"Jazzbeaux" Collins (born 1919 at Rochester, N.Y.; died September
30, 1997), hipster saint, radio legend on two coasts, jazz icon. Theme
song: "Blues In Hoss' Flat," written by Frank Foster and performed by
the Count Basie Orchestra.
In the Bay Area, Jazzbeaux was beloved on KSFO, KMPX, KGO, KAPX and KCSM for four
decades, splitting for the East Coast in between, but always returning
to majooberize us right to the very end.
For his outstanding contributions to local radio, Jazzbeaux was elected
to the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame in 2006 as a member of the first
class to be inducted.
With the kind assistance of his friends, fans and colleagues, including
Jon Hammond, Gene Sculatti and Herb Gardner, the Bay Area Radio Museum
presents this loving tribute to a one-of-a-kind radio genius, Al
It's late. In the background, a piano plays a drowsy blues.
Then a voice:
"People ask me what it looks like down in the Grotto, and I haven't
really said too much about it lately, I guess, but one of the main things
is that in order to get here you've got to come down a long kind of
underground tube that leads in from street level. At Forty-second and
Third. You crawl in on a tube over which there's a burlap sack hanging
down. That's to keep the wind and cold air from blowing in. And then you
are immediately in the main cave room, which is hemispherical and looks
almost vaulted at the highest point...about twenty feet above the Grotto
floor, which is flat and dry.
"And the Big Ben stalagtite, which is the
largest one of several, comes down fifteen feet from the ceiling. And then
there are smaller ones growing up from the floor of the Grotto (and one is
about five feet, six feet high) and those are stalagmites. If they ever
connect, they're called columns, and we have three of these, where a
stalagtite and a stalagmite have...grown together. It's very rare, but we
The piano shimmers. The voice resumes. "And at the top of the
Grotto it's very dark purple, almost black. And then it starts getting
progressively light as it goes down the side, [piano] getting into the
various shades of purple, mauve, magenta, taupe, and all those. And then
if you look over to the left side you will see a mushroom patch growing
there of the Purpulus grottus variety, and they're about four feet in
diameter. They're huge. And that's where I got the idea to have Purple
Grotto-burgers. I was gonna have a series around town underneath the
ground where you go in and have a Grotto-burger. 'Cause mushrooms ...are
very much like steak (filet mignon)...if you get a good mushroom. And
these are the best...
"Over on the extreme right there's a pit of fluid
that's almost like a small lake. And it's a fluid that has not been
analyzed as yet. It's thick, and we've plumbed the depths to about two
hundred fifty, three hundred feet with lead weights and wire, and there's
no sounding the bottom. So that's one of the reasons no people are allowed
down in the Grotto. I just can't get insurance for a place like
The New York Times radio listing for
1950, showing Jazzbo's time of night on WNEW
What? Where are we? For all the sense it's making,
it might as well be Mars in 2856, or maybe 7680. But we're in New York
City, in 1982. It's four in the morning; we're tuned to radio station
WNEW, and the piano, the voice, and the way-out word jazz belong to Al
"Jazzbo" Collins (or "Jazzbeaux," depending on how whimsical he feels...)
Cool may not even be the word for Collins. He's of it, inside it,
beyond cool. Just ask the Jazzbo multitudes, Al's Pals (they must number
in the hundreds of thousands by now) gathered around radios in San
Francisco, Salt Lake, and L.A., where they're waiting for him to return,
as if to ask, "Did it really happen?" It did. It does, weeknightly,
midnight to 5:30a.m. now in New York, just as it did from 1950 to 1960.
Back then they turned to Jazzbo for jazz. He was in the clubs, at
Birdland and the Hickory House, down at the Downbeat office, digging, and
he was on the air laying a taste on the ears (Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie
Parker, Sinatra and Shearing and Peggy Lee, and Slim Gaillard doing that
whole "mello-roony" rap about "Ce-ment mixer, putty putty").
But if it's music that brought 'em in, it was
Jazzbo who kept them coming back, with an announcing style so laid back it
was four winks west of Sominex, but so hip. Snooze and you lose, 'cause
what he's saying at that crazy half-speed is twice as gone as any other
disc jockey you've ever heard.
It all started at the University of Miami in 1941 with the line "What's
new at the 'U'? This is Al Collins, and here's Professor Hoo-ha." Subbing
for a fellow student, Collins made his radio debut on the college station
by accident. No matter. After reading the line, standing for the first
time in the studio control room "with the lights, the 'On the air'
signals, the engineer, the mike, the drama of the thing hit me with a
bursting brilliance. And I said to myself, 'Hey. Whew! What a scene. I
think I would like to do this.'"
At Chicago's WIND a few years later, his engineer suggested Collins use
something with the word "jazz" to title his program, which was, after all, a
jazz show. A product of the day, a clip-on bow tie called Jazzbows, did
the trick. "I went on the air that night," Collins remembers, "and said,
'Hi, this is Jazzbo here with some really fine music.' And the phones
started ringing and everybody wanted to know 'Who's Jazzbo?' I said,
'Heck, it's a really good handle.'"
The handle helped get Collins to WNEW in 1950. He
recalls a night there, too.
"I started my broadcast in Studio One which was painted all kinds of
tints and shades of purple on huge polycylindricals which were vertically
placed around the walls of the room to deflect the sound. It just happened
to be that way. And with the turntables and desk and console and the
lights turned down low, it had a very cavelike appearance to my
imagination. So I got on the air, and the first thing I said was, 'Hi,
it's Jazzbo in the Purple Grotto.' You never know where your thoughts are
coming from, but the way it came out was that I was in a grotto, in this
atmosphere with stalactites and a lake and no telephones. I was using Nat
Cole underneath me with 'Easy Listening Blues' playing piano in the
For fun, Collins gave the Grotto its own bestiary — Harrison the
Tasmanian Owl, who dug Paul Desmond and Brubeck; Jukes, a female chameleon
who went for swing; Clyde, a Dixieland-digging crow; and a flamingo named
Leah, who, Jazzbo told his listeners, liked "music to fly by."
The combination hit hip Manhattanites like a saucer from the spheres;
within days, fans began showing up at 'NEW demanding to be taken
downstairs to the Purple Grotto.
Collins capitalized on his radio fame in 1954, cutting a series of
"Great Moments in Hipstery" bop-talk records for Capitol. "Little Red
Riding Hood" was his hit, but "Discovery of America" had some choice
lines. On Columbus, "hanging out at the royal court in Spain": "Chris has
been on the scene for months and there's one thing on his mind: boats. It
was then that he met Queen Isabella, who had only one thing on her mind:
In short, she had bulging eyes for our man. In fact, she was
verily flipping her coronet for Mr. C..."
Jazzbo split for San Francisco in 1960 (where
he was to stay until 1969). He kicked things off at KSFO there with the
"Collins On A Cloud" show. To the accompaniment of dreamy harp music,
Collins "floated" over the city, looking down and grooving on the bridges,
ships, and scenes.
From '60 to '62 he had his own TV show on the local ABC affiliate,
mornings at 8:30 right after the Crusader Rabbit cartoons and before Jack
LaLanne's warm-ups. Many viewers (this one included) couldn't quite
believe their eyes or ears. Here was Collins, in sky-blue jumpsuits,
interviewing celebrities, politicians, sheiks, musicians, and Third Street
bums as they sat in a barber chair.
Here were impromptu studio
performances by the entire Count Basie Band, Louis Prima, Jackie Mason,
"The producer of the show and I would drive down the street in San
Francisco. If we saw anybody that looked like a character — or anybody
that looked different from everybody else — we'd yell at them, 'Seven
o'clock tomorrow morning at Channel Seven. Be there!' We got great guests — one pirate-looking guy with a wooden leg who walked around like Captain
A central part of the TV program was the (sometimes multiple)
screenings(s) of the scene from "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" where Mexican
actor Alfonso Bedoya tells Bogart, "Badges? [pronounced botches] I don't
have to show you any stinking badges!" The line has delighted Collins for
twenty years. He liked it so much, in fact, that in 1970, while at Los
Angeles' KFI, he convinced city fathers in suburban Sierra Madre to help
him stage a festival for the faithful. Twenty-five thousand showed up to
nosh with their hero, attend art exhibits, and enjoy round-the-clock
showings of the movie at the town's Humphrey Bogart Theatre.
Late in 1981, Jazzbo left Frisco's KGO to return
to 'NEW. Re-ensconced in the Purple Grotto, he's once again mild and
woolly in New York — fading out a Coleman Hawkins side to deliver an
impromptu dissertation on the virtues of egg-drop soup ("A lot of people
misunderstand it. It's best when it gets into a gelatinous kind of
feeling, if you know what I mean"), plugging a small-press poetry mag,
inviting character-callers like the Baron of Bleecker Street to phone in.
The Baron is the head of Società Mangione ("the society of people who
love to eat"), the first New York Chapter of Al's Pals, more than three
hundred individual special interest clubs formed by Jazzbo buffs across
Jazzbeaux with the singer
June Christy in 1962
"That whole thing started in San Francisco," says Al. "We were having a
bad drought, and one night this lady called up the show. Her name was
Olga, and she talked like Zsa Zsa Gabor. She was off the wall, to put it
mildly. She'd go out in the morning in Bodega Bay, where she lived, and
greet the tide with a sign that said, 'Welcome In, Tide,' and she'd
perfume some of the flowers that had no original scent. She went out with
a pitch pipe and gave the hummingbirds the right note so they wouldn't be
out of tune. So she called one night and said, 'Jazzbo dahling, if you
want to have water, you must have frogs. Everybody knows that where frogs
are, there's water, so if everybody gets a pair of frogs and puts them in
their back yards, soon we'll have water.'
"So, I said, 'Gee, that's a great idea, Olga.' And I hung up. About ten
minutes later a guy named Mike calls and says 'Al, I have an albino frog
with pink eyes, and I'd like to be a member of the frog club.' So I said,
'Listen, Mike, if you've got a pink frog with red eyes or whatever, I
think you should be the president of the Frogonians.'
He agreed. I gave
his address, and in a week he had about forty-five letters from people.
And today it's still going and he's got over ten thousand registered
Jazzbo seems pleased just to keep it all spinning, from behind his
pickle barrel in the Grotto. The calibrated candle's white and purple
rings tick off the minutes in a slow burn beneath Forty-second and Third.
On the turntable something cool from the West Coast spins. The lights dim.
Jazzbeaux, Circa 1997
"...And then there are three lesser caves that you can see in
the background if you look straight ahead in the Grotto. These are
occupied by Doctors Hunyati, Cherumbolo, and Caligari. As a matter of
fact, Caligari is up tonight, sanding down some of the small cabinets he's
making. Dr. Hunyati, of course, is the famous piano tuner who developed
that pinkie cream for pianists, and Dr. Victor T. Cherumbolo you know as
the fellow who helps out at the planetarium ... and shows people where the
different planets are, 'cause he's from there."
POSTSCRIPT: At the end of the '80s, Jazzbo left New York to
return to the Bay Area. As if in a dream, California members of the
Collins cargo cult — who'd despaired of ever grokking the Grotto again — awoke
one morning (May 1990) to find A.C. on the a.m. (KAPX, Marin County). He
was as good as they'd remembered: kibitzing on the phone with anyone who
called (to a local chef: "Yeah, I wanna get the recipe to that special
meat sauce. Let me find a pencil and we'll take it from the top"),
spinning choice sounds ("Man, can we ever have too much Errol Garner?").
By 1993, Jazzbo had moved to KCSM, the jazz station at the College
San Mateo ('60s comic-prankster Mal Sharpe also does a show there), where
he's been ever since: Saturdays, from 9 p.m. to midnight. If you're in
Frisco, loose your lobes on him (FM 91).
EDITOR'S EPILOGUE: Al "Jazzbeaux" Collins passed away from
cancer on September 30, 1997. He was 78. In 2006, he was elected into
the Bay Area Radio Hall of Fame as a member of the first class to be
Gene Sculatti followed the
Catalog Of The Cool with
"The Cool And The Crazy" radio series, which he co-hosted and produced
with Ronn Spencer, over Santa Monica's KCRW-FM from 1984
to 1987. In 1993, St. Martin's Press published Too Cool, his sequel to the
Catalog. As Vic Tripp, he currently hosts Atomic Cocktail,
which runs from 6 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays (California time) on the online
Luxuria, playing vintage pop, surf, garage and lounge music in
classic 1960s Top 40 style. Jazzbo ... On The Radio was reprinted with the
generous permission of the author. Mr. Sculatti also authored
A Valentine To KYA which accompanies our
tribute to the beloved "Boss of the Bay."
Special thanks to Steve Kushman of the
California Historical Radio Society for the images of the red KGO "I
Don't Got To Show You..." sticker and the rare Jazzbeaux belt buckle
from his private collection.
FOR YOUR LISTENING
— Exhibit includes text and
— Audio presentation only.
"Jazzbeaux's Time Of Night" Theme Song
Excerpt (40 seconds) HG
Although he opened his shows for many years
with Count Basie's "Blues In Hoss' Flat," Jazzbeaux was
celebrated in this theme song composed by
Gardner and performed by the Smith Street Society Jazz
Band. The complete version of "Time Of Night" is included on
Gardner's "Groundhog's Day" CD.
The Swearing In
Of The Bandidos (2 minutes)
as the final track on the "A Lovely Bunch of Al Jazzbo
Collins and the Bandidos" LP (Impulse A-9150), the
swearing-in ceremony — during which you declare "No tengo
que enseñarle ningunas
chapas malditas" — was the first of two steps toward
becoming a full-fledged member of "the second most popular
club in America" according to the album's liner notes. The
second step: sending in your name and address to the record
company, which would in turn mail you "a free membership
card and window sticker for your wheels!"
KGO Newstalk 81, February 6, 1976 (55 minutes)
The nighttime is the right time for
Jazzbeaux, up and down the Pacific Coast on 50,000-watt KGO.
Jazzbeaux on 560/KSFO, December 13, 1983 (14 minutes) BFT
At midnight, as Golden West Broadcasters
turns the station over to King Broadcasting, KSFO embarks on
a new era with comments by general manager Fred Schumacher
and program director Ken Dennis before Al "Jazzbeaux"
Collins makes his return to Bay Area airwaves from WNEW/New
York. In addition, KSFO's new midday personality, Russ "The
Moose" Syracuse, makes a surprise guest appearance by phone.
Jazzbeaux on 560/KSFO, April 26, 1984 (45
Jazzbeaux presents a tribute in words and
music to Count Basie on the day that the celebrated composer
succumbed to cancer at the age of 78.
Jazzbeaux on KCSM/San Mateo,
May 1991 (90 minutes) JE
A rollicking Memorial Day weekend broadcast
from San Mateo's Jazz 91 featuring Jazzbeaux in fine fettle.
Jazzbeaux on KCSM/San Mateo, 1997 (2+ hours) AK
Following his death in September 1997, KCSM
re-broadcast several of Jazzbeaux's broadcasts from earlier
that year, portions of which are presented here. You may
also partake in
Part 2 and/or
"The Treasure of
the Sierra Madre" (1 minute)
This brief excerpt from the 1948 Warner
Brothers classic, starring Humphrey Bogart, Walter Huston
and Tim Holt, features Alfonso Bedoya (as "Gold Hat")
delivering the famous line in which he respectfully declines
Bogart's polite request to display his badge.
— Exhibit includes text and audio.
— Audio presentation only.
— Edited/telescoped broadcast or excerpt only.
— Fair to poor audio quality.
AK — Courtesy of Alan
BFT — Courtesy of Ben
HG — Courtesy of Herb
JE — Courtesy of James