While Lawrence Welk rarely played big band jazz, he was very fond of Dixieland music and regularly featured it along with his very popular polka music. (Master New Orleans clarinetist Pete Fountain spent two years with the band in the 1950s.) Welk’s affinity for Dixieland music can be heard in this Soundie, a politely swinging novelty affair that allows three of the band members to show off their jazz chops.
One day during the week of March 15, 1945, the Welk band was called to a recording studio in New York City, probably RCA, where they committed to wax six tunes, including the “They Go Wild (Simply Wild Over Me),” a hit song from 1917. Soon after, the band left Manhattan for an engagement in New Orleans. They were followed by Filmcraft producer and director William Forest Crouch and cinematographer Don Malkames. Taking advantage of the fine weather in New Orleans, Crouch filmed in various locations throughout the city. A Google search under “big clown face in New Orleans” pinpointed the sideline location for this Soundie as Pontchartrain Beach Amusement Park, at the “Laff in the Dark” fun house.
String bass player Arthur Swanson usually took the novelty vocals in the band, so Welk takes over Swanson’s place, sidelining on string bass. Swanson enters the scene in a Soundies promotional car that the Crouch must have sent from New York for publicity purposes. While the solo identifications have not been verified, musicologist Kevin Coffey and I are confident that they are correct. Of special note is clarinet player Norman Lee, an outstanding soloist who was soon working with Eddy Howard’s big band. At this time the band also included a female also sax player, Venita White. We’ll catch her as a jazz soloist in a follow-up from this series.