This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project with Abe Dworkin is taking place on October 29, 1996 at 1408 Wakefort Court, East, Columbus, Ohio. The interviewer is Naomi Schottenstein.
Interviewer: The general theme of this interview is: Abe Dworkin is a musician and he has a lot of interesting information but we’re going to start with some background. Abe, tell me a little about your mother and father: their names, where they were from, where you lived as a youngster, where they were born, where you were born?
Dworkin: I was born in New York City on July 10, 1911. My mother and father brought me to Columbus between the years of 1911 and 1916. In 1916, when we came to Columbus, my first recollection of where we lived was at 394 Washington Avenue, which was very close to the Agudas Achim shul located at Washington and Donaldson. Our neighbors were the Bermans – Carl Berman’s parents.
Interviewer: Who was Carl Berman?
Dworkin: He was the son of the Berman’s. I don’t remember their first names but Carl was very well known in the Jewish community.
Interviewer: What did he do in the Jewish community?
Dworkin: He was in the produce business. Later he was active at the Jewish Center when they first opened and he became manager at the bowling alley at the Jewish Center. On the other side, next door to us, was a family by the name of
Itzkovitz. Later they changed their name to Harris. It was a very large family
and I remember Ben Harris later became a jeweler on East State Street. He had a
sister named Minnie who later married Sid Mendelman who had a grocery meat
Then there was an alley and the Levy’s lived there – Art Levy’s parents – on Stauri Street and Parsons. His mother’s name was Dora and she was very close with my mother and later with my wife, Mary. They had another daughter named Yetta – beautiful girl – who married a fellow by the name of Joe Waitzman who was in the steel business but he died very young. Then Yetta passed away. And Beryl, who they called Sonny, passed away about 4-5 years ago. Those were my early memories.
I started school at five years old at Fulton Street Elementary School. This had to be around 1916. I remember one other student – Abe Wolman – I called him Avie – who later became President of Agudas Achim. I think after they moved to East Broad Street.
Interviewer: So was Abe in school with you?
Dworkin: He was in another class. He was a little older than me. He’s been gone now 20-25 years. Interviewer: Abe, let’s go back a little, to your family.Do you remember your grandparents at all?
Dworkin: I never met my grandparents but my father told me that when he lived in Russia, he lived in a little shtetl about 20 miles from where my mother grew up. They met in Russia. He told me about his father who operated a fish farm. They used to breed fish in the shtetl. My mother came from a shtetl called
Borisov, located on the Dneiper River and when the pogroms started, the Cossacks
came riding into the shtetls with their long swords and it was horrible.
Interviewer: So your parents were forced out of Russia?
Dworkin: Yes. They made their way to a seaport in Germany and then they ended up, of course, at Ellis Island like all the other immigrants. I was born on Henry Street in New York City, which was a very famous street on the lower east
side. I was born next door to the Henry Street Settlement House, which at that
time was the background for a lot of entertainers like Paul Muni, John Garfield,
Red Buttons – a lot of the Jewish comedians. They all came from that area. And
the Henry Street Settlement House still exists today. If you look on my birth
certificate, it’ll say 188 Henry Street and I think the address of the
Settlement House is 186. That’s where I was born.
Interviewer: Tell me about your siblings, your brothers and sisters.
Dworkin: After we got to America, we moved to Columbus – I was the oldest. I’ve got a sister who’s still living. Her name is Rose. She lives in Detroit. She married a Canadian from Ontario and her last name is Slobasky. His home was Sarnia, Ontario. He’s passed away. I have a younger sister, Jean, who also
married a fellow in Detroit. His name was Dave Beckert. He’s passed away and
she’s married to a fellow named Mitchell Newman and they’re living in Detroit. I
have a younger brother, Leo, who is 72 years old and never got married but he’s
a very fine musician – a great trumpet player. He lives here in Columbus.
Interviewer: Tell us about your children and grandchildren.
Dworkin: I have three children. The oldest is Bobbie who is
married to Sol Izeman, the accountant, and she’s a very successful wedding
consultant. They also have three children. Their oldest daughter, Mindy, is
married to a dentist and they live in Louisville, Kentucky. They’ve got three
children – my great-grandchildren.
Then Bradley lives in Cleveland and is married to Bob Gross’ daughter, Marty. They have two children. The youngest is Stacy and she just got engaged. She lives in Chicago, has a very good job, and the marriage is planned for June, 1997.
Interviewer: And your second child?
Dworkin: Steve is next and he lives in Cromwell, Connecticut, which is a msuburb of New Haven. He’s a professor at Southern Connecticut State Teachers’
College. He has a degree from OSU and he got a scholarship and his master’s degree from Tulane. Then he was hired as assistant professor and a few years ago, he acquired his Ph.D from the University of Connecticut. Steve is an mauthor, a writer, and he conducts seminars for the government all over the United States. In fact, several years ago, he appeared on the Phil Donahue show in Chicago several times. Just this week, he sent me a dissertation that the government asked him to do. He’s very successful.
Interviewer: Does Steve have any children?
Dworkin: He’s got two children. Both are graduates of the University of mMassachusetts. In fact, his son worked in London, England for the entire year last year. He’s planning to go to law school. Steve’s daughter works in Vermont (Rebecca’s named after my wife’s mother). I’m real proud of all my kids.
Interviewer: I can understand why.
Dworkin: My daughter, Marilyn, lives in Chicago and she married a fellow by the name of Korkorsky, from Youngstown, who became ill and I think he’s now in a nursing home. She remarried a wonderful guy by the name of Barry Cohn. They have three grown sons who all have University degrees – Illinois, Illinois State, and the youngest who is twenty-two, just graduated from the University of Illinois.
He’s now an English teacher. All her sons were with Barry Cohn and they all live
in Chicago. We always look forward to seeing them.
Interviewer: I can see why. Can you tell me a little bit about your school? You mentioned your elementary school. Did you go to junior and senior high?
College? What kind of education did you have?
Dworkin: In 1917, I remember it was a severe winter here – I was about five or six years old – my mother put me on a train, we had to go to the Union
Station. They didn’t have air conditioning in those days, the cars were all
Model T’s and all the cars froze up. The only thing that would keep them running
was when we put alcohol in them. That’s when I learned how to drink.
Interviewer: At the age of five?
Dworkin: Six. We went there because her brother was getting married. His name was Samuel Cohn. My mother was originally a Cohn. I went to the wedding.
Interviewer: Where was the wedding?
Dworkin: In New York City. Samuel was marrying a New York girl. I remember while we were in New York, my mother had another brother named Nathan who was a very well-known man in the Jewish community here in Columbus. For years, he had the City News Company at Broad and High.
Interviewer: Let’s get back to your education.
Dworkin: I went to South High School and I graduated in 1928.
Prior to that, I went to Roosevelt Junior High. While there, I continued my
music studies and that’s when I started on the French Horn. That started me off.
I didn’t go to college. I was well-prepared musically because of my father’s
musical ability. I learned a lot, self-taught at home.
Interviewer: What was your father’s musical background?
Dworkin: He was a violinist.
Interviewer: Where did he start?
Dworkin: In Europe. When he came to New York, he played at Bar Mitzvahs. Even when we moved to Columbus, he would play like the Klezmer music in small groups. I remember several times when I was younger, he performed with several local Jewish musicians.
Interviewer: Was Klezmer kind of a Jewish jazz type of music?
Dworkin: Well, it was more like Russian music. He executed beautifully. He had a lot of technique. In fact, if he’d have stayed with it…there’s an old adage, the greatest violinists in the world were always Jewish for some reason.
Interviewer: Must be in the genes.
Dworkin: You know, you’re absolutely right. Violin is the primary instrument in Judaism.
Interviewer: Not the piano?
Dworkin: I think violin is preferred. Isaac Stern, Misha Elleman. Their homeland is always Russia. Our greatest musicians come from Russia.
Interviewer: Abe, did any of your siblings play in musical groups? Did any have musical backgrounds like you did?
Dworkin: My brother still does. My son, Steve, studied with Sam Gimarkco who was also my brother’s teacher. I thought my boy, who also went to South High School, and who was an excellent player, would continue. But for some reason,
when he got interested in education, he dropped the music. He still has his horn. But no one went on professionally.
Interviewer: You’re not disappointed that your son …. ?
Dworkin: No, not at all.
Interviewer: Let’s fill in a little more about your background. Do you remember anything about World War I?
Dworkin: 1917 was the year the United States entered the war. That was the severe winter my mother took me on the train to New York. My father’s younger brother, Harry, was drafted. There were four Dworkins here in Columbus. Harry later moved to Chicago and became a very successful agent for the Metropolitan
Insurance Company. He was stationed at the Columbus Barracks – what is now the DSCC out on Broad Street. I remember him coming to our house on Washington Avenue in his army uniform and puttees. I wanted to be a soldier.
Interviewer: What did you call these?
Dworkin: Puttees. You wrapped them around your legs.
Interviewer: So the pants looked like knickers?
Dworkin: He was stationed here in 1917. Harry met a girl from Chicago – where he met her, I don’t know – and they got married. She died at an early age. During this time, my father bought a house on Carpenter Street. It was the third home my father bought. It was 560 Carpenter Street. His older brother lived at 646 Carpenter Street. That was Samuel. The Wolman’s lived catty-corner from us. When my father opened the Broadway Clothing Company at Broad and Front Streets,
the manager of his store was Eva Wolman – Abe’s sister. She is still alive
today. I was at the Wolman’s home everyday. I also used to go to my Tanta Leah’s
– Samuel’s wife.
Interviewer: Do you remember people going off to war? Any huge problems caused by the war? Like during World War II, it was hard to get gas and food, etc.
Dworkin: No. We never encountered anything like that. Fortunately, when we purchased the house, it was a nice neighborhood and though we weren’t rich, we were kind of well-to-do.
Dworkin: Yes. That’s about the time that I went to junior high and eventually South High School, but then I became real interested in my music career and I stayed with it for many years.
Interviewer: So your music career was really the basis of your livelihood.
Dworkin: My entire life – it was my whole life.
Interviewer: When did you meet Mary and when did you get married?
Dworkin: I met her at South High School. She was a year behind me. I graduated in 1928 and she graduated in 1929. Mary lived at 335 Livingston Avenue
which is at Grant and Livingston. Her father was very, very religious. We eloped
first. I was around 19 or 20 and we wanted to keep it a secret. And we did for a
couple months until it leaked out and my father was irate when I told him. He
didn’t believe me at first. He didn’t know Mary or her family. They wouldn’t let
us live together until we had a Jewish wedding. Both of our parents were
Orthodox but Mary’s parents were ultra-Orthodox so in 1928 we got married at 584
South 22nd Street where we had moved. Then we were allowed to live together.
Interviewer: Seemed to work out Ok – after 65 years. Abe, you have such a fascinating background. Did Mary work when you were first married?
Dworkin: Yes, she worked with the Farm Bureau. She made $18 a week. I was making $93 a week, a fortune of money.
Interviewer: What about your traveling? You traveled all over at the beginning of your married life. How did that work?
Dworkin: Well, I liked what I was doing but it was difficult to make a living on a steady basis. I had to keep changing bands until I got into the theater. Of course, I worked the Palace for several years, the Hartman, the Lowes. The theater jobs were more steady than dance bands. I could be booked for four weeks
or six months or three months. It was difficult at first. I couldn’t establish a
home because I was always moving. I’ve been all over the United States
Interviewer: Where was Mary while you were traveling?
Dworkin: She was home most of the time. Occasionally, she would come to stay with me. Chicago, when I was at the Black Hawk. Virginia Beach, I contacted her and she came there. And I think one time when I was up in New England – I used to play a lot in New England. They used to have what they called Battles of
Music with other name bands – Freddy Martin, Ozzie Nelson. All the big bands at
The first band I traveled with was the Scarlett Mask from OSU, which still
exists. We booked into North Flat, Nebraska, at an outside dance hall. While we
were there, it rained every night and we couldn’t play because there was no
cover so we made arrangements with the booker to book us in Scotts Bless,
Nebraska and then we went to a ballroom in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. I remember
one July, it’s 110-115 degrees and I walked in – they didn’t have air
conditioning then, they had ceiling fans – and who’s standing there? My father.
He had driven with the father of another guy in the band. It took them two weeks
to get there. They drove from Columbus in a Model T Ford. I said, “What are
you doing here?” He said, “I’ve come to take you home.” I said I
wasn’t going home. He insisted, but he had to leave without me.
Interviewer: Why did he come to take you home?
Dworkin: My mother was aghast. “You gotta bring my Ababa home!” I
wouldn’t go so he left and went home without me.
Interviewer: Who did he go out there with?
Dworkin: The father of someone else in the band. I don’t remember who he was. I was flabbergasted to see my father there.
Interviewer: Were they going to bring the other guy back, too?
Dworkin: Yes. We were youngsters and my mother was just worried sick. My father left and we continued to work for this booker. One night we were going to a dance and we saw a U-Haul trailer attached to another Ford. The trailer said Welk’s Novelty Band. They had a flat tire and we helped them repair it. A guy
walked up and said, “My name is Lawrence Welk.” This was in 1928.
Interviewer: You talked about opening at the Ohio Theater in 1928. Can you tell us about that? That was a colorful time. Is that when the Ohio Theater
Dworkin: It opened in 1928. I came back home later. Never stayed long. I had to join the Union otherwise I couldn’t work. One day I got a call from the Musician’s Union. “Abe, I just talked to the conductor at the Ohio Theater
and they want to add a trumpet player that can play jazz. Do you want to
audition for it?” Of course I was into jazz at that time with Louis
Armstrong, Earl Hines, Duke Ellington. I said I wanted to audition but I was
scared to death. So they arranged the audition and when I went, they had already
auditioned 8-10 trumpet players. I had to go to a special appointment. I had to
do a George Gershwin thing, my knowledge of reading music, transposing – I had
none but I was always a good reader.
Interviewer: So you were self-taught when it came to transposing?
Dworkin: I could read music before I could read a newspaper. I was five years old when I could read music. And I was adept on the piano – that’s the basis of all music – left hand, right hand. Anyway, they put a couple things in front of me which were very difficult but the Sange Demarco helped me. I had to transpose Rhapsody in Blue. Then they asked me to play some jazz and a tune from
Interviewer: “Girl Crazy”?
Dworkin: “I Got Rythym” was the tune. I played some jazz chords
from that and I was scared to death. I knew the job paid well and I needed the
money, $93 was a fortune. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. The next day, I
got a phone call from the president of the Union. “Abe, you’re hired.
You’re to report to the theater …” That’s how I started.
Interviewer: You say you made $93. Let’s put this into perspective. Mary made $18? Do you have any idea how much a house cost at that time?
Dworkin: Well, I told you my father bought a house for $6,500 – on Carpenter Street. I didn’t pay $6,500 for this house.
Interviewer: I’ll bet not. What about the car?
Dworkin: I had nothing but money. I heard you could buy a
custom-made convertible Buick for $1,600. I paid cash for it and when you opened
the door, it was like a pinball machine. Lights going on all over the place. I
always had plenty of money. But when the theater closed, I had to look for
another field in music.
Interviewer: So there were some dry spells?
Dworkin: Oh yes. That’s what I mean. You couldn’t establish yourself. If I wanted to go into a store and buy something on credit, it didn’t exist. First thing they’d want to know was where did I work? I’d say I was a musician. No credit. I had no credit.
Interviewer: Did you ever work with your dad?
Dworkin: Oh yes. When I was 9 or 10 years old and they had the Rochester Clothing Company, they put me on the register.
Interviewer: Where was that located?
Dworkin: Chestnut and High. Two doors from Leo & Myers.
My father and his brother Max’s store was the biggest men’s clothing store in
Columbus. They had a register and all the relatives worked there and all they
did was steal money. They used marked money and hired police and even nailed one
guy who was a cousin of my father’s.
Interviewer: Do you think it was because they were desperate to make a living? It was bad times then.
Dworkin: Oh yes. The Crash was in 1929. I’ll never forget the register. When the salesman made a sale, he pressed the keys on one side and the drawer opened on the other side so he couldn’t reach over to get the money. So my father told me to watch those guys. Then my dad had a big argument with my Uncle Max and they split up and my father started the Broadway Clothing Company on Broad and
Front which was a very successful store. Eva Wolman was the manager. I worked
Interviewer: Can you tell me about some of the other businesses in that area downtown? Jewish businesses?
Dworkin: The Union was at Long & High. F & R Lazarus was at Town & High. Reuben, Levisons – they all originated as pawn shops on Long Street. Morris Levison was the patriarch. Plotkin started at Livingston & Parsons, then moved to Long Street. I think my father and his brother were the
forerunners. They had a fantastic men’s clothing operation. Then he lost it in a
fire. No insurance. My father was a gambler – card player.
Interviewer: When did the store burn?
Dworkin: 1925 or 1926 – around the time of my Bar Mitzvah. Then my father opened a store in Linden – up North – near Cleveland.
Interviewer: Did your father have a car or truck to get around?
Dworkin: He always had a car. The first car I remember, he bought a new Ford for around $500. He couldn’t drive too well and after he’d had it about a week, he drove into a fire hydrant and smashed up the car. He’d bought several cars.
One time (we lived on Carpenter Street), he said to me, “I got something to
show you.” He’d bought a brand new Buick for $2,300. In those days, a lot
of the Jews in Columbus used to go to Magnetic Springs. All they’d do was take
the baths, drink the water, and play cards. So my father is driving one of those
new Buicks and he had a flat tire. He only had it a week and he was proud of his
Interviewer: Abe, you had such a colorful musical background and you played professionally for so many people. I hardly know where to start. I’m going to take a couple stabs. For one thing, tell us how the Columbus Symphony got
Dworkin: In the 1930s, somebody came up with the idea that Columbus should have a symphony so they got a hold of a conductor whose name was — TAPE ENDS.
We got together 35 of the most competent musicians in Columbus and I was in
the group. We had two trumpists – Henry and me. And we were going to rehearse on
Bay Street where the WTVN Radio Station was, where Gene DeAngelo started. But we
couldn’t get everyone in there so a guy by the name of Lou Wallick owned the
Deshler Wallick – he also owned a hotel in Toledo – he brought Abe Rubinsky from
Toledo. I hate to say it but this guy wasn’t too good. So we rehearsed. There
was no money but we had the greatest players in Columbus. We met regularly for
five or six months. Most of us never got paid. This was in the 30’s. Also, I was
working at the radio station.
Interviewer: What did you do at the radio station?
Dworkin: I was on their staff band. I was busy. Finally, the symphony disbanded and for some reason, someone got the idea to hire the guy who was head of the Indianapolis Symphony, Isler Solomon. They brought him into Columbus and
he was rather successful, a very talented man – an excellent conductor. But they
struggled because of finances. They dropped the name, Philharmonic and they
struggled until recently.
Interviewer: And became Columbus Symphony. You mentioned that the Ohio Theater closed. You don’t mean it closed in the 30’s?
Dworkin: The Ohio closed with live entertainment and then became strictly film in 1931. The Hartman was a different kind of theater. The Ohio was a
combination of film and vaudeville. We played 30 performances a week. Imagine
listening to a Jack Benny 30 times a week!
Interviewer: Jack Benny?
Dworkin: He was a great performer but I had to listen to him 30 times a week . How would you like to listen to Milton Berle 30 times a week? Today you have a matinee. We had to do 4 shows a day and 5 shows on Saturday and Sunday.
Interviewer: And you had to sit through the whole thing?
Dworkin: I couldn’t get up and leave.
Interviewer: You couldn’t even tune out – you had to be alert.
Dworkin: We were playing “Girl Crazy” – a fantastic score. I don’t pay attention to those people on the stage. If you took me to a show today – I wouldn’t go, a show don’t mean nothing to me.
Interviewer. You’ve heard them all ….Who were some of the other stars you
Dworkin. Ronald Hardy, Jean Harlow, Thelma & Buddy Ebsen, Joe Patten, the
Ritz Brothers, the Nicholas Brothers, Alice White, Conrad Nagel. The dog acts
Interviewer: How about Kaye Kyser? How did that fit in?
Dworkin: Well, I told you, when I got in a hassle with the Musician’s Union, I was ready to come home. I’d been working in Chicago for a year, I had to appear before the Petrolla, who was a giant ogre. So I thought I’d better go home when Morry Lipton told me he had a job for me. We were in the Sherman
Hotel. He asked me if I was interested in going with Kaye Kyser. I said that I
didn’t want anything to do with Kaye Kyser.
Dworkin: I didn’t like their style of playing. They were comedians. No jazz.
Interviewer: Not serious enough?
Dworkin: Right. But one of the trumpet players was a good friend. He was from Pittsburgh and his name was Merlin Bogue. He was the guy on television they called Ish Kabibble.
Interviewer: So you didn’t really stick with Kaye Kyser?
Dworkin: I never really started.
Interviewer: In one of these pictures is Julie Stein. Give me the story about Julie Stein. You said there were two Steins?
Dworkin: Well, the guy that had the MCA was Jules but he had the same name as Julie.
Interviewer: The second Julie is the one that was in the band with you?
Dworkin: Right. This guy was an absolute genius. In the annals and history of musical comedy, there is no question about Julie Stein. He wrote
“Gypsy.” He wrote for Barbra Streisand. He was what you’d call an
egotistical genius. But you know something? When we worked at the Sherman, we
went to work at six o’clock. We had a dinner show and we worked until 3:00 a.m.,
seven days a week. He was a ferocious gambler. We were ready to open at the
Blackhawk – all the movie stars came in – I was sitting at the table with Julie.
He had a manuscript and over here he had a racing form. He wrote our theme song,
“Everything’s Been Done Before.”
Interviewer: You had a great respect for Julie Stein.
Dworkin: His ego was – he was entitled. Across the street from the county jail, when we were at the Sherman, there was a delicatessen and they gave away free potato latkes. He wouldn’t go to eat there with anyone but me because I
think I was the only Jew. You would order a corned beef sandwich and you’d get
free potato latkes. So he’d always grab me and we’d go to the W & R
Delicatessen and we’d get free potato latkes.
Interviewer: Get more latkes that way. Let’s talk about Michael Feinstein. How is he related to you. Who IS Michael Feinstein? Who is he today?
Dworkin: Michael’s mother name is Maisy Cohen. Her father’s name was Samuel Cohen. When my mother took me to New York, Samuel Cohen married Bella, my Aunt Bella. When we came back, Maisy married Eddie Feinstein. As a result of the
marriage, there was Michael.
Interviewer: They have another son living here in Columbus and a daughter.
Dworkin: Well, I’ve never heard anything about them. Anyway, when they lived over here at Cottingham and Scottwood, we were over there a couple times when Michael was twelve or thirteen. He was always sitting at the piano. He liked to
talk to me because I was in love with the Paul Whiteman Band – Vic Spider – a
legend in jazz. He knew all about Vic Spider but he couldn’t read music. He
understood me and I understood him. But in my own mind, I figured, this guy must
continue in music. He did little tours around Columbus – the JCC, Eastmoor, etc.
Interviewer: He used to play for Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, special events. Tell us where Michael is today.
Dworkin: Well, he has several homes. I think his permanent East Coast home is the Carlisle Hotel. I think he maintains a residence there. He built a home in Albuquerque but I think he gave it up. The reason Michael went to the West Coast was because Eddie was with Kahn’s Meats in Cincinnati. Kahn’s decided to open a territory on the West Coast and in Hawaii. They wanted Eddie, who did a pretty good job for them here, to go to California to open this new territory. That’s the primary reason they went to California. I guess they took Michael with them. He had no idea, when he went there, that he would meet Ira Gershwin. That started off his career.
Interviewer: Michael is now a top recording artist and musician.
Dworkin: On the Cabaret circuit, Michael is very high class – this is a guy who makes $100,000 a week.
Interviewer: That’s a little more than the $93 a week you started out with a few years back. Did you know who Ted Lewis was?
Dworkin: I’ve got a story to tell you. Underneath the stage
at the Ohio Theater was the musician’s room. We played a lot of cards between
shows (sometimes we went out in the alley and played baseball). So I was
sitting there one day and Ted Lewis was appearing at the Ohio Theater. He
always carried seven guys in his band. These were his “key men” Some
of these guys were fantastic.
Interviewer: Abe, tell us who Ted Lewis was. What was his forte? Some of these young people listening never heard of Ted Lewis.
Dworkin: He was an excellent showman, a very BAD clarinet player. But that “Is Everybody Happy?” thing was a very difficult format to duplicate. He used a top hat and a cane.
Interviewer: Was that his theme? Who wrote the tune?
Dworkin: I don’t remember who wrote it but when he’d come out in the opening, he’d mesmerize people. Anyway, I was sitting in the musician’s room –
I was a young kid – and in walks Ted Lewis. It was opening day and you had to
be there at 8:00 a.m., and the first show was at 11:30 a.m. He looked at me
and said, “What do you play?” You see, whatever city he played in, he had to augment guys for his band. He carried seven but he’d take local guys so his band looked bigger – eleven or twelve. He told me to go upstairs and have the wardrobe mistress measure me for a uniform. I didn’t even know what he was talking about. I went upstairs, some woman measured me and told me to come back in half an hour. So I came back and she gave me my uniform, told me to put it on and go see some guy. I found out there was no rehearsal.
Interviewer: You went on stage cold? What was your uniform like?
Dworkin: Satin. Gold. I was told where to stand. I had my horn. A band member came along and when I asked him what I was supposed to do, he said,
“I’ll tell you when we get there.” The curtain was still down and I was scared to death. They didn’t use music. This guy looked at me and said, “My name is Mugsy Spannir.” – one of the greatest trumpet players of his time. He told me, “When I stand up, you stand up. When I turn this way, you turn this way, etc.” I asked about playing and he said, “Forget about playing. After you’ve done this a few times, if you want to take a part in the music, fine.”
The curtain went up. I was scared to death. Every way he went, I went the opposite. I hadn’t learned the music. I got through it and after about the third day, I got the music. Then, our favorite was “Me and My Shadow”
Interviewer: How long were you with Ted Lewis?
Dworkin: Several times. Next time he came to Columbus, I was ready for him. He would go out and shoot craps and lose $1,500-$2,000 and would come back the meanest son-of-a-gun . He fought with his band members, but when Mugsy ended
up dying in New Orleans, Ted Lewis paid all of his doctor and hospital bills.
Mugsy was a legend.
Interviewer: You mentioned Hildegarde when you showed me the pictures. Abe, you just have all these wonderful pictures! Did you know Phil Sheridan?
Dworkin: He was manager of the Palace Theater for about seven or eight years. He loves the history of bands, etc.
Interviewer: He’s a writer now, isn’t he?
Dworkin: I’m not a lover of actors. I dislike singers. Do you remember a TV show called Joan Davis? I was playing at the Palace Theater and she went to the Musician’s Union and complained that we played our music wrong. Columbus
had a difficult Vaudeville history and she just wanted to make waves.
Interviewer: Tell me a little about AZA. What was the connection with the Dworkin family?
Dworkin: My father’s brother, Max, his ambition was to settle in a small town. He was a widower and he latched onto this Laurel Philison who was Ronny
Feerer’s aunt. So Max settled in London, Ohio and he was a humanitarian. He
was also a huge success in London. He owned a big department store and several
pieces of property. He wanted me to come there so he could set me up in business. But I was still in the music business. So one time I went with Weezy – her sister’s husband and he was going to help us open an automobile agency and a bowling alley. But I wasn’t interested.
Anyway, he got active with younger people in Columbus, got into a hassle with Agudas Achim and joined Tifereth Israel. He and a young man by the name of Sol Kaufman had the idea to start an AZA and that was why they named it
Interviewer: So that was mostly for young boys?
Dworkin: Like intermediate. Before B’nai B’rith.
Interviewer: We’re going to start to wind this interview up. Can you look back on your life and career and give us a wrap-up of how you felt about your life as a Jewish musician? Would you have done anything else? What would you
say to a young Jewish musician starting out now?
Dworkin: I expected you to ask me this question. When it becomes part of your life, there is a devotion. Years ago, I had 40 students – all aspiring
trumpet players from the age of six. I formed my devotion at an early age. At
an early age, you don’t think about money. It is something that you love to
do. There was a period of my life when I couldn’t go through one day without
practicing. I had no one to force me. That is a different kind of devotion.
A woman once walked in with her eight-year-old son and said she wanted him
to play trumpet like Harry James. I said, “If I were married to Betty
Grable, I’d play like Harry James” I loved teaching. When I quit, I kept
one kid. And I taught him at his house. I had another kid, it took me two
months to get a sound out of him. He became one of the greatest trumpet
players on the West Coast – his name was LeFever and he was a friend of Gene
Interviewer: I wish our tape could hold more. We have to
start winding up. I’m really in awe with your memories. It sounds like you had
a lot of fun in your life. I want to take this moment to thank you on behalf
of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society.