They say everything happens for a reason. But the chance nature of certain connections can affect the course of history or, at least, one's life.
I recently Facebook-friended Josh Mills, who reciprocated right away -- because, I assumed, he remembered me fondly from many years ago when we were both music journalists.
Social networking serendipity soon revealed that Facebook Josh Mills (FJM) was an entirely different Josh Mills from OJM (Original Josh Mills). Instead of breaking up, however, FJM and I have discovered an intricate web of personal and professional interconnections that ties together Edie Adams, Ernie Kovacs, Eddie Fisher, Duke Ellington, music publishing giant Irving Mills, celeb photographer Marty Mills, the Brill Building, both my parents, The Nairobi Trio and "The Chicken Dance."
The world may have begun with Adam and Eve, but we begin with Edie Adams -- Josh's mom -- and "The Edie Adams Christmas Album," a collection of 15 previously unreleased holiday tunes recorded during the early 1950s. Edie (1927-2008) was a Juilliard-trained singer, a fine movie actress and the wife and partner in comedy of Ernie Kovacs, a pioneering genius of radio and TV humor whose work took full advantage of the serendipitous accident. One of the Christmas album's tracks is "Marshmallow World," written by my dad, Carl Sigman, and Peter DeRose.
Josh takes care of the estates of both Adams and Kovacs, on whom too much praise cannot be heaped. One of Ernie's enduring hilarities is the Nairobi Trio's interpretation of "Solfeggio," a melody composed by Robert Maxwell to which my dad added lyrics. (Warning: once you listen to this tune, it may become lodged in your head for a considerable period of time.)
In 1964, two years after Kovacs's death in a traffic accident, Edie married photographer-of-the-stars Marty Mills, Josh's dad. Marty was the son of Jack Mills, who, with his brother Irving, founded and owned the most powerful music publishing company of the Tin Pan Alley era.
Jack Mills was a champion of ragtime, an occasional songwriter and a quiet family man with a knack for business; Irving was an entrepreneur, songwriter, singer, raconteur, manager and brilliant finder of talent. Among those he ushered into stardom were Lena Horne, Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington. (Here, Irving sings "St. James Infirmary" with Duke at the piano.) My dad wrote several songs with the Duke, including "All Too Soon," which was recorded by Ella Fitzgerald. Ella also put her stamp on a number of songs credited to Duke Ellington and Irving Mills, though exactly who wrote what is lost to history.
Josh's uncle Stanley -- Jack's son and a long-time friend of mine -- owns his own publishing company, September Music, which boasts such hits as "Cara Mia" and, yes, "The Chicken Dance."
Years ago, Barry Mills -- Irving's grandson and Josh's cousin -- introduced me to one David McGee, whose work I edited for a decade and who has become one of the best writers about music in the country. David has championed the work of Jerry "Here Comes Summer" Keller, a successful singer/songwriter whom Marty Mills (Josh's dad) introduced to record mogul Dave Kapp, who signed him to his Kapp Records label. Nowadays, David edits me, via his online magazine Deep Roots. My father was close friends with Dave Kapp, and they collaborated on the song "I'm Not Afraid Anymore," which, in my dad's words, "never made any noise." Dave's brother was Jack Kapp, also a music biz mogul. Jack's daughter, Myra Levitt, is still friends (of the non-Facebook variety) with my mom.
Post-Ernie and Pre-Marty, Edie dated Eddie Fisher, who also sang on "The Edie Adams Show." Marty Mills later became Eddie's personal manager. Eddie, who gave me a quarter in front of the Brill Building when I was 6 or 7, had a top-five hit with my dad's song "Many Times." You won't find "Carl Sigman" on the sheet music, though. For legal reasons, credit -- and royalties -- went to a fictional character named Jesse Barnes.
Mills Music was, from 1932-1960, located in the storied Brill Building, which was also inhabited during the late '40s by the inimitable Louis Prima, for whom my mom, then single, toiled as Gal Friday. It was in Louis' office that she met my dad. No Brill Building, no me.
On the origins of Edie's Christmas album, Josh says:
My mom was trained to sing classical and opera. On (the early '50s CBS-TV show) Kovacs Unlimited, she had to do pop songs. So she paid for a transcription service to record audio-only so she could hear herself. Those recordings -- including the Christmas songs -- were in the vaults for 60 years. They're the only remnant of that show.
In addition to taking care of the Kovacs/Adams legacies, Mills has a PR firm whose clients include the marvelous genre-bending band Dengue Fever, which he also manages.
The original Josh Mills (OJM) was just a Google click away. Since we last spoke, he's written books, produced radio shows, taught journalism and is now a professor at Baruch College in New York. OJM and I also have more than a few surprising connections. But there's only so much serendipity one blog can handle.