- LC 94006657
- 1904-09-24 - 1976-01-17
Jan was born Jan Augustoff in New York City, the youngest of five children. Jan’s parents, having paid for music lessons for the four older siblings who lacked any musical aptitude, chose not to repeat the mistake with their youngest. Jan learned to play the piano by ear as a child; as an adult he learned to read and arrange music. He mastered the xylophone, vibraphone and Solovox as well as the piano. In 1946, his instrumental recording of “Misirlou,” a Greek folk song, sold more than 1,000,000 records.
As a young man, Jan performed as a pianist with the Paul Specht Band in Greenwich Village nightclubs. In the 1930’s, Paul Whiteman invited him to play in his orchestra; Jan also performed with Ferde Grofé. With the musical shift from jazz to swing in the 1940’s, Jan returned to performing solo in clubs. His style attracted the attention of Irving Gwirtz of Diamond Records, who signed him to a recording contract. He received union scale wages of approximately $35 for his recording of “Bob-a-Loo” and “Misirlou”; the recording reached the Top Ten on the charts and launched his career.
Jan hosted and performed on radio, notably a 15-minute weekly broadcast on the Mutual Radio Network from 1947-1948. In 1948 and 1950, he appeared on "The Toast of the Town" and from 1949-1951 he accompanied singer Roberta Quinlan on her NBC variety show. Later he hosted "Jan August’s Revere Camera Show". In 1949, he served as the subject of a 9-minute film short entitled "Audition for August" with Kitty Kallen. In the 1950’s, Jan signed a recording contract with the Mercury label recording instrumental versions of popular hits laced with Latin rhythms. He also toured with his own orchestra in the United States and Canada. After arranging and recording more than 140 songs, Jan retired in 1967. He died of heart disease about a decade later.
Shortly before Jan's death, a musician performing under the name Jan August made the news in Florida, but it was an imposter.