Special Guests
Saturday, November 16, 1996

Jazz pianist Jaki Byard was born in 1922 near Boston and began taking formal piano lessons when he was eight years old. He had taken only two years of lessons when the Great Depression hit. Almost overnight, Byard's dad moved from candy maker to janitor and young Jaki's piano lessons became too difficult to afford. So Byard experimented on the piano at home, learning tunes by ear and finding his musical inspiration at a local club called Dan Dundee's Deck, where he heard Count Basie, Joe Venuti, Fats Waller, and others. While still in his teens, Byard played his first gig at the club, but it was not an easy performance. The night of his performance, he fell and cut his hand: the wound required six stitches and the hand became increasingly swollen as the evening progressed. Only sheer determination got him through the gig, but it paid off. He worked with all sorts of other bands, all the time saving his money so that he could resume his piano studies. World War II interrupted those plans: he spent five years stationed at an Army base, where he learned to play trombone for the Army band. He performed around Boston during the post-war music boom and then moved on to Canada, playing gigs and studying his first love: the saxophone. Byard was becoming a hot commodity around Boston, and he returned there to find steady piano gigs at local clubs and a tenor-sax spot in Herb Pomeroy's big band. In 1958, he started playing regular engagements in New York: Monday-night sessions at Birdland and a short stint with Maynard Ferguson's band. He left Ferguson's band to play with the legendary bassist and bandleader Charles Mingus, with whom he played for the better part of a decade. Byard has been a teacher since the late '40s; in 1969 he started a long association with Boston's New England Conservatory of Music. He now is on the faculty at Mannes College of Music at the New School for Social Research. His performances are heard on dozens of jazz recordings; his album, Hi-Fly, was just re-released on the Prestige/New Jazz label. Byard performs with The Duke's Men, a group of Ellington-band alumni, performing Ellington classics and original numbers in the spirit of the Duke himself.

In 1975, Saturday Night Light premiered, and Minnesota native Al Franken was one of the original writers for the show. He wrote for and performed on Saturday Night Live from 1975 until 1980 and then again from 1985 to 1995. Franken's writing for SNL earned him four Emmy Awards and his producing garnered yet another Emmy. And fans across the nation recognize Franken for his Saturday Night Live sendups of Pat Robertson, Paul Simon, and Paul Tsongas, and for his characters: his "Al Franken Decade" persona, his constantly struggling one-man mobile uplink unit, and, of course, Stuart Smalley, the New Age cable-TV host. Smalley and his self-confidence mantra-"You're good enough, you're smart enough, and doggone it, people like you"-provided the subject for Franken's first book, his Grammy-nominated comedy album and for a 1995 movie, Stuart Saves His Family. Franken's latest book, Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, hit The New York Times bestseller list in its first week in the bookstores, a tribute to Franken as a political satirist. His political commentary had been seen on SNL for years. In 1988, he provided convention commentary for CNN and in 1992 he anchored Comedy Central's much-acclaimed Indecision '92. In 1994 and 1996, Franken was asked to speak at the prestigious White House Correspondents Dinner. This year, Franken covered the San Diego and Chicago conventions for Comedy Central's Politically Incorrect, where he could be seen in a bunting-draped bed during his "Strange Bedfellows" segment with Arianna Huffington.

Alice Playten has appeared on Broadway in Gypsy; Oliver; Hello Dolly; George M!; Henry, Sweet Henry; Rumors, and Spoils of War. Off-Broadway shows include The Mysteries and What's So Funny, a collaboration by Red Grooms, David Gordon, and Philip Glass. She received an Obie award for her performance as Mick Jagger in Lemmings and another Obie for her portrayal of Mamie Eisenhower in First Ladies Suite at the Public Theater. She's been most recently seen in the David Gordon piece, Punch and Judy Get a Divorce.

The cast of Radio Gals, called "an impressive array of talent" by The New York Times, put on their first performance in mid-September at the John Houseman Theatre on West 42nd. The musical, set in the early days of radio, stars Carole Cook as Miss Hazel, a retired music teacher who runs a 500-watt radio station out of her parlor. She airs the music of her band, called the Hazelnuts, which consists of Miss Hazel and her friends: Gladys Fritts (Rosemary Loar), Rennabelle (Klea Blackhurst), America (Emily McKesell)-and the elderly Swindle Sisters, Miss Mabel (Michael Rice) and Miss Azilee (co-author Mike Craver). Since her station, WGAL, is not official, it hasn't been assigned a frequency. This is not a problem for Miss Hazel: she simply adjusts her broadcasts to any wavelength that's open. This aberrant use of the airwaves soon attracts the notice of a U.S. Government inspector (Matthew Bennett), and so the funny battle begins. Radio Gals was created by the late Mark Hardwick and by Mike Craver-who has appeared on A Prairie Home Companion with the Red Clay Ramblers. Craver and Hardwick previously collaborated on Oil City Symphony.

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).

Available now»

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