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Joe Mikolas
Ernie Kovacs music

"Oriental Blues"

ernie kovacs theme songErnie 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.

Another single of 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.

The DeSimone 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)

The mystery 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 are a Mac or a PC) to save it.  How you upload or transfer it to your phone depends on your phone and cell provider.

Ernie Kovacs ringtone

"The Ernie Kovacs Record Collection"

CDIn 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 Ernie Kovacs Record Collection, 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:
  • Bartok's 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.
  • The 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.
  • Mona 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" running gag).
  • Haydn's String Quartet, Op. 3 No. 5 -- the 2nd, or "Andante Cantabile", movement from 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.
  • 1812 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.

Kovacs on 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 of 1959.

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 picture).

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 sketch.

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 periodically. 

* * * Last updated  January 10, 2010 * * *