Interview with Pete Sokolow

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What about the singers who came in with charts?

Freg nisht (don't ask). You should know that many singers came into the Catskill mountains with arrangements that had been written in World War I. They had a part for a first trumpet, and they has a part for a first saxophone e-flat alto, written for a 25-piece band. So the arrangement was like this (parodies band playing with many gaps). So there was nothing in between. The saxes and brass never played together, so there was no sound to it. We had an MC he first year at the Hotel New Prospect, who had arrangements written by a guy who knew something. They were written so they could be played from anything from a four-piece band up to 12, and it all was block figures. So his arrangements sounded like something. And his stuff we did reasonably well, because at least I could shlep Ralph through those things. We managed it somehow. But most of the arrangements had scribbling and crossing out, and go to letter "c" from letter "j" and go back to letter "e." It was like Duke Ellington's band. To play these acts you had to be really, really experienced. You go to a place like the Concord, they had 12 men. They had two trumpets, a trombone, three or four saxes, piano, bass, drums, maybe a guitar. These were guys playing shows day and night. We had a show at the New Prospect once a week. Now the week went as follows. Monday night was movie night, the band was off. Tuesday night was bingo. So we had to help them run bingo. We played a ltitle dance music before and after. Wednesday night may have been concert night. Freg nish, vus iz a concertt what is concert night Berman played a doina on the accordion. Ralph Kahn would sing, "Yass, Mein Shtelt, Yass" or something like that. I would play a little solo number. I probably played Benny Goodman. Thursday night I don't remember what went on, we played a lot of dance music.. Friday night was the dance team. Dance team would show up, Jose and Conchita would teach cha-cha on the lawn and then they would come back and we'd have to play a rhumba and what they called a swing trot. We would play (signs "I Could Have Danced All Night.") And they would go around the floor, and the man would take a woman, and the lady would take a man. Then we'd have a dance contest. OK, who wants to be in the rhumba contest, the cha-cha contest. We had the pasa doble. Pasa doble was also one of their show numbers. Jose and Conchita were probably Irving and Faigie, whatever it was. All the dancers had to be [like that]. At that time the Jewish national dance was the cha-cha. [parodies simple cha-cha] Watching the old people try to dance was hysterical. Because they were altishke (old fashioned).

I worked there for four summers. In the remaining years they had Yiddish theatre acts coming up. Jenny Goldstein came up there. She used to be this tragedian, like soap opera. She became more of a comedian [does routine: "Drei hotelkeepers in di Catskills. Ayn from Loch Sheldrake. Ayn from South Fallsburg"]. Then my most memorable of all Michela Rosenberg. A comic actor. Er hut gornisht kayn wert in English. Alles in Yiddish. (He didn't have a word in English. All in Yiddish) Comes up on the stage with a stone face. [Starts doing routine.] People were laughing themselves silly, because he sang ridiculous stuff. Now at that time my Yiddish wasn't anywhere near as good as it is now, but I still understood largely what he did. He did a routine, which was the baseball game. It was a classic he was well known for [does long routine of Yiddish announcement of baseball game]. It was hysterical. He also did a great bit about a bank president. A guy wanted to take out $10 and they gave him the third degree. This was the kind of act that the old people liked.

What killed the Catskills was the Boeing 707. All of a sudden, the second generation Americans of my age and younger- that's what I was, my parents were born in this country -- the second generation Americans of my age and younger could go to Aruba or Puerto Rico or Florida or California, or efsher Europe. Who wants to go to Mountaindale when you can go to Europe? So all of a sudden the age of the people in the hotel went from, you know the guys says, "I got a lot of chicks in this hotel: zibenchiks, ochtchiks, and neinchicks (70s, 80s, and 90s). The last year I played, 1961 we had only about 20 people the whole summer. It was a disaster. The whole thing was just folding up. It was hard.

I'll tell you something about the comedians. My favorite was the first one I played with Billy Hodes. He did several bits. One was the essen bit. Now Lee Tully was another comic in the Mountains. He used to say he invented it, because they both recorded. No, it was Billy's. [does routine: You come up to the Mountains, You go to the hotel. "The dining room is open." And the band would play, "Essen, mir gayn essen. Essen, mir gayn fressen." Hey waiter, loverboy from the bushes, I want some orange juice, tomato juice, he went through the whole menu. He ordered everything on the menu. Then they go outside and sit on the porch on a rocking chair "Mir rocken ". "How long are you here for?" "I'm here for tzvay voks (three weeks)." "Oh, yeah. I'm here for the whole season." And then you hear an announcement, and the trumpet player had to go, "Ba-da-bump-ba-da, bump-ba-da, bump-ba-da." And they said, "The dining room is open for lunch." "Essen, mir gayn essen. Essen, mir gayn fressen." The whole thing. OK, now we order the whole menu over here. Then they come out over here and talk about rhumba lessons on the lawn, and this and that and the other thing. And now they go in for dinner. And then have a show, and then they go back to their room and take bromo seltzer, alka and seltzer, this thing and that thing. And the final word was rachmones! (have pity), then came the big chord. He also did a song at the end of the show. [sings] "Now night turns into day and day into night. It's nature's way of making things right. All of your couples go before the moon, da-da-da. You can hear them crooning, khaki moon, khaki moon, khaki moon, meaning the color [double entendre: "shit on you"]... Now they would do a thing about the hotel owner: If he ever refuses to give you a second main, khaki moon, khaki moon, khaki moon and something about the band leader: if he ever refuses to play a request, khaki moon, khaki moon, khaki moon. I turned this thing into a cha-cha. We called it the "Khaki Moon Cha-Cha-Cha." Billy was wonderful. It was a riot. He didn't talk that much, but he was a terrific guy. He's about 90, he's still alive, and he's still doing shows in Florida. Probably still doing the Khaki Moon routine, still doing the "Essen" routine.

Then there was Phil Carr. He used to laugh at all his own jokes. He used to come in there with his son. His son would read the Lincoln Gettysburg Address. And Phil would do a translation into Yiddish. Four score and seven years ago, "Efsher, ziben ochztik yohr tsurecht, undzer fier tates, our 'four fathers'..." And he would literally translate it.

I worked with Morty Storm and Freddy Roman. Mal Z. Lawrence before he called himself Mal Z. He was so nasty. He said some terrible things about us: well if this kid ever grows up maybe he'll be a good saxophone player." These guys got their start in the coal mines, in places like the New Prospect. They used to do two, three shows a night. Once the New Prospect experience was finished -- . I was there in '58, '59, and '61 -- . In '62 I went back to the mountains only Saturday nights to a little bungalow colony. I played in a little band, we played a little show. The same sort of thing. I didn't go back to the Catskills until the 80s. And by that time it had really started to die. There was just a couple of hotels, religious hotels. By that time my wife and I were married many years. My kids were going to the Camp Monavue in Parksville. The first hotel we went to stay was Liebowitz' Pine View. Who was there in Sy Kushner's place but Lade Gilden. Terrible musician but a doll. Lade Gilden was up there. I played a couple times on a little keyboard I had with me. It was a different kind of thing. The show band harkened back to the old days. On saxophone Isador Chissick Epstein. On piano, Irving Blum, he just died. He was really an accordion player, played the piano terribly. On drums, Vic Ash. Vic Ash was a Greek. But these were guys I worked with years and years before. It sounded just like I remembered it. They had acts like Jeannie Reynolds. I played the Jeannie Reynolds show. On keyboard I played the bass line. Her husband played piano. Because Irving Blum, forget about it. My friend David Levine, alias David Curtis, the swinging cantor from Philly, he worked a lot of the smaller places. And he was working the Pine View.

To play in bands that I had to learn to play in when I was younger, you had to play with an old sound. Because the club date sound was an outmoded sort of thing. My idols were Lester Young, Stan Getz, Charlie Parker. I was supposed to be the next Bird. Instead I made the wrong turn and ended up in the Catskills.

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