Andy Karzas discusses the Aragon Ballroom
BROADCAST: Aug. 2, 1963 | DURATION: 00:35:59
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Studs Terkel It really sounds good and sounds impressive, but is a wholly different Aragon of which we're thinking; not of Spain, not somewhere along the Iberian Peninsula, but somewhere here along Chicago's North Side, this Aragon, the ballroom and where the music of Hal Kemp, a band popular in the '30s, the '40s, too. But also you might say a sort of a hallmark band of this particular Aragon of Chicago. Its history is not as long, not as old as that of the old world, but there's enough of its history to explain its reputation and to explain, too, part of Chicago's history. And Andy Karzas is with us, Andy's family built the Aragon back in the '20s, and Andy himself, Andy Karzas, has been connected with this ballroom, part of Chicago's two great ballrooms of another era, though the Aragon today is still open and, I was about to say swinging, not swinging so much as the dances continue. But Andy, too, happens to be an opera buff. He supplied many of the rare recordings for some of the opera programs on WFMT, and is now also involved with the educational department of the Lyric Opera Company. Andy, I thought perhaps as--and strangely enough, opera is involved with the story of the Aragon, we'll come to that in a moment. Suppose through you, through the stories told to you by your father, William Karzas, who built the Aragon and through your own memories of now, we can get a part of Chicago's history.
Andy Karzas There are memories of the Aragón in Spain involved, too, because the Aragon was modeled after the Aragón palace in the Alhambra. There was an open-air terrace in Spain from which the Moors sat and watched entertainments in the courtyard, and the open-air effect is carried into our Aragon, too. It is an open-air place with stars in the sky and clouds that float over and twinkle.
Studs Terkel Andy, as you mention this, it was built in 1924, right?
Andy Karzas Twenty-six. The "Age of the Dreamers."
Studs Terkel "Age of the Dreamers." It was just after the Florida land boom.
Andy Karzas Right.
Studs Terkel And the style of your Aragon in a way is not too removed from what might described as Balaban and Katz--this is not meant in a derogatory way--Balaban and Katz Spanish. You know, I mean there was a flamboyance, a rococo building going on in this particular period, and the Aragón of the Trianon, you had two, this place on the South Side.
Andy Karzas The Trianon was in French style and the Aragon in this Spanish or Moorish. They combed the world for art pieces to put in the Aragon. There is so much marble and glass imported from Europe. They did everything they could to make it a real showplace for dancing.
Studs Terkel Your father then imparted various of the ingredients of the place from different parts of the world.
Studs Terkel And remember, just I remember I was ten, 12 at the time, remembering that particular period going into the big theaters, the Balaban and Katz theaters and seeing that, and being so overwhelmed by the flamboyance of it, and it seemed the ballroom itself now, the Aragon and its history. There were--the dances then, waltzes and foxtrots.
Andy Karzas Mostly, that's right. The Two-Step, the Charleston and those novelty dances were never permitted in the Aragon or the Trianon. They were--they took up too much space. The management felt that someone might get kicked if they permitted the "Black Bottom" but mostly waltz and foxtrot.
Studs Terkel The waltz and the foxtrot. It was 1926. You were talking before we went on before the nature of the building itself. The importations of the marble, the glass, the floor underneath, the floors had springs.
Andy Karzas Yes, they tried to make it comfortable for dancers and discovered that if you laid the floor on end and had taut springs underneath, that it would act like an innersole in your shoes. They did this. The floor is actually cushioned and people can dance all night and not feel fatigue in their feet.
Studs Terkel This was the middle twenties, a great deal of dancing, more than is occurring today. Perhaps we can talk about this as we get along, to the changes in the mores.
Andy Karzas Well, dancing was the prime social activity of the time, which it is not anymore.
Studs Terkel The band that opened.
Andy Karzas Ted Fio Rito, who was then in partnership with Dan Russo, and they had been playing at the Edgewater Beach and other places in Chicago. They were one of the nation's most famous orchestras at the time.
Studs Terkel Remember that, the Russo-Fio Rito, I think you said they were the Orioles.
Andy Karzas I think they were called the Orioles.
Studs Terkel On crystal sets, too, we were able to hear the Coon-Sanders Band and the Ted Fio Rito-Dan Russo Band, Isham Jones. They opened and, perhaps, this may have been this kind of music in the '20s. This would have to be called a new moon and an old serenade, or "The New Moon and an Old Serenade", and it would have to be, too, Andy bring these records down, these would have to be 78s. This--the people who came. I know that there's been a change in patronage through the years, a kind--who came to dance?
Andy Karzas Mostly young people, even late teens and in their early 20s, single people, unmarried. This was the wonderful place for courtship in Chicago. What nicer place for a fellow to take a girl for an inexpensive evening of entertainment?
Studs Terkel So boys came in groups--
Andy Karzas Groups.
Studs Terkel And girls came stag.
Studs Terkel And they met one another there and--
Andy Karzas Or, of course, in couples if they wished.
Studs Terkel And it was through Fio Rito and--what did you have up above? Do you have, did your father build the impression of lights, too, I suppose? There were lights of sorts, weren't there?
Andy Karzas The sky. It's the floating clouds and twinkling stars.
Studs Terkel Dancing then was actual--you know, dancing was such was part of the American scene, particularly among the young. Now through the years, you've sensed a lessening of this, haven't
Andy Karzas Yes, there's more--if the athletic entertainments like bowling and so on have become more popular than dancing, probably because young people today, the fellows don't want to learn how to dance. They think it's a sissy activity. And young people go through high schools without learning. They do a lot of gyrations in record stores, but they don't learn beautiful ballroom dancing.
Studs Terkel Is it possible, too, since courting was part of that scene of the Aragon, the Trianon, the fact that there may be more early marriages today than then.
Andy Karzas Yes, the kids today are getting married at the age of 18 and 19. As you say, in years ago people married more in their middle twenties. And all this period from the late teens through the middle 20s was an age in which people would come to the Aragon to meet other young people.
Studs Terkel Well, who was the band leader, what band most symbolized the most popular ones, say this particular sentimental period?
Andy Karzas Well, let me tell the story about that. After Fio Rito and Russo, the Aragon brought in a bunch of popular bands, but they needed a fill-in. And my father was unable to locate a band that could play for a few weeks at the Aragon as a fill, and he figured he'd better organize one or find somebody who would make a good leader. In the Trianon, [Del Lamp?]'s Band was playing, and there was a young saxophone player in [Del Lamp?]'s Band who had a nice personality, nice looking fella who always seemed to be friendly with the people, and Dad said, "Well, this guy would make a good bandleader." He took him from the [Del Lamp?]'s Band, put him into the Aragon for three weeks in front of an orchestra, and Wayne King stayed for nine years.
Studs Terkel So it was Wayne King. We think of Wayne King, the waltz king, and I suppose he, perhaps, if there's a representative figure of that period of this particular segment of America, the dancers, he would be king, wouldn't
Andy Karzas Yes.
Studs Terkel In the Aragon. You mentioned something about dress, too, that there was formal dress on many of these occasions.
Andy Karzas Yes, people came in formal ball gowns, particularly on matinees. Sunday afternoons were strictly formal, and they would come and dance for eight, nine hours, all through the day in formal clothes.
Studs Terkel Was this part of your father's billboard to advertising campaign, because Nelson Algren, in one of his memory sequences in his book, "Who Lost Early Chicago", speaks of the dancers, the waltzers, and Wayne King. On the billboards that are now tattered, now and then you find under three or four posters of subsequent years as you see the billboard poster work tearing off a lot of them, putting you find a couple in formal.
Andy Karzas Yes, he's talking about the billboards that advertised Trianon and Aragon on Michigan Avenue. And also there was a mechanical poster which showed dancing couples actually moving behind glass on Michigan Avenue.
Studs Terkel Yeah, that was part of it. And I suppose in thinking of that particular memory and Algren, of course, writes it quite poetically, the snows are falling, the years have passed, and tattered, tattered billboards. He thinks, and not that this particular couple is revolving, but the memories of the revolving couple. To our ears today this may sound a bit maudlin and sentimental, overly sentimental, yet at that particular time, again, in the history of American recreation, it was quite the music. And even now, I suppose, it's what you would describe--I, a non-dancer, would describe as very danceable music, I
Andy Karzas Yes, this is still played in Aragon.
Studs Terkel Is still, you still--
Andy Karzas Yes.
Studs Terkel Well, tell me about the Aragon patrons today.
Andy Karzas They're mostly young people again, in their 20s, single people who enjoy dancing and who enjoy meeting other nice people. It still is difficult to find places to go where you can meet congenial people. Where do you
Studs Terkel But once upon a time there were many ballrooms, who weren't--I mean, the two most celebrated were the--your father's, the Aragon that is now, the Trianon that was, but Chicago, I imagine most of the cities had a great many of the ballrooms.
Andy Karzas Yes.
Studs Terkel Was "The Dreamland" on the West Side. It was a bit rougher, perhaps, and that had more jazz bands, incidentally, playing there for dancers. But to what do you ascribe the disappearance of the rarity of the ballroom today.
Andy Karzas Well, a ballroom is as good as its attractions. And there became less and less dance bands that were available for the ballrooms as we took the emphasis off of dance music and put it on singers and instrumentalists. There were less people who came to dance in the ballrooms. We actually have gone through periods in the last few years where we've had difficulty finding bands that were available to play in the Aragon. And, yet, every band in the country wants to play there.
Studs Terkel The difference also what has happened, I suppose, expense to big bands, and we know that in the field of jazz, and this would apply to popular music, too, the big band, there are less big bands, far fewer big
Andy Karzas That's right. One of the reasons for that is that the entertainment now in America is weekend entertainment. In the old days, a band could book itself without any trouble Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, one-nighters around the country. But today only Fridays and Saturdays.
Studs Terkel Chicago we know is a weekend city.
Studs Terkel I suppose this may apply to a great
Andy Karzas This is what's happened to a great many of the ballrooms, that they've been unable to make a go of it on the basis of three days' receipts.
Studs Terkel So it's basically three days: a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Studs Terkel This would apply to Chicago nightclubs, I know, and perhaps even to a less extent to theater, but to nightclubs and to ballrooms and dances.
Andy Karzas Some of our older dancers like to talk about the nights they remember waiting in line on Tuesdays to get into the Aragon. There would be a hold-out crowd outside. Eleven-thirty the--a few people would leave, and then a few more could come in.
Studs Terkel There were lines, then.
Andy Karzas Oh, yes. Around the block.
Studs Terkel Aside from the dance, there were novelty songs, too, weren't there, this was the time--well, of course the '20s was also, early '20s, "Yes, We Have No Bananas", and the Barney Google period.
Andy Karzas Wayne King was one of the people who featured novelty tunes.
Studs Terkel This was one of his. This was one of his, I think. This is "Goofus", and of course in listening to it, the violin, strings, in jazz this would be very much out although there are some jazz fiddlers. But the strings were of so much part of the popular dance band, weren't they?
Andy Karzas Yes they were. By the way, did you know that Wayne King met his wife in the Aragon?
Studs Terkel No, he did. This we call this our social note.
Andy Karzas He used to see a beautiful girl looking at him from the balcony. And one day he went up to introduce himself, and they were married in two years.
Studs Terkel So he followed through on the pattern of courting at the ballroom. The fiddle, the violin, the brass man played the violin too, didn't
Andy Karzas Yes, he doubled. He doubled. Almost all the band players would be able to play the violin.
Studs Terkel The band then, what was the band, about 18, 16?
Andy Karzas In pieces? Probably 13 to 14, which is what Wayne carries even now.
Studs Terkel Thirteen, 14. These were the--later on, with the expense of one form or another, one way or another making itself felt. They became the small combinations that were prevalent.
Andy Karzas Every so often there would be larger ones. Artie Shaw came in one time with a 40-piece band. We have two stages at the Aragon, we had to use both of them to fit the band on.
Studs Terkel Oh, you have to divide the band.
Andy Karzas Divided.
Studs Terkel This is interesting, that Shaw did have the big band. Later on, of course, he's known primarily for his Gramercy Five, for the five pieces, six including himself. As another aspect of this particular ballroom, this place is a Chicago landmark it is in that it's part of Chicago's history. That aside from dances, there were special events in which, to which opera singers came in, to the time of Samuel Insull, wasn't it?
Studs Terkel It was the time of the Civic Opera Company.
Andy Karzas In the late '20s a concert series took place of opera singers and some instrumentalists. They were on Sunday afternoons. And they attracted the very finest artists in the world, particularly the people who were appearing then with the Chicago Opera Company. As I mentioned to you, Tito Schipa, and Claudia Muzio, and--
Studs Terkel They appeared. What were the circumstances? Here were Schipa, Muzio, Toti Dal Monte, we'll hear about it. What was the nature of the--how did they come to the
Andy Karzas Well, simply a recital program that was held there each week. It was a series, just as you would, perhaps, by series for an Orchestra Hall concerts or something like that. The Aragon was chosen because of the beautiful acoustics and because of the beautiful background, or they would place chairs on the dance floor, and people would attend it just as a concert.
Studs Terkel Andy Karzas, this I know is your true love, the opera. So you've brought some 78s, and they're very rare ones, too. You mentioned Schipa as having entertained there. I remember when my folks had the hotel on the Near North Side, the man next door named Bertini who sold Italian statuary was a friend of Schipa's, and Schipa would come there sometimes on a Sunday night to his apartment which was above the store. So I remember seeing Schipa once there, you know, next door, you see, short, you know, kind of stocky as I recall, but short.
Andy Karzas Imagine the length of his career that he actually sang in Chicago just this year.
Andy Karzas He was in the late 60s, I
Studs Terkel Late 60s he offered a concert. What does a Schipa, that he may well have sung at the Aragon back in those middle '20s,
Andy Karzas Oh, so many arias. "Werther", and his, one of his most famous roles, and the beautiful aria, "A Non Mi Lidestar".
Studs Terkel So this is from Massenet's
Andy Karzas Massenet's "Werther".
Studs Terkel Here is Schipa, "Do not wake me up, I am having a beautiful dream." The lyric beauty of Schipa's tenor, an opera too rarely performed, apparently, Andy.
Andy Karzas Almost never given any more. And it seems a shame that the memory of the people is so short. Tito Schipa, who was one of the glories of the Chicago company all through the '20s and 1930s returned here just a few months ago to do a farewell concert, and the house was almost empty.
Andy Karzas A hundred and fifty
Studs Terkel In the House to hear Schipa, and in New York I understand it was packed.
Andy Karzas Yeah, they had to schedule a second concert in New York to accommodate the crowds that wanted tickets.
Studs Terkel You know, the irony is that it was here in Chicago--
Andy Karzas That's right. That he was best loved.
Studs Terkel Most felt. Yeah, 'cause it's a personal regret of mine not ending up at that concert and everyone was, here's a figure, you know, a figure of another era, but who never having been seen should be seen for one's own reward, you know. You say that the voice was still there.
Andy Karzas The voice was beautiful. His trouble was breath. Breath control was very short, but the concert was a very satisfactory one. Very beautiful concert.
Studs Terkel In the time you say Lyric was in town, no rehearsal, and was one opera singer came to hear
Andy Karzas him. The only singer that was there, David Polari, from the company had come to hear Schipa.
Studs Terkel I think this is a comment on a great many of us. Schipa. And I think of Schipa at the Aragon, too, on some of those Sunday afternoons and, of course, you say Muzio was there.
Andy Karzas She was one of the best loved of the singers in Chicago, having left the Metropolitan because she was unhappy. She didn't like the working conditions there and came to Chicago and sang with our company for eight or nine years. "Traviata" was her greatest part, but she sang many other things, both lyric and dramatic. She was one of the most beloved singers in Italy as well, and would go back to Italy whenever she could. I brought a record today, "The Death of Cecilia", this is an opera that was written for her by a monk named Refice, and she was the first singer to perform this opera.
Studs Terkel This was written for her.
Studs Terkel Now, this involves the acting as well as the singing here.
Andy Karzas Yes.
Studs Terkel You can't help but think of her, the recitative reading the letter in "Traviata", Violetta reading Germont's letter, her acting on that. And here, too, there's a similar act scene.
Andy Karzas Yes, this half-sung and half-spoken recitative in the aria where she is mart--she is being martyred as a saint. She performed this opera four or five times in Italy, and then toured with it to South America, and since Muzio parted, no one else has done it.
Studs Terkel Even Muzio's death scene from "Cecilia", her death then we hear the actress who, maybe this is the way Duse might have sounded like, and we hear the singer, the incomparable Muzio. Claudia Muzio, her death. We should point out, she didn't, she could not possibly have sung this during your Aragon Sunday concerts or your father's. This was written after. But she did, I bet she did "Traviata" there.
Andy Karzas Probably "Traviata". I've seen one of the concert programs, and she sang arias from "Traviata" and "Forza del Destino" and I think "Trovatore" and "Aida" plus a group of songs. They were beautifully balanced programs.
Studs Terkel You have some of the
Andy Karzas I don't have some, I've seen some in somebody else's--
Studs Terkel That your father put out at the time that the patrons, the Sunday patrons, so here was a double face to the Aragon: the young dancers during the week. This was the bread and butter of the Aragon, this is the basis of it, and yet somehow it became also the locale for some of the Sunday afternoon concerts. This is Muzio, you had mentioned the Schipa story, since we heard Tito Schipa before. Schipa was quite a man for publicity.
Andy Karzas Yes, a story that everyone enjoys remembering is the publicity idea of going down to a drugstore or someplace like this with his wife, and they would have staged having another woman come running up to him, throwing her arms around him and kissing him, saying, "Tito, I love you, I love you." And the wife would step back, get very angry, push the woman away, and there would be a fight between the two ladies. Of course, a photographer would be handy, and the next day this was front-page space in every newspaper in Chicago.
Studs Terkel And this was arranged by Schipa.
Andy Karzas This was arranged by Schipa.
Studs Terkel Part of the flamboyance of the time.
Andy Karzas Perhaps this is why the old company did so well as far as ticket sales. They were very publicity-conscious.
Studs Terkel You mean, the singers as well as the impresario.
Andy Karzas Right.
Studs Terkel That Sunday, back to the Aragon itself and its role in Chicago's history of the fine and lively arts. They were Schipa sang there on Sundays and Muzio, and you think, And, possibly Edith Mason did, too.
Andy Karzas Yes, she might have. She was an artist of the company at this time.
Studs Terkel The wife of the maestro
Andy Karzas Right. And a beautiful soprano, a lovely lyric.
Studs Terkel I know you have in the programs a friend of yours who has been on the prog--Mae Higgins, who was a confidant of Muzio and today of Teresa Stich-Randall, saved all these programs so we'll have to check with her about Mason's appearance. But let's stick with opera. I know you're a buff, and how did you come to like the opera so much as you do?
Andy Karzas Well, when I was very young, my father bought some records of opera arias for orchestra and I liked them so much that I wanted to hear what they sounded like in the actual opera version, and persuaded them to buy me these recordings with the vocals, and pretty soon I fell in love with my favorite soprano, you know, Licia Albanese, whom I've been a fan of, by the way, and I used to spend much too much time and money hitchhiking to New York to hear her performances. But I've always enjoyed opera.
Studs Terkel And thinking of sopranos and of mezzos, since your records are here, why not play some that you brought some of these wonderful 78s, the--Conchita Supervia sang here.
Andy Karzas Yes. She was, she sang in Chicago mostly in the Rossini operas and "Carmen". She began a move back to singing the Rossini operas in their original mezzo-soprano key. And although she had a high register when she wanted it, she was essentially a mezzo, and she restored "Cinderella", "Cenerentola", and "The Barber of Seville" to the vocal range for which they were written.
Studs Terkel Let's hear her or something entirely different from Peer Gynt--no, Grieg's "Solveig's Song", the beautiful "Solveig's Song" as he returns--no, she's--he returns. This is when Peer Gynt returns to Solveig, to home. Supervia. Supervia, Solveig, I was wrong, by the way, she was waiting for Peer, I think, at the time of this particular sequence. Yeah.
Andy Karzas She was the singer who was most like Maria Callas in demanding to have things a certain way. When she would take a job with an opera company, she insisted that a certain tenor be engaged, and a certain conductor, and so on. She would always send this information in a very pleasant, nice letter. But all the impresarios knew that if it wasn't this way, Supervia wouldn't sing.
Studs Terkel She was really the prima donna then, the diva.
Andy Karzas But the artistic results were worth it.
Studs Terkel She started singing about, what would you say, about 15?
Andy Karzas At the age of 15 she made her debut.
Studs Terkel Supervia. Another one of Andy, our guest is Andy Karzas, you may recall Andy is here remembering and also through the memories of his father who built the Aragon and the Trianon, but it is the Aragon of which we're speaking since that is now existent, still exists, and we trust for a long time, part of Chicago's history. Andy, you may recall, supplied the records and the notes for "Through the Recording Horn", that marvelous program that brought back I'm sure to a great many listeners memories, but to all of us, voices.
Andy Karzas Yeah, I think we had a very good audience for that show.
Studs Terkel And--you were going to say what?
Andy Karzas I was just going to say that the station used to get an awful lot of comment on it, and it pleased me very much to know that there were that many people interested in old singers, old records.
Studs Terkel Toti Dal Monte and
Andy Karzas Toti Dal Monte, one of my favorites.
Studs Terkel Did she--now, does the time match on this?
Andy Karzas Yes.
Studs Terkel Did she sing at the Aragon on those Sundays?
Andy Karzas She could have. We don't know for sure. She was with the company, though, from 1924 'til 1928, singing mostly the coloratura things. She was essentially a lyric, and in Italy they were desperate for a coloratura soprano, and the impresarios at La Scala encouraged her to learn "Lucia" and "Rigoletto" and roles like this. Well, she did them for a number of years very successfully, but it was a strain, and when she was no longer able to do them, she tried to go back to the lyric roles, and then people wouldn't accept her anymore.
Studs Terkel Well, she was not accepted ever in New York, was she?
Andy Karzas No, she sang only a couple performances at the Metropolitan, and the people didn't like them, but in Chicago she was great.
Studs Terkel What of Dal Monte do we have?
Andy Karzas The aria from "Falstaff", the last act aria, in which Naneta says that she's the queen of the fairies.
Studs Terkel Oh, this is the one from "Secret Coves and Bowers I Come".
Andy Karzas Right.
Studs Terkel "Sufi d'un sofio etacio".
Studs Terkel Dal Monte. Dal Monte. Through the scratch of the 78s, the beauty of Dal Monte's voice. It was a voice of innocence, it was a young voice, wasn't it?
Andy Karzas Yes. She recorded a "Butterfly" complete with Beniamino Gigli, and a lot of people criticized it because she kept her voice sounding very young. She tried to enact a 15-year-old girl.
Studs Terkel Which was right for "Butterfly".
Andy Karzas I think so, a beautiful version, but quite a number of critics have said they didn't like it.
Studs Terkel You know, there's another aspect of the Sunday concerts we should mention, perhaps hear one of the artists involved, aside from the vocalists, the singers, there were fine instrumentalists, they were the fine ar--pianists. Josef Hofmann played there?
Andy Karzas That's right. And also Rachmaninoff.
Studs Terkel Is your father--did your father ever tell you about these particular events?
Studs Terkel But Rachmaninoff.
Andy Karzas Rachmaninoff was there. They played on--when the singers appeared, we have a double stage. The first one is lower, the second one quite high up. The singers always sang from the lower stage. The instrumentalists worked up on the top, the grand piano or the violin stands were elevated.
Studs Terkel How many--this again from the notes you have, because you were very little, you weren't even around then.
Studs Terkel You weren't around then, I should say. What was the attendance? Any idea? Did Mae Higgins ever tell you anything, the nature of it? How big? How big a turnout was
Studs Terkel Concerts.
Andy Karzas The floor of the Aragon can be set with about 2500 chairs. So assuming that they tried to set it up to capacity or slightly less, they were probably very big concerts.
Studs Terkel Well, I imagine it was that for Rachmaninoff, say. If we could hear, perhaps, just what it may have sounded like there in the Aragon, "Presto", the fourth movement of the Chopin sonata here, Rachmaninoff and his incredible fingers. And today that very same piano that on which Rachmaninoff played is used by Carmen Cavallaro.
Studs Terkel The instrument is there and says nothing, but the artist does. If we may come back, Andy, this is a double history of the Aragon, the Sunday afternoons and then the remainder of the week, of the nights that were there, the young dancers. You mentioned something earlier, Aragon still there, the dancers still come, but changes have occurred through the years, there's less participation. We know this today, generally there is more of a spectator, spectator entertainment than in the past. It happened, too, at the Aragon, didn't it for a time, when--when did it begin, with the singers coming with the bands, or?
Andy Karzas Right. Around the late 1930s, when the place was so crowded and that sometimes to relieve the congestion on the floor a little bit, they would feature the singers, and eventually the singers became almost more important than the bands. One of the greatest bands ever to play in the Aragon was Dick Jurgens, who was there for many years and he was very well-loved. But what the people really liked was Eddy Howard, who did the vocals with Dick's band.
Studs Terkel And later on Eddy formed his own band.
Andy Karzas That's right. My father tells me that he had told Jurgens many times to be careful, hold Eddy Howard under contract. Dick didn't, and Eddy left him.
Studs Terkel But what happened here then on the floor is that when the singer would take over, they would stop dancing and crowd toward the stage. Isn't
Andy Karzas Right. And eventually it got to the point where the people would simply stay crowded towards the stage waiting for the singer to get up and sing.
Studs Terkel This happened, too, didn't it, with other bands? You had some of the excellent jazz bands, too, we should point out, played for dances. You had Goodman there.
Andy Karzas Right. The swing bands, Goodman and Miller.
Andy Karzas Dorsey. People would stand in the front and watch the bands.
Studs Terkel If we could hear this is Eddy Howard, pop singing of the time, very definitely of a time, pop scene very definitely. And the young people crowding to the floor. And thus and then the band comes, "A Hundred to One I'm in Love", I'm thinking of course, I can't help but laugh a little, and chuckle, you think of the double life the Aragon led, you know, Schipa, Muzio, to Eddy Howard, you know. This nonetheless part of the history of the place and of our city, too. The--Herman use--the big bands were there and on occasion still come. It's interesting that Woody Herman is in town tonight, Woody Herman played
Andy Karzas Oh yes, many times.
Studs Terkel He's in town tonight at the Court Theatre, part of the Chicago artist series and he's at the court outside, and Woody--there were--in the time of Woody, too, it was a time of jazz very much on the upbeat and in addition to Herman, let's see. You had good--now I'm thinking now specifically of bands known as good jazz bands that played, and they had to, for bread and butter, for many of the dancers, too.
Studs Terkel And Stan Kenton was there, too.
Studs Terkel We hear just part of Woody now. This he certainly played at the Aragon, I know, "Wild Apple Honey", which is one of his. This is the first Herd. And, so, Woody, certainly one of the prime jazz--I called it the first Herd, it's the third Herd, that would be the third band of Woody's, the third stage, this is the third, "Apple Honey", so thus with Andy Harzas is our--Andy Karzas, why'd I say Harzas, I'm thinking something else, but Andy Karzas is our guest and our guide, too. We have a picture of a city and of a ballroom and it had dance music, primarily. Sweet dance music. This was the base of it, and yet it had changes in the world of entertainment. Jazz bands were part of the picture, though--although the young couples danced to the bands, there was the watching, as you say, the watching as in the case of, obviously in the case of Woody's "Wild Apple Honey". Standing in front of the bandstand from the stage watching and listening and using, you even had a time of Dixieland bands there for a period
Andy Karzas Yes, we've done everything.
Studs Terkel And soloists and of course those Sunday afternoons, and today the Aragon is still there, going, and the audience today, the young people, are they, is there a difference? Again, you weren't born at the time it began. But from your observations and notes and your connection with Aragon, Andy, since it is your place, your father founded it. Is there a difference between the young people who come dancing now and then or are they basically the same?
Andy Karzas They take it a little more casually now. They don't dress up in formal clothes at all the way they used to do. And they come more for an evening of fun and entertainment rather than to dance. I think in the '20s people physically wanted to do the dance steps, this was most important. Today the kids use dancing as a form of relaxation, entertainment. And we have to be very careful to vary the fare a great deal. There has to be a lot of changes in our scheduling during the year: gimmicks, promotions. These things are important, where they weren't necessary years ago.
Studs Terkel They weren't needed then, today they're needed.
Andy Karzas Musically, we're back to where we started.
Studs Terkel You mean the waltzes and foxtrots are back again there.
Andy Karzas Waltzes and foxtrots are here, we do play some swing, but not the Woody Herman-type, more of a ballroom swing, and Latin American is here to stay. There's an awful lot of cha-cha and rumba and mambo.
Studs Terkel I think the vertical, tall, vertical neon sign, Aragon, and below it, Aragon dancing, the name of the band is one of the marks of the city. This is Ara--we should point out where it is. It's north, it's on--
Andy Karzas Lawrence and Broadway.
Studs Terkel Lawrence and Broadway. The Uptown Theater--
Andy Karzas Right across the street.
Studs Terkel And the Aragon through the years 1928--six.
Andy Karzas Twenty-six.
Studs Terkel Nineteen twenty-six, so it's some 30--
Andy Karzas This is the 37th year.
Studs Terkel Thirty-seven years, so you will hit the half-century I'm sure, this is again part of the American scene.
Studs Terkel Andy Karzas, thank you very much. We end--we opened early to the--if there were a trademark band, it would be Wayne King, and of course "Say this"--no, not "Say This Waltz".
Andy Karzas "The Waltz You Saved for Me".
Studs Terkel "The Waltz You Saved for Me", and perhaps we can waltz off with that one too, then, and sign--I know, end this particular history. Perhaps, Andy, you can come back again and hit more of the opera aspect of it, you know. Maybe we'll do here on the program on occasion "Through the Recording Horn".
Andy Karzas Good, I'd love to.
Studs Terkel But the Aragon, long may it swing. Not swing! Long may it dance.