(Sid Mark in the 1950s at the Red Hill Inn. He is second from the left)
Sid Mark died yesterday at the age of 88. Many people knew him from his syndicated broadcasts of Frank Sinatra, but those were–well, after my time. I never met Sid in person, but I felt as if I knew him. There were a couple of broadcasters with great pipes in Philly–John Facenda, “the Voice of God,” and Vince Lee, and for sure, Jack Pyle, “who sounded like an unmade bed.” You grew up in the 1950s and 1960s and spent any time around a radio, you heard those guys–particularly if your taste in music ran to big bands and modern jazz. I was an early recruit thanks to my Dad. While I got into Motown and what Dad called “that degenerate stuff,” and just plain Top 40 crap, I never, ever stopped loving jazz. And for that, at least in some part, I have to thank Sid Mark.
Sid was from Camden, NJ, when you could still be from Camden. That was another world, for sure, with RCA, Campbell’s Soup, and New York Ship, even before the Walt Whitman Bridge. I don’t know anything about his childhood or background other than he was a nice Jewish boy who ended up working as a sort of factotum at the Red Hill Inn in Pennsauken, NJ after he got out of the service in the early 1950s. He was a protege of Harvey Husten, who was on WKDN in Camden, and started up a live series called Jazz in Jersey that moved around a bit before settling at the Red Hill. Harvey died tragically young, in his 30s, and the guy who sort of serendipitously followed in his footsteps was Sid Mark. Harvey was just before my time. But Sid was present at the creation.
A lot of people associate Sid Mark almost exclusively with Frank Sinatra (Senior–he was a friend to Frank Junior too), and that was entirely Sid’s doing. He had a Friday night broadcast in the 1960s and 1970s on WHAT-FM called “Friday With Frank.” I think it ran for four hours, maybe 6 to 10 PM–probably following Sid’s afternoon broadcast at the station that came on at 4 PM. Yeah, Sid and Frank were synonymous in Philly, cause you opened the weekend that way–in my home at least. My Dad would sit in the living room with a glass of Christian Brothers’ sherry and a pack of Salem cigarettes and try to remember better times–his high school days, when Sinatra was with Tommy Dorsey, in the mid to late 1930s. Sid and Frank were therapy for my Dad. Before I started to act like a teenager and get out of the house on Friday nights, we’d sit together and listen. I got a lot of Sinatra and Nelson Riddle, but always, always, narrated by Sid. I guess he had the smoothest tenor voice on the air next to Facenda. The speaker fairly resonated on my Dad’s Zenith tabletop–literally–to Sid’s matter-of-factness delivery. I suspect there were a lot of homes across the Delaware Valley where a similar scene was played out. It was ritual, and ritual comforts.
Still, Sid was a lot more than Sinatra. To a kid trumpet player learning who was who, there was no better tutor for modern jazz than Sid Mark. He came on at 4PM weekdays, “to the sound of trumpets,” and his theme was “Maynard Ferguson.” I didn’t know who the Hell Maynard was. So one day, I called Sid. Trinity 8-1122, “if you care to call,” he would say. And I did. My question to the Great Man was a simple one “Who is that?” There was a pause on the other end, as if Sid couldn’t quite believe the rube he must have had on the other hand. “Who else?” was the response. I waited. He told me. I hung up. He probably thought no more about it. With my Dad’s new Lafayette tape recorder, I had tape the Kenton tune. I must have played it 5 zillion times. Of course, Lol, I tried to play it. As long as Maynard was in human mode, it seemed possible. Then there was the rest, ending on a concert Triple C. Go listen. Check me out. Triple C. As in Crazy. I taped a lot of other stuff too.
Sid introduced me to Art Farmer, Dizzy, Gabor Szabo, Wes Montgomery, Gerry Mulligan, Ellington, Basie, God only knows who else. He’d mix in some local guys too when he was trying to help someone get established. I heard my first Coltrane with Sid, and Monk and Miles too. Yeah, he dug the Vegas types and the lounge stuff, but Sid knew what was what. So while my dopey classmates at Presentation BVM were listening to Herman’s Hermits, I was listening to Blakey. They were cool. But I won the prize.
Since Sid was trying to make a living, he also did commercials. In understand he was hawking Cento in his later years, but for me, Sid was always Sidney Arnold’s Mens’ Store in Philly, on Walnut Street, right? I wasn’t quite ready for that, but I loved to hear Sid talk about the after shave Corteccia di Pino that Sidney Arnold purveyed. Man, there was something about the way Sid pronounced Corteccia di Pino that was almost sensual. I had no idea what the stuff was supposed to do for guys. At least in that department. When I finally saw it, years later, I thought it was expensive and not my style. I was more of an English Leather kind of dude in high school. Soooo sophisticated. Sigh.
There was also a club, short-lived I gather, called Sinatrama. I don’t know if Sid had any financial interest in the place, but it was apparently a temple to Frank. They played Frank all the time. I guess they had him on endless loop. And I suppose they had red clam sauce and scungili. Yes, Sid made you want to check out Sinatrama, even if you were under age–which I always was then, dammit. Oh to be under age with Sid Mark again. Sort of poetic, isn’t it?
In any event, I did interview Sid for a story in All About Jazz a couple of years ago. I think I still have the interview of my dysfunctional Lenovo. I’m sure he was discrete when he had to be, but he actually seemed amazed when he talked about people like Lester Young and I knew Prez’s music. I suppose that wasn’t a common thing in his experience, you know, to find someone under the age of 50 who knew Prez from his Basie days. So we had a great time talking, and he was very nice to me. Just like he was when I called him up and asked him who Maynard was. No, I didn’t ask him if that particular moment in time was as lapidary an instant in his life as it was in mine. I’m sure it was.
We’ve lost Bobby Rydell and Sid Mark in two weeks. They were friends, I know. Sometimes, at this age, you can’t help but wonder, who’s next?
That’s TR 8-1122, if you care to call. Say hi to Frank and Bobby.