Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

SAVITT, Jan

(b Jacob Savetnick, 4 September 1907, Shumsk, Russia; d 4 October 1948, Sacramento, CA) Violinist, singer, arranger, bandleader, songwriter. His father played in Czar Nicholas II's Imperial Regiment Band. The family came to the USA in 1914; a child prodigy on violin, Savitt studied at the Curtis Institute and was invited to join the Philadelphia Orchestra at age 19; he studied in Europe, formed a string quartet which broadcast nationwide, was offered jobs as music director at radio stations. He formed a dance band called the Top Hatters for radio in 1937 and began touring late the next year.

The now underrated band was a well-drilled outfit with superb ensemble sound; its first theme was the modernistic 'Quaker City Jazz', then '720 In The Books', so called because that was its number in band's book: it was a top 20 hit '39, as typical of the Swing Era as 'One O'Clock Jump'. Vocalists included Bon Bon (real name George Tunnell, one of the first blacks to work with a white band); 'It's A Wonderful World' with Bon Bon became the new theme. Other vocalists were Carlotta Dale, Allan DeWitt, Joe Martin, and Gloria DeHaven. More hits included 'Meadowbrook Shuffle' (all these written by Savitt; other hits included a cover of 'Tuxedo Junction', and 'Make Believe Island', a top ten in 1940. There were records on Bluebird 1937-8, then on Decca '39-40; he switched to Victor '41.

He recorded pop versions of Chopin, Liszt etc on Decca early '41, a two-sided arrangement of Debussy's 'Afternoon Of A Faun' on Victor added strings '42. He expanded the band for a theatre tour '44 (Savitt conducted for Frank Sinatra), but was later forced to reduce it. After appearing in low-budget films '46-7 he died suddenly while on tour.

Bob Bon's debut had been with an excellent vocal trio, the Three Keys, who recorded for Columbia, Brunswick and Vocalion 1932-33, with Bon Bon on vocals, Slim Furness on guitar and vocals, and Bob Pease on piano and vocals. He later also made some nice Deccas as Bob Bon and his Buddies, the excellent also saxist and arranger Buster Smith among them.