If you’re old enough to remember, or if you know a little something about the music of the past, the title of of this piece might ring a bell. But no harm done if you don’t recognize it, because I’m about to tell you more. It was the catchphrase of a very popular ‘sweet’ band led by — no surprise — Sammy Kaye, who enjoyed a long career on the bandstand.
Born in the Cleveland area as Samuel Zarnocay, Jr., the son of Czechoslovakian immigrants, he learned to play sax and clarinet while growing up, but by the time he got to college he was more interested in organizing and leading musical groups. By the late 1930s he was beginning to find some traction for the band he’d put together, and solidified it by landing gigs at prestigious spots in New York, like the Commodore Hotel and the Waldorf-Astoria.
In the years that followed, the Sammy Kaye band became one of the most popular around by specializing in the kind of music people loved, starring on radio and in live shows. Songs like “Harbor Lights,” “The Old Lamplighter,” and “It Isn’t Fair,” with vocals by singers like Billy Williams, Tony Russo, and Don Cornell, also sold a lot of records for the band, but it was on stage that the group really shined. One of the band’s most popular features was something that started on a dare. A young guy in the crowd asked to lead the band and the audience loved it. Kaye made it a regular part of the show, even on the band’s many radio appearances and later on TV. In fact, for a short time in the 1950s, Kaye hosted a show on ABC titled just that — So You Want To Lead A Band.
By the 1960s the big band era was in full retreat, and Sammy Kaye pretty much began to wind things down. He was 77 when he died in 1987, and a few years later was posthumously inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame.