Art Hodes and The Metropolitan Revue

Email a Friend
Boogie woogie man Charles 'Cow Cow' Davenport with WNYC jazz host Art Hodes in June, 1942.

Jazz pianist, publisher and educator Art Hodes (1904-1993) took over hosting WNYC's Metropolitan Revue jazz show from Ralph Berton on April 6, 1942. The weekday broadcast specialized in playing jazz records by pioneering musicians. The longer Saturday broadcasts showcased many of the same performers live in the studio. Among them: Eddie Condon, Max Kaminsky, Pee Wee Russell, Brad Gowans, Bill Davison, George Wettling, Miff Mole, Tony Parenti, Mezzrow, Red Allen, James P. Johnson, Leadbelly and Charles 'Cow Cow' Davenport.

Writing in the December 1972 Esquire magazine, Hodes described his year-long stint as host and disc-jockey.

Lunch is on you; so is carfare.  They do furnish the needle.  You bring your own records. But if you want the music to live you got to do somethin' about it.  So there I am; a six-day week.[1]

Hodes would later expand on this in his 1992 memoir explaining the half-hour weekday slot and hour-long Saturday afternoon shows.

Now when I first took the show I had my little wind-up Victrola, like all the other musicians, and about twenty-five records that I always carried around, maybe a few more. Gene [Williams] and Ralph [Gleason] supplied me with records and wrote me a script, daily. All I had to do was talk. And I could play the piano too. We use Louis Armstrong's intro to West End Blues as my theme, and usually I played myself off the air. Saturday afternoon I had guests. And in no time I had a lot of listeners, thousands of younger people, plus the players who got up in the middle of the night (1:30 in the afternoon) to give a listen. I remember Pee Wee Russell telling me, 'I catch your show all the time. Keeps me from having to play my records.' [2]

Hodes was spinning records other stations couldn't or wouldn't, including King Oliver, the Dodds brothers, Jimmie Noone, Earl Hines, Jelly Roll Morton, Jimmy Yancey, Pinetop Smith, and Fats Waller. After a few months he was comfortable and didn't need Gleason and Williams to prepare a script for him. Still, he had a lot of help from the jazz, blues and boogie woogie legends who came to the studio as Saturday guests. The above audio is a rare sampling of the Saturday show from the Fall of 1942. It opens with Leadbelly doing the theme song Goodnight Irene from his 1940-1941 WNYC program, Folksongs of America. He follows it with Don't You Love Your Daddy No More, Christmas is Coming, and  Fannin Street (Mr. Tom Hughes Town). Then stepping up to the mic is Gene Hall with a wonderful rendition of Pinetop Smith's Boogie Woogie. He follows that with a portion of his own Gene Hall Blues before the aircheck cuts out.

The photograph above of Hodes with Charles 'Cow Cow' Davenport originally appeared with an article by music critic John S. Wilson in the progressive tabloid PM on June 8, 1942. In that piece, Wilson wrote that Davenport, who had been on the Metropolitan Revue a few days earlier, laid claim to the name 'boogie-woogie.' He wrote: "Blues tunes, in Cow Cow's home, were not considered respectable. So, when he secretly knocked out a little blue stuff, he called it 'boogie music' in honor of a current synonym for the devil. Later, playing in honky tonks where the dancers were addicted to the scraunch, a rhumba-like step, Cow Cow referred to both the dancing and his piano accompaniment as 'boogie-woogie.' " [3]  Unfortunately, performances like this didn't last. What we now consider a typical record show with the host introducing or back-announcing a track's album label and title was, as Hodes writes, misconstrued by the powers-that-be over WNYC.

"We have an audience we can't count. So now the letters pour in.  I can't answer 'em.  I have to do it over the air.  I'm mentioning, 'This is a Decca recording; or Victor; Columbia. Well now, La Guardia (Mayor La Guardia) usually is on and off the air long before my stint.  But this one time he follows me on.  So he hears me.  And he's mad.  'Get him off the air; he's commercial.'  (He heard mention of the record labels. )  Hell, I couldn't afford a secretary to answer all the inquiries.  And (well, he didn't know) those records I mentioned were either my own or loaned to me.  So I was there a year before the good mayor heard me once more and there went the gig."[4] [5]

It is unfortunate that Mayor La Guardia thought Hodes was promoting records he'd been given by the record companies like some kind of payola. Hodes wrote of the show's demise and what he considered the paucity of listenable jazz radio at the time.

There was a lot of heat generated, and many letters poured into WNYC. All to no avail. I could resign or get fired. I slid off gracefully. But while I was there I accomplished a lot. It's barren. If it were food, I wouldn't eat it; if it were a book, I wouldn't read it. Why do we settle for such trash where our ears are concerned?[6]

Before the WNYC gig went belly-up, Milton Roseman, writing in PM, called Hodes a "man with a message" and said that ever since he took on the radio show, "he has been a New York voice of the jazz cognoscenti."[7]

Hodes went on to edit The Jazz Record for five years and play with his own band in the Chicago area for some forty years. In the 1960s he appeared in the TV series Jazz Alley and toured in Europe in the 1980s. He was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1998. Art Hodes died in 1993 at the age of 89. 

__________________________________________

[1] Hodes, Art, "Jazz: The Sweet, Slow Comeback," Esquire, December 1, 1972.

[2] Hodes, Art and Chadwick Hansen, Hot Man: The Life of Art Hodes, University of Illinois Press, 1992, pgs. 55-56.

[3] Wilson, John S., PM, June 8, 1942, pg.23.

[4] Hodes, Art, Esquire, December 1, 1972.

[5] The cancellation of the Metropolitan Revue wasn't the first time Mayor La Guardia brought about the end of a WNYC program. A few years earlier 'The Little Flower' did not appreciate musicologist Theodor Adorno's music appreciation series. See: Frankfurt School Theorist on WNYC in 1940.

[6] Hodes, Art, Hot Man, pg. 57.

[7] Roseman, Milton, "Just a Hot Man Playing for Kicks," PM, February 2, 1943, pg. 19.