Al "Jazzbo" Collins
Al "Jazzbo" Collins
Al "Jazzbeaux" Collins
Albert Richard Collins
January 4, 1919
|Died||September 30, 1997 (aged 78)|
Albert Richard "Jazzbo" Collins (January 4, 1919 – September 30, 1997) was an American disc jockey, radio personality and recording artist who was briefly the host of NBC television's Tonight show in 1957.
Born in Rochester, New York, in 1919, Collins grew up on Long Island, New York. In 1941, while attending the University of Miami in Florida, he substituted as the announcer on his English teacher's campus radio program and decided he wanted to be in radio. Collins began his professional career as the disc jockey at a bluegrass station in Logan, West Virginia; by 1943, he was at WKPA in Pittsburgh, moving in 1945 to WIND in Chicago and in 1946 to Salt Lake City's KNAK. In 1950, he relocated to New York, where he joined the staff of WNEW and became one of the "communicators" on NBC's Monitor when it began in 1955. Collins made several appearances on The Tonight Show with Steve Allen in the early 50s (and even briefly took over the show after Allen's departure; see below). In 1953, Allen adapted several nursery rhymes (including Little Red Riding Hood) into jazz-flavoured recitations, with Collins on vocals and Lou Stein on piano.
Al's career at WNEW in New York began as a 3:00-to-4:30 slot in the afternoon, "Collins on a Cloud." Al would pretend to be flying above the city and give traffic and weather reports from his vantage point high above the city. It was his usual eclectic mix of music that he played along with his usual repartee. He was, after all, Al. His downfall at this slot was "Mr. Sandman." Al liked it so much he played it for an hour and a half, through the news, weather, station breaks and ads. Management informed him they had other plans for him and let him go.
My recollection is different. The “Mr. Sandman” incident could not have been in 1950. The record Al played over and over was by the Chordettes and was recorded in 1954. It came after Al had been banished to WNEW’s midnight show, Milkman's Matinee. And Al didn’t like the song. It was an act of rebellion against station management who demanded that Al abandon his beloved jazz and play the current hits. At the time of the incident, “Mr. Sandman” was #1, which Al kept reminding his audience throughout the “Mr. S” marathon.
Al came back to WNEW and worked out of the Purple Grotto, two and a half stories underground, right by the old abandoned BMT line. Harrison, the long-tailed purple Tasmanian Owl, showed up early on. Al started the Pax-Max" club, which was an association for freebies for freeloaders. He would have happenings at the Brooklyn Paramount. I had a membership card, whose outside edge was printed with a series of orange dots to be punched at Pax Max meetings. He also claimed to have found a safe in the floor of his Purple Grotto, but it was different. It did not open with a combination but with a key. So he encouraged his audience to send him in those spare keys that were for unknown locks. He said he would give the contents of the safe to whoever had the key that opened the safe. One night he riffed on button boxes, the ones made out of old wooden Philadelphia Cream Cheese boxes. Within a half hour folks who had the boxes were calling in. By the end of the show, he said, he had so many he was going to build something out of them. As for the keys, the postman sometimes had more than 100 pounds of mail for Al.
The name "Jazzbo" derived from a product Collins had seen, clip-on bowties named Jazzbows. Just as Martin Block created the illusion that he was speaking from the Make Believe Ballroom, Collins claimed to be broadcasting from his inner sanctum, a place known as the Purple Grotto, an imaginary setting suggested by radio station WNEW's interior design, as Collins explained:
- I started my broadcast in Studio One which was painted all kinds of tints and shades of purple on huge polycylindricals which were vertically placed around the walls of the room to deflect the sound. It just happened to be that way. And with the turntables and desk and console and the lights turned down low, it had a very cavelike appearance to my imagination. So I got on the air, and the first thing I said was, "Hi, it's Jazzbo in the Purple Grotto." You never know where your thoughts are coming from, but the way it came out was that I was in a grotto, in this atmosphere with stalagtites and a lake and no telephones. I was using Nat Cole underneath me with "Easy Listening Blues" playing piano in the background.
The Tonight Show and later work
Also in 1957, Collins starred (as himself) in an episode of NBC radio's science fiction radio series X Minus One. By 1959, he was with KSFO in San Francisco, hanging out with the beatnik hipsters in North Beach. On-air, Jazzbo would say that he was broadcasting "from the purpleness of the Grotto", often mentioning his assistant "Harrison, the long-tailed purple Tasmanian owl". On the TV side, Collins hosted "The Al Collins Show," which aired mornings on KGO-TV. The format included light talk and guest appearances by local celebrities such as Moe Howard of The Three Stooges. Later in the 1960s, he was the host of Jazz for the Asking (VOA), and he worked with several Los Angeles stations late in the decade: KMET (1966), KFI (1967) and KGBS (1968).
He officially changed the spelling of his name to Jazzbeaux when he went to Pittsburgh's WTAE in 1969. He moved to WIXZ in Pittsburgh (1973) before heading back to the West Coast three years later. While in Pittsburgh, he briefly hosted a late night television show titled "Jazzbeauxz (with a 'z') Rehearsal", an eclectic sampling of anything that caught Collins's interest at the time, including a long-running hard-boiled-egg-spinning contest. He conducted the program from a barber chair, as he had on a previous TV show.
A popular segment on his show was the "no stinkin' badges" routine, a play on the famous exchange in the 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Al would politely request that the main guest for that day don a Mexican bandit costume, complete with bandoliers crossing the chest, six-guns in holsters, a huge sombrero and a large fake mustache. The guest then had to pose in front of cameras and for the TV audience. With pistols pointing at the camera lens the guest had to say (with emphasis): "I don't got to show you no stinkin' badges." If the guest did not say it with sufficient sinister tone, Collins made him or her repeat it until in Al's opinion the guest got it right. This was known as getting "Majuberized."
1970s and beyond
In 1976 Al Collins returned to San Francisco, working at KMPX, followed by a three-year all-night run at KGO that drew callers throughout the West Coast; he always opened his program with Count Basie's "Blues in Hoss Flat". He also worked a late night shift at KKIS AM (in Pittsburg, California, ironically) in 1980. After a stint in New York and WNEW (1981), Jazzbo was back in San Francisco at KSFO (1983) and KFRC (1986). Then came one more run at WNEW (1986–90), then KAPX (Marin County, California) in 1990, and finally a weekly jazz show at KCSM (College of San Mateo, California) from 1993 to his death.
Al Collins died on September 30, 1997, at the age of 78, from pancreatic cancer.
- Social Security Death Index. California Death Index, 1940–1997.
- "Sponsor to Leave Ed Sullivan Show", The New York Times, June 21, 1957, p. 51.
- Al "Jazzbo" Collins' "Stinkin' badges" at Gene Nelson's 30th anniversary on KSFO (1992)
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