Jazz Stars: Ted Lewis

Today, on the birthday of Theodore Leopold Friedman - American entertainer, singer and musician who was known as "Mr Entertainment" or Ted Lewis – his life story and a new selection of music that he performs.

The musician was born on June 6, 1890 in Circleville, Ohio. His father was the owner of a clothing shop; the parents hoped that the younger Friedman would carry on the family business after graduating from the business school. Hence, the young man started performing in tent shows at the age of 16, playing the clarinet and acting as a compere. Together with his older brother, he formed a band called “Ted and Ed”, after which Theodore and Edouard immediately went on tour with "Gus Sun Vaudeville curcuit" show. Everything was fine until Edouard left the band, stating that he was bored with the show.

After moving to New York, Ted got a job at a restaurant “El Dorado” where he played clarinet and saxophone. There he met the young singer Jack Lewis. They decided to team up and form their own group. This acquaintance influenced the choice of Ted Friedman's stage name, who later went on to perform under the name Ted Lewis.

The first recordings were already made in New York and dated back to 1917. The musician was then part of a band led by Earl Fuller. The band played in the New Orleans jazz style. The band played in a New Orleans jazz style. Later Ted formed his first ensemble, “Ted Lewis & His Nut Bands”, signed a contract with Columbia records, which promoted the band's work in response to rival Victor's records promotion of the “Original Dixieland Jass Band”. In 1929, Lewis recorded the song “In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town”, which he performed with his orchestra in the film “The singer”. The record topped the radio polls and stayed at the top of the hit parade for ten weeks. “Ted Lewis and his Band” were one of the most popular "white" jazz bands of the 1920s. Over the years, many future jazz soloists passed through the orchestra. For example, Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden and Jimmy Dorsey. The way the band played was jazzy, and Ted Lewis himself was the distinctive type of entertaining showman. He not only sang and played the clarinet but also danced and acted out humorous sketches with his musicians (often dressed in clown robes). Ted Lewis' performances were in the mood of a music-hall show, where the musicians not only played their instruments but also performed as actors at the same time. Jazz historians see Lewis as more of a flamboyantly talented actor and creator of original musical shows than a clarinetist. One of Lewis' most memorable songs was My Shadow» and «Me, with which he often concluded his performance. In 1928, the musician hired an African-American dancer to follow him onstage as his shadow while he performed 'Me and My Shadow'. This made Ted one of the first known white artists to hire African-American performers.
In the late 1920s, Leonid Utesov attended the performance of Ted Lewis performance in Paris. It was in such an intermedia” show, combining jazz music, theater of pop sketches and popular songs, that Utesov saw his artistic future occupation. He created his "Theajazz" (theatrical jazz). Ironically, the "pioneering Soviet orchestra" was based on the American model.

Ted Lewis was famous for his catchphrase "Well! Is everybody happy now?" He repeated it everywhere he went. Every time he appeared on stage, Lewis wore his old worn top hat. People called him 'the man in the top hat', 'the tragedian of jazz', 'healing the soul with blues music'. In 1933, Lewis' contract with Columbia ended and he signed a new one with Decca Records. However, the musician was unable to repeat the previous success - the era of swing had begun, heralded by the Benny Goodman orchestra, and Ted Lewis' signature numbers, based on Dixieland, were no longer in great demand. He remained a popular personality, however, and his music was always attractive and lively, even if it didn't swing. As late as 1950, he still recorded for Decca ("My Blue Heaven," "Blue Skies," etc.), though this was not a major or serious effort, nor were the dance sides he cut for the short-lived RKO label in the late 1950s. Concert work was what interested Lewis, and he got that, plus occasional appearances on television, right up to the end of the 1960s at the country's biggest resorts and hotels. He played his last show, still wearing the top hat, in the “Desert Inn” in Las Vegas in 1967, 50 years after he ventured into the music business. Lewis died in his sleep in New York on 25 August 1971 of lung collapse at the age of 81.

In 1943, Columbia Pictures made a feature-length biographical movie about Lewis entitled "Is Everybody Happy now?"
Lewis married the ballet dancer Ada Becker in 1915. They had three different ceremonies on the same day, first with a judge, then a rabbi and finally the same night on stage. They were married for 56 years before Ted's death.
Ted Lewis Museum in Ohio has on display memorabilia of the legendary jazz musician. The museum features the Ted Lewis Theater that provides guests with the opportunity to see Ted Lewis in performance by means of tapes from his movies and TV appearances.