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May 14, 2005

'Swing and Sway' with Sammy Kaye

The other day, Laura and I made one of our routine visits to Nell's Diner, one of the noontime gastronomic showplaces now available to those who choose to eat out occasionally. I emphasize "occasionally," because we are not frequent diners away from our own little heavenly kitchen where good things always emerge. Perry has a lot of good places to eat, but personally I prefer our own household cafeteria.

Nell's Diner is a good place to eat. The food is tasty, a lot like home cooking, and the selection is not bad at all. The waitresses hustle around when the meal-time crowds appear. Service is very good. But now I'm getting far off the point.

While there the other day, my thoughts wandered back to another occasion when I was an invited guest on the same premises. At the time, the building that now houses Nell's Diner was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Moe Marcus. The house was part of the Marcus Motel, a hostelry Moe and his wife operated. He was a colorful character and a city councilman, very outspoken politically and on any occasion that demanded an opinion. At the same time, he was also a bit of a clown, one of the drum majors and instrumentalists in the local American Legion post's Dutch Band. Members of that august group usually wore female-type wigs and garments. I, meantime, was managing editor of this newspaper, always on the lookout for a good news story. One of my bosses, the late Milo Watson, agreed with that philosophy and encouraged his staff to sniff out good, juicy stories whenever possible. On this particular day, probably in the late 1940's, I was very much open to leads from someone for something of interest, even if it was only a feature story, not a hard news story. Then the phone rang at The Journal office and I answered the call. Moe Marcus was on the line. We were well acquainted.

After establishing my identity, Moe asked if I liked the Big Bands. I reassured him on that point, even though that kind of music was fast giving way to rock and roll. Then he said that Mr. Sammy Kaye was a guest that very moment in Moe's motel. Mr. Kaye's band was a good one. Its weekend radio broadcast (nation-wide) always opened with an invitation to listeners to "Swing and Sway" with Sammy Kaye. In other words, he was a household name and his music had a very distinctive style. I grew anxious.

"If you'd like to interview him, come on down," Moe said. "We're just sitting here talking." I grabbed the PDJ's new Polaroid camera and headed for the motel. Meantime, I decided Moe was pulling my leg. No one as big as Sammy Kaye would come to Perry "just to talk." But when I arrived at the motel on Fir Avenue, I walked in as Moe had instructed, and there was Sammy Kaye, sitting on a bed in Moe's house, carrying on a very normal conversation. Moe introduced us and explained that Sammy had some oil interests in Noble county, and that's why he was in Perry.

Somewhere in a box in my bedroom, there's a fading photo of Sammy Kaye talking to Moe Marcus one summer day in Perry. For several days I did not really believe I had met one of my heroes, but Moe finally convinced me it was true. I didn't recognize him at first because he was not waving a baton. I miss the swing and sway music of Sammy Kaye.