Johnny Smith is perhaps not as well known today as he should be, partially due to his early retirement after the passing of his wife. However, his recordings in the early 1950s (“Moonlight In Verymont” with Stan Getz always comes to mind) are uniformly strong. Johnny attended one of a film screening of mine in Colorado Springs, and while we had a wonderful conversation, this film didn’t come up because Johnny assured me he did make any early film appearances! He did recall an obscure British feature (Let’s Go, 1962), and he also appears in concert footage taken at a 1982 Dick Gibson ”Jazz Party.”
So, what is the story about his appearance with accordion virtuoso Charles Magnante? Magnante was a prodigy, a technically gifted accordion player who could fit into any type of group, from jazz combo to polka band to Western Swing outfit. He began recording in the 1920s, and by the 1940s was one of the busiest of musicians in New York. In addition to a great deal of freelance work, he performed regularly on radio with a trio that included George Wright on organ and piano, and guitarist Tony Mottola.
When I spoke with Mottola in 1998 about these films, Tony recalled “I was with Magnante at this time, good gig, lots of work. I was his regular guitarist. But I had another engagement when these films were made. I can’t remember what it was, but I wasn’t available for the session, so I called in Johnny Smith.”
Another oddity in this series: string bass great Bobby Haggart was used for the soundtrack recording during the week of August 12, 1946. When the sideline photograph was completed later that week, he was replaced by accordion player Eugene Ettore, who appears playing the bass. Perhaps Ettore was doing Magnante a favor by filling in for Haggart, or perhaps it was the other way around, with Magnante providing a day of work for his friend Ettore.
Not much is known about Bob Kennedy, who takes the vocal on this performance. He appeared in a pair of Broadway plays, most notably as a replace for Alfred Drake in OKLAHOMA!, although it is not known how long he performed this particular role on stage.