“BLUES IN CIRCLEVILLE”
JAZZ KING’S INITIAL STEP TOWARD STARDOM
Cleveland Plain Dealer
September 1, 1927
By: W. Ward Marsh
Jazz Kings aren’t crowned overnight. It seems, as is the case with the greatest of the dramatic actors, considerable suffering and hard work fall to their lot before they are permitted to stand before great audiences and strut their stuff.
Here is TED LEWIS, this week at STATE. Only a few years ago, his Father, a Circleville merchant, wanted Theodore Friedman (who later became TED LEWIS) to go into business, and two things which prevented it were Theodore’s ability to play a clarinet and the Circleville’s Boy Band. Now, Ted is said to earn $6,500 a week from his vaudeville contract plus the royalties from the Columbia Phonograph Co.
Here is Ted’s Story:
“Long before they called it Jazz, I conceived the idea of unconventional rhythm. As early as 1919, I was jazzing popular music much to the discomfort of audiences in the small villages throughout Ohio. We now have laughing trombones, but I believe I was the first person to introduce a swing clarinet.”
“Unknown to the German Band-Master, I had been taking lessons in syncopation from a local barber, Cricket Smith, a Black barber who had organized a barber shop orchestra and every day “innovative syncopation”. This appealed to me more then band rehearsal when rag-time dominated the rehearsals.”
“Then came the day of the Boy’s Band Concert. Things went smoothly until we were ready for “Poet and Peasant”, whether it was from a spirit of revolt or whether it was a strain of negativism, the notes I played was the beginning of the JAZZ AGE for me. Needless to say, this was the end of my being in the Boy’s band. The Band Master informed my parents that I was incorrigible and that he would have no more of me. All of which suited me fine, my parents expressed their disapproval more strongly than did my music teacher.”
Later Lewis formed a dance band, which played Circleville, and then to Chillicothe, Jackson, Wellston and Portsmouth, he was not successful with his new musical innovation and decided to try it on a stage. He made a short tour with Gus Sun Vaudeville Circuit.
“I played all of the town that did not know better, he reports. After a few months of this, I had enough money to get to New York City. But the Booking Agent didn’t like this stuff, so before long, I decided that I had better return home and Join my Father’s business. Father furnished the transportation monies and I left New York with a railroad ticket, clarinet and saxophone.”
Three weeks of “business life”, Ted Lewis is at his Uncle’s music store in Columbus, Ohio, where he was supposed to be demonstrating clarinets and saxophone. There he became acquainted with all of the instruments for the basic orchestras, and his demonstrations turned the store into a variable vaudeville show, whereupon, his Uncle advised him to try the theater.
Just arriving in Columbus was a small burlesque show. He learned dancing and juggling, which developed into forming a peppy band with barnstorming shock, which took him all over the country.
“My luck never failed” – Ted said in telling his story. “Wherever the show went we had a great response to our new trend in music”. Then came the day, he and his orchestra were playing on Coney Island at which time he jerked off and threw his old top hat, threw his clarinet into the air and whistled, then asked “IS EVERYBODY HAPPY?” The review called him the “Jazz King”. Rector’s was the next stop, The year was 1916, and after that, his staged were the largest theaters. Eleven years have passed and this year 1927 shall take Ted Lewis to Buffalo, Indianapolis, Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, New York and England.