Jazz at Noon - How I found Les Lieber just a few weeks too late.
The part of Urban Archeology that I enjoy most are the myriad rabbit holes of history that I am allowed to run down.
I recently came across a stamp collection… but wait… unless you know something about the value of stamps, and I do not - you should keep walking right by that collection. I couldn’t.
The reason is, that often within the stamp books and catalogs are other collectible papers that can have a deeper significance about the era in which they were collected.
Strewn about the floor of this 200 year old home was a large collection that had been picked through. There were numerous envelopes known as “covers” many from the 1940s. They were all empty yet sealed, stamped and cancelled and they were from businesses mainly in New York and some from as far as California. These were radio stations and airlines and news agencies. Just seeing these senders was enough for me to separate them from the collection and make a purchase.
Back home late at night I am sifting through each trying to decide which one to research. As interesting as the United Airlines one or the National Broadcasting one with its tag for watching the latest radio show, I opted for the one from “Hal Davis and Les Leiber” it had a cute tag line “Wood 'n' Nickels for you!”
Searching both names together didn’t reveal much more than their occupation as press agents, this based on reports in “The Billboard” magazine - now famous for rating the hits across numerous music genres. Not much detail from the brief mentions there, however.
When I searched Les Leiber alone I had more luck. There was plenty written about him, aside from his press agency, he had stuck by his true passion for Jazz - namely his command of the penny whistle and Saxophone. He can be seen performing at 17 on a music “video” of the era called a “Soundie.”
Yes, there actually were film clip juke boxes that played these 2-4 minute films of popular music of the day.
More prolific were the “Jazz at Noon” concerts he organized in New York City for 47 years - traveling around various restaurants he would invite artists he referred to as “non-working professionals” - musicians that were not professionals but Les would add “…could have been if they weren’t dedicating their time as doctors, lawyers, teachers , etc”
Sadly, the most significant fact about Les Leiber that I found was that he had passed away just 11 days earlier on July 10th. I couldn’t believe that this random search that I undertook would lead to this conclusion. I am always reminded by my discoveries that there is a strong case the fabric of existence has fewer threads than we think and the more you search the closer everything seems to connected.
I am saddened by the fact that my discovery of such an accomplished performer would end with his death so close to my discovery is truly ironic if anything. My amazement was again topped when I learned that he was 106 at the time of his death and that he was still playing at 105 and intended to play at an annual Fire Island festival as he always had before he died. RIP Les Leiber.