THE BAND'S PROSPECTS IMPROVED the moment Rick Foster took over as manager. He put our contracts, bookkeeping, and schedule on a professional basis — all the minutiae that right-brained artists hate to deal with. Under Rick's benign guidance, we secured representation by a national booking agent who exposed us to college and civic concert presenters. And we acquired a pre-owned green Chevy van — dubbed the Ant Farm for its insectile squalor — that was to become our rolling prison on dozens of tours for years to come.
Although we still played small club, folk festival, private party, and nonprofit organization gigs, we found ourselves more often performing at universities and high-status concert venues outside California, garnering serious media attention. At Texas Tech in Lubbock, they treated us like royalty. At the University of Chicago, arts administrator Elsie Newton became our unofficial Midwestern ambassador, keeping us booked solid in the Windy City. We also exported our brand of klezmer music to Manhattan, exciting the envy of New York musicians who wished they'd thought of it first.
In this singularly lucky year, we were asked to provide a bit of soundtrack music and onscreen ambience for the feature film The Jazz Singer — y'know, the remake with Neil Diamond? Yes, it's one of Hollywood's all-time most horrendous schlockfests, but shooting it was fun. We watched Sir Laurence Olivier chew up the scenery... hung out with one of my boyhood heroes, charactor actor Mike Kellin... and scored a klezmer-revival first by stealthily inserting a Naftuli Brandwine tune ("Heyser Bulgar") into millions of unsuspecting moviegoer ears.
Back in Northern California, Rick introduced us to Kim Chase, a drama instructor and theatrical director who spent the next few years teaching us the basics of stage comportment. Stuff like how to subdue and hypnotize an audience with body language alone. How to run onto a darkened stage without tripping over a mic cord and vaporizing your horn. How to maintain eye contact with the other players, even when your eyes are closed. Man, did we resist Kim's discipline! But he really was a master of stage Zen, and under his tutelage we learned to do amazing things like make band members disappear in plain view of hundreds of audience members without anybody noticing. I swear this is true. Kim, take a bow. The inside story continues in 1981... >>