Having been sort of a musical gadabout off and on for about 43 years I certainly am delighted to be working in The Empire Room at The Sportsmen's Lodge in Studio City on a monthly basis. For me, this new chapter for myself and our strolling players is indeed special and exciting.
Live entertainment has changed so much since when I first started in 1969 as a boy singer...sort of the Bobby Breen of my era... it's not like the old days when there were many venues throughout North America with house bands, showrooms, and nightclubs where a night out was a regular happening in terms of entertainment. Yes things have certainly changed since my salad days. But our goal is to bring back the sounds and the style of those marvelous times with the hope of reaching out to folks of all ages who might care to experience what is it was like when people dressed for an evening out and danced to the music of bandleaders like Del Courtney, Ernie Heckscher, Dick Jurgens, Lawrence Welk, Ronnie Kemper, Lester Lanin and so many others that I knew or worked with. The sounds of Artie Shaw, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Blue Barron, Benny Goodman,Shep Fields, Eddy Duchin, Harry James, Glen Gray, Ray Anthony, Freddy Martin and so many others still live...just a bit more quietly I guess...
From 1969 until the early 80's I worked steadily at various venues that catered to the elite's of the day and of course the tourists who might be staying at a resort we would play and those folks who lived in cities like New York, San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago, Miami, Toronto, and so many other desinations where the locals would come to have dinner, dance and hear and see headliners and featured attractions. These were remarkable times and looking back I seriously wonder if I realized at that time if I appreciated how lucky I was to be a part of it. I was young, had a decent set of pipes and loved to sing the old songs and I had the chance to meet and work with some of the greatest performers of any century like Ella Fitzgerald, Eddie Fisher, Johnnie Ray, Rosemary Clooney, Gordon Macrae, Mel Torme, John Gary, Sarah Vaughn, and in the green rooms I learned so much from these outstanding people who we will never see the likes of again. Again, I was a very lucky young man.
As the years passed club owners saw a decline due to the changing sounds of popular music and of course having a house band of 10 to 20 players was pretty expensive 3 to 5 nights a week and so I sort of faded into the woodwork and went into a new chapter of my life. I recall so many nights when I was not on the bandstand but would go to a place like The Rainbow Room to catch Ella Fitzgerald who I had worked with or perhaps drop in on Margaret Whiting who would be singing in The Plush Room at the York Hotel or I would be in Las Vegas to hear Jerry Vale at Ceasars Palace or listen to Keely Smith at The Desert Inn. A rather important singer I knew very well once told me that you never forget what it feels like to sing a song and bring back memories for a couple on the dance floor or perhaps make new memories for another. To me, that is what it is all about. And maybe that's why the music never left me and why my memories are so vivid of those heady times.
I was blessed to come in at the tail end of what was then "cafe society" and the era of debutante balls and supper clubs. It was a special time for me and it was a special time I think in our culture. Live music was everywhere and the opportunities to work seemed endless. Today is a different story. Here in Los Angeles venues for the music of Cole Porter, Al Dubin, Harry Warren, Sam Coslow, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, George and Ira Gershwin, Harry Ruby, Harold Arlen and so many others are exceptionally and unfortunately limited. But I do see a light at the end of the tunnel because there is a growing legion of followers who do want to hear the great songs and dance to a live orchestra and that is why we created The Johnny Holiday Program in late 2010.
When I debuted The Johnny Holiday Program in 2011 I had Mickey Rooney join us. Now where in Los Angeles would you find one of the all time great motion picture stars of all time talking and singing? And on my program! Well as a personal favor to me Mickey and Jan, his lovely wife, were happy to do the show and it proved the point that with a nice mix of old and young Hollywood, a great band, beautiful chorus girls and some featured acts, a musical variety show could prove to be of some interest to the public. Mickey was the first of many great performers to appear on our program.
Throughout 2011 and 2012 we were fortunate to have many fine friends appear and sometimes perform on our shows. When my friend Michael Feinstein came to see us, someone whose star was rising back in the early 80's when I was planning my exit, I asked him to appear and he graciously did. Now here is a man who has done more to sustain The Great American Songbook compared to anyone in my book and Michael was and remains gracious, amazingly gifted, and a star! We had on The Mills Brothers, Gina Eckstine, whose Father the legendary Billy Eckstine I knew and opened for at The Venetian Room. We also have had on folks like Jan Daley who, to me, is one of the most gifted all around performers I know. The fine motion picture and television actor Robert Picardo has delivered some great songs on our show as have so many others. I have also had on some local talent that continues to amaze me like Miss. Jennifer Keith who is a great singer and a dear friend as well as up and coming vocalists like Sergio Vellatti or someone who is the perfect big band singer, Miss. Cassie Miller who is marvelous to see and hear. I suspect that over a two year period I had on as many as 45 guests performers, all of them wonderful people and gifted artists. And how nice to see stars like Academy Award winner Shirley Jones come by and talk to our audience or Stefanie Powers, Michelle Lee and many others. To me, it always seemed so perfect...the mix of seasoned performers and those whose stars are on the rise. My two year run at The Cicada Club was an amazing and happy experience. It always felt like a party but now the party has moved to a new location which houses a lot of history and is an ideal and spacious location for my audience, cast, and orchestra.
In the Fall of 2012 I was approached by some very fine people at The Sportsmen's Lodge which I knew well but confess I rarely visited. So I went over there and took a look at the place and saw an opportunity for a larger room, a real stage, and a venue that I believed would work well for our band and strolling players. In January of this year I signed a contract under somewhat bittersweet conditions because I have fond affection for The Cicada Club but the Lewis and Clark in me wanted to try something new. I had many discussions with my Musical Director, Dean Mora, about this move because the men in his orchestra have been with me for several years and frankly I wouldn't make the plunge without Dean and the boys in the band...and the response was positive across the board. So we contacted the cast and crew and agreed to make the move...."and make the San Fernando Valley my home".
The Empire Room at The Sportsmen's Lodge opened its doors back in 1945 and it is a spacious place with a large dance floor and plenty of room for seating 400 to 800 people comfortably. In addition, and because I look at things from the audience perspective, I checked out the parking, the exterior lighting, the ease of entrance and the surrounding area and became convinced we should give this a whack and so here I am, a new home for our program and yes it is a bit new for me because I was unable to bring along several people who mean much to me. But at the same time I am grateful to have the best band in town and some of the finest people I know helping pull our program together. Our debut is Friday February 15th and we will do a show every month in The Empire Room and I could not ask for a better team at The Sportsmen's Lodge Events Center to help us in terms of promotional support, reservations and the like. Really these are wonderful people. It's actually the sort of place you should consider for a private event, corporate meeting or a birthday party and if you need a band, just drop me a line!
I have always wanted to see Los Angeles offer more diverse opportunities for live music and for a night out on the town the way I knew it 25 or even 30 years ago and The Johnny Holiday Program simply seeks to provide you with a chance to see an authentic sliver of what was once a popular theme in many of the big rooms I used to play...a supper club environment with great food, wonderful dance music with a live orchestra, headliner and a supporting cast...oh and of course a chorus line of lovely ladies!
I sincerely hope you will come to see us once a month and I am also delighted that we are working with other organizations such as The Art Deco Society of Los Angeles and Rusty Frank's longstanding and popular "Rusty's Rhythm Club" to offer discounts to their members and followers and other worthwhile groups and organizations. Check with the folks at The Events Center at 818.432.7502 and I know they will do all that they can to accommodate your needs.
To me we are in this together when it comes to supporting live music and I sincerely hope you will come to see us on February 15th where my special guest is Miss. Toni Prima who is not only a dear friend but the daughter of another dear friend, the legendary Miss. Keely Smith. I first met Keely in Las Vegas some 30 years ago when I was doing a brief stint at The Las Vegas Hilton with Liberace....that's a story for another time. Toni's Mother along with her Father, the great Louis Prima, were truly the King and Queen of Las Vegas and when you hear Toni's voice you will easily hear and see that the apple does not fall far from the tree. She is one of my favorite singers and when you hear this lady's voice you will know why she is so special to so many. Toni is the perfect performer for our debut!
I do hope to see you in the historic Empire Room at The Sportsmen's Lodge on the 15th of February...oh, and use the Coldwater Canyon Ave entrance because this is really a great way to get the full effect of your visit....
Until next time, so long for now...
P.S. If you have special requests for songs or guests please feel free to drop me a line at Johnny@johnnyholidayentertainment.com and I will do my best to accommodate your request.