This interview for the Columbus Jewish Historical Society is being recorded on February 10, 2013 as part of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project. The interview is being recorded at 1160 South Lane, Apt C. (Columbus, OH) My name is David Lincove and I am interviewing Leo Dworkin.
INTERVIEWER: Mr. Dworkin, thank you for meeting with me today. So, please let me know your full name and do you have a middle name.
LEO: Martin. Leo Martin Dworkin
INTERVIEWER: Okay and when and where were you born?
LEO: I was born here in Columbus, 1924.
INTERVIEWER: What month and day?
LEO: July 27th
INTERVIEWER: Ok, July 27th, 1924. Do you happen to remember the hospital or location?
LEO: I’m told I was born at Grant Hospital. I don’t know if that would be on my birth certificate. I don’t know. I’m pretty sure I was born in Grant Hospital.
INTERVIEWER: Ok. Do you have a Hebrew name?
LEO: Uh huhn.
INTERVIEWER: Ok. Were you named after a relative?
LEO: Oh, I’m sure I was but who I don’t know. There’s a lot of Leos in our family. I had a cousin Leon. I had another cousin Leonard. I had another cousin Leo on my mother’s side. The others were on my Dworkin side. My mother’s maiden name was Cohen on her side there was another Leo. It seemed to me a popular Jewish name.
INTERVIEWER: But Leo is the full first name.
LEO: Yeah, Leo Martin Dworkin. That’s right.
INTERVIEWER: and who were your parents? What were their names?
LEO: My father’s name was Sol. There’s some vagueness about his name. Originally he was known on a document I had somewhere, maybe it was his citizenship papers I can’t remember exactly, he was referred to as Sam but that was confused with other Sams in the family so he used the name Sol, S O L and his middle name is Samuel. S. S. Dworkin, Sol Samuel Dworkin. When it comes to names in my family it’s kind of vague, names and dates. The exact date of my parents’ birth nobody knows.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, really? Where were they from?
LEO: They were from, well, you know, you’re getting in to an area I am very regretful about, never having extensively to ask them about their background, the Old Country, Russia, or what is today known as Beylorus I’m 90% sure they were both from that area but they met over here. They married over here in this country.
INTERVIEWER: They came separately..
LEO: Yeah, they came separately and they were landsmen. They came from the same general area which as far as I know, it was Beylorus. My father came from a town called Vitchubsk, Vitchubsk in Beylorus, and my mother on her marriage license listed, I’m trying to think now, Morave or something. I’d have to look it up. I have a copy of their marriage license and their background, uh..
INTERVIEWER: Do you know when they came over?
LEO: Not exactly but it had to be the very early 1900’s and they were both very young. I mean my father was probably in his late teens. My mother also in her late teens and they lived, they lived for quite a while in New York several years where my older brother and sister were born.
INTERVIEWER: When did they come to Columbus?
LEO: I don’t know the exact year they came to Columbus but my other sister Jean and I were both born here. I was born 1924, my sister in 1920. So they must have come to Columbus, well obviously some time before that, but maybe not a long time before that.
INTERVIEWER: Do you have other brothers and sisters besides your sister Jean?
LEO: Not living, no.
INTERVIEWER: But I mean you had..
LEO: Oh yeah, I had an older brother and an older sister.
INTERVIEWER: What were their names?
LEO: Abe and Rose.
INTERVIEWER: Ok. And you mentioned they’re deceased now but your sister is living in Bexley.
LEO: No my sister lives in Detroit, in the Detroit area and she’s lived there many years, and she’s still, knock wood, she’s a few years older than I am, yeah, but knock wood she’s still well and she just called a few minutes ago and before I got home from the grocery, uh, and she might call back and interrupt us but, uh, she lives there and she’s feeling fairly good. She sounded funny on the phone, maybe, she has a cold evidently.
INTERVIEWER: Ok. Has anyone traced your family back beyond your parents, like your grandparents or even before them?
LEO: No, not really, like I say regretfully they never talked about the old country. I should say some talked about the Old Country and now a number of years ago on my mother’s side, The Cohens, I had relatives here on the Cohens, still have relatives from the Cohen family here.
INTERVIEWER: Actually I don’t think you mentioned your mother’s name, what was your mother’s name again?
LEO: Her original name was Gittel. That’s on the marriage certificate. Gittel.
INTERVIEWER: Her last name?
LEO: No, no, that’s her first name, Gittel and then she Americanized it to Gertrude. That was her name, Gertrude, but everybody called her Gusseye. She was Aunt Gusseye. That was her name virtually, but originally it was Gittel.
INTERVIEWER: And it was Cohen, her last name was Cohen.
LEO: That was her maiden name, Cohen.
INTERVIEWER: So your grandparents were people you never met.
LEO: That’s right, that’s right.
LEO: Now I started to say in more, many years ago but, in more recent years, my mother’s brother Nathan and his wife went to the Old Country, back to Russia. They managed to get in there. It was very difficult, you know, at that time to get back there
INTERVIEWER: What year was that?
LEO: Well, that had to be maybe in the sixties. I can’t.. and with much difficulty they got connected with my mother’s family that were still living over there and came back with pictures and that was the first time they had.. well, I guess they’d been communicating by letters, you know but, they managed to have an in-person contact with them at that time, with my mother’s baby sister..
…who was still living there and her family. So that was a very moving experience when my uncle came back with pictures of that family in Russia and recalling days when he was a boy living there and the reunion they had. But we, my family virtually had no contact with any relatives back over there.
INTERVIEWER: I see. When your parents came, do you know, well they came through New York, Ellis Island?
LEO: Yes, Ellis Island, right.
INTERVIEWER:As far as you know, do you have any relatives outside of the United States now?
LEO: Well, I’m sure I have relatives in Russia, in Beylorus, or wherever they are currently living, yes, but I have no contact with them.
LEO: And that’s on the Cohen side. And the Dworkin side, I just don’t know if I have any relatives there.
INTERVIEWER: Right, Right. I’m going to stop this for a moment. I just want to test this to make sure..
LEO: Yeah, I’m so sorry that I didn’t you know, interview them myself. I’d be interested in talking to them about their past life in the Old Country and I didn’t really uh, want to talk about it either. I’m sorry now. You know I wanted to be an American.
INTERVIEWER: Right, right, right. Well, what kind of work did your father and mother do?
LEO: Well, my mother I’m told when she lived in New York worked in a factory of some sort. I can’t remember exactly what kind of a factory it was, whether it was a clothing factory or a cigar factory or, but a lot of the Aliens, the foreigners..
LEO: Immigrants worked in factories here. That was one of the jobs they could get.
INTERVIEWER: Might have been a sweatshop perhaps?
LEO: Oh, I’m sure, I’m sure it was and uh, my father, I’m told was in various enterprises, in various types of work. My brother, my older brother tells me that he was a painter, you know, a house painter, uh, worked mainly as a house painter in New York, and I think that was his main vocation or, After he came, after they moved to Columbus he was in various enterprises. He had clothing stores.
INTERVIEWER: What was the name of the store, do you remember?
LEO: Well, originally, the original store before my time even, was called the Broadway Clothing Company and it was located, I found this all, from my older brother I found out where this was located late in life. It was located right at Front and Broad, Front Street and Broad, the very corner where I worked in recent years for the Highway Department in Columbus.
LEO: The very location of my father’s store was at Broad and Front Streets here in Columbus
where they have a state building there now, a highway, well it wasn’t a highway, now there’s
another bureau took over there and that was the first store. Now the store that I was familiar with,
that was when he was partners with my Uncle Max, Max Dworkin who was very well known
here in Columbus. They were partners in the Broadway Clothing Company and then they split up and my father opened the store in Linden, in Linden, yes, in the Linden neighborhood here in Columbus and that’s the store I was familiar with. I used to go there on Saturdays. I must have been like, five years old and I’d go there every Saturday and I’d go to the movie house across the street but that’s the only clothing store that I remember. And then of course, the Depression fizzled that out and he closed that out and he went into the insurance business. He was hired by the Equitable Insurance Company. He was an insurance agent for many years for Equitable, called Equitable. I don’t even know if they’re still in existence but so he was an insurance man for many years and my mother, God Bless her, she always worked hard, worked hard. She had a vegetable stand on the market, Central Market and they both worked. And she worked there. I managed to go there and helped, quote unquote, help her. I wasn’t much help but, you know, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, they were open. The Central Market, an outdoor market.
INTERVIEWER: It was downtown?
LEO: Yeah, on Fourth Street, downtown, and Main Street, Main and Fourth, and there were vegetable stands all along Main Street and Fourth Street and there was also an indoor market at the same location, a building there on Fourth Street.
INTERVIEWER: So, when you were growing up in Columbus did your family attend a synagogue or participate in other Jewish organizations?
LEO: Oh yeah, my father belonged to the Agudas Achim, for many years, my father and mother I should say, belonged to the Agudas Achim of which I’m still a member. I’m a member there, such as it is. I seldom go I’ll be honest with you, but yeah they were members of Agudas Achim.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have a Jewish education there at Agudas Achim?
LEO: Did I?
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, Sunday School..
LEO: Well, yeah I was bar mitzvahed there, I had a bar mitzvah there, sure.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember who the rabbi was at the time?
LEO: Rabbi Herschprung.
LEO: Rabbi Herschprung. He was the original, well I don’t know if he was the original. He must have been because that’s part of the generation that started that congregation. I don’t know. My parents may have been one of the original members, but Rabbi Herschprung was the rabbi as I was growing up. That’s where I was bar mitzvahed.
INTERVIEWER: And where did you live in Columbus with your family?
LEO: Well, we lived, originally we lived on Carpenter Street on the near east side, 560 Carpenter Street. Would you believe that, I mean, believe that I remembered that? And we lived there until, how old was I? five or six years old, and then we moved to 22nd Street. That’s where I lived most of my growing up days.
INTERVIEWER: 22nd Street south of Broad or…?
LEO: It was south of Broad, yeah, it was between Main and Livingston on South 22nd Street, 584 South 22nd Street. We rented a house there.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember the schools you went to?
LEO: Oh sure…
INTERVIEWER: What were the names of the schools?
LEO: Well, the elementary school was Ohio Avenue School, Ohio Avenue Elementary. That was on Ohio and uh, Fulton Street.
INTERVIEWER: How ‘bout the junior high?
LEO: Junior high I went to Roosevelt Junior High.
INTERVIEWER: In that neighborhood?
LEO: A little farther south and east of where I lived on 22nd Street.
INTERVIEWER: Which high school did you go to?
LEO: I went to South High School.
INTERVIEWER: What year did you graduate high school?
INTERVIEWER: And how old were you? Let’s say you were 18 years old?
LEO: When I graduated? Yeah, yeah and I’ll still attend a reunion. In fact I went to a reunion luncheon they had, oh, just a few months ago, not that I was that involved or prominent in high school but I did attend some of the reunions and uh, yeah, those were interesting days for the most part. I fell in to with disapproval when I started playing professionally. It conflicted with some of the school activities there.
INTERVIEWER: You started playing music in high school.
LEO: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. I started playing professionally, like I said.
INTERVIEWER: I’ll ask you about that more in a minute. In high school what kind of student would you say you were?
LEO: What kind of student? Well, not very successful. I mean I had other interests, mainly music. That was my world in those days and otherwise, scholastically I was just a s-so student.
INTERVIEWER: Did you participate in any school or non-school organizations?
LEO: Non-school organizations?
INTERVIEWER: School organizations or organizations outside of school?
LEO: Well, I played in the school band.
INTERVIEWER: Ok. What instrument were you playing?
INTERVIEWER: Trumpet. And were there any Jewish organizations you were a member of?
LEO: No, and my Uncle Max who I might have mentioned before, my father’s brother, Max Dworkin was the figure leader of AZA here in Columbus. Are you familiar with AZA?
He was highly respected as the, I don’t know what you’d, what his role was specifically, but he was what you might say the guiding light of AZA. And I never joined and neither did his son. His own son was not active in the AZA, but Max, my uncle, was very prominent in the AZA. They still have his name associated with what they call a Pops Dworkin, sort of a father of Columbus AZA but no, I wasn’t active in that or any other Jewish organization.
INTERVIEWER: When you were in high school, did you work or not work? Did you have part-time jobs after school or during the summer?
LEO: No, except that when I started playing music professionally I’d have an occasional job and, you know, they had a scale that I had to abide by and I became pretty active semi-professionally.
INTERVIEWER: You grew up as a teenager during the great Depression. Do you have any particular memories of it? How did your family do? Did you feel like you had a hard time, that your family had a hard time or did it seem, how did it seem to you?
LEO: No, we never had a hard time. We always, you know, got by, had plenty of food all the time. I’m not sure how did to be honest with you. I mean my father always made a living and my mother always worked hard but made a living, you know and I guess they lost, the house we originally lived in on Carpenter Street, I think my parents owned that house but lost it during the Depression and they started renting houses and rented ever since, starting on 22nd
Street. No, we never had any traumatic experience during the Depression.
INTERVIEWER: Did you know people who had a hard time or I guess as a teenager maybe..
LEO: No I can’t say that I was aware of people being under really dire circumstances.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have some best friends in high school?
LEO: Oh, yeah, sure.
INTERVIEWER: Do you remember, can you tell us who they were?
LEO: Well, there was Saul Rosen who later changed his name to Roskin. That was Saul. Irv Levy, who was a neighbor just down the street a few houses on 22nd Street and I was gonna’ say he looks a lot like you when he was very young, and he’s still, you know, he’s experienced some really tough medical problems as his son is, but he was probably my best friend growing up on 22nd Street and we had a group, you know, that uh, hung out together Elton Fisher, Sammy Levine, and guys from South [? Name Listener?] you know various guys in the band, you know, so yeah, I had quite a few friends in those days.
INTERVIEWER: Now after you graduated from high school, did you go directly in to the military?
LEO: No, not directly, no. I went on the road with the band out of high school, left town with a band called PeeWee Irwin. PeeWee was a very prominent, very well known among the music professionals in those days. Now the music business has changed tremendously but in those days, dance bands were the thing. That was during the Swing Era and music, dance music, pop music, jazz or what they called Swing in those days was king of the road and there were all kinds of bands on the road. They played dance halls, they played hotels, they played night clubs, we played theaters and was a very, very popular form of entertainment and employment and that’s why I left town with a band called PeeWee Irwin. Now that lasted a few months, and PeeWee, now that’s another story. PeeWee fell off the wagon and started boozing.’ He was a beautiful guy but when he was boozin’ I mean, that was the beginning of the end and I joined another band for several months, a band called Bob Strong and uh, hung around Chicago mostly. That was like home base for, oh, about 8 – 12, 8-10 months and I studied with a teacher there so I had a job around Chicago with various local bands there.
INTERVIEWER: So you were studying with a teacher to improve your play?
LEO: Oh sure, I mean they taught you how to perform and in those days, well, even today a professional whatever, a professional musician or dancer or singer often will study, never stop studying, never stop learning because if you stop learning you grow stale and that was the name of the game in those days so I never, I never quit studying andI kept in contact with my teacher and virtually kept studying even when I was in the army later.
INTERVIEWER: How long were you in Chicago?
LEO: Well, I was in Chicago, from ’42 when I graduated, Jordan[?] and the family played in Chicago and we stayed in the hotel there and then we’d come back. That was like home base and when I left that band I went back to Chicago and joined in another band. That was kind of like home base for a while until I went and joined the army.
INTERVIEWER: When did you go in to the army?
LEO: In 1943. Were you drafted or..
LEO: Yeah, I was drafted.
INTERVIEWER: What part of the army did you go into?
LEO: Well, I went to basic training at Camp Grand, Illinois. It was the [medic corps? I was expected to be going to, it was prearranged to go to Wright Field, the Army Air Corps to join a band but it didn’t work out initially, so I was sent to basic training in Camp Grand in Rockford Illinois for about two months for basic training. Those were the days but the requisition finally came through and then I transferred to Wright Field and joined the Air Corps Band in Wright Field in Dayton and we were there for about a year and a half or maybe two years and then our band was transferred to Rome Air Base in Upstate New York, not /Rome in Italy but Rome, New York and we never did go overseas. We were there for about another year or so and from there we went to, uh, towards the end of the War, after the War was over, we were sent to another base for a few months and then discharged.
INTERVIEWER: So your main duties as a soldier was with a band
INTERVIEWER: So that was probably something you enjoyed.
LEO: Well, I was very fortunate. A lot of guys tried to get in the band and they couldn’t ..one mix up after another, I mean, you know, in those days well, you had to have connections and you had to depend, well, anyway I was lucky. I did have a connection that got me in to the band.
INTERVIEWER: So, what year did you leave the military then?
LEO: In 1946, three years, I was in the army three years.
INTERVIEWER: What was the first thing you did after you left the military? Some big thing?
LEO: Well, the first thing I did, let me think. Well I looked for work, I mean, playing. I started playing in night clubs here in Columbus. I got lucky. I worked. It was feast or famine. In those days if you worked you made a living. If you didn’t work, you were struggling and I lived with my parents and that helped. If I didn’t work I got by anyhow. I worked with various bands in various night clubs after the War and my older brother was very popular here in Columbus, more prominently than I was.
INTERVIEWER: What did he do?
LEO: Well, he had his own band in several night clubs. He worked in the Ohio Theater Orchestra which was a big deal in those days.
LEO: My older brother was very prominent and there was quite a span of years between his and my age. He was 13 years older than I am and of course I looked up to him growing up but he was a member of that beautiful orchestra at the Loews Ohio Theater where they used to have vaudeville all the time. This was in the early thirties. Course I was a movie person, I grew up in movies you might say, course watched him play and admired his world and so I followed suit and became a musician, you know, but he had bands, his own band at a club called [Harry’s Village?] He played a number of bands throughout Columbus, you know, with other night clubs and other band leaders.
INTERVIEWER: When did you first start playing music?
LEO: Well, when I was in high school, uh, not high school but even junior high school, junior high school.
INTERVIEWER: Did you always play trumpet?
INTERVIEWER: That was your main instrument.
INTERVIEWER: Why did you focus on the trumpet?
LEO: Well, I just loved the instrument and course that’s what my brother played so naturally I followed suit.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever consider playing anything other than swing or jazz?
LEO: No, no. That was my world, you know. The dance band world and the jazz world were in those days we called it Swing Era, yeah, yeah, that was when it was, well you talk to people today I would imagine it’s hard to envision because music, especially band music. Band music was king in those days. There were all kinds of big name bands that were marvelous and thrilled people. You know, Benny Goodman, they would appear in theater people would get up and dance in the aisles and dancing, of course, was a big part of it.
INTERVIEWER: People don’t dance the way they used to.
LEO: Oh no, no.
INTERVIEWER: This person you worked with, you studied with in Chicago, what was his name?
LEO: O’Donnell, John O’Donnell.
INTERVIEWER: And you studied with other people. I understand you studied with Sam Giamarco [sp?]
LEO: Yeah, did I mention him?
INTERVIEWER: No. I happened to have his name.
LEO: Yeah, I studied initially with Sam Giamarco [sp?], yeah. He was in the Ohio Orchestra. That was where my brother became acquainted with Sam and from there I started, when I first started playing, I took lessons from Sam.
INTERVIEWER: Who was the most influential teacher you’ve had?
LEO: Well, without a doubt, John O’Donnell.
INTERVIEWER: John O’Donnell. What kind of skills did you get from him?
LEO: Well, to be perfectly honest, he was my mentor, my guiding light but I never attained the goal that I sought to be honest, but he was, John was a teacher of professionals. He was very well known in the music world, you know, throughout the country, throughout the profession and I became acquainted when I worked in Chicago with him and he remained my guiding light you might say.
INTERVIEWER: Did you learn to read and write music?
LEO: Oh no, no. I learned that from Sam. I learned the music aspect from Sam, Sam Giamarco, but this was from John, this was the physical uh,
LEO: …the engine that propels the car you might say, technique the basic that you have to have to play. Nothing, not even practice, John used to say, “Practice makes perfect if you’re perfect before you practice.”
INTERVIEWER: How ‘bout the emotion, what you give from your heart?
LEO: Well, that’s the artistic side of it.
INTERVIEWER: You can’t teach that.
LEO: No, you never. He didn’t teach music. He didn’t teach heart. What he taught was form, form and uh,
INTERVIEWER: Well, among the established musicians who had the most impact on you, was it O’Donnell or as far as people who were playing all the time?
LEO: Oh, who was most influential musically and artistically? Oh, well, there were so many guys I adored, you know, I admired and adored. Maybe, Harry James was like a god to me when I grew up, yeah Harry James, and my older brother Abe, uh and Sam Giamarco, a marvelous performer, trumpet player, legit, I mean, you know, classical style playing, and he was very prominent in the symphony circles here in Columbus, Sam and the theaters. So, I admired Sam tremendously. He was a marvelous musician, a marvelous trumpet player, technically, you know, on the classical side, I mean, but on the jazz side, the swing side, you know, a lot of guys I admired that influenced me, you know, Benny Goodman, Harry James, course many big bands that were prominent and I had other idols I admired, a couple players uh, Bobby Hackett, Billy Butterfield, Buddy Berrigan..
INTERVIEWER: Did you buy a lot of records?
LEO: No, I didn’t buy a lot of records. There was a friend of mine who bought a lot of records and I used to go over to his house to listen to them, saved me the trouble of buying them!
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever consider going to a college or university to study music,
LEO: Yes, yes I did. When I got out of the army, I went to Ohio State and uh, and was disappointed because after spending that summer, after I was discharged from the army, I spent that summer in a night club band and then I decided to go to school, go to Ohio State in the fall under the GI plan, you know they had, and I enrolled in Ohio State in the music department and I was confronted very, conflict there. They insisted that I play since I was a brass player, a trumpet player, they insisted I play in the marching band. Well, I had no eyes to play in a marching band. I just got out of a military band where I marched and, you know. That was not the only thing they did but I didn’t want…
INTERVIEWER: You had enough.
LEO: I had enough of marching and playing and I was studying with John O’Donnell and I was certain there would be a conflict. You had to take lessons from the staff at Ohio State referring that curriculum and I knew there was going to be a conflict there so I didn’t want to study with those. I used to play with them in dance bands but the guys who were at Ohio State but it was just too awkward and I declined to take lessons there and play in the marching band. Well, they would have none of that. “We have the finest teachers in the country and kids are clamoring to play in the marching band and you have to either, if you’re a trumpet player you have to play in the marching band. If not, you’ll have to go in another college,” not another school but another curriculum, you know.
INTERVIEWER: Then teachers at Ohio State were people who were basically colleagues while you were in band and suddenly the relationship changed when you went at Ohio State.
LEO: Oh, yeah.
INTERVIEWER: So that was part of the difficulty?
LEO: That was part of the difficulty so it led to my leaving the music school and following another curriculum in the commerce school.
INTERVIEWER: In business.
LEO: So, I was in the music school for about a year. Then I gave that up and spent a year in the commerce school and after two years I decided to drop out because it wasn’t, I didn’t know what I was looking for, you know. It would have been nice to have a college degree, just to say you had a college degree, but there was disturbance, obviously, and they were not helpful in, in the following a curriculum that I would be interested in. So, I dropped out of school, of Ohio State.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned some bands you played with after you left Ohio State or maybe while you were going there. Were you in several different bands or were there one or two bands you were with a lot?
LEO: Oh well, yeah, I was with a lot of bands. You know, in that environment in those days you know, you played for a few months in this band at that night club and then that job fizzled out and you looked for another job playing in another night club. Yeah, I played with different bands. Sometimes the [sectional?] player would be the leader. Sometimes another guy would be the leader. Maybe and in the same night club, but..
INTERVIEWER: Did you have an agent?
LEO: No, I didn’t have an agent but in the musicians’ union you became acquainted with all the local guys, you know what I mean? And your reputation carried you but no agent actually. No I didn’t have an agent.
INTERVIEWER: so from that point on, how much traveling did you do, during the late 1940’s and 1950’s?
LEO: Well, after I, uh, after I dropped out of college, I played, like I said, I played various bands and night clubs [ ? ]. You know sometimes you just played a night here with different bands, “jobbing” they called it or “club dates” or..
INTERVIEWER: Mostly in the Columbus area?
LEO: Mostly in the Columbus area, yes.
INTERVIEWER: Did you travel much?
LEO: No, not after, uh, the army, but I did join a band from Columbus in 1948 where we went to
INTERVIEWER: Lake Erie?
LEO: Well, I had already worked a band in Lake Erie, no I was thinking of a local band, Artie
Kayne’s Band. We worked at, I’m trying to think, Bay City, Michigan. It’s on Saginaw Bay. It was a summer job, in Bay City. I worked with a top rated comedian, known very prominently here in Columbus, [Harry Jarky?] and we worked with him in Bay City that whole summer and then from there we went to a night club and worked in Toledo for, I don’t know how many months, and then we worked in Florida with the same band, Artie Kayne, who was very, very popular here in Columbus, a child prodigy virtually in [classical?] music and then went in to dance band, swing music and it was his band, Artie Kayne. Originally his name was Aaron Cohen. You know everybody here knows, would remember him, you know, in my age group, you know, or even younger. Artie lives now on the West Coast, retired now, but he was a tremendous musician and pianist, uh, started off as a tremendous classical pianist but went in to modern playing and became very popular in Hollywood movies and television recording. That was his later career. Yeah, I worked with Artie’s band for, oh, maybe a year and a half. Then I came back to Columbus and worked in various jobbing bands and then I worked with a band called George Town at the Neil House Hotel. I don’t’ know if you remember. How long have you been in Columbus?
INTERVIEWER: About 27 1/2 years. Neil House on Neil Avenue?
LEO: No Neil House Hotel downtown. You don’t remember? I’ll be darned. Has it been gone that long? There were two main hotels here in Columbus, the Deschler and the Neil House, right down town. That was in the downtown’s heyday. That was when the downtown was king and I joined that band, George Town’s Band at the Neil House, and we were there for eleven years as the house band.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, steady work.
LEO: Absolutely, which was very unusual, but the down side was that it was during those years in the fifties that the trek to the suburbs occurred and the downtown slowly died and, of course, that was the end of uh, the prominence of the hotels and the hotel bands, and television, of course, was part of that change, eliminating night clubs, not eliminating, but virtually [ ? ] and theaters, you know what I mean, and the whole music business changed and disintegrated.
INTERVIEWER: When you did travel before you went into the military and then after the War, did you enjoy traveling? Did you, uh, really like going around and meeting people in different places or how did you like that?
LEO: Well, you know, it seemed a lot more glamorous before you got into it, but the actual, it was, like I said, feast or famine. You know what I mean? We made big bucks when we worked in Chicago, but then after a lay-off, uh, it wasn’t so glamorous, you know what I mean? I experienced going broke on the road and trouble, but, uh
INTERVIEWER: What size audiences did you usually play before?
INTERVIEWER: How large?
LEO: Large? Oh, well, large. I mean we played dance halls where people were, yeah,
INTERVIEWER: Hundreds of people?
LEO: Sometimes, yeah, yeah. Sure. Dance halls were big in Chicago and all over the country. Even in Columbus they had dance halls, but night clubs – that was the thing. I mean, that was their form of entertainment. You’d go to a night club, you’d see acts, you’d see dancers, you’d see singers, novelty acts, magicians and comedians and that was the entertainment in those days. Night clubs were big.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever play in another country?
LEO: No. Wait a minute I was thinking if we ever went to Canada for example. No, I, no I can’t say we went to another country.
INTERVIEWER: As a musician, band musician, what were the best things and the worst things about it?
LEO: Well, the worst thing would be being out of work and stuck on the road without any money. That would be the worst thing. But the best thing was, you know, meeting chicks, you know, making good money, good bread, but meeting chicks.
INTERVIEWER: When you got paid was it usually just cash? They just gave you cash?
LEO: Oh yeah. They’d give you cash. Sure.
INTERVIEWER: So would you say that, do you feel now that you were just kind of living on the edge with your income playing or were you making a pretty good living at that time?
LEO: Well, like I said, it was hot and cold, hot and cold. That’s the only way you can describe it. You know, depending on the scale at each job, you know, and, but the main thing is that you have a job, to be a location job. Now you know, look it depends where the band worked. If you worked a hotel in a big city you made good money. In Chicago, for example, we worked at the dance halls there. The [Tree Anon?] and the Aragon were the two most popular dance halls there in the forties. This was in the forties. The scale there for a side man, a musician in the band, as I recall, was about $90 a week and that was big money in the early forties.
INTERVIEWER: You’re right out of high school.
LEO: Yeah. Oh that was big money! And if you got on the road with a name band, and the bands I worked with were not name bands but they were a step lower, you know what I mean, trying to be name bands, but some of the bands made good money. One band I was with called [Al Cavel?] for example, was a hotel band, not a swing band but what they called a hotel band, played love sweet music, pop music and played for the dancers, you know, and we worked at the , at that time there was a huge hotel, a very prominent hotel in Detroit called the [Book?] ]Cadillac and the scale there was around $90a week. Again, this was in the forties. So if you had a good job, you were swinging. You were on top of the world, you know.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever feel like you needed to supplement your income by doing other things?
LEO: No, like I said, when I worked in Columbus, when I was in Columbus, not on the road, but if I was in Columbus, uh, it depended if I was working in a night club or not, if I was not working a steady job, yeah, money was scarce.
INTERVIEWER: Did you do any teaching yourself?
LEO: No, I didn’t.
INTERVIEWER: And did you compose any music yourself?
INTERVIEWER: So, when did you finally stop going on the road? Even though you were not going on the road a lot after the War, when did you finally stop?
LEO: Well, you know, I actually, I never really stopped, even in my retirement. Even when I was working a day job, I always played professionally. For example, if they needed a trumpet player for a Saturday night this gig I’d take that gig, and then maybe Friday night, at the University with another band and there was a, for a long time there was a contractor from Cleveland, for example, Rudy [Scathini?] who put these bands together to perform with some of these former name band leaders like Sammy Kaye or Glenn Miller. We used those names. The guys who were put in the front of the band had the rights to use that name so they used to call them ghost bands, get it? And Rudy from Cleveland was a contractor for a lot of these bands, these ghost bands, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Gene [Kruper?], so I worked a lot of that jazz and we worked on the road oftentimes. I avoided the long trips but I’d go on maybe a job to Cleveland or a job to Chicago and worked a lot of Rudy’s jobs, these so-called ghost band jobs.
INTERVIEWER: Was that in the 1950’s?
LEO: Oh, no, that was much later, much later. That was just recently.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, I see.
LEO: That was recently while I was working at day jobs, my day job for the Highway Department – ODOT, The Transportation Department.
INTERVIEWER: During the 1950’s you were mostly just playing in different bands.
LEO: Jobbing with different bands, occasionally
LEO: traveling, yeah that’s it.
INTERVIEWER: So that was through the 1960’s?
LEO: Well, in the fifties mostly, I take that back, I got settled in the Neil House in the fifties and like I said, we were there for eleven years.
LEO: So, I didn’t know much of what was going on outside, within the outside world while I was working in the Neil House which was [?]
INTERVIEWER: All these, with the change in music to rock ‘n roll and the music of the 1960’s, how did that have an impact on your playing or the kind of jobs that were available?
LEO: Well, that was part of the transformation of the music business. When they lost the dancers and these rock ‘n roll people came up and television, you know, that was changing the whole music business and of course, reacted adversely to the music business as we knew it – the night clubs, the hotel jobs, the single night engagements, yeah, it effected it tremendously.
INTERVIEWER: I guess television in general..
LEO: And television, yeah, television effected it, television helped change the whole picture of the music business.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever appear on television?
LEO: Yes, in television’s early days I remember being on several programs in television’s infancy days.
INTERVIEWER: Local programs?
LEO: Yeah, local programs, didn’t amount to much, but they hired musicians in those days but now today you don’t see any bands. It’s ludicrous. You know you watch that show, the Tonight Show, for example, they’ve got tremendous bands there or even when Johnny Carson was there
INTERVIEWER: .. Tonight Show Band
LEO: Yeah, Tonight Show Band with Doc Severenson and his great musicians, you never heard the band, never heard the band. It’s absurd. It was absurd. You never heard the band.
INTERVIEWER: Had to be in the studio, I guess.
LEO: And I did go there once with a friend of mine who was good friends with Doc Severenson. We went to a, a production of that one day in New York, and the band rehearsed. You know they had terrific musicians but you never heard them on television.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of, what jazz pieces did you enjoy playing the most, swing or jazz? Were there particular songs that you enjoyed the most?
LEO: Well, I certainly enjoyed charts, arrangements that Benny Goodman used or Duke Ellington, same charts, you know, and guys in bands like that or arrangements like that. You know if I were, most of the work in Columbus was small bands. Nobody could afford, very few could afford to hire a big band. The big bands were on the road, so, when I worked in Columbus, they were, 98% of the time were just small groups.
INTERVIEWER: So, I guess they tended to play the more popular jazz tunes.
LEO: Well, they played mostly pop music, pop music and, of course, stick in a swing, a jazz tune every now and then like “One O’clock Jump” or uh, tunes that Cab Calloway may have made, promote a Duke Ellington, Jimmy Lunsford, or Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, you know some of those [charts?] were very popular too.
INTERVIEWER: So in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s, were you playing music that was popular during those years
LEO: Oh, sure
INTERVIEWER: ..or you were playing traditional music that some people continued to enjoy? You know, you had the Beatles, you had all sorts of different rock and then you have of course jazz musicians, very big name jazz musicians, so would you usually play a mixture at the time when you were in these bands?
LEO: Well, mostly, well, depending on what was hot at the time. For example, there was a time when, what’s his name, Bacharach, was a popular, the songwriter. His tunes were very popular and you’d get a lot of criss[?]cross and there were mostly tunes, that people were, the standard tunes that were, like “Stardust” you know, tunes like that live forever. They’re still playing “Stardust” you know, but there were periods when Burt Bacharach tunes were very hot, or this composer was very hot, or Duke Ellington’s tunes became pop tunes, you know and depends on if there were a lot of dancers out there that wanted a little swing music, a little jazz music, so you’d play jazz music, so you tried to respond to whatever your, to what your audience was fond of. If you played a wedding, you know, after a few drinks they’d want something that was hot.
INTERVIEWER: Did you play a lot of weddings or bar mitzvahs?
LEO: Oh, yeah, sure. Oh, yeah, sure. One night stands with various bands. Yeah, there was a lot of those.
INTERVIEWER: What do you think of contemporary jazz today?
LEO: Well, you know I’m so out of touch. It doesn’t have near the appeal that I experienced when I was young, you know, and uh, they’ve gone so far out that even I don’t understand a lot of things they’re doing. Now I’ve lived through the Swing Era. I was prominent during that era. I lived through the Bee Bop Era. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that. That was the age of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker Cool, the Age of Cool. The Cool was the lighter end. The Cool Era was just after the Bee Bop Era where it becomes laid back and subtle but Bee Bop Era was the late forties and early fifties, yeah, was the Bee Bop Era, and that evolved into the Cool Era but you know, you responded to whatever the times were and where you were working. You know, sometimes I’d work in a night club band where we’d want to play jazz. There was one group in particular I was working, when I first got out of the army. It was basically a jazz band and the leader, Tommy Lucas, was a dynamite saxophone player, dynamite saxophone player and the whole group, there was like two, a saxophone, trumpet and a rhythm section and that was the group working a class B night club here in Columbus called the [Power?]Gardens but we were basically a jazz band and we wanted to play jazz and we did, except that the club owner, you know, he didn’t want you to play the God damn jazz music, play the dance music so we’d get a lot of contacts like that you had to overcome because the club owners might want sweet music, you know what I mean, or dance music, easy, easy dance music and we wanted to play jazz so there were conflict areas, you know what I mean a lot of times.
INTERVIEWER: So would you so Columbus was a good place to be as a jazz musician, this part of the country was good?
LEO: Oh, there were some excellent players, excellent players, but as far as work was concerned for a jazz musician, no, I can’t say Columbus was a great place for jazz musicians, no. There was definitely good jazz, good jazz players but to be able express yourself musically was difficult and of course to make a living at it was very difficult. If you were in New York and established or, mainly in New York and places, you know, where jazz stars were common and a lot of the public was interested then that’s the place to be in those days, the big cities, Chicago, New York, LA, but in Columbus to be a jazz musician – very difficult. You’d have to play dance music and pop music and restrained, restrained music.
INTERVIEWER: Was your career ever affected by politics?
LEO: Oh, well of course,
INTERVIEWER: I mean particularly in the late 1940’s 1950’s, the McCarthy Era, that kind of thing, did that effect your career or people you knew?
LEO: No, except there was always, during the fifties, there was separate societies, separate societies, very definitely. We even had a White union and a Black union. There were not even, they had separate unions in those days. At the Neil House we had black waiters and the clientele was definitely white.
INTERVIEWER: Did you play in bands that had musicians who were Black and White?
LEO: Very, Very seldom, very, very seldom. They had their own union. They had their own clubs. I’m talking about the Black community.
INTERVIEWER: Yes. There was very little mixing.
LEO: Very little mixing. I remember, when I worked the Neil House, for example, the clientele was strictly White. They weren’t, uh, the waiters were Black but the clientele was strictly White and I remember one time two couples walking in to the Town, it was called the Town and Country. Everything got very quiet. Everybody looked at the direction. There were two Black couples coming in, an extraordinary happening and nobody knew exactly what to do. The Maitre-D who was a light skinned Black man seated them, but the very act of them coming in was startling. It was just a different era, different era. As far as playing in a mixed band, very vey seldom.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of reputation did the, did Black musicians have in Columbus at the time?
LEO: Well, like I say, there was very little contact. Now there was, for a long time, this was like going back to the thirties and the forties, there was a Black band that was a house band at Valleydale Dance Hall. You ever heard of Valleydale? Valleydale on Sunbury Road. That was very prominent back then for years and they had a house band called Earl Hood, a Black dance band and there were, I forget what my point is, but they were all Black, I mean, and I didn’t know any guys in the band, because we were a separate community, that’s all.
INTERVIEWER: That’s how it was in Columbus at that time.
LEO: Oh sure, yes.
INTERVIEWER: I understand you played for the Columbus Pops concert band.
LEO: Yeah. That was a community band. They’re still playing but I dropped out and I never…
INTERVIEWER: Was that related to the Symphony Pops?
LEO: Oh no, no, no. This was strictly a community band of non- professionals.
INTERVIEWER: I wanted to ask you, as a musician, did you ever experience anti-Semitism?
LEO: Uh, I remember when I was, I had a little group, a little jobbing band and I was soliciting for work. I remember. This was recalled to me recently by a friend in town here. He and I went to, there was a club in Columbus called the Band Club, where they had you know, a swimming pool and there was a club where they entertained, had dances and all this. Well, among other places I’d solicited, went to knock on their door and see if they wanted to hire our band, my band, and Irv, my friend was with me and he just recalled this not long ago to me and I asked him, you know, “How ‘bout, you have dances here and how ‘bout hiring?” I forget my spiel, and he looked at me and said, “Well, we don’t hire any Jews. I can’t remember what his [dialect?] was. Oh yeah, yeah, that was always there, but as far as, among the musicians themselves, I can’t recall any overt discrimination or,
INTERVIEWER: Among the musicians you worked with, were there many Jews?
LEO: No, not in Columbus. Jewish musicians were scarce for some reason. There were some though. All Sillman was a prominent guy, Jewish. Joe Weissberg, a very, very marvelous pianist, and teacher, was very popular in Columbus. I worked in his band off and on for years. Joe Weissberg. Ruby Commerce, who was in a, he had a jewelry, er, not a jewelry store, but a shoe store. He always had a regular business that he was involved with but he also was a musician around town. I never, uh, a contemporary of my brother. My brother was very close with him in age and comradeship, but there weren’t many Jews playing around Columbus.
INTERVIEWER: What did your parents think of you, of your career?
LEO: Well, my parents were very permissive. You know, whatever I wanted to do, it was okay with them. They were just, you know, they, you know, whatever, I don’t know how to describe it, just they were very permissive, that’s all. My dad was a musician. He was a violinist and I still have his violin. In his younger years, I didn’t mention that, but in his younger days he was very prominent as a violinist in New York. In my era I seldom heard him play. He had virtually given it up but every once in a blue moon he’d get that fiddle out and start playing.
INTERVIEWER: Mostly classical?
LEO: It was, uh, the, what do they call it, Yiddish,..?
LEO: Klezmer. That was his style. That was his playing, Klezmer, and he played it faster ‘an hell.
INTERVIEWER: Did he bring the violin from Europe?
LEO: I don’t know. I don’t think if he brought it from Europe. I don’t know if he acquired it in New York or what, but he always had it and I still have it, but again, I’m sorry to say that I didn’t’ discuss it much with him and he wasn’t particularly anxious to discuss it either, but I’m sure that he was a pretty dynamite player in his day and it was Klezmer music.
INTERVIEWER: Would you say that your perspective on life has changed over the decades?
LEO: My perspective?
INTERVIEWER: Like your, I know it’s a pretty vague question but…
LEO: Well, yeah, my perspective. I’m sure it has changed. I guess I’m very cynical on most subjects.
LEO: Yeah, I’m a skeptic and a cynic. Whether that’s good or bad I don’t know, but I’m very skeptical about most things in life, and often very cynical. I don’t know but that doesn’t mean I’m hard to get along with. I don’t think I am but..
INTERVIEWER: You told me you communicate with friends now. So, you still have friends from when you grew up, here.
LEO: One guy who reminds me of you in his younger days and he’s been, Irv Levy is his name and uh, lot of sickness in his family, traumatic events and he’s, although he’s experienced a lot of ill health himself, he manages to bounce back, and his son has been an invalid for many years, MS, Multiple Sclerosis, but the guy, Irv, is such a devoted father. It’s unbelievable, and he had a very responsible position in New York, in the publishing business, book, novel book publishing business.
INTERVIEWER: Are there any other stories or comments you want to make about your life or career or anything? Have we missed anything? We talked about your growing up and the army and your life as a musician. Are there things that you might have left out that you can recall right now that you want put on this transcript?
LEO: Well, nothing I can think that comes to mind right now. I’ll probably think of a lot of things after you leave but, I can’t really…
INTERVIEWER: Are you pretty satisfied with your life as a musician?
LEO: Oh no, no.
INTERVIEWER: You’re not.
LEO: Satisfied? No. I never achieved what I wanted to achieve and the music business that I knew is gone, so, you know, it was an era that was, in some ways it was a beautiful era and I’m glad that I was part of it. Put it that way.
INTERVIEWER: What did you really want to achieve then?
LEO: Well, what did I want? I wanted to be acclaimed as one of the top players in the country, with some of the name bands but you know. It’s hard to say because the music business disintegrated. The music business that I knew disintegrated. I’ve been very fortunate that I had something to fall back on, and…
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned the job you had.
LEO: Yeah, I worked for the State, the Transportation Department.
INTERVIEWER: How long did you work for them?
LEO: Oh, about thirty years.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, thirty years.
LEO: Yeah, while I was still playing professionally, I mean, yeah. I started there part-time while I was still working steady in the Neil House and then when the job at the Neil House folded I went full-time at the Highway Department.
INTERVIEWER: So when did you retire from the Highway Department?
LEO: In 18, 1987. I retired at the end of 1987. Yeah, they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, early retirement, er, a two year bonus for early retirement.
INTERVIEWER: So, since you retired in 1987, you’ve been, most of your activities have been playing with bands, occasionally?
LEO: Yeah, I’m still very active playing. Now, I’m not active right now. I kind of, I was active for a long time until just the last couple years I haven’t been with any group and I kind of miss it. I could go back to this community band you know, this concert band, basically, but
INTERVIEWER: Do you still practice?
LEO: I pick it up every day, just a few minutes, just to keep some kind of a shape.
INTERVIEWER: I see.
LEO: If you don’t use it you lose it. At least I know I would.
INTERVIEWER: Have you been playing with the same trumpet for decades or you…?
LEO: Well, this particular horn I have now, one of them I have now I’ve had for, oh, I’d say maybe ten or fifteen years. I didn’t even buy it new. I acquired it used. It’s a very fine horn. It belonged to Rudy, the contractor from Cleveland, Rudy, and it’s a good horn, but it’s, you know, it’s metal so, it deteriorates, but yeah, I’ve had this quite a long time now, and, uh, but yeah, that’s about it. There are probably things I’ll think of after you leave but it’s been an interesting merry-go-round and I’m happy that I lived through the main, the glory days of the music, of the musicians’ era, the instrumental era. Those were the glory days, the Swing Era, the Jazz Era…
INTERVIEWER: Have you heard the Columbus Jazz Orchestra?
LEO: Oh yeah, yeah. I used to work with, well, with some of the guys. Some of the older guys have retired. Yeah, yeah, well, I still go there. I have a cousin, Ethel, who’s very active or was very active on the Board of Directors of that group and now she’s having medical problems. Once in a while I’ll go with her. I went recently to one of their concerts.
INTERVIEWER: Have you/has she been to New Orleans?
LEO: I was there once for about a week.
INTERVIEWER: Did you play down there?
LEO: No, no I just went there as a guest, as a vacationer. Frankly, I wasn’t that excited. I didn’t see anything that really filled me that much. It was ok. You know, I saw some bands there and went to the, uh, what’s that..?
INTERVIEWER: Preservation Hall.
LEO: Preservation Hall. Yeah and for some..
LEO: [? ]
INTERVIEWER: Dixie Land band and the way they play..
LEO: Yeah, Yeah, it wasn’t anything that was that exciting, but it was interesting you know what I mean, and there’s supposed to be a great restaurant down there. I didn’t enjoy the food that much.
INTERVIEWER: When was this that you went?
LEO: How long ago?
LEO: Oh, geez, it’s got to be twenty, twenty-five years ago.
LEO: It’s been a long time.
INTERVIEWER: Well, Leo, thank you very much for this interview.
LEO: You’re welcome It was my pleasure, really. I enjoyed talking about it. I don’t know if I’ve covered everything. Like I said I’ll probably think of things later.
INTERVIEWER: Right. I was actually supposed to include something. Wait a minute. I think I can still do it.
On behalf of the Columbus Jewish Historical Society, I want to thank you for contributing to the
Oral History Project. This concludes the interview.