INTERVIEW WITH JANET KLEIN:
‘A HUNDRED PER CENT CHARMING.’
by Enrique Campos.
Paisajes Eléctricos Magazine / Spain
Getting into Janet Klein's universe turns out to be so easy. It does not matter whether if you are familiarized with what she does, with all those songs, all those sounds that come to us right from the mists of time, of if you are not. Janet's unconditional kindness and sweetness, and above all, her limitless passion for her own work, which she reflects in every answer, is enough to whet anyone's curiosity. Read Full Interview.........
FUJIROCK EXPRESS ‘08
Past Perfect - Janet Klein interview
One of the hardest-working acts at the fest this year is Janet Klein & Her Parlor Boys, putting on at least five shows over the Fujirock weekend. No, Klein is no rock star. Quite the opposite. Klein and her band, the Parlor Boys, perform exclusively songs from the 1920s and 1930s, recreating the music of her crumbling collection of tin pan alley-era sheet music. Sitting backstage, she fans herself and grins widely. She’s just finished up a session at Avalon Field, and despite the rain that dumped at the beginning of her set, the crowd actually grew in number, choosing to shimmy to the oldies in the downpour instead of run for shelter.
Q: Enjoying the fest so far?
A: Oh sure! But I feel a little out of place here (giggles). Rock concerts are so foreign to me. So much brain-beating music. I walked by Underworld last night and felt like an alien in a strange land.
Q: What do you think of the crowd? You seem to get on quite well here.
A: Oh, I love playing in Japan. I love the design sensibilities here and the food. I feel at home because the women here are still feminine and sweet. I recently learned an old Japanese drinking song from the 1920s and am trying it out this tour. I think it’s going over.
Q: How does performing here compare to your hometown of LA?
A: Oh it’s much different here. People in LA seem to enjoy acting miserable. I’ve never met so many people that put on a sort of cool misery attitude.
Q: Obviously you take a different tack.
A: Of course! Give ‘em a little sunshine! Smile and put on a nice dress and they’ll lighten up.
Q: Many of the 20s and 30s songs you perform were quite racy, even by today’s standards. Have you ever had trouble with obscenity laws?
A: (laughs) No! These songs won’t cause any outrage with my kind of delivery anyway. I get away with saying naughty things because they sound so nice. In fact, the more common reaction is “wow, my grandmother used to listen to this stuff, hmm.”
by Jazz Not Jazz - 2006
Oh!, the recent
album by Janet Klein and Her Parlor Boys is a real different and unique
effort in these days or like Janet puts it “like music from
a lost planet“. In her jazz-not-jazz interview Janet Klein talks
about her love for the vintage stuff, how she became a keeper of said
music from the lost planet, what she likes about modern technology
and a lot more. So enjoy your visit to Janet’s parlor.
Q: Please tell
me something about yourself. How did you become so fascinated by the
I was an artistic type kid growing up in San Bernardino, California,
a rather dreary town, although if you look at photos of it from old
postcards from the 1910s, it was at one time, a beautiful place…lots
of orange groves and a Carnegie Library building with an onion dome,
an idyllic valley setting. The only places I found beautiful were
those spots that were old or left alone and in tune with nature, like
the old ranch down the street called the “Bachelors Back Achers”
or the old Mission Inn, built in the early 1900s in nearby Riverside.
An old stone cottage stood in the wash near our house, that was used
as a shooting range…it was a mysterious old structure. Pointing
down to the wash was a natural arrowhead shape imbedded in the hill
above. Indians looked to this signpost to find a natural hotspring
below. The hotspring, for as long as I can remember was a closed off
Christian enclave. It had once been the fancy Arrowhead Springs CountryClub
in the 1920s. Most of the modern buildings around town looked like
trash. It’s that basic sense of discontent and a search for
places or things that made me happy or intrigued. I was fairly disconnected
and discontented with contemporary culture and retreated to my dad’s
painting studio where he had a great record collection and a nice
bohemian atmosphere. I was more comfortable around my parents, grandparents
and great aunts than with other kids my own age. They told me great
stories about New York in the 1930s-50s and about their experiences
in the “Old Country”, i.e. Poland. When I visited them
I loved to see objects in their homes, clothes in the back of the
closets, photographs etc. I became quite a sentimentalist…I
love objects and places infused with the presence of a person or a
history. As far as female role models, I had wonderful women around
me, strong, lovely, interesting, smart, talented…I didn’t
care for the tough-talking, “athletic” unfeminine angle
of the “women’s liberation” movement I saw around
me in the 1970s. The grown women I knew didn’t seem to be oppressed,
in fact, they were ruling their respective roosts. “Bra-burning”
wasn’t as interesting to me as going through the lingerie drawers
of my lady relatives. I think I am attracted to finding evidence to
show that women have always accomplished impressive things and have
had no shortage of intelligence, attitude and feminine power, without
trying to be “like” men. Which has led me to paw through
alot of old books, photographs, printed matter,etc. When I see photos
of women from the 1910s,20s 30s…I relate, I see people like
me. I look at books and magazines today and I feel like an alien.
just been on a tour in Japan. What was the experience like to perform
in a country with a totally different culture and what do you like
about the Japanese audience?
We love it. This was our third tour in Japan and we have felt very
welcomed and comfortable. To our surprise we’ve met and played
with talented Japanese groups playing, American string band, jug band,
klezmir, 20s hot Hawaiian music there. The clubs are beautiful and
well-equipped and our fans have been gracious and enthusiastic. Sometimes
girls wear their grandmothers’ kimonos to show me the old fabrics,
and bring old photos. I have learned several obscure westernized jazzy
Japanese songs from the 30s and recently a well known boogie woogie
type tune from 1947, that translates as “The Ginza Can Can Girl”.
I admire Japanese culture very much. They are so careful with their
land. It is a very aesthetic place. There seems to be a real preservation
of regional specialty and the appreciation of nature is apparent in
so many ways. I wish their sensibilities of modesty and politeness
and their aesthetics of “small scale refinement” would
make their way over to the USA. We could use a good strong dose of
that kind of influence.
by Madeline Virbasius-Walsh
New York 2000
Janet Klein takes
you back to a gentler time with her quirky, clever and sweet style
of entertainment. Her enchanting voice, expert ukulele playing, and
interpretative take on songs from the 1910's, 20's and 30's immediately
draws you in. Her reverence for a bygone era and her uncanny ability
to make it come alive is a rare treat for the sentimentalist in all
You have been described as a musicologist, archivist, poet,painter,
musician and chanteuse. is there anything else you might like to add
to this list? How would you describe yourself?
If I keep talking I know the answer to that will materialize. If I
were a collage, I'd be made of assorted odds and ends, all the pieces
with details, woodchips, flowers, inlay patterns, cloth & textural
stuff, extremely feminine. The things I'm interested in continue to
shape who I am. It's like each interest is a lighted porch, the doorway
feels familiar or inviting somehow, then I ring the bell and find
what's inside and look around and think, aah, now I feel like I'm
home. I mostly follow what makes my heart pang and ask questions later.
So... I go off and make things and look back and realize, huh I am
a person who makes poems like this, paints pictures like this, sings
songs like that. And then there are parts of everybody that expand
and contract depending on the people you interact with and the ones
you include in your life. That keeps changing the picture of what
you do and how you describe yourself at any given time. How's that
for honest and elusive. That's me.
Have you felt a strong connection with "the silent era"
since childhood? When did you first discover your talent for singing?
JANET: I have
always been interested in being around people older than myself. My
friends & relatives have given me a window on New York in the
1920s-30s and also descriptions of life in the "Old Country".
I knew two of my great grandparents and was very influenced by these
people, grandparents, great-aunts, etc., all very vivid people with
meaningful stories. I have always related to the aesthetics of older
ladies in my life, nice china, handkerchiefs, matching slips, handmade
things, good cloth, nice wood. have always loved catching glimpses
of the world in the early 20th century. Before 1996, artistically,
I mostly painted, wrote poetry, collected old recordings and sang
to myself...all the time. I remember singing into a tape recorder
an old song "If I Had A Talking Picture Of You", then listening
and thinking--no, nobody will ever listen to me sing. I had a vision
of myself in a gown, with a candelabra and a hankie in hand, emoting.
So I tried to write poems that would make me feel like a chanteuse
and then went ahead and did poetry recitation. Then I tried to play
the ukulele for my own pleasure, trying out some of the little ditties
for myself and then when I tried them out on my friends, everyone
listened with little grins on their faces.
How did you happen upon your knack for playing the ukulele?
JANET: I like
to think small...poems, ukuele...make things short and sweet. I've
accompanied poems with traingle... The ukulele worked well with my
poetry readings, I could do a couple of little songs in between poems.
I used to correspond with people, collecting old music, and could
never get anybody to sit down and listen to these old recordings.
But the uke suddenly made it possible to share my favorite witty songs.
This encouraged my playing.
Your collection of early recordings, vintage costumes and turn-of-the-century
ephemera must be quite extensive and eclectic. What are some of your
favorite treasures in your collection?
see: Some of my favorite things really transport me...for instance,
I found some photographic "cabinet cards" from the 1890's
of performers like Vesta Tilly and a show-card for an early vaudeville
act called "Barnyard Frolics." Vesta Tilly was a woman who
dressed like a man and sang songs from a man's point of view. I have
also found cylinder recordings and transcriptions onto CD and more
photos of her when I visited England last year. Photos of all girl
bands from the 1920s as well as rustic bands from the 1910s and 20s
really give me a thrill. Some photos and recordings of Yvette Gilbert,
who was a singer Toulouse-Lautrec painted...you realize that this
is about as far back as you can get in terms of hearing the voices
of the 19th century. Before this, we can only guess. I found photographic
"cigarette cards" (photos that used to be tucked into cigarette
packages) from the 1910s, with ladies posed as allegorical nudes,
wearing corsets under body-suits, and holding lyres and serpents etc.
These photos had been trimmed and glued onto cardboard with hand-painted
borders and lots of pin holes from being tacked up on display. I have
attached these onto my homemade songbooks that I keep for my band
repertoire. I am wild for gowns from the 1930s and hats from the 1920s
and have a dreamy coat from 1917, with an amazing printed cloth lining.
I have an illustration of this exact coat in a ladies catalog from
that time. I have a classic 1920s hat that was owned by a burlesque
performer in St. Louis; the front of it looks like a crown made out
of ribbon and marcasite. A set of studio recordings of Kurt Weill
and Ira Gershwin playing piano and singing...to hear Kurt Weill sing
Who are some of your favorite performers from the past? Are there
any modern entertainers whom you find intriguing?
JANET: Of the
past...George E. Lee Band, Charlie Johnson Band, Benny Moten, Clarence
Williams Jug Band, Mound City Blue Blowers, Sugar Underwood, Ruth
Etting, Lee Morse, Annette Hanshaw, Fred Astaire, Josephine Baker,
Blanche Calloway, Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grapelli, Eddie Lang,
Joe Venuti, Sol Hoopii, Screaming Jay Hawkins (I heard he died recently).
As for the present...My favorite jazz artist, who you can still see
today, is Jimmy Scott. He sang with Lionel Hampton's band in the 1940s
and is a song stylist with such unique and piercing character, I could
only compare him to Billie Holliday. He tugs the meaning and poetry
out of the most standard standard and makes me cry and get goose-bumpy
every time. I have been able to see Nelly Lutcher and Big Jay McNeeley
and Nina Simone; they all knocked me out. Others I love: Cheap Suit
Serenaders, Bo Grumpus, Chuckie Weiss, the Beau Hunks, Scenic, Moris
Tepper, Don Van Vliet.
What are some of your favorite films?
JANET: I adore
Vitaphone Musical Shorts from the 1920s. "Dance of Life"
with Nancy Carroll, "Magnificent Ambersons" an Orson Welles
film, "Holiday", with Katherine Hepburn, "Man with
a Golden Arm" with Frank Sinatra as a drug addict, everything
with Buster Keaton, all Cassavetes' movies, "Sunrise", "Pandora's
Box", "Blue Angel", two Yazoo video projects: "At
the Jazz Band Ball", "Times Ain't Like They Used To Be"
(Rural and Popular American Music 1928-35). My father made two homemade
animated films in the 1960s titled "Incanabulus I, II",
which is one of my favorite personal things, and also a promotional
bit of film of my grandfather, Marty Klein's act: "Ten Minutes
With Ten Fingers", he was a prestidigitator.
You perform songs previously sung by such famous names as Cab Calloway,
Rudolf Valentino, Kurt Weill and Marlene Dietrich. How do your interpretations
compare with theirs?
JANET: Cab Calloway, for instance was such a massive talent! When
I do one of his songs--I can only hope to squish them into my own
small girly version. He was so wild. having his recordings in my head
just pushes me to be a slightly wilder strain of white girly girl.
Rudolph Valentino tried to sing, briefly; there are a few strange
recordings. His voice sounded so haunted and nasal. I recorded one
of the songs he chose to record called "Kashmiri Song" which
I tried to sing in an innocent way, because it seems more haunting
to sing about "pale hands crushing out life then waving me farewell"
without making it melodramatic. Kurt Weill sang like most tin-pan
alley composers, Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin..they had wonderful pitch,
expressed things just as they meant them, and with their characters
hanging out at every line. With those voices in my head I figure it's
not so much about having a gorgeous trained voice that counts. For
me it's the character, idiosyncracy and sincerity--all the nice human
qualities, they count. Marlene Dietrich, also she was an actress who
was asked to sing..but wow, she was wonderful...feminine, racy...I
feel like Marlene without the accent. In most every case I am working
with material not really meant for ukulele. Some of my songs did come
out in sheet music form with ukulele arrangements though, as uke was
very popular. Anyway, when I work out arrangements with my band I
find that many of the songs have neat little intro verses that are
perfect for sing-songy vocal & ukuele. By the late 1930s, these
verses were almost entirely lopped off by most performers. I think
they became thought of as corny. I can really lay all my personal
inflections onto these things. Especially because the intro sections
can be played out of time...When my band members and I work out our
arrangements, we are not really interested in making things sound
contemporary, but rather, we respect the original musical intent and
stylings of the day. We all listen almost exclusively to the old material,
so the idea is to stay immersed in the old stuff and see how we do.
What is your idea of a perfect performance?
JANET: I just went to one of my favorite spots in town..."The
Silent Movie Theatre" here in LA. They showed "Top Hat"
with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, (a soundy movie, of course) and
I realized that some of the first recordings I ever heard from the
1930s were of Fred Astaire singing the songs in this movie. Here is
someone not particularly thought of as a singer, but he put over those
songs with such sweetness and sentiment...they are completely charming.
Once you get hooked on this sort of thing, a lot of musical performances
these days seem like music on steroids. See the film "Times Ain't
Like They Used To Be" and you'll get to see some great performances,
I'll say. This is film footage of people playing on their home turf..now
there's a window into the past..into a time when music wasn't necessarily
about celebrity. If you ever get to see the Vitaphone Music Shorts,
there is a wonderful one with Baby Rosemarie, wow! entertaining! Or
the drummer who appears in the short with Norman Thomas Quintette--if
you can find it, you'll know what I mean! When I knew about 3 songs
total on the ukulele, at a cozy party I played them for (my musical
hero) Jimmy Scott. He said, "Honey, you go right on; it's all
about telling the story, that's it."
Tell us a bit about your band, "The Parlor Boys" How did
you all meet?
JANET: Well, I live in an old craftsman house built in 1917, the boys
come gather in my parlor about once a week and we play what we love...what
I like to describe as "Obscure, Naughty and Lovely Songs from
the 1910s, 20s and 30s. We play this stuff as if it were illegal.
It's almost surreal. Just think of what's being played on the radio,
tvs glowing blue, helicopters hovering overhead, computers ugly as
refrigerators in everybody's living room, and here we are, this little
wierd enclave of souls out of step with the rest. Anyway, I found
the fellows through a series of chance encounters. From my college
days, I knew a few muscians and composers. None with any apparent
interest in early jazz. I used to correspond with strangers through
a letter exchange service (pre-internet) to trade recordings. So it
is still amazing to me that I could be so lucky to find such like-minded
and talented people, so nearby. I feel like Dorothy on the Yellow
Brick Road. Each person in my band is so rarified and unique, and
between them, they know everything I could possibly want to know about
my secret musical love. Some of the fellows have played with "Johnny
Crawford's 1928 Orchestra" or "Dean Mora's Modern Rythmists",
both being dance bands. In my band, there are no tuxedos and nothing
straight-laced..my gosh, I have these great musicians to play with,
I certainly don't want to hem them in.
Tell us about your forthcoming CD. Will Robert Loveless be producing
this one as well?
JANET: The new
CD is going to be called "Paradise Wobble". I am wildly
excited about it. We have had some wonderful studio sessions with
Tom Marion and Robert Armstrong., who last recorded together with
the "Cheap Suit Serenaders" and with Ian Whitcomb joining
us with his inimitable vocal stylings, ukulele and accordion; also
some recordings we did in what we call our "Ross Deluxe Room"
with the idea of getting a real live dance hall sound. There are some
recordings by a band called the "Ross Deluxe Syncopators"
made in 1927, and the sound of the music in that room haunts us all.
And yes, Robert Loveless is the producer. He is my oldest friend in
Los Angeles (we were in art school together). Thank goodness, he is
managing this project. He is the captain of the ship and I know he'll
get us to shore. Robert draws his experience from making records with
Savage Republic, 17 Pygmies, and Scenic. (My band members haven't
heard any of Robert's music - - they might panic). Aesthetically,
Robert and I are absolutely in sync. Somehow it's about approaching
music from an artists' angle (you know the painter kind). Robert's
the one who set up a microphone on a broomstick in his living room
to help me make my first little solo uke and vocal recordings. If
he hadn't paid any attention to me at the start, I am sure I'd still
be playing and singing to myself at home.
Anything else you would like to mention?
see, Come Into My Parlor, my first CD, which was recorded before the
band was even a twinkle in my eye, is almost sold out, but is still
available. It has 26 of my favorite songs, with help from John Reynolds
and Robert Loveless. Join our email list for live performances, JKdarling@aol.com
The new CD Paradise Wobble will be ready soon. Whew!
Interview with Janet Klein published in the Mississippi Rag, March
2001 By David Reffkin
THE RAGTIME MACHINE
In a world of loud, raucous and high-tension pop music the occasional
small acoustic band is a welcome relief to many of us. But amidst
the lively, jumpin'acoustic winds and rythym trad jazz bands, a quiet
solo instrument accompanying a lone voice is sometimes even further
welcome relief. Enter Janet Klein. Janet makes a bold step onto the
stage with but a ukulele and a song. And though she performs with
her (lively) band, mostly in her home area of southern California,
it's her interest in and enthusiasm for those old songs, many of them
off the beaten track, that is news here. Her first CD (Come Into My
Parlor) contained little more than Klein and the uke. As she sat in
the studio for this interview, she performed a few songs along the
way. She is fascinated with the era and collects the ephemera, including
much more than the sheet music. The interview (including performances)
originally aired on my weekly program, "The Ragtime Machine"
on KUSF, San Francisco, Calif.--DR
Are you happy with people referring to you as "The Ukulele Lady?"
Except for the associations with that old song "The Ukulele Lady"
which people keep sending me the music for. I don't like that particular
tune but I was very inspired by a novel someone sent me with the title
"The Ukelele Girl" written in 1927. It has some wonderful
descriptions of a fancy high society party where the guests were performing
skits and a rather quiet girl is handed an outfit to put on, a dragon
fly outfit. Then suddenly she is standing on the stage with azure
light being cast on her and she picks something up at her feet - a
ukulele. She shocks and disarms everyone there with the charming sounds
of the ukulele.
DR: Now you have
an image to live up to. Do you feel like you are assimilating the
styles of all the performers who came near a ukulele in the teens
JK: I've come
across a lot of artists along the way who just called out to me. Some
of the first things I heard from the period were recordings of Fred
Astaire, Josephine Baker, Edith Piaf and Lotte Lenya. It was from
those artists that I had the first inklings that I was hearing something
really different , that made me want to investigate pre-swing era
music. The big band recordings were pretty easy to find. But from
the teens through the 30s it's a little trickier. So I started to
hunt around and found those who became my favorites, those I could
really relate to, like Annette Hanshaw and Ruth Etting. They brought
me closer to the world of my grandparents, New York in the 1930s.
When the microphone was invented, all the "girl-next-door"
types came out of the woodwork The microphone could pick up the nuances
of their subtle voices; people didn't have to be able to "belt
it out" to perform. I thought, "Gee, that's for me"
DR: So it's the
songs and the singers that attracted you to this.
JK: That's what
got me first. Then I met up with some people who are great 78 record
collectors and got to hear amazing bands from the period as well.
DR: Do you try
to find music associated with the Los Angeles area?
JK: Not necessarily,
but I am curious about it. There is a compilation called Central Avenue.
And Kid Ory's band was the first black band to record, and that was
DR: Though I'm
sure the singers you listened to mostly came from elsewhere, especially
JK: Sure. At
that time the singers weren't getting "elocuted." You could
still hear their New York accents, and they weren't trained voices..those
flapper-types who were getting to sing in those days. My grandmother
won a radio contest singing "Indian Love Song."
DR: By the way,
you do "Kashmiri Song"which is a good example of underplayed
music that could stand to be heard again.
JK: It has a
very haunting, beautiful melody. I heard it at a friend's who said,
"Want to hear Rudolph Valentino's attempt at singing?" He
played me this 78, and it had this foggy sound, like a boat on the
ocean. The song was written by Amy Woodforde-Finden, an English woman
fantasizing about India. So, there was Valentino singing with this
very nasal voice..I couldn't make out most of the words, except for
"Where are you now?" and "Agonize." It sounded
very melodramatic and mysteriously beautiful. So, I told my friend
that if he ever found another version of it where you can make out
the lyrics, let me know. The next week he found another version sung
by Conrad something or other.
DR: For your
second recording (Paradise Wobble) you expanded the band.
JK: Yes. I did
the first recording before the band was even a twinkle in my eye.
I just started playing the ukulele and little by little I began to
meet people who were also interested in the same music. I've met some
amazing instrumentalists, who are collectors and historians in their
own home made way. They've helped me to materialize some neat things.
There are 12 musicians on the new record in different configurations.
In some cases it's just me and guitar, or vocal and ukulele and violin.
But then we expanded into a nice big string band sound, also adding
cornet, accordion, washboard and piano, etc.
DR: Where have
you played around Los Angeles?
JK: We've played
at some lovely settings, like the Atlas Supper Club which is one of
the beautifully restored Art Deco buildings on Wilshire Boulevard
at Western. It's a really beautiful space. Also at the newly restored
Silent Movie Theatre on Fairfax, a place that's held my fascination
since I was a kid. It has been opened and closed over the years. I
had the chance to particpate in the re-opening. After a terrible incident
there, the place closed down, the neighbors came and left notes and
flowers and candles and lit it up like an altar. Then the place was
almost sold off and turned into a parking lot. It was discovered later
that projectionist was behind a contracted murder of the owner..a
love tthing gone wrong.
a song should have come of it too.
JK: It was so
sad..this is one of the most wonderful spots in LA. I remember on
the homemade altar, someone left a note saying.."Now this really
is a SILENT movie theatre." Fortunately Charlie Lustman, the
new proprietor came along to save the day. I got to sing a song for
the reopening from 1909 called "Let's Go Into A Picture Show"..got
to help bring the good vibes back.
DR: Has anyone
seen you in a café yet and told you they could put you in a
JK: The thing
for me is to get to play in a good atmospheric room, the kind of place
where you can really make a time warp. Everyone in my band is so immersed
in it..maybe if somebody wanted to use us to set up a Jazz Age atmosphere..I
think we could do it.
DR: How do you
find new material?
JK: I do collect
sheet music, in a lot of cases for the beautiful graphics. From the
mid-teens through the early thirties, every piece of sheet music,
practically, had ukulele arrangements. I mostly work out things from
listening to old recordings. Many of these tunes were not particularly
meant to be played on ukulele. What works really well are the nice
verses, the little prologues to the songs. Along the way the verses
came to be considered corny. By the Forties, nobody bothered with
these verses. But for me, they're perfect to be performed rubato..out
of time and they set up a story and are great for the ukulele.
DR: What kind
of instrument do you use?
JK: I have a
1950s Martin, but I also have a fancy uke, which I had made for me.
I designed it and Tony Graziano of Santa Cruz built it for me. I went
to his place and discovered this beautiful black lacquered uke that
he had made and went home and started working on drawings for a design
for me. It has abalone and mother-of-pearl inlay, with a bird, my
initials, a cherry blossom and floral motif. He did a lot of the work
on the face of the uke, like they did on old mandolins. It's a very
feminine model. I hope to some day have my own line.
DR: Did you specify
anything about the sound?
JK: He makes
nice sounding instruments . He used mahogany for mine, like the Martins,
for a good warm sound.I've had my Graziano uke for three years and
just getting it broken in. Robert Armstrong, who is playing with us,
he designed a couple of models for Martin guitars, I think. He did
some neat cowboy motifs as a stencil design and also a painting to
be laminated on the tops of the instruments. Then another friend of
mine, Jim Beloff invented a ukulele called the "Fluke",
which is made out of plastic. It has a great sound and you can stand
it up because it's shaped like a pineapple with the bottom cut off
DR: Which only
adds to the Hawaiian aspect, but we'll let that pass.
JK: Yeah, I don't
do much Hawaiian music. It took me a long time to warm up to it, but
there is some great Hawaiian material from the 1920s that has captured
my fascination. It's strange crossover music, with Western influences.
DR: What is the
earliest material that you do?
JK: I have one
song from 1909. I'm very curious about 19th century music but I don't
necessarily have a lot of it worked up for my repertoire. I'm interested
in a lady named Vesta Tilley. I found some rather intriguing photographs
of her. She was dressed up like a man, and I could tell that she was
a performer, although I didn't know if she was an actress. I started
checking it out, and a friend of mine played me a cylinder recording
of her singing. She did these comic songs from the man's point of
view. Some of the songs appeal to me a lot. I haven't quite worked
them out yet. There's one called "Monte of Monte Carlo"..it's
about a wealthy man who's very full of himself.
DR: You do a
number of "naughty songs" of the era. Is this a specialty
of yours or just what you happened to find first?
JK: You have
to hunt them down a bit.. so yes I've made it a special interest of
mine. I do "Banana In Your Fruit Basket". I got that from
Bo Carter, he's a wonderful source for that kind of thing. I am always
on the lookout for good naughty ones. What we do are obscure, naughty
and lovely songs; that's how I like to describe what I'm interested
DR: Do you ever
worry about lyrics, or change them?
JK: There are
some things that I wouldn't go back to. There are minstrel songs with
lyrics that are better left to rest, but it's fascinating history.
Some of the naughty ones won't do for me. I'm kind of ladylike in
my own way.
DR: What kind
of stage presentation do you make?
JK: Well, I'd
say we like to make a good time warp. The Atlas Supper Club, where
we play quite often has an atmosphere that's pretty close to the nightclubs
portrayed in the 1930s films. Also, there's a nice interaction between
the band and the audience. We've been attracting a lot of music and
film historians, and people that have an interest in the vaudeville
era. In a lot of cases, we give a little information about the tunes,
about our sources without standing up there like a teacher. Sure enough
there's always someone in the audience who chimes in with more information.
Here's a good story..a woman show comes to our shows, her father's
name was Val Rosing. She discovered that her father had a singing
career in England that she was unaware of. He had been a vocal coach
in Los Angeles in the 1950s and never told his daughter about his
past in London. It turns out that her father was kind of a Bing Crosby
kind of figure then and that he had a million selling record of "Teddy
Bears' Picnic" and had recorded extensively with the BBC Orchestra.
Ian Whitcomb, who is in the band, knew all about her father and performed
the Teddy Bear tune especially for her. Anyway, for the stage shows,
I have my 1930s gowns that I wear, and that gives me a little thrill
and hopefully sets a mood.
DR: Is your house
outfitted in the era?
JK: We live in
a 1917 bungalow. The fellows come over about once a week and meet
in my parlor. I'm strongly attracted to the early part of the 20th
century. I listen almost exclusively to old music. I've been open
to a lot of things musically..but fortunately I found Jimi Hendrix
and big band music before I found my big love.
DR: What else
have you done?
JK: I'm a painter,
and a poetess. My husband is an art collector, and I collect illustrated
and photographic postcards from the turn of the century. I work for
a commercial printing company in Santa Monica and we do a lot of art
reproduction and publication work, which keeps me busy. I love to
reproduce vintage photography because it's challenging to get the
right feel of the old materials and the way that they age. We scan,
color correct and publish images, cards, books, magazines etc. I frequently
get the chance to reproduce things from my collection and use them
in various projects. My husband collects vaudeville and theatrical
and motion picture playbills, letterheads and magic and circus oriented
printmatter. The graphics are so great. I love to share them.
DR: Do you identify
yourself with the Ragtime era?
JK: Late ragtime
and early jazz. I'm still looking for vocal things from the ragtime
era. I'm doing some Janet Green material. I'd like to find out about
more performers like her.
DR: Do you try
to accurately sound like these singers?
JK: Well, I don't
impersonate them. I feel like I'm osmosing. I'm listening very closely.
I respect their styles, and I can relate to the less booming, non-Jolson-like
singers of the day. It's the inflections and stylistic things I listen
for and learn from.
DR: Do people
send you any odd things that they think you'd like to have?
JK: People do
send tunes from their piano bench. One lady sent me her wedding shoes
from the 1920s. Another lady sent me love notes that her father had
sent to her mother. They were on written on little French perfume
advertising cards. My husband found one of these cards for me for
a perfume called "Coeur De Jeanette" rendered in an Art
Nouveau style. I made this into the makers label for my ukulele.
DR: Is there
a singer or writer who might be on your immediate want list?JK: From
my first CD, somebody called me up and said, "You've been listening
to Georgia White, haven't you?" He could tell I did a couple
of her tunes. "I've got everything she ever did," and he
put it all on tape for me. I heard some of her recordings that she
did with Les Paul when he was only 19 years old. She did a lot of
naughty songs. I'm crazy for Blanche Calloway and her band, and I
only have a few of her recordings. Lil Armstrong also, I only have
a couple. For Vesta Tilley I have one set of her recordings from Pearl
Records, an English Label. I'm also interested in jazz performances
on film ,like the Vitaphone Musical shorts that are out on Laserdisk
now. Those are some of my favorite things ever. I have a perpetual
curiousity about Sugar Underwood, a mysterious figure who made a few
recordings, played kind of like Jelly Roll Morton. I think he made
4 sides, recorded in 1927. I collect band photographs and people playing
ukulele and dancing. I remember I found one that was so great of all
these couples clowning around in a dance studio. A friend recognized
the dance..it was the Bunny Hug.
DR: I imagine
you are often singing about dances and about dance steps.
JK: I have a
new one, called the "Baltimore": "It's a dance that's
gottem like BlackBottom never did before, no sir, do that twister,
And of course there were wobbles and stomps and wiggles.
DR: Where do
you do most of your work?
JK: You can mostly
find us playing in Los Angeles. We are open to invitations though.
There are various guest artists that come to play with us. We're usually
about seven players plus me. We've had Jeff Healy from Canada. I think
people know him as a blues singer. But his passion is collecting old
recordings and he came out and played an astounding cornet. John Reynolds,
who recorded on my first CD comes and plays with us sometimes. He
plays a bit like Django His grandmother was Zazu Pitts. We have a
couple of the fellows who play with the Cheap Suit Serenaders, Tom
Marion and Robert Armstrong. Brad Kay, who's an amazing ragtime pianist
and music historian, plays piano and cornet. Also the legendary Ian
Whitcomb plays with us, on ukulele and accordion. For so many years
I listened to this stuff by myself, before the internet I used to
correspond with people to share it. I didn't know anyone within ten
miles of me who was the least bit interested. So, since I've been
doing this, I've realized that there is aniche for it. I'm just getting
my head out of the sand, as I've just been listening to music of the
past. I hadn't paid much attention to what people are doing out there.
It's been great sharing it, though.