Tuesday, December 12, 2023

The Next Move


Despite being in the midst of a difficult economic depression, any musician moving to New York City in the 1930s would still have had several choices for where to work in such a center of entertainment. When my dad returned to the city after a brief—and sad—moment in the entertainment scene in remote Manchester, New Hampshire, he could have grabbed a gig almost anywhere. Thankfully, reading through the many interviews of my brother, an actor in the next generation who followed in his father's footsteps, I can now piece together my dad's story.

One of the places where my dad worked, beginning in the 1930s, was with band leader Paul Ash. To get an idea of what the band might have been like, I perused old newspapers for any headings about Paul Ash. 

It turns out there were many mentions. What confused me was that the articles seemed to come from newspapers in many different locations, while I knew my dad's home base became solely New York City after his return home. From a brief biography of Paul Ash, I learned he was not only an "orchestra leader" but had performed in vaudeville and was also a composer and recording artist, perhaps explaining the widespread reportage about the man.

Looking further, I also spotted several newspaper reports as far back as the 1920s, indicating Paul Ash had previously worked in the Chicago area. Apparently, working relations there were rocky, for some newspaper articles mentioned his involvement in lawsuits and other legal action. However, a 1926 insertion in The New York Sun mentioned one detail keeping the Ash act in Chicago. Under the title, "$1,000,000 Contract Tied to His Long Hair," the stipulations for his continued work in Chicago were reported to include "his agreement not to change his flowing hair, get fat, or have his face altered." The contract was binding for five years.

By 1933, though, the million-dollar Paul Ash was advertising his "New Acts Reviewed in New York" in Billboard, and Chicago was a scene from his past. By then, my dad was back in New York, and though I'll probably never learn how he came to be part of the "orchestra" conducted by Paul Ash there, his tenure with the band was likely a long one—and, ironically, a run that was only ended thanks to legal action, not a waning audience.

That longstanding act with Paul Ash was featured at a place New Yorkers called the Roxy—a place from the city's past that we'll consider tomorrow. 


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