Talk about between a rock and a hard place: Buddy Love on one side, Buddy Rich on the other.

Some might be daunted.

We're just envious.

Such was the proximity experienced, and enjoyed, by local jazz man Glenn Wilson, back in 1980, when he played the annual Jerry Lewis Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon, live from, oh yeah, Las Vegas.

The subject comes up 37 Labor Day weekends later, per the recent death of the event's avatar, Jerry Lewis, whose hot-and-cold film legacy was the subject of last week's column here.

Lewis' passing, as many noted, came conspicuously close to what was a signature stretch of the year for him — at least until his exit from the MDA telethon in 2010 (the telethon itself was gone five years after that).

Wilson, IWU's Jazz Programs director and leader of the Jazz Maniacs, was then a young baritone sax player in the Buddy Rich Big Band.

Wilson's brilliant drummer boss packed an infamously healthy ego that was probably a perfect match for Lewis', just a stone's throw across the Sahara Casino stage.

Speaking of which: As time wore on, many of Lewis' critics had begun comparing his telethon hosting persona to his character of Buddy Love, the well-oiled, egocentric alter-ego of "The Nutty Professor" 17 years prior.

Some have viewed Love as Lewis' take on estranged partner Dean Martin. But with hindsight's advantage, he actually appears today far closer to what Lewis himself was becoming as he approached middle age.

"Participating in the telethon was interesting," Wilson recalls of his brief tenure-ship in the Buddy system.

"We played the night before in Lake Tahoe and drove to Vegas after the gig arriving in the morning."

He continues: "If I remember correctly, our spot on the telethon was in the afternoon. So we made our way over to the Sahara Casino.

"I remember the (telethon's) Green Room having the largest table of food I ever saw ... and Tony Bennett was hanging out."

Once on the telethon stage lorded over by Lewis, "we played two tunes — 'Beulah Witch' by Don Menza and the famous Pete Myers arrangement of 'Love for Sale.'"

The moments were recorded for posterity, Wilson notes, "by someone in Oklahoma," providing the lone remaining visual proof that "Jerry and I were in the same room once!"

You can access them here:

"As evident on the video," Wilson, "the house band was standing up and turned around to see Buddy and the band."

So what was this momentous meeting of egos like, at least from Wilson's more modestly positioned perspective?

"Funny you should mention egos," he says, "because, while we were taking a bow, Jerry said 'The best! Buddy Rich!' ... and followed that with, 'Almost the best.'"

Meanwhile, "I can't remember if we hung out in Vegas afterwards," Wilson muses close to 40 years on.

"Most likely we were on to someplace else."

Searching for the best: Several readers responded to our assertion in last week's column that Lewis' best work with Martin came not in their movies, but through their far less structured TV work on "The Colgate Comedy Hour" (1950-55).

And several noted that many of them are out of print. But a quick check at Amazon revealed a number of the collections, ranging from cheap public domain compilations to slightly better, are still easily available in new and used editions.

Note: These were warts-and-all live shows recorded on flickering kinescope, so the visual quality, even under the best restorative circumstances, is never going to be sterling.

Dan Craft is Pantagraph entertainment editor. He can be reached at 309-829-9000, Ext. 259 or via email at dcraft@pantagraph.com.

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