Ken Lelen

Ken Lelen
Ken Lelen sings great American ragtime, jazz & swing and performs with vintage acoustic guitars for an authentic, back-in-the day sound.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

2017   Concert  Schedule
Date         Community / Venue   —   Location          Concert Theme
Feb    23     Pine Run, Doylestown PA                       When Love Was Nifty
Mar      2     Friends Village, Woodstown NJ              Juke Joint Jive
Mar    11     Old Bridge Public Library                     Juke Joint Jive
                 Old Bridge NJ — 732-721-5600
Mar    24      Luther Crest, Allentown PA                     Vintage Guitars + Songs
Mar    28      Jefferson's Ferry, So Setauket NY          Big Band Idols
Mar    30     Bronxville Public Library                      She Did It Her Way
                 Bronxville NY — 914-337-7680
Apr      8    Chesterfield Cnty Publ Library              Tin Pan Alley Cats
                 Chester VA — 804-318-8911
Apr    10     Cypress Club, Raleigh NC                       Sunny Side of the Street
Apr    15     Denville Public Library                         Big Band Idols
                  Denville NJ — 973-627-6555
Apr    18     Bergenfield Public Library                   Juke Jont Jive
                  Bergenfield NJ — 201-387-4040
Apr    25      Shannondell-Ashcroft, Audubon PA      He Did It His Way
Apr    26      Springhill, Erie PA                                She Did It Her Way
May   18       Arbors, Manchester CT                           Sunny Side of the Street
Jun      8      Monroe Sr Center, Monroe Twp NJ        Tin Pan Alley Cats
Jun      9      Lake Prince Woods, Suffolk VA             Great American Cabaret
Jun    13       Oaks, Orangeburg SC                            He Did It His Way
Aug    7      West Milford Twp Library                    She Did It Her Way
                 West Milford Twp NJ — 973-728-2824
Aug  17      Bristol Public Library                           Love Builds A Better World
                 Bristol CT — 860-584-7787
Sep   21       Friends Village, Woodstown NJ              Sunny Side of the Street
Sep    22       Luther Crest, Allentown PA                    Sunny Side of the Street
Oct    15       Reed Memorial Library                         Juke Joint Jive
                 Carmel NY — 845-225-2439
Oct     16        Friends of Enfield Public Library         Folksong Boomers
                 Enfield CT — 860-763-7510
Oct    17       Plymouth Public Library                       Great American Cabaret
                 Plymouth MA — 508-830-4250
Oct    18        Greendale Mens Club, Worcester MA     She Did It Her Way
Oct    19      Wilmington Memorial Library                   Tin Pan Alley Cats
                  Wilmington MA — 978-658-2967
Oct    20      Halifax COA - Senior Center                  Spooky Side of the Street
                  Halifax MA — 781-293-7313
Oct      23      Jefferson's Ferry, So Setauket NY          Juke Jont Jive
Oct    30      Shannondell-Bradford, Audubon PA      Great American Cabaret
Nov     1      Springhill, Erie PA                                 Radio Ramblers
Nov     7      St Mary's Woods, Richmond VA             T B A
Nov     8      Cypress Club, Raleigh NC                      Great American Cabaret
Nov     9      Bermuda Village, Advance NC               Great American Cabaret
Nov    11      Oaks, Orangeburg SC                                Great American Cabaret
Nov    29        Heath Village, Hackettstown NJ              Broadway Mementos
Dec       1     Monroe Sr Center, Monroe Twp NJ          Juke Joint Jive

                                          ©  2017 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved

2018  Concert  Schedule
Date        Community / Venue   —   Location            Concert Theme
Apr   14     Rodgers Memorial Library, Hudson NH      Big Band Idols
May  19     Cross Keys Village, New Oxford PA             When Love Was Nifty
June   5     W & W Club, Monroe NJ                              Big Band Idols

                                          ©  2017 — Kenneth Lelen — All Rights Reserved


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Juke Joint Jive characters teem
up at Old Bridge library concert
   ©  2017 — Kenneth Lelen — Al Rights Reserved

The public library in Old Bridge Township NJ recently hosted vocalist-guitarist Ken Lelen in a Juke Joint Jive concert. During the 75-minute show he sang radio, bandstand, recording and jukebox hits from the 1930s and 1940s and played vintage acoustic guitars from the same era for a back-in-the-day sound.

                                               All photos  & illus: Wikipedia and Google Images
Lindy Hoppers — 1940s
The event was part of the library's Second Saturday Concert Series and filled a large room with an audience of 75 local characters. Though the concert was free, people were asked to bring non-perishable items for donation to the Old Bridge Food Pantry.

"Ken's concerts offer audiences an opportunity to experience great American ragtime, jazz and swing, along with clever lyrics, memorable melodies
and charming anecdotes," said library director Nancy Cohen. "Our patrons thoroughly enjoyed this trip down memory lane."

Favorite hits of 1930s and 1940s youth

Lelen's Juke Joint Jive concert features songs that were hits for rebellious youths of the mid-20th Century. Called lindy hoppers, stage door johnnies, swing shift maisies, jitter buggers, drugstore cowboys, bobby soxers and zoot suiters, these labels were considered descriptive and derogatory at the time.

"These tags seem quaint to us today because popular tastes in music, dance, dress, socializing and romance were different in the 1930s and 1940s," Lelen said. "But some things have not changed in 80 years. Boys must still meet girls and music is the glow that brings them together."

Audiences enjoy Juke Joint Jive concerts, the musician added. "It comes from bringing attention to the people, music and styles of a bygone era in our culture with period tunes, vintage guitars and tales of yore."

Characters abound at Old Bridge event

The musician performed a program of 16 tunes favored by and associated with the period characters he described in musical, historic and romantic anecdotes. Some of these eccentrics and their songs included:

Frank Sinatra and bobby soxers — 1940s
Bobby soxers — These young rebels were teenage girls who acquired the name because they wore fashionable outfits that included poodle skirts, saddle shoes and socks rolled down to the ankle.

My mother was a bobby soxer who ran away from home in 1945 at the age of 17 to join the roller skating shows. I once asked her what was the big deal about bobby soxers. "Oh, we were rebels," she said.

OK, rebels. But today, if you search Google or Wikipedia for the term "bobby soxer," you'll find "rabid fan of Frank Sinatra" and other performers of popular music during the 1940s.

Indeed, between 1942 and 1947, whenever Sinatra performed She's Funny That Way, his
fans (female and male) went wild. Written in 1928 by Richard Whiting and Neil Moret, the song opens with, "I'm not much to look at, nothin' to see." W
hen Sinatra sang those words at his concerts at New York City's Paramount Theater in January 1942, thousands of hysterical bobby soxers screamed out, "Frankieee!!"

WW II propaganda poster
Swing Shift Maisies — A swing shift maisie was a woman who took a man's job during World War II when the men were drafted into combat. The label applied to farm, factory and office jobs, which often paid women more than they could achieve in traditional roles and domestic settings. About 20 million women were employed during WW II, or 30 percent of the U.S. workforce.

The term was slang for substitutes of real workers. Said with a sneer, it applied to the women and some men who held jobs everyone knew would evaporate once soldiers came home.

More relevant to modern interests, swing shift maisies were the focus of Sherrie Tucker's 2001 Swing Shift. Her absorbing history covers the unexpected breaks and all-too familiar setbacks faced by all-female musical groups (African-American and white). The women performed on the home front and abroad while their male counterparts, away in the war, left a vacuum in the market for Big Band music. Tucker interviewed 100 remarkable women, talented female musicians, who endured travel restrictions, gas rationing, sexual discrimination and Jim Crow laws during WW II. Lamentably, she concluded, wartime job opportunities only reinforced the notion that female musicians — no matter how experienced or talented — were nothing more than "swing shift maisies."

The term became well-known once "Swing Shift Maisie," a 1943 film with Ann Southern, appeared across the country. The romantic comedy's plot centered on Southern's character, "a gum-cracking, back-talking Brooklyn bombshell," who takes a man's job in an aircraft assembly plant during WW II. She falls in love with, what else, the factory's male pilot.

Big Band leader Ted Weems
To honor swing shift maisies at the Old Bridge concert Lelen sang Heartaches, a big hit for Big Band leader Ted Weems (1901 - 1963). Recorded in August 1933 with Elmo Tanner whistling the melody, the record never charted. In November 1942 the Ted Weems Orchestra was disbanded and the entire musical crew enlisted in the U.S. Merchant Marine.

Five years later a Charlotte NC disk jockey found the 14-year old recording in a box of old records. He played it again and again as local callers in his audience as well as record stores and juke box operators requested the song over and over.

RCA eventually re-issued the record and it quickly grew popular across the country, reaching #1 in February 1947 with 16 weeks on Billboard's best seller chart. Neither Weems nor Tanner received any compensation for the reissued platter, as both men let their recording contracts expire during the war years.

Stage Door Johnnies — These Depression-era and wartime Lotharios were unknown to me until about 2001, when a diminutive and dignified dowager explained them to me after a Vintage Music Concert in Red Bank NJ. Though she didn't tell me her name, she announced she was "95 years old and a former Rockette," who had danced at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

I'd sung Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen's Over The Rainbow, Judy Garland’s signature song from the 1939 movie, “The Wizard of Oz.” Hearing the song, she said, reminded her she knew “all the swells” in the 1940s as well as a date she once had with Mickey Rooney (1920 - 2014), who appeared in 43 films between the ages of 15 and 25.

Mickey Rooney — 1945
"Back in the day, after a performance, men would come around to the stage door at Radio City Music Hall and offer large bouquets of flowers to the dancers they wanted to, ah, date," she recalled.

"Well, one night I dated Mickey Rooney, who brought me flowers after a show," she said with a grin and a wink as she referred to Garland’s co-star and friend. Short in stature (5 ft. 2 in.), but never short of confidence, Rooney was MGM's most successful actor in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

“OK,” I said. “You dated Mickey Rooney.” 
“No,” she said, “I dated Mickey Rooney,” and winked again.

Her wink, I realized, was key to the recollection. But unsure what, exactly, she wanted me to know about this long-ago assignation, I
 asked, “What do you want to tell me about this date?”

“You know Mickey was married eight times, including to Ava Gardner,” she said. “Well, our date lasted all night,” she said with another wink, “but I didn't have to marry the SOB.”

So there it was. My nonagenarian friend from Red Bank NJ was the One Who Got Away. One of many, I suspect, for Mr. Rooney.

Drugstore Cowboys — One way young people socialized during the 1930s and 1940s was by visiting the drugstore. In addition to the apothecary, they'd find a lunch counter with stools, booths, tables, chairs, juke box and phone booths.

Uniformed soda jerks behind a counter at
Jones Drug Store in Hastings NE — 1943
If they were thirsty a counter person called a soda jerk could sell bottles of soda, pop, coke or tonic (the name varied by locale). The same person offered egg creams (milk, chocolate syrup and seltzer), soft drinks (ice, flavored syrup and seltzer) and such ice cream treats as cones, sundaes, splits, frappes and malted milks.

Whether found in small town, mid-sized city or urban area, drugstores were often busy in the afternoon after school let out. That's when young people would get together for snacks and socializing.

After an October 2008 concert in Newport News VA, an oldster in my audience who grew up in a small town in Indiana recalled working as a teenage soda jerk in her father's drugstore during the war years.

Teenagers gathered near a juke box — 1940s
"Afternoons, the drugstore cowboys would come in to look for girls, buy a pop and maybe put a dime in the juke box," she said.

A favorite song of drugstore cowboys and the girls they chased was Paper Doll, she recalled. It was written in 1915 by a Tin Pan Alley songwriter, pianist and part-time boxer named Johnny Back. The song was inspired by a "fickle-minded real live girl" who jilted Black for another boxer. He died in 1936, six years before the Mills Brothers recorded the song that became a #1 hit between November 1943 and January 1944.

My Hoosier friend also reminded me public phones were important elements of a local drugstore. They were housed in 3-by-3-ft. wooden cells outfitted with short stools and glass doors with handles. Phone booths were often found in the back of a store, along the hallway leading to the bathrooms.

"Everyone in town knew the numbers on those phones, even your parents," she said. "So, if you were looking for someone, you'd call the drugstore. Someone would always pick up. Your mother could even call to leave a message: 'Tell her to come home by 6.'"

Zoot Suiters — 
A zoot suit included high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed trousers and long coat with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders. During the 1930s and 1940s zoot suiters wore color-coordinated fedoras or pork pie hats. Sometimes the look included pointy French-style shoes, a long feather as decoration and watch chain dangling from the belt to the knee or below, then back to a side pocket.

The style was popular with black musicians and youths in African American, Chicano and Italian-American communities. Still, during WW II zoot suits were prohibited in some areas because they required too much cloth and tailoring, making them luxury items.

Zoot Suited Cab Calloway — 1930s
Because the extravagance was deemed unpatriotic during the war, youths considered wearing an oversized suit a declaration of freedom, self esteem and rebelliousness. It may have been no surprise, then, when fights broke out between white American sailors and young Chicanos in Los Angeles during World War II in what were called the Zoot Suit Riots.

The song Moonglow was a hit for young people and jazz fans during the Depression. Written in 1933 by Will Hudson and Irving Mills with Eddie DeLange (lyrics), its popularity grew in the hands of such jazz musicians as Joe Venuti, Ethel Waters, the Boswell Sisters, Benny Goodman and a zoot-suited Cab Calloway.

Today, oldsters recall the song as a danceable hit from clarinetist Artie Shaw, who recorded the song in 1941. After WW II Moonglow was a hit by June Christy in 1946, Billie Holiday in 1952 and Sarah Vaughan in 1962.

Colorful characters in Old Bridge library audience
The audience at the library in Old Bridge included a cast of colorful characters who made their presence known during and after the concert.

They included:

     •  man dressed as a cowboy said his seizures had just stopped
     •  man used ruse to approach and drop Jews For Jesus flyers in my hand
     •  woman sat in the audience and read a book throughout the concert
     •  man promoted his pay-to-play video program in Princeton
     •  woman fumbled her photo-taking, despite library's prohibition on cells.

To my delight the audience included a woman who enjoyed hearing me sing Duke
Ellington's 1942 song, Don't Get Around Much Anymore. She told me she realized she had misinterpreted the song's first few words, "Missed the Saturday dance," for many years. I'd sung the words so clearly, she said, she realized for the first time the song was not called, Mr. Saturday Dance.

©  2017  Kenneth Lelen  —  All Rights Reserved