Ted Lewis (musician)

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Theodore Leopold Friedman, better known as Ted Lewis (June 6, 1892 – August 25, 1971), was an American entertainer, bandleader, singer, and musician. He led a band presenting a combination of jazz, hokey comedy, and schmaltzy sentimentality that was a hit with the American public. He was known by the moniker "Mr. Entertainment" or Ted "Is Everybody Happy?" Lewis.


Early life

Born in Circleville, Ohio, Lewis was one of the first Northern musicians to start imitating the New Orleans jazz musicians who came up to New York in the teens. He first recorded in 1917 with Earl Fuller's Jass Band, who were making an energetic if somewhat clumsy attempt to copy the sound of the city's newest sensation, the Original Dixieland Jass Band. At the time, Lewis didn't seem to be able to do much on the clarinet other than trill. (Promoting one recording the Victor catalog stated:"The sounds as of a dog in his dying anguish are from Ted Lewis' clarinet"). He improved a bit later, forming his style from the influences of the first New Orleans clarinetists to reside in New York, Larry Shields, Alcide Nunez, and Achille Baquet.


By 1919 Lewis was leading his own band, and had a recording contract with Columbia Records, which marketed him as their answer to the Original Dixieland Jass Band who recorded for Victor records. For a time (as they did with Paul Whiteman) Columbia gave him a special record label featuring his picture. At the start of the 1920s he was considered by many people without previous knowledge of jazz (that is to say, most of America) to be one of the leading lights of hot jazz. Lewis's clarinet playing barely evolved beyond his style of 1919 which in later years would sound increasingly corny, but Lewis certainly knew what good clarinet playing sounded like, for he hired musicians like Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, and Don Murray to play clarinet in his band. Lewis actually could play normally well (listen to his earliest records for an idea; no missed notes, for one). For years his band also included jazz greats Muggsy Spanier on trumpet and George Brunis on trombone. Ted Lewis's band was second only to the Paul Whiteman in popularity during the 1920s, and arguably played more real jazz with less pretension than Whiteman, especially in his recordings of the late 1920s.

Lewis recorded for Columbia from 1919-1933. He was on Decca 1934 into the 1940s. In 1932, Lewis recorded "In A Shanty In Old Shanty Town", which he had performed in the film "The Crooner" with his orchestra. It was released as a single and reached number one on the charts where it stayed for 10 weeks.

Lewis's band got cornier and schmaltzier as the Great Depression wore on, but this seemed to match the general public's taste, as he kept commercially successful during an era when many bands broke up. Through it all he retained his famous catch-phrase "Is everybody happy?". Lewis adopted a battered top hat for sentimental, hard-luck tunes (he called himself "the high-hatted tragedian of song"). Frequently he would stray from song lyrics, improvising chatter around them. This gave the effect of Lewis "speaking" the song spontaneously: "When ma' baby... when ma' baby smiles at me... gee, what a wonderful, wonderful light that comes to her eyes... look at that light, folks..."

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