William V. Black
Most of us, swimming against the tides of trouble the world knows nothing about, need only a bit of praise or encouragement – and we will make the goal. Jerome Fleishman
The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street is a musical variety radio program which began on the Blue Network in 1940. The magazine Radio Life described it as “one of radio’s strangest offsprings… a wacky, strictly hep tongue-in-cheek burlesque of opera and symphony.” It was a weekly half-hour of jazz, played by leading practitioners of the day. The format was a dry satire of the stuffy symphonic and operatic broadcasts announced by the dignified Milton Cross.
The Basin Street opening, intoned by announcer Jack McCarthy, usually went along these lines…..
Greetings, music lovers, and that includes you too, Toots. Once again you are tuned in on a concert by the no doubt world-renowned Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street, whose members have consecrated their lives to the preservation of the music of the Three Bs: Barrelhouse, Boogie-Woogie, and the Blues. Present with us on this solemn occasion: Mademoiselle Dinah (Diva) Shore, who starts fires by rubbing two notes together; Maestro Paul Laval and his ten termite-proof woodwinds; Dr. Gino Hamilton, as our chairman and intermission commentator; and Dr. Henry Levine, with his Dixieland Little Symphony of eight men.
The society’s low-key chairman, the witty Gene Hamilton (always introduced as “Dr. Gino Hamilton”), would then call the meeting to order, peppering his formal speech with slang: “There are those critics of the saxophone who say it is merely an unfortunate cross between a lovesick oboe and a slap-happy clarinet. To those critics, we must say, ‘Kindly step outside with us a moment’ and ‘Is there a doctor in the house?’” These off-center comments were actually scripted by Welbourn Kelley, but Hamilton’s deadpan deliveries often made the musicians laugh out loud. The program then delivered 30 minutes of blues and hot jazz, with Dr. Gino stepping in between numbers to deliver such comments as, “A Bostonian looks like he’s smelling something. A New Yorker looks like he’s found it.”
Two resident bands provided the music. Henry Levine and His Dixieland Octet offered traditional “readings” of jazz standards such as “Farewell Blues,” “St. Louis Blues,” and “When My Sugar Walks Down the Street.” Trumpeter Levine (born Harry Lewis in London, England in 1907), a former member of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, was quite familiar with these arrangements. Paul Laval and His Woodwindy Ten (which included some of Levine’s personnel) played the same type of music on more symphonic instruments, demonstrating that such instruments as oboe, bassoon, and Celeste were equally capable of producing hot jazz. In 1943 maestro Laval (born Joseph Usifer in Beacon, New York in 1908) changed his surname to “Lavalle” to avoid association with then-notorious war criminal Pierre Laval.