There are those who have made the trombone laugh, while some have made others nearly cry, and I dare say that most of you have often heard the expression, "He makes that trombone talk." Well, that's just what Frank F. Lhotak, who is with us this month in the Trombone Hall of Fame, can do. Not only can he make the instrument talk (from a musical standpoint), but so remarkable is his control over it that every evening at the Shubert Theatre in New York City (where he is one of the features with the well-known Ted Lewis in the "Greenwich Follies of 1921," an annual musical production which plays the entire winter season at this theatre) this trombonist pretty nearly enunciates the words "I DO." It happens towards the end of Mr. Lewis' act, when the cornetist and the trombonist are in the centre of the stage representing a bride and groom. Mr. Lewis is heard asking Mr. Lhotak the question: "Do you take this woman for your lawful wedded wife?" His answer (played upon the trombone) "I DO," is one of the most laughable and original bits in the show.
Frank Lhotak is a clever performer, and his conscientious study has made him an exceptional trombonist. Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1894, Lhotak has had the benefit of a correct early training from his father who, besides being a successful musician abroad, also became a successful teacher of brass instruments in the "Windy City." Three brothers also became proficient as players on brass instruments — the oldest, Ferdinand (after leaving Chicago), became one of the leading band masters in the section of the country where he is now located— Beloit, Wisconsin — where he is in charge of the Fairbanks Morse Co.'s. most excellent band.
At the age of ten years Frank was urged by his brother Ferdinand to take up the baritone. This he did, and the career of Frank Lhotak had found its beginning. Living in Chicago at that time, the brothers sought the good advice of the late A. F. Weldon, whose watchful eye and careful tuition soon made the future of the boys a surety. Some few years later Frank decided to take up the slide trombone, and with the help of his father, brothers and Mr. Weldon it was not long before the public of Chicago was hearing the solos played by young Lhotak in their beautiful parks and other places where concerts are to be heard. During the summer seasons of 1913-14-15 he played concerts in the public parks of Chicago with Adam Sindler, Sidney Camp's 1st Regiment Infantry Band, and at all of the concerts given by his brother (Ferdinand) who was now one of Chicago's leading band masters. With the latter organization Lhotak also played baritone solos, and assisted his brother as director.
In the summer season of 1916 his brother booked a band tour over the Redpath Chautauqua circuit for three months. Young Lhotak went along with the ensemble, playing light trombone solos and as before assisting with the directing. He also conducted the band for the baritone solos played by his brother Ferdinand. At the conclusion of this tour Frank returned to Chicago, where he conscientiously continued his studies and accepted various engagements with the leading musical contractors in that city. In 1917 (just about the time when the popular craze for jazz began), and in consideration of a considerable amount of loose change, Lhotak was tendered a very fine engagement in one of Chicago's most popular restaurants with a combination from New Orleans. The success of this combination kept him in chicago until late 1918, when he came to New York to accept an engagement with the well-known black-face comedian, Al Jolson, in a musical production called "Follow the Girl." In this show, the people with whom Lhotak played were known as "The Five Southern Jazzers."
Some few months later a tour was arranged in connection with Hale and Patterson, one of vaudeville's biggest headline attractions, and soon after returning to New York after the close of this tour, Lhotak was engaged for a short while at Reisenwebers celebrated cafe and restaurant with another popular jazz combination. Then he organized his own band and named it "The Original New Orleans Jazz Band," which was soon engaged by Oliver Morosco for his musical attraction of "One of Us." It was while playing with this company in New York City that arrangements were made with the different phonograph companies to record Lhotak's work.
In 1919 along came the ever popular Miss Sophie Tucker, who made Lhotak a very fine offer which he accepted, his musical activities now being under the name of "Sophie Tucker and her Six Kings of Syncopation." Following this engagement Harry Weber placed Mr. Lhotak with a combination act in which Miss Bee Palmer was the star, and with this act he toured the big vaudeville circuits. A very fine financial stipend every week was one of the attractive features of this tour, which was terminated because of the serious illness of Miss Palmer. It was about this time that his fine work, from both the musical and "jazz" standpoint, came to the attention of Ted Lewis, and from that time to the date of the present writing Lhotak has been and is still under contract with Mr. Lewis at an exceptional salary — his reward for an ever conscientious endeavor to play well and to always put forth his best efforts.
That his fine personality and splendid congeniality also have contributed to his success is evidenced by Lhotak's long association with David Klein, who is the cornetist with Mr. Lewis. Mr. Klein and Frank Lhotak have now been playing alongside of each other (side-partners, to speak musically) for the past three years, and their relations are most amicable. Numerous phonograph dates and club work come along as side issues in connection with Mr. Lhotak's present engagement in the "Greenwich Follies" in New York City, and Frank is now enjoying the fullness of a well-earned success. I saw him this summer at Atlantic City, and his appearance bore the index to that contentment and happiness which are the accompaniment to a profitably spent life. Mrs. Lhotak also reflected her husband's prosperity.