Jan Savitt

Photo of Jan Savitt
  • Born

    September 4, 1913
    St. Petersburg, Russia
  • Died

    October 4, 1948 (age 35)
    Sacramento, California

Jan Savitt and His Top Hatters emerged as one of the coun­try’s lead­ing or­ches­tras dur­ing the late 1930s. Savitt, who was clas­si­cally trained, had no back­ground in jazz, but his use of a mu­si­cal de­vice called shuffle rhythm” al­lowed his group to swing with the best of them. This de­vice, which fea­tured a pi­ano play­ing dou­ble time, gave the or­ches­tra a rel­a­tively fresh sound in com­par­i­son to many of the ded­i­cated swing out­fits and earned them en­gage­ments at some of the coun­try’s top spots. The Top Hatters were also quite ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing won­der­ful bal­lads, mak­ing them an all-around fa­vorite with lis­ten­ing au­di­ences.

Born in Russia, where his fa­ther had been a drum­mer in the Imperial Regimental Band of Tsar Nicholas II, Savitt im­mi­grated to the United States with his fam­ily at age fif­teen. Hailed as a child prodigy on the vi­o­lin he won sev­eral schol­ar­ships to the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and later be­came the youngest per­son to per­form with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.

In 1936, Savitt or­ga­nized his own string quar­tet, which earned a spot on a na­tional ra­dio se­ries and won the Philharmonic Society’s Gold Medal Award. These achieve­ments caught the at­ten­tion of lo­cal Philadelphia ra­dio sta­tions WCAU and KYW, where Savitt was of­fered em­ploy­ment as mu­si­cal di­rec­tor. There he formed the Top Hatters. The group’s most pop­u­lar early hit was the highly swing­ing 720 in the Books,” so named be­cause that was the song’s num­ber in the band’s cat­a­logue. In the early 1940s, Savitt added a string sec­tion to the or­ches­tra.

Savitt’s pri­mary girl singer was the lovely Carlotta Dale. His early male vo­cal­ist and fea­tured star was Bon Bon, a won­der­ful per­former with a rich voice and one of the first African-Americans to work with a white band. After Bon Bon and Dale left the group, Savitt used a va­ri­ety of vo­cal­ists, in­clud­ing Betty Bonney, Eugenie Baird, Allan DeWitt, Dorsey Anderson and ac­tress Gloria DeHaven.

In the late 1940s, Savitt found him­self in debt to the IRS. To earn ex­tra money he sched­uled a se­ries of one-night per­for­mances. Savitt’s life was trag­i­cally cut short dur­ing that tour how­ever when he suf­fered a cere­bral he­m­or­rhage while trav­el­ing to a show in Sacramento.

Music

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  • Love of My Life
    Jan Savitt (Carlotta Dale), Bluebird (1938)
  • I Won't Tell a Soul (That I Love You)
    Jan Savitt (Carlotta Dale), Radio (1938)
  • I'm in a Fog About You
    Jan Savitt (Carlotta Dale), Radio (1938)
  • You Go to My Head
    Jan Savitt (Carlotta Dale), Bluebird (1938)
  • Moonlight Serenade
    Jan Savitt (Carlotta Dale), Decca (1939)
  • 720 in the Books
    Jan Savitt (Bon Bon), Decca (1939)
  • Good Morning
    Jan Savitt (Bon Bon), Decca (1939)
  • Make-Believe Island
    Jan Savitt (Bon Bon), Decca (1940)
  • A Weekend in Havana
    Jan Savitt (Allan DeWitt), Victor (1941)
  • It's So Peaceful in the Country
    Jan Savitt (Allan DeWitt), Victor (1941)
  • Tattle-Tale
    Jan Savitt (Allan DeWitt), Victor (1941)

All recordings are from the Internet Archive's 78rpm collection. Copyright owners, please see our removal policy.