In the mid-1960’s Atlantic City was still a popular summer destination. This was long past Atlantic Citys’ prime and long before its’ first gambling casino, Resorts International, opened on the Memorial Day holiday weekend in 1978. Anyway, Steel Pier had a number of cool attractions for kids. The Diving Bell, The Diving Horse (yikes!), a theater with current acts of the day. We saw many of them such as Tommy James and The Shondells, The Four Seasons, Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels, Gary Lewis and The Playboys and many others. The theater was small by todays standards. Patrons could go in, grab a seat, and watch the show at no extra charge other than the admission price to get on Steel Pier which as best I recall was around $2 bucks, give or take. But, for a quarter (yes, only an extra .25 cents) you could sit up front near the stage which we always did. In addition to the shows in the theater on the pier, there was an open ballroom area where occasionally a well-known musical act or performer would entertain. During one of our visits the great Duke Ellington performed… to a small crowd of just about 20 people. My father explained to me that Ellington was one of the all time greats, which later in life I came to understand. Yet, even as a kid with my cheap little camera (probably a Brownie Instamatic) I listened, enjoyed and took it in. Imagine, standing about 15 feet from Duke Ellington as he played while sitting at the piano on an old beat up kitchen chair. This was a period when demand for even the big band greats of yesteryear was not at its high point. Regardless, Ellington continued to perform and make great music both during live performances and on record. It was in this era Duke Ellington and Frank Sinatra collaborated on the extraordinary LP called ‘Francis A. and Edward K.’, an excellent album on the Reprise label.
SIDE NOTE: During the Memorial Day weekend of 1978 that signaled the commencement of casino gambling in New Jersey, the weekend was rainy and cool for the holiday weekend. Frank Sinatra was performing that Friday at the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, NJ with this writer in attendance. It was a great show. Frank opened with ‘I’ve Got The World On A String’ after walking on stage unannounced to the shock of the crowd. Frank had mostly good nights but occasionally an off night. This was one of the great nights.