Sid Mark is a Philadelphia institution. For the last fifty years (!), he has hosted the popular radio show, "The Sounds of Sinatra"
exclusively devoted to the man and his music. (The show currently airs on WPHT 1210 AM: "Friday with Frank": Fridays 6pm-8pm ET; "Saturday with Sinatra": Saturdays 8pm-10pm ET; "Sunday with Sinatra": Sundays 8am-1pm ET.) Prior to that, during the post-bebop and hard bop eras, Sid hosted a long-running program called "The Mark of Jazz," playing all jazz and conducting interviews with many of the greats of the time. Today, Sid is a gentleman of diverse experience, hosting the Sinatra show, loving his family, making many public appearances, and advocating for various causes, especially infantile autism (his grandson suffers from that condition).
Sid's passion for Sinatra is boundless and constant. I interviewed him partly on account of my puzzlement about how he could be so single-mindedly obsessed with one performer. Admittedly, Sinatra is a cultural icon, an almost mythological figure who has symbolized the hopes, dreams, ideals, and struggles of two generations of Americans. Admittedly too, Sinatra was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, singers of all time. Even a music magazine as far removed from the crooning style as Rolling Stone
paid him tribute. But nevertheless I was curious why someone would dedicate year after year to a Sinatra radio show. Sid Mark just goes on playing Sinatra records for a large audience of listeners, without any motives other than genuine admiration and affection for "Frank."
However, what many of his fans don't realize is that prior to his Sinatra program, Sid was a jazz show hostone of the first anywhereand a prime mover in making jazz happen in the Philadelphia area. Music is propelled by people like Sid Mark. His dedication and his affection for the musicians has spawned many a career, kept the music in focus for the public, and fostered a positive climate in the music business. I caught up with Sid on the phone early on a summer morning in June, and we had a simpatico conversation, which went as follows:Discovering NinaAll About Jazz:
Sid, I'd like to pick your brain about Sinatra and your radio show, "Sounds of Sinatra." Then we'll turn to the general subject of jazz, more specifically jazz in Philly and your former radio program, "The Mark of Jazz," and finally some talk about Sid Mark the DJ, the person, and the humanitarian.Sid Mark:
Well, it's interesting, Vic. I looked up your writing on All About Jazz, and it seems we have a lot of similar interests, not the least of which is that one of my best friends was Al Stauffer.AAJ:
Al was one of the most wonderful people, and possibly the best bassist, I ever knew.SM:
And one of the people I was actually responsible for when it came to her success was Nina Simone.AAJ:
I know that Nina spent some time in Philadelphia.SM:
She started her career in Philadelphia. In her autobiography, she said the reason for her success was a white Jewish disc jockey, Sid Mark. She said, "If I knew him today, I don't know if I'd kiss him or smack him in the mouth!" (laughter.) That's a quote. We had a hell of a relationship! By the way, did the tribute concert by her daughter ever take place?AAJ:
It was performed at Town Hall last year. From what I understand, it was extremely successful.SM:
I love that picture of the two of them together.AAJ:
She's been very active in promoting Nina's legacy.SM:
Nina was something else. We had hours of discussions on the numerous radio and TV shows we did together. When I discovered her, she was just playing piano at a little joint in Philly at 22nd and Chestnut. It was a bar, and she wasn't singing, just playing the piano.AAJ:
She was originally planning to be a concert pianist.SM:
She went to Julliard for that. I'm getting ahead of myself, but anyway, at the time I was working at a jazz room called the Red Hill Inn in Pennsauken, New Jersey. I brought her in, she started singing, and for some strange reason people objected and wanted her to just play the piano! Boy, they were proven wrong.About SinatraAAJ:
Well, let's switch our discussion to the Sinatra show, which is your main gig these days and has been so for the last five decades. It occurs to me that for you to do a radio program exclusively playing Sinatra recordings for years on end, your passion for Sinatra must go very deep, even more so than the dedication of many of the Sinatra fans out there. What is it that makes that connection with him so profound for you?SM:
First of all, while his music was primary, it wasn't just the music, it was the man himself, because Frank was so multidimensional. Aside from just being the world's greatest vocalist, he was an incredible movie actor. He contributed to every known charity and helped more people than anyone can imagine. And he was actually a nice guy! You'd never hear women arguing about Frank. They all liked Frank. But you'd hear guys argue! "Well, I'd like to wear a hat like him." "You like him, but I don't!" But especially there was his musicality. With me working at a jazz room, the Basie band would come in, and I'd hang out with the guys, and they'd all be talking about Sinatra. I was only 22 when I started at the Red Hill Inn, and my job was driving the musicians over from the hotel.