Sep 22, 2015
Since the launch of Playboy magazine in 1953, two elements have been remarkably consistent: the first is the celebration of the world’s most beautiful & desirable women and the second is its involvement with music. If we are to believe Hugh Hefner, the Playboy experience was never to have been just about sex—it was about lifestyle. And music—particularly the finest jazz, a personal passion of founder Hefner’s—has always been an essential component of that lifestyle.
While many books have been written about the Playboy organization and the ultimate playboy himself, no book—until this one—has focused specifically on Playboy and the music scene, its impact on popular entertainment (and vice versa), and the fabulous cadre of performers who took to the stages of the mythic Playboy Clubs and Jazz Festivals. For that, we can now turn to Patty Farmer’s Playboy Swings. The highly readable book features candid, in-depth interviews with a multitude of musicians and singers, as well as those involved behind the scenes, as the book moves from the inception of the Playboy Empire through the 1959 jazz festival, to the opening of club after club.
From the first issue of the magazine, music enjoyed pride of place, and by 1957, Playboy had launched its “All Star Poll,” in which readers were invited to vote for their favorite musicians and acts. This led to what was, at the time, a rather bold step for the young company: Playboy began to produce records. Now, Playboy was doing more than discussing or reviewing music; it was actually presenting it. Playboy began to sponsor a series of historic jazz festivals, starting with the groundbreaking 1959 Playboy Jazz Festival in Chicago celebrating the magazine’s 5th Anniversary.
It was the success of that inaugural jazz festival that gave birth to the idea of the Playboy Club which opened its first doors in Chicago on February 29, 1960. And once the clubs took hold, it was only natural that they would offer live performances featuring the sort of music the magazine endorsed. As much as anything—including the clubs’ iconic Bunnies—the music presented at the clubs set the tone of the organization and kept patrons coming back for more.
Ms. Farmer, who is something of a “nightclub historian”, and I chatted about this chapter in history that is just now getting exposure. Podcast 495 is our conversation, featuring musical selections that would not have been out of place in Hef’s penthouse, like Frank Sinatra’s “I Get a Kick Out of You”; Al Jarreau’s “Teach Me Tonight”; and Ellis Marsalis’ "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?".