Myer Herbert Lazarus and Louise Della Ramos

By Levi Clancy for לוי on
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Myer Herbert Lazarus was born February 22nd, 1922 in Leeds. He was known as Myron, or usually just Mickie/Mickey.

Lazar made sure that one boy was to be a musician. He took Mickey to a music teacher. Mickey learned to play the violin. Later, Mickey graduated from the violin to the saxophone and the clarinet. On the violin, the teacher insisted that the students be able to make the sound of a train coming and going. (Family Book § 4)

Started playing violin in 1910, then clarinet in 1912. Joined the Russian Juvenile Concert Band. 1920 moved to the US. In 1925 he began playing clarinet professionally.

Mickie and Louise

In 1926, Mickie and Louise Della Ramos were married.

Music Career

Mickie stopped playing the clarinet professionally in 1940 and from 1940 to 1969 owned the Music Bar & Gift Shop in Oakland. He retired in 1970. He could play any instrument but had no formal training, but could write the parts of the music for the whole orchestra just by listening to records.

Interview with Mickey Lazarus

Myron Herbert "Mickey" Lazarus" was interviewed on May 30, 1977 by his grandson Brett Lazarus when Mickey was 75 years old. The interview took place at the home of Mickey and Louise Lazarus, 447 Lee Street, Oakland, California. The purpose of the interview was to set down the historical record of the musical career of Mickey. Brett then transcribed the interview into this written record. FB § 4 № 15

PersonDialogue

Brett

Mickey, can you give me any background information about where you were born and what brought you to the states?

Mickey

I was born in 1902 in England. When I was ten years old, I'd been taking violin lessons at my dad's request. Then we moved to, migrated to, Toronto, Canada. He thought it was a good idea to present me to an orchestra of some kind [Young Boys Band, Toronto] and to further my knowledge and experience and education as a musician. He went to a band director and said, "My son plays the violin and I'd like to have him join your band." And the director said, "We can't use violins." The band director looked at my fingers and said, "Throw the violin away, you look like a clarinet player."

Brett

So, that's what started you playing the clarinet?

Mickey

Right.

Brett

Mickey, how long did you stay up in Canada?

Mickey

We were there for eight years with this band that I joined.

Brett

That makes you about 18 when you came down to the United States.

Mickey

Right.

Brett

What experiences did you come up against as a musician?

Mickey

Oh, lots of different things, such as joining a circus, playing in a circus band, playing in a concert band which was finally formed after six years of preparation.

Brett

Did you play in restaurants and small places like that?

Mickey

When I came to the United States from Canada, we played in dance ballrooms, in nightclubs and theaters. In 1925, I was one of the fortunate ones to have a contract signed for $100 a week, which was an unheard of amount of money at that particular time, and a 17 week contract at the Fiorde Italian Restaurant [Fiorde Italian Restaurant, San Francisco].

Brett

What type of music were you playing there?

Mickey

It was dance music. Entertainment for dinner dances.

Brett

Were you by yourself or did you have a band by that time?

Mickey

No, I would join the band.

Brett

I understand that in 1928, you had gone on to the T and D Theater [T and D Theater, Oakland]. Where is the T and D Theater?

Mickey

Well, they were stage presentations rather than vaudeville; it was a stage production like Fanchon and Marco [Fanchon and Marco, a dancing team like Astaire and Rogers] or the days of ballroom dancing and stage productions.

Brett

Did you leave the T and D Theater and go on to other theaters or was that your main theater? What was the situation behind that?

Mickey

I left the T and D Theater and made the circuit of all the theaters in the area, and of all the musicians and bands. And, at that time, there was an opportunity for me to form my own band at the Original Sweets Ballroom [Sweets Ballroom, renamed McFaddens, Oakland], which later became McFadden's Ballroom [McFaddens Ballroom, Oakland, much like a modern discotheque] in 1931. At that time, I proved my ambition to be a band leader and the crowd accepted me as the dance band of the time.

Brett

Okay, stop right there. Tell me about the band. Did you send out notices to musicians that you wanted to get a band together or how did that all come about?

Mickey

I selected the musicians of my acquaintance that I felt would be beneficial to the combination I had in mind. After many efforts of selecting the group, many changes were made, until I thought I'd reached my desires for an orchestra and, after a few weeks, the crowd had accepted what I desired to do.

Brett

These musicians that you were playing with were people that you'd already been playing with around the area?

Mickey

Yes, that's true; my acquaintances as musicians in the union.

Brett

Then it was your leadership that brought these people together and the crowd accepted what you had put together. Did it catch on at first? What was the crowd's reaction?

Mickey

Well, it took quite a while to attract a crowd with the competition in the area, the other orchestras that had been established and it was quite hard to sway them to the other ballroom.

Brett

So inevitably, you had to use some sort of a gimmick. Did you use advertising or what?

Mickey

Well, we used every means of attracting the crowd, such as novelty numbers and dance numbers that we thought they would like to listen to rather than the competition that were playing the old-fashioned, cut and dried.

Brett

So you were playing the new material that was coming out at the time and keeping up with the times?

Mickey

Right, we established a way that we thought they would accept rather than fifty year old styles.

Brett

When you first opened the ballroom, how did you feel about it? Did you feel that it was going to succeed or did you feel that you had to make it succeed?

Mickey

I felt that with my efforts, I would prove that I was able to make it succeed and prove that it was right. The proof of that was that I would present the vocalists and the orchestra for the first time in the history of the Oakland area, California. I had three vocalists, two girls and a boy singer. The crowd thought that was very unusual and they accepted it quite well.

Brett

So, you were the first one to have singers in your orchestra?

Mickey

In this area.

Brett

I remember you telling me that Tony Martin had sung in your orchestra. Was that at this time?

Mickey

No, his brother was the vocalist in the family and Tony hadn't been made, hadn't been a singer at the time but he asked me if he could sing in my band and I said, "No, we have your brother as a vocalist and we're very satisfied," and, at the time, he was taking saxophone lessons from me as a musician and when he asked if he could sing in the band, I said I didn't think he should. I thought he had better stick with the saxophone because I didn't think he was going to make it as a vocalist. I was wrong!

Brett

How did the crowd take it at first? Were there a lot of people at the beginning, or just a few?

Mickey

The attendance was very poor in the beginning due to the money. At 40¢ they could hardly afford to go to the dances as we had expected them to come seven nights a week. So it took a while to realize that this is the way they should be going.

Brett

Was that the thing to do in those days -- to go dancing every night?

Mickey

No, it wasn't actually every night although the ballrooms were open every night. They tried to cater to different age groups.

Brett

Did you mainly cater to one age group or did you change from night to night?

Mickey

We changed from night to night to try to satisfy most every age group and it was not easy and we tried awfully hard.

Brett

What was the average age group of the people attending the dance?

Mickey

Well, they were strictly teenagers -- nineteen, twenty years old and I think that was about the average age of the dancers.

Brett

I assume you were able to bring in older people as well?

Mickey

We catered to a certain night of the week that was old-fashioned dancing, as they called it, or folk dancing. So, we were quite spread out in different types of entertaining the public.

Brett

Back to what you said about the first night that you opened when you opened up and there weren't too many people there. How did you feel as a musician? I know that music is an art and the audience can enhance your playing. How did you feel about that? Were you able to play up to what you felt was par or did you have problems with that?

Mickey

No, it didn't affect me at all because I knew that in a matter of time, it would catch on as I predicted and I wasn't disturbed by the attendance in the crowd.

Brett

And, it did catch on? Within a couple of weeks?

Mickey

Right.

Brett

That's great. After McFadden's Ballroom, where did you go from there?

Mickey

[In 1935] I went to Hollywood, NBC, and I thought I would try my ambitions in the Hollywood direction as a musician and see what they had to offer and to see if I had anything to offer them.

Brett

Now, when you say you were working for NBC, was that the radio station at NBC?

Mickey

That was the radio station at NBC.

Brett

What were your expectations? As just a musician or to continue as a band leader?

Mickey

No. I was satisfied to find out, as a musician, and eventually if I saw the opportunity, I might create a band of my own, at that particular time I was interested in a livelihood rather than the glory of what I wanted to be. Trying to make a living, let's put it that way.

Brett

Can you give me some stories about NBC, some circumstances working with other musicians and the people in the profession?

Mickey

Well, it was quite an education due to the competition but I did learn a lot about the way the musician's life has to be leader, whether I liked it or not, and I was very fortunate to come up with the big broadcasting programs. My first experiences in NBC were at the opening show of the Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy and W.C. Fields radio shows.

Brett

And what part did you play on that?

Mickey

I was in the orchestra playing the lead alto in a forty piece orchestra, under the direction of someone whose name I can't remember.

Brett

Were there any particular times, working at NBC, that really stand out that you can remember?

Mickey

There was one quite unusual happening. Don Amiche, on the first night of this program (a series), came out about 15 or 20 minutes before the program started, as a dress rehearsal, and he played in the background and listened to the music.

Brett

What type of show was this?

Mickey

This was a first-nighter, the type of program like "As the World Turns", or those kinds of things. And the incident was quite humorous. He was going to sing about Mimi, as pertaining to the script, and he said "okay" and the music started to play and he said, "Wait a minute. That's not the Mimi I'm supposed to sing." It just so happens that there were two songs by the name of Mimi; one was called And Mimi and the other just Mimi. And we had the wrong music and it was 15 minutes before the show and the panic was on. I offered my ability, if you can call it that, and said, "Hold everything. In five minutes I'll rearrange the score to fit the situation." And five minutes later the music was corrected and Don Amiche said, "Okay, that's fine."

Brett

So, you had to rewrite the music right there on the spot, 15 minutes before you went on the air?

Mickey

Right.

Brett

Were there any other people that you had to work with where there were similar circumstances?

Mickey

Well, I was fortunate to be called to play the clarinet for Dorothy Lamour, doing her vocal.

Brett

I don't understand what you mean by her "vocal".

Mickey

She was doing her song and the script called for a clarinet in the background.

Brett

These were all radio shows?

Mickey

Radio shows. And I felt pretty proud being called upon and selected out of five saxophone players to play the background music for her, which was very interesting and very encouraging.

Brett

You also worked with Rubinoff?

Mickey

Yes, we worked with Rubinoff and we did the General Motors Program in 1937. It was quite an experience to see how the other conductors and NBC directors functioned and it was quite an education that I got from watching all these big fellows that felt they were big.

Brett

What was it like working for Rubinoff? Was he always cracking the whip?

Mickey

Yes, he would put everyone down to boost his own ego. He was very particular about precision and trying to prove that he knew all about it and he would belittle the men in the orchestra very badly. The men had no choice but to say, "Yes sir, yes sir, yes sir."

Brett

Did he actually do that to somebody?

Mickey

He did that on one occasion where he was picking on a certain violinist and he stopped the band ten times and each time he moved the man down one chair. And he said, "Next week we won't need you." It was right in front of all the musicians.

Brett

Was the guy a poor musician?

Mickey

No, that's the conductor's ego. He's trying to satisfy his own ego and the sponsor's ego. By doing that, he felt he was using his ability to show how good he was.

Brett

Did you work for Rubinoff yourself?

Mickey

I did. I played saxophone in the orchestra.

Brett

Were you able to get along with him?

Mickey

Well, nobody got along okay with him. I didn't get along. I didn't suit him and nobody else did. There was one experience where he complained about the drummer up in the back of the bandstand and he kept stopping the band because the drummer was making unnecessary noises that weren't in the score. He said, "What is that boom, boom boom? That isn't in the script." He tried it about half a dozen times and he kept hearing it and he finally got off of his podium and he walked up to the drummer's platform and he said, "All right, let's start again." And there was no noise when he got there and he couldn't imagine what he was hearing but the drummer was taking a beating. So that was an occasion of the temperament of different conductors.

Brett

Was there one particular time, as you can recall, that stands out as being memorable, in a happy sense?

Mickey

I think I do remember an occasion -- when I was offered the opportunity to join the rehearsal group of musicians to the home of Sigmund Romberg, which I think you will remember, The Student Prince and all the Viennese music. And I looked forward to enjoying the acquaintance of the other side of the industries which would operate so that I might gain something from them. But, Sigmund, who was the world's greatest composer at that time...

Brett

How did you meet him in the first place?

Mickey

I met him through a contractor who engaged me. I met him as a musician, hired to play at his home. Not as a soloist but with a group of 30 musicians that he had engaged. He wanted to hear what he had written. He liked the play-back to hear what the composition sounded like.

Brett

So being a composer, he hired you and some other musicians to play his music?

Mickey

Right. And the experience that was outstanding to me, and the satisfaction that I derived from that, was that I felt not able to perform due to my associates that were the greatest musicians -- that I thought were greater. And it was quite a challenge to sit with that group. I felt that I shouldn't be there because my type of music was not...

Brett

Can you remember what you felt like when you were playing with these other musicians?

Mickey

I felt inferior to them. I felt that I did not belong and I expected any moment that someone would say we'll see you later or something like that.

Brett

And how did it turn out?

Mickey

It turned out surprisingly to my satisfaction. I felt about as tall as a giant when we got through.

Brett

How did it happen that you became a giant?

Mickey

Well, that the experience I had -- Romberg -- I had heard some of his music, and I was the predominate lead of this particular composition and at the first effort I said to myself, "I've really got to hunch and crunch and really play it well." After three or four bars, Romberg tapped on his stand. He said, "Let's try that again." I didn't realize -- I assumed that he was directing at me. So I tried that much harder the second time. I played it with no remarks and Romberg stopped the music again and, at this particular passage, all the violinists, about ten violinists were in unison with me, and after four or five times starting over and over again -- and each time we played it I thought that I was in the wrong -- I didn't know how to correct it. So, after the sixth or seventh time, he stopped and said, "Violinists, will you please play it the way the saxophonist interprets it." That made me feel about as big as a giant and I couldn't believe that I was right and the others were wrong.

Brett

So, your interpretation of his music was just right for him?

Mickey

Apparently. And it established my confidence that I wasn't an underdog and, from then on, I felt quite a bit better about my efforts as a musician in Hollywood.

Brett

Did your attitude change towards the other musicians? Because you said that when you first got there, that they were superior to you and that you were inferior. Did your attitude change?

Mickey

Well, my attitude didn't change. I just felt equal to what Hollywood expected and, at that time, I said to myself, "Do I change my style or do I continue with my style of playing?" And I proved that I was on the right track.

Brett

How do you think the other musicians saw you?

Mickey

Well, I didn't seem to care. I didn't care what their thoughts were. I was just trying to find out what I had to offer and it proves that I was satisfied.

Brett

Were you making a lot of money at this time?

Mickey

No. The money was not the important thing. Just the experience of the way Hollywood would direct the musicians in the theatrical field. Naturally, it was a new field for me to study and I gained quite a bit from it.

Brett

So, would you say that this one experience gave you a change to really see what Hollywood was about?

Mickey

Not necessarily, but it established my confidence in myself through that experience.

Brett

So, it allowed you to go on to other experiences?

Mickey

Right. I felt more confident accepting the work that was offered.

Brett

What happened after that? Did you play with Romberg or did you move on?

Mickey

The thing that Romberg did not have was a steady job for me from day to day. He just had an occasional job and every time Romberg did have a job, he would ask for me.

Brett

Mickey, I would like to thank you for spending the time with me to do this interview and I am glad that you were fortunate enough to go through these experiences that you went through.

Mickey

Thank you very much. I enjoyed being with you and relating my experiences and I hope that you have enjoyed listening to me.

Studies

Lazarus, Hillel. 1989. Family Book § 4 Malka Lewin (transcription of a video tape of Yosel Paltiel recorded by Cindy Kirkland)


Family Book § 4 № 15 Mickie Lazarus