February 17, 2013
It’s ironic that I was a big fan of John from early on, before I knew his Dad had worked with Sydney. So when I first approached him, while he was waiting for a cab on Sixth Avenue, it was first as a history seeker and second as a fan. He said he didn’t know about his Dad’s work with Sydney. His wife encouraged him to look around home for information because it was important to this guy (me) and his family history, but he was not interested. A cab came, they took it. The next time I saw John was in Silver City, NM, when he was kind enough to spend some time with me. This is a copy of my Letter to him after seeing him perform at the Silver City, NM, Blues Festival in 2007.
Peter Crown, Ph.D.
11076 E. Kiva Ridge Place
July 1, 2007
Mr. John Hammond
c/o The Rosebud Agency
P.O. Box 170429
San Francisco, CA94117
It was great to see your show in Silver City, NM back on May 27th. Not having seen you perform live for many years, I was just blown away by your emotive, blues artistry and powerful performance. Thank you!
As I think I mentioned to you, it also was a significant moment for me to share the Apollo history and photos with you as they pertained to our respective families. At the time I said I’d mail the photo of Sydney on the “Our Gang Kids” movie lot, circa 1923. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure what you’d do with it but nevertheless, here it is.
I also enclosed some related articles. You said you were two at the time of your dad’s photo, which means that I was one, living a short distance away from Mt. Kisco in Armonk.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me about all this. I’ll be listening to your music, and hope to be seeing you again.
February 12, 2013
From Showtime At The Apollo by Ted Fox, Mill Road Enterprises, 1993.
Sydney was more a business man than an impresario, and must have known he needed someone great to book talent for the Apollo. In selecting John Hammond for the job, he couldn’t have had any idea how far John would go in his career as the top A&R man for CBS records. Sydney and John were neighbors in rural Westchester. Sydney died – “dropped dead” – according to the NYT, just prior to his meeting with John when they were to sign the papers.
It so happens that I am a guitar player and a fan/follower of John P. Hammond, son of John H. Hammond. I listened to and learned from John’s music in the early ’80’s, long before I knew about John Sr.’s work with Sydney. And yet another coincidence involved John’s step-sister, Rosita Sarnoff. Rosita selected me as the keynote speaker for the first VideoExpo in New York City – in the early ’70’s. This exposure to large, professional audience helped me progress in the emerging video, as opposed to television, business at the time.
January 27, 2013
Dad used to tell me about cars he drove and loved when he was in his twenties. Here he is parked (and posed) in front of Sydco Willows in Armonk, NY, also referred to as “the farm”. This is the only hand-tinted photo I have seen in the boxes of family photos. There are some tinted portrait photos from Jimmy Walker and Al Smith to Sydney which fall more into the business category.
1933 Buick Series 50 Model 56C Convertible Coupe
January 18, 2013
Sydney named things “Sydco” — Sydco Photoplay, Sydco Realty, and Sydco Willows. He bought ‘the willows’ property in Armonk in 19NN and created a lovely, comfortable country estate with many gardens and a “pond” surrounded by 50 willow trees. He got the idea to make a proper swimming place out of the pond he dredged it, added six-foot concrete walls to the sides, and fed the pond from an artesian well up the hill.
I spent much of my childhood roaming the woods with my Newfoundland dog, Bongo, and in the gardens, exploring, and following Harry around, watching him ply his craft to the soil and plants. And my god, the gardens… there was a rose garden, a rock garden, a flower cutting garden, a vegetable garden – a big one – and an orchard. Harry was a 100% organic gardener because that’s just what people did then. He did everything by hand, except for the giant lawnmower. I loved learning gardening techniques — -planting seedlings in the cold frames, adding manure to the soil, and edging — the way he would stretch a piece of twine to make a straight line to edge the gardens. I wonder if the feel of this estate was a reflection of Sydney’s personality and tastes, as it was understated, rural, and yet elegant.
According to my father, when Sydney and Monica (Smith) lived at the Willows they would take different trains into the city to work – Sydney took the New Haven Line from Greenwich, and Monica took the New York Central from North White Plains. They chose to not be seen commuting. They worked together for many years, but were not married.
January 18, 2013
Wenga Farms was a 900-acre apple orchard in Armonk, NY, not far from the Log Cabin Restaurant. Wenga is Agnew, the owner’s name, spelled backwards. Art Hendry, the foreman, a thoughtful, pipe-smoking man, was a friend of both my father and grandfather. Everyone in town, all 500 or so, was dismayed to learn that IBM had bought the property for their new World headquarters. I visited Art during the last Spring before the bulldozers would arrive. He took me on a long tractor drive around the entire property, pointing out the many apple varieties blooming. “Take a good look at all this and remember it, Peter, because next Spring, this will be gone.”