Ken Lelen

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

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Big Band Idols prove alluring
draw for Weymouth's seniors

 All photos in this article by Sheethal Surendran
Ken Lelen at Whipple Senior Center, April 24, 2015
The Town of Weymouth MA hosted a Big Band Idols concert by vintage guitarist and vocalist Ken Lelen for more than 125 seniors on Friday, April 24, 2015 at Whipple Senior Center.
     Jointly sponsored by Weymouth Elder Services and Weymouth Cultural Council, the event was held in the gym of a former school and managed by Chris Quinn, volunteer coordinator at the senior center. She was assisted by several people who set up tables and chairs, handled event reservations, tickets and reserved seating. In addition, they provided personal escorts for the disabled, event photography, refreshments and clean up.
Chris Quinn handling intros
at Big Band Idols concert
     Quinn was asked to direct the Weymouth event at the last minute due to the recent retirement of Susan Barnes as the senior center director. As a result, Quinn was thrust into overseeing the logistics of an early afternoon event, an elderly audience, 60-minute concert, and boisterous social hour.

Back-in-the-day sound
For an authentic back-in-the-day sound, the musician sang hits from the Big Band period and performed each song with an acoustic guitar made in the same era.
     The songs he played were hits during the 1930s and 1940s for Frank Sinatra, Jo Stafford, Helen Forest, Dinah Shore, Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald and other vocalists. Back in the day these singers fronted Big Bands, jazz combos and society orchestras for Les Brown, Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Ted Weems, Count Basie, Paul Whiteman and other band leaders.
     The musician outlined a bit of the history and romance of the Big Band era. Many of the tunes he sang were introduced with amusing tales of the big-name singers, hit songs, composers and band leaders of the period.
     The source of these stories often are people who attended a Vintage Music Concert and recounted a story of "back in the day" or personal memory (like the woman in photo at left) after an event, Lelen said. The stories and personal reminiscences are then combined with info from various music texts the musician has studied, many web sources (videos of Cab Calloway, Slam Stewart, Satchmo and Ruth Etting on, for example), personal experiences and fact-checking at Wikipedia.

Delightful songs in the Big Band Idols program
     Songs in the Weymouth event included:
     Sentimental Journey — Written in 1944 by Les Brown and Ben Homes with Bud Green (lyrics), this song was recorded by Dinah Shore and Les Brown’s Band of Renown. A #1 single from May to July, 1945, just as World War II ended in Europe, the record was a favorite of many homecoming veterans.
     Heartaches — This song was composed in 1931 by John Klenner (lyrics) and Al Hoffman (music). It was recorded by the Ted Weems Orchestra, with whistler Elmo Tanner, in 1933, but never charted. In 1942 Weems disbanded his group and, like many musicians in the era, went off to the war.
     One night in 1947 a Charlotte NC disc jockey re-discovered Weems' version of "Heartaches" and played it again and again. People requested the song on the radio and it grew popular enough that RCA Victor Records re-issued the Weems recording. His record ultimately reached #1 in February, 1947 and spent 16 weeks on Billboard’s best seller chart.
     Why Don’t You Do Right? Written by Joe McCoy, this song was recorded by the Harlem Hamfats in 1936 as “Weed Smoker’s Dream.” Re-written and re-titled “Why Don’t You Do Right?” by McCoy, it grew into a woman’s blues tune as recorded by Lil Green (second wife of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong) in 1941.
     In July, 1942 vocalist Peggy Lee convinced bandleader Benny Goodman to record the song. Their version sold more than one million copies and brought the Nebraska native to national notice at the tender age of 22.
     I’ll Be Seeing You — Written in 1938 by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics), this song was interpolated in Right This Way, a Broadway musical that closed after 15 performances.
     In the 1940s this wistful song was recorded extensively. The more popular it became, the more it was recorded. It was covered by Frank Sinatra, Connee Boswell, “The Incomparable Hildegarde,” and Billie Holiday, among others. Bing Crosby’s July, 1944 rendition was probably the biggest hit of the Big Band era.
     “I’ll Be Seeing You” had its moment. Along with “Sentimental Journey” and “It’s Been A Long, Long Time,” it was a favorite of people on the home front as well as home-bound soldiers in the Spring of 1945 as WW II ended in Europe.
     Moonglow — Written in 1933 by Will Hudson and Irving Mills with Eddie DeLange (lyrics), this jazz standard’s popularity grew during the 1930s in the hands of many artists, including Joe Venuti’s Orchestra and singer Ethel Waters and Benny Goodman’s Orchestra.
     Today, most seniors remember the song as a danceable hit by clarinetist Artie Shaw and his band in 1941. But "Moonglow" continued to be recorded by other musical artists, including June Christy in 1946, Billie Holiday in 1952 and Sarah Vaughan in 1962.
     Paper Doll — This tune was a #1 hit for the Mills Brothers from November, 1943 to January, 1944. It was written in 1915 by pianist, composer and part-time boxer Johnny Back. Inspiration for the song came when a "fickle-minded real live girl" jilted Black for another boxer. He died in 1936, six years before "Paper Doll" swept the country.

Concert's lively audience
Early in the concert Lelen announced he resides ½ mile up the hill from the Delaware River, 10 miles north of Trenton and halfway between New York and Philadelphia. Upon hearing this, a man in the audience stood up.
     “Are you from New Jersey?" he asked. “Isn’t that where the Hindenburg crashed?”
     In May, 1937 the German-made, heavier-than-air airship caught fire and was destroyed as it tried to land at Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, 10 miles from the Atlantic Shore of New Jersey. Though 36 people died in the disaster, 62 on board the Hindenburg survived, according to Wikipedia.
     When the musician acknowledged the airship crash indeed happened in New Jersey, albeit 78 years ago, the man advised the singer: “Well, you’d better be careful.”
     With that comment, the crowd howled with laughter.

Vintage tones
The musician also played several vintage acoustic guitars at the Weymouth event. Each makes sound that’s remarkable for its sustain, character and tone without use of pick-ups or electronic gimmicks, he said.
     The guitars Lelen played at the Whipple Senior Center concert were:
     1935 MarvelTone — rosewood grand concert by Regal of Chicago;
     1929 Galiano — ladder-braced auditorium custom-made by Antonio Cerrito of New York City’s Little Italy;
     1933 Senorita x-braced concert and 1936 Groton ladder-braced auditorium — both from Bacon & Day of Groton CT;
     1928 Style #840 — mahogany grand concert by Weymann of Philadelphia.

Copyright © 2015 — Ken Lelen — All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Legendary Love Songs invigorate
men’s club members and spouses

                                                                                                  All Photos: George Barry
Ken Lelen at concert for Retired Men's Club of Greendale
held in the Worcester MA Senior Center on April 22, 2015
The Retired Men’s Club of Greendale hosted a morning coffee-and-donut social and concert for more than 135 people on Weds., April 22, 2015 at the newly updated Worcester Senior Center, which sits atop Vernon Hill in Worcester MA.
     Vocalist and vintage guitarist Ken Lelen sang a baker’s dozen of love songs from the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. He also paired each song with an acoustic guitar from the same era for an authentic, back-in-the-day sound.
     The romantic songs he performed originally were hits for such vocalists as Big Bill Broonzy, Mildred Bailey, Louis Armstrong, Rudy Vallee, Frank Sinatra, Kate Smith, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Lynn, the DeCastro Sisters and others.

Members and their wives 
A private, fraternal organization of more than 200 retired men, the audience included Club members and their wives for the social event, short business meeting and 45-minute concert.
     The Legendary Love Songs program included these songs:
     Glory of Love — This chestnut, written by Billy Hill in 1936, was first waxed by Helen Forest and Benny Goodman’s Orchestra. The Five Keys had a #1 R&B hit on it in 1951, and the song was famously recorded by Big Bill Broonzy in 1956 and Peggy Lee in 1959. Folksinger Tom Rush even made a worthy cover of Broonzy's hit in 1968.
     I'd Rather Listen To Your Eyes — This obscure foxtrot by Harry Warren (music) and Al Dubin (lyrics) spawned fleeting hits in 1935 for Mildred Bailey (“Queen of Swing)” and Al Jolson, an emotional shouter known back in the day as “The World’s Greatest Entertainer.” 
     She’s Funny That Way — Written in 1928, this Neil Moret (music) and Richard Whiting (lyrics) torch song is told from a man’s point of view. First recorded by Gene Austin in 1928 and the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra (vocal by Jerry Cooper) in 1933, it lingered in obscurity until vocalists Frank Sinatra and Billie Holiday, clarinetist Benny Goodman and tenor saxophonist Lester Young (“Prez”) recorded it in the 1940s and 1950s. Tony Bennett even recorded it twice, in 1967 and 1997, the latter version in a tribute to Billie Holiday. 
     I’ll Be Seeing You — Written in 1938 by Sammy Fain (music) and Irving Kahal (lyrics), this song was part of a Broadway musical that closed after 15 performances. However, in the 1940s this wistful song was recorded extensively by, among others, Connee Boswell, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday and “The Incomparable Hildegarde.” It was a favorite for people on the home front as well as for home-bound soldiers in the Spring of 1945 as World War II ended in Europe. 
     Dream A Little Dream Of Me — Written in 1930 by Fabian Andre and Wilbur Schwandt (music) with Gus Kahn (lyrics), it was recorded in February, 1931 by singer and band leader Ozzie Nelson.
     At the Greendale event Lelen recalled meeting a nonagenarian at a 2002 concert in Red Bank NJ who saw Kate Smith introduce “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” in April, 1931 at Boston’s Metropolitan Theater. Two years later he met an elderly man at a Bethlehem PA concert who helped build the Tremont Street theater in 1925. Recently, Lelen learned that after a $9.8-million restoration in 1983, the 3,600-seat facility became Wang Center for the Performing Arts. It was renamed Citi Center in 2006. 
     Teach Me Tonight — Written in 1953, this Gene DePaul (music) and Sammy Cahn (lyrics) song charted at #2 for the DeCastro Sisters (Peggy, Cherie and Babette) in 1955. Cahn even wrote a new verse for Frank Sinatra in 1984 to reference Frank’s many love affairs. 

Vintage guitar tones
The musician played several vintage acoustic guitars at the Greendale event. Each makes sound that is remarkble for its tone, sustain and character without the use of pick-ups or electronic gimmicks, he said.
     The guitars Lelen played at the Greendale concert were:
     •  1935 MarvelTone — rosewood grand concert by Regal of Chicago;
     •  1929 Galiano — custom-made auditorium by Antonio Cerrito of New York City’s Little Italy;
     •  1933 Senorita concert and 1936 Groton auditorium — both from Bacon & Day of Groton CT;
     •  1928 Style #840 — mahogany grand concert by Weymann of Philadelphia.

Copyright © 2015 — Ken Lelen — All Rights Reserved

Saturday, April 25, 2015

2015  Concert  Schedule

Feb   12      Pine Run Community, Doylestown PA            —     Legendary Love Songs
Mar   19      Country House, Wilmington DE                      —     Juke Joint Jive
Mar   26      Burlington Public Library                             —     Vintage Songs + Vintage Guitars
                  7 pm, 22 Sears St, Burlington MA 01803           —     781-270-1690
                  Burlington Reads 2015 — Orphan Train             —
                  Sponsors:    Friends of Burlington Library
                                     Digital Federal Credit Union
                                     Herb Chambers Honda
Apr   22       Retired Men's Club of Greendale                  —     Legendary Love Songs
                   9 am, 128 Providence, Worcester MA                —     Worcester Senior Center
Apr   23       Overlook Community, Charlton MA                —     When Love Was Nifty
Apr   24       Whipple Senior Center                                  —     Big Band Idols
                  1 pm, 182 Green St, Weymouth MA 02191         —    781-682-614
                  Sponsors:    Weymouth Elder Services
                                     Weymouth Cultural Council
                                     Massachusetts Cultural Council
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                        —     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 the Street
June 21       Father's Day Concert                                    —     Big Band Idols
                  Fox Hill Village, Westwood MA
July  15       Homewood - Frederick MD                              —     Speak Easy Jazz
July  16       Shannondell - Ashcroft, Audubon PA                —     Radio Ramblers
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      Maplewood, West Yarmouth MA                        —     T B A
Sept  28      Holden Senior Center                                     —     A Fine Romance
                  1 pm, 1130 Main St, Holden MA 01520                —    508-210-5570 
                  Sponsor:    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   19       Pomperaug Woods, Southbury CT                   —     When Love Was Nifty
Oct   20       Arbors, Manchester CT                                     —     Hollywood Souvenirs
Oct   21       Overlook Community, Charlton MA                  —     One Who Got Away
Nov    2       Shannondell - Bradford, Audubon PA                —     When Love Was Nifty
Nov    9       Lakewood Manor, Richmond VA                       —     Big Band Idols
Nov  10       Cypress, Raleigh NC                                         —     Hollywood Souvenirs
Nov  21       Veteran's Day Concert                                    —     A Fine Romance
                  Bermuda Village, Advance NC
Nov  12       Oaks, Orangeburg SC                                       —     When Love Was Nifty 
Nov  16       Springmoor, Raleigh NC                                   —     Broadway Mementos
Dec  27       Applewood Estates, Freehold NJ                      —     Love Was Nifty

                                      ©  2015 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved