OUR ARTISTS

DAVE APOLLON
Born on February 23, 1897 in Kiev, Russia, Dave Apollon was a master musician and showman, billed throughout his career as "The Worldís Greatest Mandolin Virtuoso." Dave displayed a great natural talent for dancing and music at an early age. Following a disastrous encounter with an irate violin teacher, the young prodigy began to teach himself to play a bowl-back mandolin his father had given him.

At age 14, he was playing well enough to organize his own ensemble to entertain in a Kiev movie theater. At the height of World War I, he served in the Russian Revolution, using his mandolin as his most effective weapon in wartime. Afterwards he left Russia and sailed to the Philippines, where he continued to work playing and dancing. From there he traveled to Japan and then secured a visa to enter the United States. Arriving in San Francisco in 1919, he headed straight for New York City, where he was bent on a career in show business. He was immediately hired at the Palace Theater, accompanied by the Ford Sisters dancing act. He played "Gypsy Aires" by Sarasate on his mandolin and brought the house down! He signed a three year contract and began a career in vaudeville which would span nearly 20 years.

On June 8, 1932 Dave made his first recordings for the "Brunswick" label in New York City. Accompaniment was provided by Philippine string musicians whom he had discovered. These records display a unique blend of Latin, Russian gypsy and American ragtime. Apollon then embarked on a career in motion pictures. In 1929, he filmed his first of seven musical shorts. And, for the next 10 years he continued to make "soundies" based on his vaudeville routines.

In 1937, Dave married Danzi Goodell, formerly an "eccentric" dancer in his revue. Settling in New York, they socialized with the Gershwins, Akim Tamiroff, Ethel Mermen, and other elite members of show business society. He even opened the "Club Casanova" on Manhattanís fashionable Upper East Side. Although Apollon made no commercial recordings during this period, he would occasionally cut tunes to acetate discs. His two takes of "Who" may well be considered the earliest recordings of jazz mandolin. "Spanish Fantasy," an original composition played on two different mandolins, remains Daveís only documented solo. He also appeared in the full-length American feature, Universalís "Merry Go-Round" in 1938.

The forties found Dave working in a greater variety of settings and contexts. He gave up his nightclub and began working on Broadway in "Boys and Girls Together" with comedian Ed Wynn. In 1941, he recorded eight sides for Decca, tastefully and sparingly accompanied by piano and guitar. These performances of popular and gypsy standards document his crystalline playing at its peak.

In 1946, he met and played with legendary gypsy musician Django Reinhardt. Apollon considered Django the greatest guitarist he had ever heard, and their unique duet took place at an uptown Manhattan nightclub during Djangoís tour of the U.S. with Duke Ellingtonís Orchestra. After opening the swank "Cotillion Room" of New York Cityís Hotel Pierre in 1947, he recorded his most popular vaudeville number, "St. Louis Blues" with Laverne Gustafson.

As the fifties approached, Apollonís act declined in popularity, although he frequently made radio and TV appearances as a soloist. With job opportunities more plentiful on the West Coast, Dave packed up his family, which now included sons Mike and Leo, and moved to Hollywood where he found a nucleus of musicians to perform with, including Jimmie Haskell, who went on to become one of Hollywoodís leading arrangers and orchestrators. In 1956, Apollon produced his first long-playing album "Lots of Love," on his own label, Romance Records. The album was a success in Las Vegas, where it garnered lots of radio play.

An invitation to play at Las Vegasí Desert Inn led to year-round employment there and lasted until 1963. He recorded three albums for the "Coral" label in the early sixties. After leaving the Desert Inn, failing health kept him from performing, and he never recorded again. Dave Apollon died peacefully in his home in Las Vegas in 1972.

When David Grisman met Jethro Burns and asked him who was the greatest mandolin player he ever heard, Jethro answered without hesitation, "Dave Apollon."