Ben Pollack

Ben Pollack was born June 22, 1903, in Chicago, Illinois. He took up the drums as a teenager, inspired by jazz emanating from Chicago nightclubs.

Pollack became a fan of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. He talked his way into the group to sit in and soon was the band’s drummer. He made his recording debut with the NORK in 1923.

Red Wood Coast

Ben Pollack drawing by Sara Lièvre
Ben Pollack drawing by Sara Lièvre

Shortly thereafter, Pollack headed west where he eventually took over Harry Baisden’s band for a year’s residency at the Venice Ballroom. After the end of his California engagement, Pollack returned to Chicago with Gil Rodin, Benny Goodman, and Glenn Miller. He recorded four numbers for Victor in December 1926, including “He’s the Last Word” which has the first notable recorded solos by Goodman and Miller.

In 1927 Pollack hired Jimmy McPartland, and, after a move to New York the following year, he discovered Jack Teagarden. At that point, Ben Pollack was at the height of his success, performing not only at the Park Central Hotel but in the stage show Hello Daddy.

By 1929, Pollack decided he wanted to be a crooning conductor. As the Depression loomed, he increasingly played more commercial music. The band continued to enjoy success through the early 1930s, and maintained a high level of musicianship. But Ben’s singing was not helping the band’s popularity.

Hot Jazz Jubile

In September 1934, Ben Pollack’s band quit as a unit. The musicians soon reformed as the Bob Crosby Orchestra. He hurriedly put together a new big band to fulfill engagements. Pollack still had a knack for spotting talent, but his personnel was constantly raided by higher-profile bandleaders.

In 1942, Ben Pollack’s final big band was taken over by comedian Chico Marx; Ben managed the band. After numerous failed business ventures, by 1947 he was back playing drums, as leader of a Dixieland combo.

Pollack afterward ran the Pick-A-Rib restaurant in Hollywood, leading a Dixie group to perform there. In 1965 he moved to Palm Springs where he and his sister owned a nightclub, Easy Street North.

The nightclub was never successful and Ben was beset by major financial problems. Tragically, on June 7, 1971, Ben Pollack took his own life. adapted from work by Scott Yanow

Scott Yanow

Since 1975 Scott Yanow has been a regular reviewer of albums in many jazz styles. He has written for many jazz and arts magazines, including JazzTimes, Jazziz, Down Beat, Cadence, CODA, and the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, and was the jazz editor for Record Review. He has written an in-depth biography on Dizzy Gillespie for He has authored 11 books on jazz, over 900 liner notes for CDs and over 20,000 reviews of jazz recordings.

Yanow was a contributor to and co-editor of the third edition of the All Music Guide to Jazz. He continues to write for Downbeat, Jazziz, the Los Angeles Jazz Scene, the Jazz Rag, the New York City Jazz Record and other publications.

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