Stars Of Jazz: A Complete History of the Innovative Television Series, 1956–1958

It was one of the finest jazz television series ever. During 1956-58, Stars Of Jazz aired 130 episodes. Hosted by Bobby Troup, it was a local show based in Los Angeles other than 29 programs in 1958 that were broadcast nationally. The half-hour shows generally featured a jazz group (ranging from Dixieland and swing survivors to West Coast cool jazz) and a vocalist; many of the latter slipped away into obscurity despite their talents. In typical thoughtless and short-sighted fashion, network executives discarded all of the kinescopes after the series was cancelled. It is thanks to the series’ producer Jimmie Baker that 45 of the shows were saved before it was too late but, barring a miracle, the other 85 are lost. However nearly all of the music (if not the videos) has survived because the shows were broadcast on the radio to the Armed Forces, and some were also taped by viewers.

James A. Harrod’s book Stars Of Jazz is subtitled A Complete History of the Innovative Television Series, 1956-1958. It lives up to its title. There is a brief overview and an interview with the late photographer Ray Avery who was fortunate enough to attend most of the tapings and whose photos are seen through the book. There is also a chapter on the beginnings of the series and how it came together.

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The bulk of the book is a summary of each of the 130 programs. Through his research, James A. Jarrod was able to compile all of the songs and performers for each show, Bobby Troup’s contributions as a genial and informative host (relating historic facts with charm and wit), and lots of background information. He also provides short biographies of the main participants. Concluding the book is a Coda chapter that sums up the show during its final year, a discography (the Calliope label came out with 36 LPs covering around 72 programs before it was shut down for not paying the musicians and composers), and a list of the surviving shows which reside in the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

The 45 existing shows (some of which can be found on YouTube), in addition to the more modern players, feature such notables as Jack Teagarden, Billie Holiday, Teddy Buckner, Red Norvo, Red Nichols, Stuff Smith, Connie Boswell, Herb Jeffries, the Ray Bauduc/Nappy Lamare Dixieland Band, Barbara Dane, Lizzie Miles, the Charlie Barnet Big Band, the Firehouse Five Plus Two, Julie London, Matty Matlock’s Rampart Street Paraders, Count Basie’s Orchestra with Joe Williams, Joe Darensbourg, the Harry James Orchestra, and the Banjo Kings. The lost episodes included additional programs from some of the above plus Kid Ory, Anita O’Day, Johnny Lucas, Jess Stacy, Pete Daily, Barney Bigard, Rosy McHargue, Tom Riley’s Saints, and Les Brown’s Band Of Renown among others.

James A. Harrod’s Stars Of Jazz is a valuable resource and a very readable reference book about an ultimately underappreciated but classic jazz television series. It is available from amazon.com and mcfarlandbooks.com.

Evergreen

Stars Of Jazz:
A Complete History of the Innovative Television Series, 1956–1958
by James A. Harrod
McFarland Press
235 pp; Paperback $49.95
ISBN: 978-1-4766-7770-5
mcfarlandbooks.com

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 AllMusic.com. 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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