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Posts Tagged ‘Mildred Bailey’

In the late 1940s, my father owned a bar in the Fleetwood section of Mount Vernon. The City of Mount Vernon along with Yonkers formed the northern boundary of New York’s Borough of the Bronx. During that period in my life both my parents would disappear for a while. I never knew where my father went. My mother was hospitalized for a year or so at a time in various mental and medical hospitals having unspeakable procedures administered to her as was usual at the time.

Anyway, during the period my father owned the bar, I would spend many of my days there sitting on the floor, my chin propped up on my fists listing to the music and staring at the changing colors of the lights emanating from the Wurlitzer.

Now for those who do not know what a Wurlitzer is, it was one of the last great analog machines for producing music before the advent of the digital age. Through the clear plastic window at the top, I could see the bright chrome handle move up and down the stack of records, stop with a jerk and pluck a record out of the stack, swing the report over to the turntable and drop it. Then the music would play — silky jazz, bright pop tunes, magnificently melodious show tunes. Surrounding the window, a roll of back-lit variegated colored plastic would bath me sitting there before it with its ever-changing colors.

One day, in the bar, while I sat there before the Wurlitzer dreamily wandering through the bliss of the colors and the music (Lady Day’s cover of Night and Day?) I, for some reason, overheard my father and the other men at the bar talking. One of them, probably my father, said, “You know those guys on Tin Pan Alley*, who write those songs all wear bow ties and horn-rim glasses.”

This startled me. “What do bow ties and horn-rim glasses have to do with writing music,” I thought? “Was it some sort of uniform that one must wear to get into the alley?” “Odd, why would they say that?”

I would continue to ponder that question as I sat there in that dream-like state, bathed in the slowly shifting colors listening to Sarah Vaughn, Mildred Bailey, Jack Teagarden or some other the wonderful sounds of that golden age of music wondering about bow ties and horn-rim glasses.

Of my childhood, this was one of the only two experiences which I remember fondly.

Later, there was a time that I wore bow ties and still later horn rim glasses. Never wrote a note of music though.

A Wurlitzer Juke Box


  • Tin Pan Alley — the name given to the collection of New York City music publishers and songwriters who dominated the popular music of the United States in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The name originally referred to a specific place: West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in the Flower District of Manhattan.

The start of Tin Pan Alley is usually dated to about 1885 when a number of music publishers set up shop in the same district of Manhattan. The end of Tin Pan Alley is less clear cut. Some date it to have continued into the 1950s when earlier styles of American popular music were upstaged by the rise of rock & roll, which was centered on the Brill Building.

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