Original Document
Original Document
Joe Venuti Recalls His Early Days with Eddie Lang, 1955.

Eddie (Lang) and I started to play together when we were in grammar school. You know, Eddie and I went all through grammar school and high school together. We used to play a lot of mazurkas and polkas. Just for fun we started to play them in four-four. I guess we just liked the rhythm of the guitar. Then we started to slip in some improvised passages. I'd slip something in. Eddie would pick it up with a variation. Then I'd come back with a variation. We'd just sit there and knock each other out.

Eddie and I were kids together in the same neighborhood in Philadelphia. We were together all through school except for a couple of years I put in at the University of Pennsylvania. Everybody in my family played music –string instruments mainly; violin, cello, mandolin. It was just taken for granted.

Formal training? I think a cousin started to teach me when I was about four. Solfeggio, of course. That's the Italian system under which you don't bother much about any special instrument until you know all the fundamentals of music. It's the only way to learn music right. Later, when I started to study fiddle seriously, I had several good teachers. I even put in six years in a conservatory.

Did I plan to be a concert violinist? Sure, every fiddle player does. But even when I was in the conservatory, I used to play jazz in between times for the professors. They loved it.

Eddie and I played our first real job together at a place in Atlantic City in 1921 with Bert Estlow, a piano player. The band also contained a drummer and a saxophone player. When we had time off we used to go to hear and sit in with the Scranton Sirens (Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Russ Morgan, et al.). And they, and other musicians, used to come to hear us.

But we never played any jazz on the job with Estlow. We would go into the men's room and play for them there. You could say the first real jazz concerts were played in the men's room of a joint in Atlantic City. Rube Bloom, who recorded with us later, first heard us there. So did Red Nichols, who was always scouting around looking for musical talent.

Credit:  Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff, Hear Me Talkin' To Ya: The Story of Jazz as Told by the Men Who Made It (New York: Dover Publications, 1955): 272-27.
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