Ernie Kovacs began using what became his
theme song in 1951, and continued to use it for all of his TV shows
(except for Take a Good Look;
1959-1961, on ABC) through the ABC Specials in
1961-62. The piece, called "Oriental Blues" by Jack Newlon, takes
part of its first strain from a George Gershwin piano rag called
"Rialto Ripples". The tune was recorded by the Tony DeSimone
Trio, and it was this recording that was used on subsequent shows from
1951 to 1955. An episode of the 15-minute "It's Time For Ernie"
has the Tony DeSimone Trio performing the piece; although to be fair,
in true Kovacs style they are blatantly "lip-synching" to the record,
with the drummer playing his hi-hat with a wrench at one point, and
during one chorus Kovacs skips into frame and does a swing-your-partner
with DeSimone while he is heard to continue playing.
the tune was recorded by Leroy Holmes and his Tugboat
Eight, who were Ernie's house band when Ernie hosted "Tonight!"
two nights a week from Oct '56 to Jan '57. The flip-side of the
single was a novelty tune called "Hey, Taxi!" during which, at
breaks in the music, you hear Ernie call out the line "Hey, taxi". Also
released, but not
used by Kovacs, was a slightly more swingin' arrangement recorded by
Jan Pierce for an album he did for Mercury.
recording is in G-flat major, as are subsequent recordings of
the piece as well as the big band arrangement used for the July-Sept
1956 prime-time "Ernie Kovacs Show", although the sheet music is in
the key of F. My suspicion is that the Tony DeSimone recording
was sped up slightly. Click on the image of the sheet
music cover to see the music in PDF format. (special thanks to EK fan JL in CA for
sending me a xerox of her copy of the sheet music)
recording of "Oriental Blues" is the one used for the ABC
specials in 1961. Irwin Chusid, in researching and preparing "The
Ernie Kovacs Record Collection" CD in the late 1990's was unable to
turn up any information on who recorded it nor on where any master
recording of the piece was. This version (which is the one I
taught my self by ear back in the 1970s, from hearing it on the Best of
Ernie Kovacs series) is played in F, and a couple of phrases are
slightly changed. Anyone with info on the musician(s) who
recorded this...please e-mail us!
|Here is an MP3 of
eight bars of "Oriental Blues" than you can download to use as a
ringtone. Right-click or control-click (depending on whether you
Mac or a PC) to save it. How you upload or transfer it to your
depends on your phone and cell provider.
|Ernie Kovacs ringtone
"The Ernie Kovacs Record Collection"
In 1997 a CD was released,
containing music used on Ernie Kovacs' shows, something every Kovacs
fan had been waiting for since...well, ever. It went out of print some
months after its release but is a much-sought-after Ko-llectable on
eBay, Amazon, etc. The CD, entitled The
was produced by Irwin Chusid, a major Kovacs fan (and supporter of this
website), the man who brought us the CD (re-)releases of the music of
Raymond Scott and of Esquivel. The Ernie Kovacs Record Collection CD
was released by Varese-Sarabande Records.
There are a few
selections that did not make it onto the CD for various reasons, either
for rights or identification issues:
Concerto for Orchestra
-- one of
Ernie's most famous and moody video pieces used the first movement of
this piece; it's the eerie noir-ish street scene. Ernie also used a
section of the third movement,
illustrated by a young couple and a cop at a water fountain.
Kovacs also used a section of Bartok's piece for strings and celeste
illustrated by a circus poster of a clown with tears streaming down its
face. These were all done in the first three of Ernie's specials
for ABC. Letters praising the street scene were so numerous that
Ernie re-ran the piece on what turned out to be his last special.
infamous "dinner symphony" --
this is what Irwin called the piece with a number of people of
different ethnic background eating dinner in time with some music. At
the time of the CD's release, no one could identify the piece -- and I
mean no one -- and therefore rights could not be secured. Months later,
musicologists Irwin had contacted informed him it was a piece by the
Hungarian composer Kara Karajev.
Lisa -- the recording of Mona Lisa sung in Polish Ernie used in
his famous bathtub blackouts is also unidentifiable (he used the same
recording, but of The Tennessee Waltz, for his "Amazing Submergo"
Quartet, Op. 3 No. 5 -- the 2nd, or "Andante Cantabile",
this quartet known as the "Serenade" (actually written by a Benedictine
monk named Hoffstetter
and attributed to Hadyn for many years) was used in Ernie's Dutch
Masters commercials. Which recording did Ernie use, O great Matzah?
This was unknown at the time of the CD's release. Chusid has since
found out that it was an LP by the American String Quartet. Find a copy
on eBay, if you can. In the meantime, you can listen to a recording by
an unidentified string quartet here.
Overture, Russian Dance from
the Nutcracker Suite, et al. There are a number of easily recognizable
pieces of classical music Ernie used which we can all find ourselves.
Music was a one hour special Ernie did for NBC and aired on May
19, 1959. It is not certain when the tape date for the show is at
this time; and further compounding the mystery is the fact that Ernie
was shooting "Our Man in Havana", in Havana, in April and part of May
This is the program that the gorilla Swan Lake and shot of Ernie
smoking underwater comes from.
One of my favorite segments on the show is of Edie singing the
"Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5" by Villa-Lobos, with her matted over
shots of the eight cellists accommpanying her as well as video feedback
(created by pointing a television camera at a monitor of its own
Shoe-horned into the show was a number by teen heart-throb James
Darren, singing "Gidget is the One For Me" in the middle of a caveman
Ernie used the record of a novelty song he made, called
"Hotcakes and Sausage", (it's on the CD) as the theme for "The Kapusta Kid in
Outer Space", the puppet segment he did on the daytime shows for
NBC. 45rpm versions turn up on eBay