A little confusion here at the Marquee Lounge, Ladies and Gentlemen. Drum roll. Whoops. That was a false start. "Remember, the band is going to play two numbers before the dancers come up," a man tells emcee Ed Walker. "Okay, it's on, it's on," a girl screams, referring to the P.A. system. Another drum roll.
"Hello everybody and welcome to the Marquee Lounge," announces Walker, filling the newly re-Deco-rated, green-and-beige room with the sonorous sounds of disc jockey chatter. "We had to fumigate the place after Mark Russell left. (Rim shot on the drums.) This is a great night for the people of the Shoreham Hotel . . .
It's 9:11 Wednesday night. Do you know where your children are? Very few of them are at the Marquee Lounge, where live big band music is returning to Washington, attracting many members of the ballroom set.
This looks like the real '30s thing, right down to the cigarette girl with red feather boa and black mesh stockings. She's on loan from Eastern Onion, the singing telegram people. On the tables, in coordinated green and beige no less, music request pads . . . ("Hey. 'Christopher Columbus.' You don't know that? 'Mood Indigo?' ") Outside, two spotlights are painting illuminated arcs across the sky, as if to say, something is happening here but you don't know what it is . . . Do you? To the right of the hotel's entrance sits a beige 1929 Packard, and to the left, a black 1923 Lincoln. "The kind of cars the gangsters used to use," the doorman says, "back in the old days."
Inside, Ed Winiker and his 11-piece band are wailing through "Take the A Train," with a pair of hot cha-cha dancers tap-toeing past the tables. And just to the left of the bandstand is the guest of honor, Sammy Kaye--as in Swing and Sway--sipping a glass of water.
"This is a great place," he says. "Reminds me of the room at the Roosevelt. Lombardo was playing there when I was at the Commodore. Glenn Miller was at the Pennsylvania. Benny Goodman was at the Paramount. Dorsey was at the Strand. I played the Commodore for two straight years. Geeez, I don't ever want to get into that hotel scene again. Murder, murder. One nighters are okay, though. On May 1, we'll fly out to Chicago to play a birthday party. Some guy who's 80 years old. Must be a fan of mine.
"I work as little as I can," Kaye says.
"Sammy, don't say that," says Marie Garbarine, his secretary for many years.
"Garbarine the Great," says Kaye. "Marie, I think I'll wet my whistle just a little before I go up."
"No, Sammy, no."
At 72, he is balding but still blond, blue-eyed, sporting a pinky ring and a paisley pocket square in the breast pocket of his tuxedo jacket.
"Cigars, cigarettes," says the cigarette girl. "Can I give you a light for that, sir?"
"Yes, thank you," says Kaye. And then: "Geeez, I gotta stop smoking."
"Let's all get up and dance to the great sounds of 'Moonlight Serenade,' " says Ed Walker.
An elderly gentleman in a gray suit approaches Kaye: "I just wanted to shake your hand; I've danced to your music for a long time." Another man comes up, a management type. "I'll point him out," he says to Kaye, of a VIP. "He'll be just this side of that potted plant." A photographer advances to snap a picture of Kaye with Jhoon Rhee, the karate kingpin.
It's 10:10 now, and the mayor is 10 minutes late. "Hey, they've been playing a long time," Kaye says to the hotel manager. "Let the band take five." A beat. "I feel like I'm running the goddamn place. Waitress, I'll take a Scotch on the rocks."
"No, Sammy, no," says Garbarine the Great.
"You know," he says, "the guts I used to have. I can't believe it. We'd play a 6,000-seat theater in Manhattan, and I'd get up with a pin spot on my face and read a poem:
"Make new friends but keep the old
"These are silver, these are gold . . .
"Jeezus, New York City. I mean, maybe you can get away with that in Wichita. Or maybe Cleveland. That's where my family's from. Emigrated from Czechoslovakia. The name's Zarnocay. It's tough to say Sammy Zarnocay."
The mayor arrives 25 minutes late. "Secretary, where are those batons," Kaye asks Garbarine the Great, referring to the autographed mementos he's been handing out for almost 40 years--$75,000 worth of them--to people who are called out of the audience to lead the band.
"Mayor, have you ever been in a band?"
"In high school, for about five minutes."
"What'd you play?"
"Trumpet and drums."
"At the same time? Keep the baton, so you can conduct business in your office."
"Thank you, Sammy. You know, I've always encouraged the opening of lounges in hotels, not only as places to come together, but also as sources of jobs. Now, I'm not looking for a job. I already have one. And I'm trying very hard to keep it. We have an election going on here."
And with that, Marion Barry waves his baton in thin air and leads the Ed Winiker Orchestra through "When the Saints Go Marchin' In."