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Johnny Hamp's Kentucky Serenaders
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Johnny Hamp's Kentucky Serenaders, a US jazz and dance band, active from the late 1910s through the 1920s. The group was known simply as The Serenaders until Johnny Hamp became the band leader. Johnny Hamp was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The group toured in the eastern United States and toured England in 1930. In 1931, the group was renamed Johnny Hamp and His Orchestra.

Between autumn 1925 and spring 1932 Johnny Hamp and his band recorded for Victor almost one hundred tunes. He is most famous for his recording (1926) of the famous “Black Bottom”. In February 1937 he made for Bluebird his last recordings. In the late 1920s he played with his Orchestra at the famous „Cocoanut Grove” in Hollywood to entertain all the stars and starlets. With the following interview he gave a little “inside view” of Hollywood in the late 1920s.


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19. September 1925


Razzberries In C Major — JOHNNY HAMP Of The Cocoanut Grove
(1930)

Johnny Hamp (in oval) has seen plenty of Hollywood life and so has his band, absorbing some daylight above on the steps of the Ambassador.


YOU'VE heard Pete go tweet, tweet, tweet on his piccolo by now, surely. But have you ever heard Hamp go pppfff, pppfff, pppfff on his razzberry? No? Well, you've missed a lot, 'cause it's hotter than hot. Hollywood has been given the bird before, but Johnny Hamp, who for the past year has led his dance band in the Cocoanut Grove' of the Ambassador Hotel, is the first one to do it with sound effects.

And when Hamp plays a razzberry on his trombone, it is a razzberry in C Major that outdoes even the sound-effects man on a Raoul Walsh set. A most impolite sound it is. Pppfff, pppfff, pppfff. Taken out of phonetics and put into English they can understand in Boston, Mr. Hamp gives Hollywood the bird in this fashion:

"Hollywood is the kept woman of the world. . . .
"Hollywood doesn't know how to play. It's neither
rowdy nor reserved, smart nor refreshingly simple. . . .

"And so Jean Harlow left Laddie Sanford standing
right there in the middle of the dance-fioor. . . ."

If you want gossip, juicy, spicy gossip, don't waste your time trying to get intimate with the Chief of Police or the head of a divorce detective agency. For smacking, sensational scandal there's no one better able to turn on the heat than a band leader. He Knows What's Going On

THE lights are low on the dance floor; the music is romantic. Nobody is watching, nobody cares. Nobody but the band leader, who sees more of Hollywood's affairs in an evening than the night-watchmen do in a month.

"They don't realize, as they cuddle up on a dimly lit dance-floor or get friendly in the corner, that the boys of the band keep themselves awake by taking in all that's going on," Hamp explains. And so, in the months he stood waving his baton at the Cocoanut Grove, Hamp watched some of the picture colony's warmest romances bud, bloom and burst. Hamp and his band helped Nick Stuart say it to Sue Carol by playing "Sweet Sue" whenever they were there.

Loretta Young said "Yes" to Grant Witliers, and her sister Sally Blane gave Tommy Lee the "bye, bye," while Hamp looked on, and waved his little stick. Long before the chatter-writers made paragraphs about them, Hamp knew that Betty Compson and Hugh Trevor were “going together”. And as Johnny Hamp watched Hollywood laugh and make love and shake a foot to dance-time, these are some of the conclusions he came to, some of the conclusions he made:

"If cities can be compared to persons, Hollywood is the kept woman of the world — a beautiful, but dumb, kept woman, overdressed and overpaid — a kept woman lacking the smartness of Paris, the reserve of London and the abandon of Madrid.

" Hollywood is afraid to be rowdy and yet hasn't the background to be reserved. "Hollywood hasn't learned to play yet, or else it doesn't have time." What appraisals Johnny Hamp makes of Hollywood are based mostly on comparisons with the other dance-floors on which he has watched personages parade.

In winter, Hamp and his band supply the polo players of Park Avenue and their Paris-Gowned partners with fox trots at the Westchester-Biltmore. In summer, Chicago's debutante crowd dances to his tunes in the Ballroom Room of the Congress Hotel. The Westchester-Biltmore and the Ballroom Room of the Congress Hotel are two of America's smartest watering-places. You know, seltzer water and cracked ice.

'The crowds that come to those two places represent the best -dressed sections of the Social Register," explains Hamp. " I've never played anywhere but the most exclusive clubs and hotels before."

"Before, Mr. Hamp . . . before?" One of the band leader's guests interrupted. "Did I hear you say before? Don't you think Hollywood presents a smart exterior? Aren't our women the most beautiful, the best dressed, the — er — eh — the grandest in the world? That's what all the visiting Polish painters claim, and all the resident press-agents.

"Isn't Hollywood the style center of the world, like Mr. Greer says it is? Don't our ingenues look more like debutantes than the members of New York's Junior League?"

The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce sob-sister fell back into her glass of orangeade, exhausted by the emotional outlet, and Mr. Hamp — Mr. Johnny Hamp, late of the Westchester-Biltmore — looked at her with that quiet reserve of the well-bred Easterner and began answering her questions one by one, counting them up on his fingers. He counted two, as a matter of fact, on the middle finger of the right hand. The nail was extra long.

"In New York," said Mr. Hamp, with the same superior tone in which an English novelist speaks of London to the Ladies' Reading Club of Des Moines, "in New York we speak of a girl as being either Park Avenue, Fifth Avenue or Broadway." (Don't go rooting around for that street map, Gladys — the man is going to explain.)

" Park Avenue sends its smart debutante to places like the Westchester-Biltmore, with a polo player late of pale or Princeton as her escort. Broadway lends a show-girl to a broker for a night at a supper club. But
the women of Fifth Avenue. . . . To call a girl a Fifth Avenue type is to label her a kept woman.

"I've seen a little of the Park Avenue here, an occasional party of Pasadena people. Broadway, the show-girl, is Broadway all over the world. The show-girl is in Hollywood now for the talkies. But it's been of Fifth Avenue I've thought mostly as I watched Hollywood dance its women by me every night.

"The girls here are so badly dressed! They lack all the style and bearing and the 'to the manner born' air. Commercially, Hollywood may be the style center of the world; numerically, more women may-copy Norma Shearer's latest dress than the newest creation of Chanel. But the simplicity of real style, the smartness of line, are utterly lacking.

"As for comparing the picture ingenue to a debutante, the stars to modish matrons — " Mr. Hamp, late of the Westchester-Biltmore, signaled his saxophone player (Fun, please) and the band resumed its music without his leadership.

"Pppfff — pppfff, pppfff," hooted a horn.

"As I was saying," continued Mr. Hamp, "there's a vast difference between 'society' as you see it on the screen and as it really is. Hollywood, all dressed up for a big evening at the Cocoanut Grove, is as far from being a picture of society as the party scenes in' Dynamite."


THERE are a lot of sweet little girls who come here who look just like what they are: nice middle-class people from nice middle-class towns, who have been skyrocketed into a prominence they can't quite carry. "Even if you exchanged their studio-designed clothes for a simple evening dress, dressed their hair properly, instead of having it spilling coyly all over their necks, they wouldn't fool even the doorman of the Junior League."

Mr. Hamp straightened his shoulders, preparator' to delivering an epigram. "No matter how you dress it, serve it, spice it, it's still ham," he said, and near-by a horn hooted: 'Pppfff, pppfff, pppfff! ". But stay — hold on, old fellow, don't rush away to the ticket office like that. There may be hope for Hollywood, yet. Ah, there is hope!

"Of course, there are many exceptions," said Mr. Hamp. "I've never seen a sweeter-looking woman than Mary Pickford, a smarter one than Gloria Swanson — " (how those names do pop up) " — and, of course, there are several girls in pictures now who were part of New York society before they came West.

"June Collyer. whose real name is Dorothea Heermance, used to be at the Westchester-Biltmore frequently. Mary Lawlor lived near-by and was constantly there. Jean Harlow began her romance with Laddie Sanfort, the millionaire polo player, on our dance-floor long before she entered pictures.

"And indencitally," incidented Mr. Hamp, "that romance we saw rise in the Blast sure did set in the West. It was right in front of our bandstand that Jean gave Laddie a final slap in the face and walked off the floor and out of his life."

"A figurative slap or a literal slap?" asked the Chamber of Commerce sob-sister, brightening at this point. "A figurative slap," said Mr. Hamp, and the sob-sister's face fell again. "And then there are other picture stars who have always been received by the smartest society in New York, lionized and fussed over by the Westchester-Biltmore crowd.

"Richard Dix was the debutantes' darling of all the parties he attended there. A date with Dix was the answer to a Spence girl's dream. "Adolphe Menjou, Bebe Daniels, Dolores Del Rio and Carmelita Geraghty have all been the most sought-after guests of the season on visits to the club."

Night-Clubs in New York are a show-window to movie folk, in Hollywood they are a hide-away, Hamp contends. "Picture stars, out for an evening in the East, dress their best and make an effort to impress what folk they meet with smartness. In Hollywood, they go to their favorite dance-floor as readily in a sweater as an evening dress.

"But that isn't just true of the picture people. One of the greatest contrasts between the night life of the two coasts in general is that the East is so much more formal, the West so matter of fact about its
entertainment. " New York plans its evening ahead with great exactness. Hollywood ad libs it. The New York beau, be he social registerite or stock exchange clerk, buys his theater tickets, reserves a table for dinner before the show and supper afterwards, all in advance. Hollywood's young man about town makes his evening date at twilight on the set and comes around to pick up his girl with no definite idea for the evening.

" It can be laid partly to the uncertainty of hours in Hollywood, and it is work, too — work for the girls as well as the men — that results in Hollywood's starting and ending its evening so much earlier than New York. A Hollywood escort is putting his car away for the night and crawling into bed, just about the time that a New York couple are just getting started on their tour of the night-clubs.

"And I think that Hollywood itself prefers to have its fun in New York. Compared to its rather quiet, ordered routine at home, Hollywood finds an ever new thrill in Manhattan. "And it's reasonable — Why, night life in
Hollywood is like ginger ale, compared to the champagne of New York.

"Why. to compare Hollywood to New York is like comparing the puny — " Mr. Hamp found himself making a speech, so instead he signaled the orchestra again.

"Broadway," said Mr. Hamp, "is Hollywood's idea of Heaven!"

Motion Picture Classic, September 1930







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