The Jazz Pilot or Flying Above The Stars (part 4)

continuing the story of Roger Wolfe Kahn, dance band leader, composer and pilot

An interlude with Jeeves

We are indeed borrowing Jeeves from P G Wodehouse. Conflating two episodes from Jeeves’ career, the great man is in New York and has given notice to his English employer, Bertie Wooster, because he cannot bear to listen to Bertie’s efforts to play the banjolele. He and Roger take to each other, but Roger is worried: he too plays the banjolele. Not like Mr Wooster, I trust, remarks Jeeves. Roger promptly plays the banjolele faultlessly.

Jeeves gives Roger a sartorial makeover. His current wardrobe and two-dollar hats are given away to the poor. One outfit is actually rejected by a hobo with good taste.

Jeeves takes Roger to the best tailor in New York – where they meet “Gentleman Jimmy” Walker, Hizzoner the Mayor. Roger, dazed, orders dozens of beautiful suits, shirts and ties. He resists only when Jeeves and Walker try to force him into spats (favoured by Otto Kahn and his banking partners.)

Roger also meets Jeeves’ former employer, Bertie Wooster. They become friends and compare the sartorial lessons Jeeves has given them. Roger helps Bertie compose a piece as a journalist, “What The Well-Dressed Man Is Wearing In New York”, a companion to the London version published in his aunt Dahlia’s magazine, Milady’s Boudoir. He also teaches Bertie to play the banjolele properly.

Jeeves has a good musical ear and is an asset to Roger as a composer and arranger. Gradually, as with Bertie Wooster, he becomes a substitute parent.

Still only 19, Roger attends a meeting with other well-known bandleaders including Paul Whiteman and George Olson. The purpose is to establish a cartel to prevent “poaching” of musicians by bands, curb runaway salaries and “establish order” in the marketplace. Roger initially objects but another bandleader remarks heavily that they cannot all afford to be bountiful with Daddy’s money. Roger is shaken and joins the cartel.

Jeeves listens sympathetically to Roger’s account of the meeting and his general chafing about his father’s shadow – the constant requests for “Baby Face” and the snide press coverage of “Master Roger” suggesting that he would never have been a bandleader without Daddy’s money behind him.
We see him briefly helping to dress Roger as a bandleader and a flier, making minute last-second corrections.

Roger and Hannah (1931-33)

Roger hires Hannah Williams and her sister for a Broadway revue. She has a hit song “Hard Hearted Hannah”, followed by “Cheerful Little Earful.” He is taken with her: underneath her Broadway sophistication he sees his dream “natural girl”. Jeeves is sceptical and hints that if Hannah is such a “natural” girl Roger need not constantly send her a stream of expensive presents. But Roger does not listen. His relationship with Hannah deepens and Jeeves goes back to Bertie Wooster (the banjolele is no longer a barrier.)

Roger woos Hannah under pet names from her hit songs, begging her to be his cheerful little earful not hard-hearted. Hannah thinks this a little childish.

The Depression hits the United States. Broadway is badly hit, as are Roger’s band and nightclub takings but he is insulated from the full effects of the Depression by the Kahn fortune, which stays largely intact. Roger continues to shower Hannah with expensive gifts. She begins to see Roger as a welcome refuge from the Depression.

They marry secretly in Oheka Castle – on Otto Kahn’s terms. Bitterly she discovers that she must give up her Broadway career. They go on honeymoon – with Otto – to Europe. Scenes in 1931 Berlin: Roger watches the Nazis beating up Jews. Were they not super-rich foreigners, he and Otto might be victims too. They visit some fashionable nightclubs, where Roger discovers that many of the High Society patrons are Nazi supporters.

Some scenes mimicking Citizen Kane, Hannah miserable in a series of opulent Kahn mansions.

Roger’s marriage disintegrates slowly. Hannah taunts him for living on his father’s terms. She will not be another of Master Roger’s toys. They keep up appearances in public, where Hannah accepts the nicknames she has learnt to resent.

08. May 2022 by rkh
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