Ken Lelen

Ken Lelen
Ken Lelen sings great American ragtime, jazz & swing and plays vintage acoustic guitars.

Friday, November 20, 2015

2016  Concert  Schedule

Date            Community  or  Venue  —  Location                Concert Theme
Feb     2     Simpson Meadows, Downingtown PA         Sunny Side of Street
Feb   11     Calvary Homes, Lancaster PA                     Legendary Love Songs
Mar   26     Maplewood, West Yarmouth MA                  Radio Ramblers
Mar   27     Residence at Otter Creek, Middlebury VT   Broadway Mementos
Mar   28     Havenwood Heritage Hgts, Concord NH     Sunny Side of Street
Apr   20      Greenwood Mens Club, Worcester MA        Sunny Side of Street
Apr   28      Shannondell—Ashcroft, Audubon PA          Broadway Mementos
May    3      The Oaks, Orangeburg SC                          Legendary Love Songs
May  22      Chandler Center for the Arts                    When Love Was Nifty
                     2 pm, 71 Main St, Randolph VT 05060
                     802-728-9878   —
Jun   13      Calvary Homes, Lancaster PA                     Big Band Idols
Jun   17      Lake Prince Woods, Suffolk VA                  She Did It Her Way
Jun   20      Cypress Club, Raleigh NC                           He Did It His Way
Aug    7      Oak Crest Village, Parkville MD                   Radio Ramblers
Sep   13      Simpson Meadows, Downingtown PA         Big Band Idols
Sep   25      Residence at Otter Creek, Middlebury VT  Big Band Idols
Oct    12     Calvary Homes, Lancaster PA                     Broadway Mementos
Oct    24      Shannondell—Bradford, Audubon PA        She Did It Her Way
Nov   11      The Oaks, Orangeburg SC — Vet's Day      Radio Ramblers
Nov   14      Cypress Club, Raleigh NC                           Torch Song Embers
Dec     6      Dunwoody Village, Newtown Square PA     T  B  A

©  2016 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Concert  Themes — Updated
    Every song tells a story

Vintage Music Concerts trace romantic, musical and historical themes with songs and stories. In my concerts I employ amusing anecdotes, savory musings or wry comments to introduce a song. Audiences love the warmth and humor of my programs, while hosts say themed events are easy to promote. Like the seamless flow of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Top Hat, ragtime, jazz and swing tunes and vintage acoustic guitars deftly produce an authentic, back-in-the-day glow in my concerts. With some recent additions, here are the current Vintage Music Concert themes.

Big Band Idols
Features songs immortalized by the vocalists, musicians and band leaders who fronted Big Bands, society orchestras and jazz combos during the Swing Era.

Broadway Mementos
The hit tunes used by producers, composers and musicians on the Great White Way to advance story lines, promote ingenues and spawn ancillary income from sheet music sales, 33-, 45- and 78-rpm recordings, juke boxes, radio airplay or the movies.

Hollywood Souvenirs
The power of song selection allowed movie producers to turn their celluloid dramas and zany comedies into nationwide hits. You'll be surprised how many movies spawned some of the great songs you know.

Bye Bye Blues
Concert spotlights the hit tunes of the Depression that young urban audiences called their own because since it featured the popular singers, memorable lyrics and rhythmic music they could dance to.

A Fine Romance
Features the romantic ballads popular with the generation that rationed its romance and deferred its affairs "for the duration" of WW II.

Folk Song Boomers
Concert offers topical, folk, traditional and protest songs of the 'Fifties and 'Sixties that were hits favored by America's post-WWII generation.

In The Mood
WW II changed America, including how pop music could inject emotions that resonated with folks on the Home Front and in the Front Line.

Jazz Before Bebop
Concert of hits popularized by the originators of jazz: Duke Ellington, Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Paul Whiteman, Isham Jones, Mildred Bailey, Billie Holiday, Richard Whiting and others.

Juke Joint Jive
Memorable toe-tappin' hits for stage door johnnies, lindy hoppers, swing shift maisies, bobbie soxers, drugstore cowboys, jitter buggers and zoot suiters.

Legendary Love Songs
Offers amorous lyrics and memorable melodies that evoke old flames, moonlit nights, romantic affairs, heartthrobs and heartaches.

Radio Ramblers
For years Americans turned to a console, portable or tabletop device to catch the latest tunes, news, drama, comedy, games, sports, shopping and gossip, so this concert salute the songs, singers and shows of radio's heyday.

Ragtime Rascals
Concert of the hot sweet tunes noted for their clever lyrics, rapid rhythms and memorable melodies that were hits for doughboys, flappers, molls, bootleggers and other speakeasy denizens of the Roaring Twenties.

One Who Got Away
These wistfully memorable and bittersweet romantic hits will once again prove it's better to love and lose than to never love at all.

She Did It Her Way
Concert celebrates the lives, romances, careers and hit songs of such vocalists and recording artists as Billie Holiday, Frances Langford, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Mildred Bailey, Ruth Etting, June Christy, Dinah Shore, Patti Page, Jo Stafford, Kate Smith,  Judy Garland, Helen Forrest, Rosemary Clooney, Sophie Tucker, Bessie Smith, Marlene Dietrich, The Incomparable Hildegarde, Margaret Whiting, Boswell Sisters, Andrews Sisters, DeCastro Sisters and others.

He Did It His Way
Concert celebrates the lives, romances, careers and hit songs of such vocalists and recording artists as Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Rudy Vallee, Mills Brothers, Fats Waller, Fats Domino, Eddie Cantor, Gene Autry, Al Jolson, Nick Lucas, Artie Shaw, Tommy Dorsey, Johnny Mercer, Les Brown, Benny Goodman, Gene Austin, Ozzie Nelson, Hoagy Carmichael, Cliff Edwards, Louis Prima, Louis Armstrong, Elmo Tanner, Les Paul and Nat King Cole among others.

Speak Easy Jazz
Concert of hot sweet jazz that was spread by 78-rpm records, radio, talkies, tin lizzies and bootleg liquor — and upended the social mores of the 'Twenties.

Sunny Side Of Street
Covers mirthful songs that softened the Great Depression's bite, offered pithy personal advice and poked fun at society's upper crust.

Sweet Swinging' Jass
Offers ragged rhythms and insouciant jive tunes of the 'Twenties that became pop hits for swing musicians, big bands and hep vocalists in the 'Thirties.

Tin Pan Alley Cats
Songs and stories behind the hit songs of Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, Dorothy Fields, George Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Frank Loesser, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Johnny Mercer, Jule Styne et al.

Torch Song Embers
Offers the favorite songs of people who moon for the One Who Got Away, still idolize a misbegotten heart breaker or remember a romantic rendezvous.

Vintage Songs + Vintage Guitars
For an authentic, back-in-the day sound we pair popular tunes of the 'Twenties, 'Thirties and 'Forties with the playing of steel-stringed, acoustic guitars made in the same decades.

When Love Was Nifty
In the decade before Elvis and his rowdy friends came on the scene, American popular music began shifting to appeal to both adult interests and youthful ideas of romance.

Write - Sing - Perform
Tin Pan Alley, Hollywood and Broadway’s grip on pop music was unhinged by talented upstarts who wrote, recorded and performed their hits in the 'Sixties.


            With many good choices, program directors may have trouble selecting
            a theme. While musical themes are always good choices, some may ask
            which themes are most popular.

            Selections vary depending on the reason for a concert, musical tastes,
            type of venue and age range of the audience. Some themes are picked
            to match historic events (WW I Centennial), highlight musical ideas,
            (big city jazz) or illuminate topical trend (romance in the 'Fifties).

            If an anniversary is planned, we can match a concert theme to couple's
            favorite musical era. If a commemorative event is planned, we can match
            the theme to a group's inaugural period. And if the concert is a volunteer
            recognition event, we usually look for a romantic theme.

            Finally, some themes are picked to attract market segments (adult children
            of retirees), satisfy commercial sponsors and foster a facility's promotional
            pursuitsIn the latter case I urge a theme with a focus on swing music, but
            omit anecdotes and stories. This way the songs cover a range of tastes, yet
            keep the pace of the event on a steady course.

            I'm always happy to suggest a Concert Theme for your group or event. And

            the best way to get a theme that works for you is to call me and discuss it.

© 2015 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

2015  Concert  Schedule     —    FINAL
Feb   12       Pine Run, Doylestown PA                                   —     Legendary Love Songs
Mar   19       Country House, Wilmington DE                          —     Juke Joint Jive
Mar   26       Burlington Public Library                                —     Vtg Songs + Vtg Guitars
                   7 pm, 22 Sears St, Burlington MA 01830
                   781-270-1690  —
                   Sponsors: FOL, FCU, Herb Chambers
Apr    22      Greendale Men's Club                                       —     Legendary Love Songs
                   9 am, 128 Providence St, Worcester MA 01604
                   508-799-1232  —  Worcester Senior Center
Apr    23      Overlook, Charlton MA                                       —     When Love Was Nifty
Apr    24      Whipple Senior Center                                      —     Big Band Idols
                   1 pm, 182 Green St, Weymouth MA 02191
                   781-682-6140  —  Weymouth Elder Services
May    5       Chelsea, West Milford NJ                                     —     Juke Joint Jive
May   18      Springmoor, Raleigh NC                                     —     Hollywood Souvenirs
May   19      Cypress, Raleigh NC                                           —     Broadway Mementos
May   20      Bermuda Village, Advance NC                            —     When Love Was Nifty
May   21      Oaks, Orangeburg SC                                         —     Hollywood Souvenirs
May   22      Carlyle Place, Macon GA                                    —     Broadway Mementos
June  19      Maplewood, West Yarmouth MA                          —     Sunny Side of Street
June  21      Fox Hill Village, Westwood MA — Dad's Day       —     Big Band Idols
July   15      Homewood, Frederick MD                                   —     Speak Easy Jazz
July   16      Shannondell, Audubon PA                                  —     Radio Ramblers
Aug   21      Senior Citizens Club, North Plainfield NJ             —     Big Band Idols
Sept    2      Heath Village, Hackettstown NJ                          —     When Love Was Nifty
Sept  18      Lake Prince Woods, Suffolk VA                          —     Folk Song Boomers
Sept  25      OceanView,  Falmouth ME                                  —     Folk Song Boomers
Sept  27      MaplewoodWest Yarmouth MA                          —      In The Mood
Sept  28      Holden Senior Center                                       —      A Fine Romance
                  1 pm, 1130 Main St, Holden MA 01520
                  508-210-5570  —  Holden Council on Aging
Oct     6      Wesley Enhanced Living, Doylestown PA            —     Big Band Idols
Oct   13      Village @ St Barnabas, Gibsonia PA                    —     Big Band Idols
Oct   13      Springhill, Erie PA                                              —     Broadway Mementos
Oct   19      Pomperaug Woods, Southbury CT                      —     When Love Was Nifty
Oct   20      Arbors, Manchester CT                                        —     Hollywood Souvenirs
Nov    1      Road Runners Club, South Plainfield NJ                —     When Love Was Nifty
Nov    2      Shannondell, Audubon PA                                    —     When Love Was Nifty
Nov    4      Meadowood, Lansdale PA                                     —     When Love Was Nifty
Nov    9      Lakewood Manor, Richmond VA                           —     Big Band Idols
Nov   10     CypressRaleigh NC                                             —     Hollywood Souvenirs
Nov   11     Bermuda Village, Advance NC — Vet's Day          —     A Fine Romance
Nov   12     Oaks, Orangeburg SC                                           —     When Love Was Nifty
Nov   16     Springmoor, Raleigh NC                                       —     Broadway Mementos
Dec   11     Road Runners Club, Bound Brook NJ                    —     Big Band Idols
Dec   26     Stonebridge @ Montgomery, Skillman NJ            —     Tin Pan Alley Cats
Dec   27     Applewood Estates, Freehold NJ                          —     When Love Was Nifty 
                                      ©  2015 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved

Friday, July 24, 2015

One fine guitar — the Roy Smeck Professional
         Unusual auditorium guitar with Aero bridge and Cuban mahogany body
                               Played by a Philadelphia man for 65 years
                               Recently restored for concert performance 
                                              © 2015 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved

                                                                                                                                                                             PIX: KL
New York City luthier Tom Crandall with c. 1935 Roy Smeck Professional.

This Roy Smeck Professional, made by Harmony Co. of Chicago in the late 1930s, recently came into my life and hands. It is a rare model (H1251) that was owned and played for 65 years by one man — Gilbert A. Rand (1925 – 2005) of Philadelphia.
     The instrument was made with quality woods, including flamed Cuban mahogany on the back and sides, mahogany neck and tight-grained spruce top with 15-inch lower-bout width. It has a rosewood fingerboard with 14 frets to the body and 25-inch scale, maple bridge and firestripe pickguard that mimics a Gibson L-00 guard from the same era. The entire guitar glows with a red-brown sunburst finish across the top, sides and back.
     The guitar has its original bridge and plastic bridge pins, but its pot-metal tuners long ago disintegrated. They’ve been replaced with new units. Gilbert Rand apparently used a metal nut extension for Hawaiian-style play for quite some time. Still, today the neck’s 1-11/16-in. nut width and ever-so-slight V shape feel comfortable for standard play.

Aero bridge + Smeck peghead
Two prominent elements on this guitar are its Aero bridge and the endorser's headstock. Both features were installed by Sears Roebuck Co., Harmony’s owner, to attract customer interest and generate sales.
     Set atop some Harmony 6-string, tenor and uke models in the late 1920s and 1930s, the Aeros were fully functioning bridges meant to honor a man once called America’s greatest hero — aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh. Oddly, Aero bridges were replaced with straight bridges by about 1940.

     Likewise, emblazoned on the headstock is the guitar's model name: "Roy Smeck Professional." The letters are engraved and painted on a pearloid peghead overlay.
     This element verified in the public's mind that this guitar was designed by the famous instrument virtuoso. It also honored Roy Smeck — a living musical legend and Harmony endorser for 40 years — from 1927 to 1967. More about Roy Smeck later. 

One special instrument
All told, the large size, Cuban mahogany body, Aero bridge, endorser nameplate, handsome finish and other details mean this guitar was designed to be one special instrument — unlike most guitars Harmony built during the Depression.
     In the 1930s the majority of the firm's units were mass-produced, budget affairs. They were standard-sized guitars with ladder-braced tops and all-birch or birch-and-spruce bodies. They were sold by the thousands through Sears mail-order catalogs and by wholesale jobbers to music stores.
     To bolster its sales during the Depression years, Harmony also gussied up the design of their low-brow instruments. They added custom appliqués, decorative decals, cowboy themes, rustic, romantic and Hawaiian scenes, and painted marquetry. 
     Some of its most attractive sellers were starter kits for novice guitar players. These included a guitar and canvas case. Occasionally, a silk cord, extension nut, slide bar and picks were added as well. In 1937 Harmony flattop starters ranged from $6.45 to $10.75. Its archtop starters cost a little more: $8.75 to $28.65.
     Kay Music Co. of Chicago, Harmony's biggest competitor, offered similar starter kits through Montgomery Ward stores and its mail-order catalogs. Flattop kits started at $4.98 and topped out at $11.98 for a Del-Oro auditorium guitar — reduced from $17.50 in time for Christmas. Kay archtop kits ranged from $9.98 ("Regular $12.98 value! Suitable for Hawaiian or Spanish style playing!") to $19.95 for an Old Kraftsman archtop with "genuine curly maple."

Top with two X braces
Gilbert Rand's Roy Smeck Professional stands well above Harmony's decorative and starter models in several ways. Besides its Aero bridge and star-enhanced endorsement, it is graced with an unusual X-braced top and Cuban mahogany back and sides.
     The top, in fact, has two X braces. One is beneath the sound hole in the traditional location. A second X was placed near the tail block between the lower struts of the main X brace.

Here’s how the Roy Smeck Professional is described in a 1935 catalog from Metropolitan Music Co., a New York City jobber that shipped guitars for Sears: 

Roy Smeck (“Wizard of the Strings”) [Extra Auditorium] Professional Guitar, improved model with famous Aero bridge. Beautifully figured mahogany back and sides, dark shaded finish. Fine close grained shaded spruce top, inlaid and nicely toned to match. Heavy celluloid trimmed edge. Steel reinforced mahogany neck. White pearlette head piece is hand engraved. Long scale, ovalled rosewood fingerboard, celluloid bound with neat inlaid position dots. Hand rubbed polished finish. Carefully adjusted and regulated for ease of playing and full tone quality. Individual unit tuning keys. Each: $30.00. 

     The $30 price tag did not change during the five years the guitar was offered. However, the cost of furnishing a 15-inch, black hardshell case with plush interior to protect the guitar rose from $5.19 in 1937 to $7.35 by 1941.

"Beautifully figured mahogany"
Back in the day the figured mahogany on this guitar was called Cuban mahogany and may have come from Regal Musical Instrument Co. of Chicago, said one vintage guitar source. In the 1930s Regal operated a secondary enterprise importing and selling wood supplies to other instrument makers and furniture firms. So it’s not uncommon to see instruments from this era made by Harmony, Washburn and Regal with the same curly Cuban mahogany.

     Cuban mahogany has not been commercially available since the 1950s due to extensive logging. Produced prior to that era, guitars like this Roy Smeck Professional are rare and special because they may reveal a close, fine grain and exhibit a curl, quilt or wavy-grain figure. Said to be denser than Honduran mahogany, such Cuban mahogany offers rosewood-like tone qualities, with a well-developed midrange and bass.

Roy Smeck — the endorser 
Shown with electric lap steel guitar, musician Roy
Smeck endorsed for both Harmony and Gibson.
Roy Smeck (1900 – 1994) was a popular musician and virtuoso on Spanish and Hawaiian guitar, banjo and ukulele. From his days in vaudeville in the early 1920s until the mid-1960s, he made more than 500 recordings for Victor, Decca, Edison, Columbia, Crown, RCA and other labels. In the 1950s and 1960s he was a frequent guest on TV variety shows for Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen and Jack Paar.
     Today, the "Wizard of the Strings" is better known as the endorser of the Stage Deluxe (1934 – 1942) and Radio Grande (1934 – 1939), Hawaiian guitars with 2-inch-wide necks from Gibson of Kalamazoo, MI. Though many have had their necks thinned when converted to standard-style for modern players, they still have a higher collector value than their Harmony counterparts, according to Harmony expert François Demont and many vintage dealers. 

25¢ weekly installments
Born August 12, 1925, Gilbert Rand was a teenager when he bought his Roy Smeck Professional sometime before 1940. To get the guitar, he made weekly installments of 25¢ for nearly nine months and paid a total of $39.60 to Dortch Studios of Music and Arts on North Fifteenth Street in Philadelphia.
Gilbert Rand paid 25¢ a week for his guitar.

     Gilbert took music lessons at Dortch and played the guitar in slide and standard-style throughout his life, which ended October 30, 2005 at age 80. Housed in a period archtop case were Hawaiian music instruction pages, Dortch Instrument Club Member card, handwritten lessons, extension nut, thumb pick, one of the surviving pot-metal tuners, and a c. 1926 Five-Minute Guitar Course instruction booklet.
Gilbert Rand (2nd from left in Nov '78 Reading Eagle article) was
a member of the fraternal group Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
     Other than his 65-year stewardship of the Roy Smeck Professional, little is presently known about Gilbert Rand’s adult life or family. An article and photograph published the Reading Eagle in November, 1978 and an IRS Form 990 for nonprofit taxpayers, also from 1978, revealed he was a Grand Master in the Philadelphia chapter of Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization that raises funds and supports worthy causes. And other than residing at several Northeast Philadelphia homes during his life, little else is known about the man. Only time will tell if we can discover more about this special person and his fine guitar.

Playability is now superb 
Today, this acoustic guitar’s playability is superb. The vintage sound is appealing for its bass and mid-range warmth. It throbs smoothly when fingerpicked (crisp, round and soft, with quick-decay on the treble). And it thrums cleanly when strummed or flatpicked (crisp, vibrant and even, but not strident). [Yes, using words to describe sounds is vain.]
     In April, 2013 New York City luthier Tom Crandall restored the guitar with the following work:
     •  reset the neck
     •  replaced crumbled tuners with Grover Sta-Tites
     •  planed (12-inch radius) and refretted fingerboard
     •  installed Popsicle brace under tongue of fingerboard
     •  filled and recut the saddle slot, then intonated bone saddle
     •  installed maple pad on bridge plate for secure bridge pin contact.
     “These guitars don’t come up for sale often,” said Alex Whitman, Crandall’s business partner. “And they almost never get the repair work they deserve.” 



                                             © 2015 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved