Sammy Kaye Orchestra to perform at The Maryland Theatre

May 27, 1999

Sammy Kaye OrchestraBy KATE COLEMAN / Staff Writer

Put on your party duds, your dancing shoes, and get ready to "Swing and Sway ... with the Sammy Kaye Orchestra" Saturday, May 29, at 8 p.m.

[cont. from lifestyle]

The Maryland Theatre stage will become a big-band ballroom, with the 16-piece orchestra playing its hits, including "Harbor Lights," "The Old Lamplighter" and "Daddy." There also will be a touch of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, so get "in the mood."

Audience members won't have to resist the urge to glide to the music: Part of the stage will be a dance floor. Big band music is coming back to The Maryland Theatre, but it never has been gone for the Sammy Kaye Orchestra.


In the early 1930s, Sammy Kaye put together a band to finance his degree in civil engineering at Ohio University, according to Dan Chabek in his Dec. 21, 1989, "Lakewood Lore" column in the Lakewood Sun Post newspaper. Although his parents moved to Rocky River, Ohio, when Sammy Kaye - then Samuel Zarnocay Jr. - was a 1-year-old, he was born in Lakewood so the Cleveland suburb can claim him as a native.

At college, Kaye's music became so popular that he opened Varsity Inn, "a campus nickel-and-dime spot," according to biographical information. During summer breaks, Kaye played at Roxy Ballroom, now a bowling alley complex, Chabek recalls.

"Swing and sway" became the band's trademarked "million dollar slogan." The orchestra played the hot spots of the day, including New York's Waldorf-Astoria, Roosevelt Hotel Grill and Las Vegas' Riviera and Frontier hotels.

Baritone saxophone player Lenny Hartzell joined the band in 1940, and he's still with it, according to Roger Thorpe, who has been at the orchestra's helm since 1986. Thorpe credits Hartzell with discovering Bobby Troup and "Daddy," the song that made the Hit Parade and stayed there for 17 weeks - seven of them at No. 1.

Thorpe, who began to play the trumpet at age 10, was a winner on "The Ted Mack Amateur Hour" at the age of 14. After high school, he played with several bands, including those of Les Elgart and Woody Herman and the new Glenn Miller Orchestra. Time on the road convinced him to seek a more secure future, and Thorpe earned three degrees in musicology and trumpet.

He met Kaye in 1972. A music professor at State University of New York at New Paltz in New Paltz, N.Y., Thorpe was leading his college jazz ensemble on the same program as the legendary big band.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we'd like to dedicate this number to America's No. 1 band leader," Thorpe announced as he prepared to conduct "In the Mood," for Sammy Kaye.

Kaye came onstage and thanked Thorpe, calling him "Professor." He handed Thorpe his card and asked him to please call.

Thorpe had a class to teach, so he couldn't stick around. When he contacted Kaye, the band leader offered him a place in the band when his teaching schedule would allow it.

"Professor" Thorpe joined the orchestra in 1976, playing lead trumpet and specialty solos. Ten years later, Kaye passed his baton to Thorpe, and a year to the week after that, Kaye died.

The band still is on the road about five months a year, with 140 to 150 performances, and will be back on a cruise ship in Hawaii in November and December.

In the big-band era, there were the "hot" bands and the "sweet" bands, according to Thorpe. He calls the Sammy Kaye Orchestra the No. 1 "Sweet Big Band."

"This orchestra played for lovers, not acrobats," he adds.

"A lot of bands forget the singers and keep the money," Thorpe says.

In the big-band tradition, there will be two singers swinging and swaying with the orchestra - a "girl" and a "boy," according to Thorpe. There also will be a "trip down Memory Lane," and the orchestra's popular audience-involvement feature, "So You Want to Lead the Band."

Thorpe is looking forward to Saturday night's Hagerstown gig. He enjoys old houses such as The Maryland Theatre. He recalls playing to a full house in a circa-1920s theater in Dothan, Ala.

"It was packed. Packed," he says. When he was arranging a return performance, he talked about doing things differently. "No change in format," theater management demanded.

He hasn't changed a thing.

"It's the original music," Thorpe says.

Sammy Kaye Orchestra directed by Roger Thorpe

  • When: Saturday, May 29, 8 p.m.
  • Where: The Maryland Theatre

    21 S. Potomac St.


  • Details: Tickets cost $9.50 to $14.50, plus $1.50 service charge.

For information, call 301-790-2000.

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