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Al Jolson - Radio Stars of America
Crosby in "Look" [9.57]
Jolson and Cantor Meet [22.31]
Scared of Robinson [6.00]
Cantor visits Jolson…Night Out [15.29]
Jolson’s Next Film [12.38]
Hiring George To Sing [7.52]
Bye-Bye Baby [2.06]
Al Jolson with Bing Crosby, Eddie Cantor, Edward G. Robinson, George Burns and Gracie Allen
Recorded 1947-50
LIVING ERA CD AJA 5596 [77.33]



Crotchet Budget price

Living Era’s Radio Stars of America series continues with a septet of items dating from 1947 to 1950 devoted to that irreplaceable slice of Americana, Al Jolson. Though he was past his best years, and not long from his death in October 1950, he still gives a fair idea of the ham and the charisma that went into his act.

He guested on the Chesterfield Programme with Bing Crosby and on The Eddie Cantor Show and there are also examples of his appearances on the Kraft Music Hall, this time with Burns and Allen, and also with Edward G. Robinson. Unlike some items in this series the aural quality is first class; no deterioration or interference and a good state of preservation. The extent to which these shows still live depends on the quality of the original material and the rapport between artists. There’s also the business of ad-libbing, which I find goes a long way and when it happens it’s invariably a thrill, so tightly scripted were the scenes.

Crosby is the straight man in his encounters with Jolson and fun is generated through their (few) slip-ups in Crosby in "Look" They have an enviably relaxed rapport and nothing sounds stagey or over–rehearsed and doubtless it wasn’t. They sing together of course – the shows were studded with Jolson’s stentorian Down South pieties – and make an oddly congruent pairing, the suave crooner and the bellicose black-face. With Cantor, on a slightly thinner recording, we get a veritable encyclopaedia of Jolson’s Greatest Hits; he and Cantor take off each other’s singing styles and give a Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye together.

The appearance of Edward G. Robinson gives plenty of opportunities for Jolson to act scared. Actually Robinson, as we know, was one of the most cultured men in show business and turned the pages for soirées at the Barbirolli’s and elsewhere; chamber music and art were his passion but tough guys were his persona and he doesn’t disappoint. How delightful also to hear from Oscar Levant, the show’s MD. If you thought that TV talk show hosts spinning banter with their bandleaders (think Carson, think Letterman) something of a 1970-80s novelty act, think again. People have always done it.

Plenty of variety then, though you do get two Swanees and two Californias. And pleasing to hear the emolliently generous Der Bingle and the more acidic Cantor work equally well with the ageing Jolson. Excellent notes complete a good package and a good appendix to Living Era’s other Jolson discs.

Jonathan Woolf

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