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ProArte CDD 436

1. There’s A Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder 2:46
(Jolson - Rose - Dreyer)

2. Sonny Boy 3:13
(deSylva - Brown - Henderson - Jolson)

3. Swanee 2:31
(Gershwin - Caesar)

4. When The Red, Red Robin Comes Bob-Bob-Bobbin Along
(Woods) with Carl Fenton's Orchestra

5. I'm Sitting On Top of the World 2:29
(Lewis - Young - Henderson) with Carl Fenton's Orchestra

6. You Flew Away With The Nest 3:00
(Kalmar - Ruby) with Car Fenton's Orchestra

7. The Spaniard that Blighted My Love 2:52

8. Back in Your Own Backyard 3:01
(Jolson - Rose - Dryer) with Bill Winges' Orchestra

9. My Mammy 3:01
(Donaldson - Lewis - Young) with Abe Lyman's California Orchestra

10. Dirty Hands, Dirty Face 3:07
(Monaco - Clarke - Jolson - Leslie) with Abe Lyman's California Orchestra

11. California, Here I Come 3:07
(Jolson - deSylva - Meyer) with Isham Jones' Orchestra, Buddy deSylva Ukelele 3/1924

12. Little Pal 3:08
(Jolson - deSylva - Brown - Henderson)

13. Liza (All The Clouds'll Roll Away)
(Kahn - Gershwin - Gershwin)

14. Golden Gate
(Jolson - Meyer - Rose - Dreyer) with Bill Wirge's Orchestra

15. Let Me Sing, and I'm Happy

16. The Cantor
(Ceasar - Katscher) with Victor Young's Orchestra in Yiddish

17. Hallelujah, I'm A Bum 2:31
(Rodgers - Hart) with Victor Young's Orchestra

18. You Are Too Beautiful 3:24
(Rodgers - Hart) with Victor Young's Orchestra

19. April Showers 3:00
(deSylva - Silvers) with Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians

20. Rock a Bye Your Baby With A Dixie Melody 3:16
(Lewis - Young - Schwartz) with Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians

Produced by David Lennick
Disc Loaned by Brian Boyd and Greg Gormick
Cover Illustration by Linda Haas Baliko

If ever there was a man born to entertain, it was Al Jolson. Minstrel shows, Broadway stages, movies, radio, records, malaria-ridden tropical jungles … the whole world wasn’t big enough for Al Jolson’s talent. Or, as some said, the whole world wasn’t big enough for Al Jolson’s EGO. What other performer would sign a recording contract that not only paid him an unheard-of-sum, but also specified the appearance of the words “The World’s Greatest Entertainer” on the record labels? Jolie, that’s who!

He entered the world as Asa Yoelson, in St. Petersburg, Russia. Families were too busy scraping a living together and surviving pogroms to worry about officially recoding the birth of another baby, so the exact date and year of Asa’s birth remain unknown; he settled on March 26, 1886 so his friends could have an occasion to celebrate.

Much of the life of Al Jolson is similar to the Hollywood biographies and psychodramas of days gone by. Some of it is even similar to the Jolson story! The family settled in Washington D.C. where Yoelson Senior was a rabbi. Al lost his mother at an early age, and wanted no part of the cantor’s career his father intended for him. No, Al found himself drawn towards whatever theatre there was … burlesque, vaudeville, minstrel shows. The black face and white gloves would remain a Jolson trademark long after they had ceased to be relevant anywhere else.

Broadway audiences loved Jolson for fifteen years, in such classics as The Honeymoon Express, Robinson Crusoe, Jr., Sinbad, Bombo and Big Boy. The plots didn’t matter; quite often the entire show would be tossed out as Jolson would dismiss the cast and ask the audience if they wanted to watch the rest of the play or listen to Jolie! “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet!” was his favorite expression, and one night it brought down the house as he followed the great Enrico Caruso on stage during a bond rally!

In 1927, Al Jolson made entertainment history by appearing in the first important sound film, “The Jazz Singer.” Oddly enough, his Broadway career had been in the doldrums, and he snagged the movie role only because George Jessel was holding out for more money … to his everlasting regret. Warner Brothers would probably have disappeared, had it not been for the timeliness of the sound process, Jolson’s availability and the incredible success of “The Jazz Singer” … followed by “The Singing Fool,” “Say It With Songs,” “Mammy,” “Big Boy,” and “Go Into Your Dance.” Jolson stayed on top for another decade, even though the movies were beginning to suffer from hackneyed, similar plots. Radio lured Jolson in the mid-thirties, and he was heard as the star of the Shell Chateau, the early Kraft Music Hall (pre-Bing), and a variety of other series going into the early forties. But again, things began to slow down.

By now, Al had been through two major careers. He’d been a star for three decades. His marriage to Ruby Keeler had ended, and the movies didn’t want him. But there were audiences out there … soldiers starved for entertainment, fighting men out in the jungles, wounded men lying in hospital beds, people for whom a man singing about his “mammy” wasn’t an old relic, but someone who touched everything they were fighting for. Al Jolson shamed the rest of Hollywood into coming out to entertain the troops. He was in better voice than ever. And when it was all over, there was an audience … young and old … eager to fill movie theatres again and again for “The Jolson Story,” starring Larry Parks but featuring the voice of Jolie on the soundtrack, re-creating the old songs with a new spirit. Jolson was ready to perform wherever they would have him. But his time, it was too much. On October 23, 1950, a month after his grueling tour of the Far East, Al Jolson was dead.

This ProArte collection captures Al Jolson at his best, on recordings made between 1912 and 1932. Most of them were from Broadway shows or Hollywood productions. The earliest of them, “The Spaniard That Blighted My Life” (which he would re-record much later with Bing Crosby) came direct from the English Music Hall. “Swanee,” complete with whistling chorus, is the original recording of George Gershwin’s first major hit song. There are rumored to be unissued Jolson records going back to an early session for Edison in 1910, as well as a couple of operatic arias for Brunswick which have never seen the light of day; but one of the most amazing Jolson performances on record is “The Cantor,” sung in Yiddish and included in this collection. It tells the story of a little village and the arrival of a new cantor; a tailor, a blacksmith and a wagon driver each describe the cantor’s wondrous performance in terms of his won craft. Amazingly, Jolson had to learn this song phonetically, for the show “Wonder Bar” in 1931. Truly, The World’s Greatest Entertainer.

- David Lennick

The Restoration Process

The original recordings digitally restored in this ProArte Collector’s Series release were made more than half a century ago. Even allowing for the techniques in use at that time, the producers feel that the performers can now be heard to better advantage than ever before, thanks to present-day refinements in the reproduction of older recordings.

In capturing the original greatness of the legendary artists, no effort was spared to find the best possible original copies. Careful examination of the grooves was made, with proper styli fitted to match the original. Original discs were carefully centered to ensure the total absence of wow and flutter.

Equalization was used to ensure a wide-range, high fidelity sound, often not heard when these recordings were brand-new. Where it was deemed advisable, a small amount of reverberation was applied, to compensate for the small studios often used in making records during The Depression. Extraneous noises such as surface glitches and clicks were removed. And finally, the recordings were left in their original and properly balanced MONAURAL state. The result? A restoration of genius, digitally enhanced, in sound superior to anything thought possible when these performances were originally engraved for posterity.

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