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Sid Caesar punctured jazz pretension with Progress Hornsby

Sid Caesar
Sid Caesar
Sid Caesar

Sid Caesar is being remembered in death as not only a pioneer of American television but one of the brightest – and, some argue, most brittle – performers the medium has seen. His 1950s programs with sketch comedy commenting on the trends of the day paved the way for “Saturday Night Live” and generations of snarky comedians.
So it is not surprising to learn that among Caesar’s best-known sketches are two lampooning the occasionally pretentious jazz figures of the day. The music was at its commercial and critical peak at the time and Caesar and his stellar cast of writers and performers found a ripe target. The star himself portrayed what one source describes “the extremely far-out jazz saxophonist Progress Hornsby.”

A gifted musician, Caesar explored the emergence of jazz and be-bop from smoky, urban nightclubs and Spartan, campus coffee houses into mainstream media and onto the global stage. Caesar and his team created the character of Progress Hornsby,a jazz master and a hapless hipster who blew a hot sax, but whose thinking process was a bit lax.

Progress Hornsby on “People to People” – September 25, 1957
Jazzman Progress Hornsby — a combination of Dizzy Gillespie, Ernie Kovacs' Percy Dovetonsils and probably several people I don't know — was seen in an earlier skit asking the musical question, What is jazz? ("Jazz is a pencil sharpener. Jazz is a frying pan ... Jazz is a beautiful woman whose older brother is a po- lice-man.") This parody of Edward R. Murrow's weekly interview show "Person to Person," with Progress quizzed by Reiner's Ted Burrows, has some of the sharpest writing in the series.

Ted: You have a most unusual hairstyle.
Progress: Yes, it does have a touch of the Ming Dynasty, doesn't it?
Ted: Progress, how do you get your barber to cut your hair?
Progress: I insult him. And this is his revenge.
(Ted asks what Progress does with his old hair)
Progress: I'm wearin' it. This suit is me. You've heard of mohair? This is me- hair.
(Ted asks Progress to list his favorite musicians, and Progress speaks of the legendary Fats Fidelio.)
Progress: Fats blew a high M.
Ted: An M? I thought the scale stopped at G.
Progress: Not for the brave, sir.
(He introduces his band. One fellow's instrument is "radar." Radar?)
Progress: Tres necessaire, sir. Whenever we play, we must be warned in case we approach the melody.

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