk didn’t want to challenge his audience, really, but he benefited from networks that wanted arts programming and thought he came close enough. What Welk wanted, most of all, was to present a good time, a fizzy party that would never end, filled with his light and bubbly Champagne Music.

Watching the early episodes of “The Lawrence Welk Show” — before the series was overwhelmed by the cheesy musical skits that dominate the program in the public imagination — is watching a culture struggling to hold onto itself in the face of a coming youth movement.”
As conservative and old fashioned as he was, Lawrence Welk was the first variety show host to regularly employ a black performer, the tap dancer, Arthur Duncan.

Klein started with the band playing alto saxophone and first clarinet. He would later move to tenor. And with the Hotsy Totsy Boys on the show, Klein played curved soprano. According to the Welk family website, Klein is credited with helping to "modernize" the “Champagne Music” style with his “jazzy sound and superb musicianship.” In his tenure, Klein got to trade licks with among others, Peanuts Hucko, Pete Fountain and Al Hirt.

The Welk bands had a reputation for being well-rehearsed machines of precision. In his autobiography, Ah-One, Ah-Two! Life With My Musical Family, he wrote extensively about his disciplinary tactics and strategies. Once a musician joined the “family,” they were expected to play for him, exclusively. With the demands of a weekly television show, constant rehearsing, and touring, it left little room for much else.

Welk sax section 

For a great deal of the time, Klein played in a saxophone section of (from left to right, Klein), Bob Davis, Dave Edwards, Henry Cuesta and Dick Dale. Of the many tunes Klein was featured on they include: “Sweet Gypsy Rose,” “That’s a Plenty,” “At the Woodchopper’s Ball,” “Farewell Blues,” and “I Love My Baby (My Baby Loves Me).”

Here’s a clip of him playing “Sweet Gysy Rose” –

Klein was married three times and had one child. His third wife was Lois Lamont, Welk’s long-time personal secretary. The couple were together nearly 20 years. Klein’s worked with Welk ended in 1982 -- when the show ended. He died in Simi Valley, California on February 10, 1996. He was 78.

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: Also Thank you.


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