Jan Savitt
Jan Savitt.jpg
Background information
Birth nameJacob Savetnick
Born(1907-09-04)September 4, 1907
Shumsk, Russian Empire
OriginPhiladelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
DiedOctober 4, 1948(1948-10-04) (aged 41)
Sacramento, California
Occupation(s)Bandleader, arranger, musician
Associated actsThe Top Hatters; George Tunnell

Jan Savitt (born Jacob Savetnick; September 4, 1907 – October 4, 1948), known as "The Stokowski of Swing",[1] from having played violin in Leopold Stokowski's orchestra,[2] was an American bandleader, musical arranger, and violinist.

Early life and education

Savitt was born in Shumsk, then part of the Russian Empire (now part of Ukraine) and reared in Philadelphia. He evidenced musical ability an early age and began winning conservatory scholarships in the study of the violin. He was offered the position of concert master in Leopold Stokowski's Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, but turned it down, preferring to continue his studies at Curtis Institute. About a year later, believing himself ready, he joined Stokowski and the association continued for seven years, during which time Savitt gained further laurels as a concert soloist and leader of a string quartet. Savitt was married to model Barbara Ann Stillwell from 1940 until his death in 1948, and had two daughters with her, Devi Marilyn and Jo Ann. Jo Ann was married to Joel Douglas, son of Kirk, from 2004 until her death in 2013.


In 1938, Jan Savitt & His Top Hatters broadcast from 5–5:30 pm every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday as the KYW staff orchestra at KYW/NBC in Philadelphia. Saturday's weekly broadcast was one hour, coast-to-coast. The group also played at the Earl Theatre and performed with The Andrews Sisters and The Three Stooges.

He got his start in popular music some time later as music director of KYW, Philadelphia, where he evolved the unique "shuffle rhythm" which remained his trademark. Numerous sustaining programs created such a demand for the "shuffle rhythm" that Savitt left KYW to form his own dance crew.

Savitt's band was notable for including George "Bon Bon" Tunnell,[3] one of the first African American singers to perform with a white band. Tunnell's recording with Savitt included Vol Vistu Gaily Star (co-composed by Slim Gaillard) and Rose of the Rio Grande. Helen Englert Blaum, known at the time as Helen Warren, also sang with Savitt during the war years.

Savitt recorded short pieces for the National Broadcasting System's Thesaurus series, probably in the 1940s. These were pieces radio stations used as 'fillers' just prior to network programs, which would begin precisely on the hour or half-hour. Disc 1143 in the Thesaurus catalogue features four selections by the Jan Savitt Orchestra on one side of the 33 1/3 transcription: "I'm Afraid the Masquerade is Over "; "If I Didn't Care"; "Ring Dem Bells", and "Romance Runs in the Family".

In the early 1940's, Savitt's own finances began to suffer as a result of mismanagement of the Music Corporation of America, not reflecting the commercial success the band had experienced during this time. In his own words, “Instead of a theater tour which MCA was supposed to have procured for me, I began an endless string of one-night engagements at weekly grosses far behind the beautiful picture which had been painted for me. (From June of 1940) until October 2, 1941, we played no location spots with air time. A band that had been acknowledged as one of the first ten in the country was allowed to depreciate in box-office value. By April of 1942, I could get no financial assistance from MCA. I had to borrow money on my life insurance to live, and by that time was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”[4]


Shortly before arriving in Sacramento, California, with his orchestra on Saturday, October 2, 1948, for a concert scheduled for that evening at Memorial Auditorium, Savitt was stricken with a cerebral hemorrhage and taken to Sacramento County Hospital. Savitt died on October 4, with his wife at his bedside.[5] He is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park (Glendale) California

The Top Hatters

These musicians played with Savitt as The Top Hatters:[6]

Al Leopold, Charles Jensen, Cutty Cutshall, Ed Clausen, Frank Langone, Gabe Galinas, George White, Harold Kearns, Harry Roberts, Howard Cook, Irv Leshner, Jack Hansen, Jack Pleis, James Schultz, Johnny Austin, Johnny Warrington, Maurice Evans, Morris Rayman, Sam Sachelle.

Selected discography

  • The Top Hatters (1939–1941), Decca Jazz Heritage Series, 1967


  1. ^ Billboard June 27, 1942
  2. ^ Granger, Maurice (November 29, 1941). "Bandstand Notes" (PDF). Movie-Radio Guide. 11 (8): 41. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 20, 2015. Retrieved January 20, 2015.
  3. ^ "Pop Chronicles 1940s Program #3". 1972.
  4. ^ https://swingandbeyond.com/2019/07/04/ring-dem-bells-1939-live-jan-savitt-and-his-top-hatters/. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ Source: New York Times, October 5, 1948, p. 25
  6. ^ "Jon Savitt And His Top Hatters". Discogs. Retrieved April 11, 2015.

External links