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8.120619 - THEMES OF THE BIG BANDS: Here's That Band Again (1934-1947)


Themes of the Big Bands, Vol.3 (1934-1947)

It was a trend which began some time before the Swing era proper with the hit record. In 1920 "Whispering" coupled with "Japanese Sandman" combined to make what was effectively the first million-selling commercial dance disc for Paul Whiteman and, with the advent of radio around that time, bands — that is, any sizeable outfits of any repute which either broadcast or recorded — had need of some sort of introductory signature or play-out by which their fans could recognise them and, by the early 1930s, "themes" were a de rigueur facet of band broadcasting.

Cherokee … For his theme Charlie Barnet (1913-1991) chose this number composed in 1938 by Ray Noble, the British-born bandleader and HMV director of light music who, intermittently from 1934 to 1941, led his own big band assembled initially by Glenn Miller. Born into a wealthy New York family, saxophonist and composer Charles Daly Barnet virtually "ran away" from home at sixteen to pursue a career in music. After various stints at playing and arranging for Red Norvo, Adrian Rollini, Barney Bigard and others, he formed his first, Ellington-style, band in 1933 and was one of the first white bandleaders to employ black players (notably Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Frankie Newton and Charlie Shavers).

Moonlight Serenade … Until his untimely disappearance during WW2, trombonist-arranger Alton Glenn Miller (1904-1944) fronted one of the most internationally renowned and commercially successful big bands of all time, one immediately recognised by its individual "clarinet-over-sax" sound. A native of Clarinda, Iowa, Miller first played professionally with Boyd Senter in 1921, prior to a brief attendance at the University of Colorado. After playing on the West Coast he moved in 1926 to Chicago to join Ben Pollack and was from about 1928 a freelance jazz arranger and player with recording small-groups. Between 1929 and 1932 he worked variously in and out of the recording studio with Red Nichols, Benny Goodman and the Dorseys, arranged for Smith Ballew until 1934 and in 1935 organised and recorded with Ray Noble’s American Orchestra. His own first band was formed in 1937; the ‘Miller Sound’ truly blossomed a year or two later.

Pretty Little Petticoat … Born Harry Warnow in Brooklyn, Raymond Scott (1910-1994) first became a popular figure on CBS radio in 1934 as a staff-pianist and arranger of pieces with characteristic titles for his studio-orientated quintet/sextet ("Toy Trumpet", "In An 18th Century Drawing Room", "Twilight In Turkey" and "Businessmen’s Bounce" spring most readily to mind). A graduate of Juilliard School, Scott was a noted pioneer in electronic sound-effects. From 1938 he worked briefly in Hollywood and in 1940 further exploited his popularity by forming a big band which went on tour and, after its return to the studios in 1942, became one of the first mixed-race bands to broadcast, featuring Emmett Berry, Cozy Cole, Charlie Shavers, Ben Webster and other black jazzmen.

Day Dreams Come True At Night … Best remembered today as the hotel bandleader who promoted guitarist, vocalist and sometime bandleader Eddie Howard, Dick Jurgens was born in Sacramento, California, in 1911. In 1931, with his brother Will, he formed his first band which played at resorts around Lake Tahoe and in 1934 his polished society big band took up residency at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Its later residencies included the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, the Elitch Gardens in Denver and the Avalon on Catalina Island. During the 1930s Jurgens recorded many hits for Decca, ARC, Vocalion, OKeh and Columbia. A regular broadcaster, he co-wrote "Careless", "Elmer’s Tune", "One Dozen Roses" and several other well-known hit songs. During WW2 Dick was attached to the US Marine Corps (with his brother Will he toured the South Pacific with a forces’ entertainment unit) and afterwards continued in music in Chicago until his retirement in 1976.

Bubbles In The Wine … Still remembered in the States for his TV concerts of light classics in strict dance-tempo which, from the mid-1950s until the early 1970s proved a major ABC network draw, piano-accordionist Lawrence Welk (1903-1992) was a native of Strasburg, North Dakota. After forming his first society dance orchestra in the mid-1920s, he embarked on one-nighter tours of the hotel and ballroom circuits. Notwithstanding the purists’ label "wallpaper music", from the 1930s onwards his gimmicky ‘champagne’ style remained popular on both radio and TV and, between 1938 and 1953, his sweet band clocked up twenty-odd US Top 30 hits on the Vocalion, OKeh, Decca and Coral labels. Between 1956 and 1972, 42 of Welk’s LP albums made the US charts and, during 1961, one of them stayed at No.1 for eleven weeks.

Sunrise Serenade … Pianist-composer Francis Nunzio Carlone was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1903. Classically trained by his uncle, pianist Nicolas Colangelo, at nine he was playing in ballrooms. In 1925 he joined Edwin J. McEnelly and worked for Mal Hallett from 1933. Already a highly-rated pianist-arranger, Carle became a founder-member of Horace Heidt’s Brigadiers in June 1937 and set up his own orchestra four years later. His big band, formed in 1944, remained popular throughout the 1950s; its Top 30 hits included two US No.1s, both in 1946. Carle’s other compositions included "Georgianna" (1937), "Falling Leaves" (1940) and "Oh, What It Seemed To Be", a 1946 No.1 hit for Frank Sinatra.

Thinking Of You … The leader of one of the most popular of all 1930s-1940s American sweet bands, Rocky Mount, North Carolina-born James King Kern Kyser (1906-1985) entered his state university as a law student in 1924. Although unable to read music he fronted the college band and by 1927 had hit the road with a jazz band headed by arranger George Duning. In 1933, resident at the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, California, he developed his famous sweet style and a year later, while fronting a band at Chicago’s Black Hawk, got his first break on radio. By 1936 he had his own radio show and, two years later, thanks to regular appearances on the Lucky Strike Show, was a national figure on a par with Guy Lombardo. The show evolved into ‘Kollege of Musical Knowledge’, a highly popular radio quiz which ran until 1949. Between 1935 and 1948, Kyser’s hits included no fewer than eleven No.1s.

Nightmare … With Benny Goodman his only peer and rival, the legendary Artie Shaw (aka Arthur Arshawsky, b. New York, 1910) is still rated by many the Swing Era’s Number One clarinettist. He was also one of its finest composer-arrangers. After a spell with Irving Aaronson’s Commanders in the late 1920s, Art later became a CBS staff arranger and studied literature at Columbia University. He also worked variously with Red Nichols, Vincent Lopez, Roger Wolfe Kahn and others and freelanced in a string quartet with fellow-arranger Jerry Gray prior to forming his own band in 1935. Shaw made various film appearances and was latterly a theatrical producer before forming a new big band in the 1980s. His many swing compositions include "Streamline" (1936), "Back Bay Shuffle" (1939) and "Summit Ridge Drive" (1940).

Snowfall … Terre Haute (Indiana)-born pianist-arranger Claude Thornhill (1909-1965) led one of the smoothest big bands of the 1940s. Already jazzing by his teens with clarinettist-saxophonist colleague Danny Polo in ‘The Harmonious Outcasts’, he later studied at the Curtis Institute, the Cincinnati Conservatory and the University of Kentucky. By the early 1930s he was in New York where he played with, among others, Hal Kemp, Don Voorhees, Benny Goodman and Paul Whiteman. Later in the decade he played recording sessions for Bunny Berigan, Bud Freeman, Louis Prima and Charlie Spivak and arranged for, among others, Paul Whiteman and André Kostelanetz before joining Ray Noble’s newly-formed band in 1935. His jazzed-up arrangements of "Loch Lomond" and other old folk songs were hits for Maxine Sullivan. By 1937 he was in Hollywood arranging for MGM and there assisted Skinnay Ennis to form a band for Bob Hope’s radio show. Thornhill formed his own big band (a virtual training-ground of ‘cool’) in 1939 and during the 1950s was musical arranger to vocalist Tony Bennett.

Hot Lips … The major claim to fame of German-born trumpeter Henry Busse (1894-1955), who recorded a No.1 hit version of this number with Paul Whiteman in 1922. Busse emigrated to the USA in 1916 and first played in a cinema house-band before working the West Coast with his own quintet. In 1919 he joined Whiteman and co-wrote the band’s first hit "Wang Wang Blues". In 1928, he formed his own band at the Chez Paree in Chicago and a decade later was at the Hotel New Yorker, where his "wah-dit-doo" arrangements scored a hit with the elite dancing fraternity. Among several other hits, his version of Harry Warren’s "With Plenty Of Money And You" was a 1937 No.1.

Until The Real Thing Comes Along … Multi-instrumentalist Andy Kirk (1898-1992) hailed from Newport, Kentucky. A student of Wilberforce Whiteman, Paul’s father, he played tuba and bass sax for various Denver bands prior to joining Terence Holder’s Dark Clouds of Joy in Dallas, Texas, in 1927. In 1929 he assumed leadership of the band which, renamed ‘The Twelve Clouds Of Joy’, became one of the few regional bands to obtain, through radio and a long-held recording contract (for Decca), a nationwide reputation, distinguished by the fine arrangements and solos of his pianist-composer wife, Mary Lou Williams (aka Mary Elfrieda Scruggs, 1910-1981). Kirk’s hits included two US No.1s, of which this, his theme, in 1936, was one.

Star Dreams … A Russian import, trumpeter Charlie Spivak grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. From 1924 to 1931 he played with the band of violinist Paul Specht, then joined Ben Pollack. Although not strictly a jazzman, his sweet horn playing was prized in sessions by the Dorseys (1934), Ray Noble (1935), Bob Crosby (1937-1938), Tommy Dorsey (1938-1939) and Jack Teagarden (1939). Spivak’s short-lived first orchestra, formed in 1939, was financed by Glenn Miller; his second, more jazz-orientated, survived until 1959.

Rose Room … Singer, bandleader, actor and comic Phil Harris (1904-1995) became one of America’s best-loved movie, radio and TV personalities. Born in Linton, Indiana, he was raised in Nashville, Tennessee, where he first played drums with Francis Craig. Later, he joined Henry Halstead in Los Angeles (1924-1927) prior to forming his own Dixie Syncopators which toured the South. An irrepressible showman and extrovert, Harris began his film career with RKO in 1933 and got his own radio show, Let’s Listen To Harris, a year later. From 1937 to 1946, he was musical director of the Jack Benny radio show. Subsequently, until 1954, he shared his own radio show with his actress wife, Alice Faye.

When My Baby Smiles At Me … A colourful showman still remembered by the slogan "Is everybody happy?", clarinettist Ted Lewis (1892-1971) won early recognition with this song (featured in the Greenwich Village Follies Of 1919) — a US No.1 in 1920. Born Theodore Leopold Friedman in Circleville, Ohio, Ted honed his performing talent on the vaudeville circuit. From the outset the "jazzier" counterpart cousin of Whiteman and Ben Selvin, albeit commercial and a major recording star, over the years his line-up was graced by many great jazz sidemen (George Brunis, Muggsy Spanier and Jimmy Dorsey, then Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden and Fats Waller among the most noteworthy). His "top-hat-and-cane" routine survived unaltered into the 1960s.

Out Of The Night … Born in Pitcairn, Pennsylvania, Ted Weems (1901-1963) took up the trombone while attending his state university but, after forming a band with his brother Art in Philadelphia in 1923, concentrated on conducting. During the late 1920s he toured the Midwest and in 1929 settled in Chicago. Weems was a regular broadcaster until the late 1940s. After war service in the Merchant Marine, he formed a new big band which survived into the 1960s. Latterly, he became a DJ and ran a band agency. His many hits included "Heartaches" (1933; this became a million-seller when he revived it in 1947).

And The Angels Sing … Born Harry Finkelman in Philadelphia, trumpeter Ziggy Elman (1914-1968) grew up in New Jersey where, as a youth he played both reeds and brass. A trumpet ace (he was a six-time Down Beat poll-winner), from 1936 he worked with Benny Goodman who featured his powerful trumpet on several hit recordings, including this, an own composition which later served as his signature. A contributor to small-group Lionel Hampton sessions, after leaving Goodman, Elman worked with Joe Venuti (1940) and Tommy Dorsey (1940-1943). After WW2 army service, he led his own big bands intermittently between 1947 and 1949 and at this time also became well known through appearances on film, radio and TV.

Kaye’s Melody … The records of this most popular of sweet bands bore the legend: ‘Swing And Sway With Sammy Kaye’. Born in Lakewood, Ohio, in 1910 clarinettist Kaye led hotel bands in Cleveland and Pittsburgh during the early 1930s. By the end of the decade he was in New York, notably at the Astor and the New Yorker. He led highly successful bands until the 1960s and penned various hit songs, including "Hawaiian Sunset" and "Until Tomorrow". Kaye was a regular broadcaster. His commercial hit records (for Vocalion and Victor) included, between 1937 and 1950, eight No.1s.

Low-Down Rhythm In A Top Hat … Tenor-saxophonist, vocalist, songwriter-arranger and bandleader Al Donahue (1903-1983) scored just one No.1 hit with "Jeepers Creepers" (on Vocalion) in 1938. A Bostonian by birth, Al formed his first band at Boston’s Weber Duck Inn, in 1925. He set up bands for hotels and boats on the Eastern Steamship Line (at one stage there were 37 Donahue units operational throughout the States) and made occasional guest appearances conducting these at select venues. During the 1950s he appeared on West Coast TV and was subsequently musical director to the Furness Bermuda Line.

Auld Lang Syne … The long-surviving purveyor of ‘The Sweetest Music This Side Of Heaven’, in later years Gaetano Alberto ‘Guy’ Lombardo (1902-1977) catered for the "superannuated generation of the 1920s". The ex-violinist front-man of the only dance orchestra ever to sell more than 100 million records, Guy hailed from London, Ontario. He led his first band in 1917 and, with his saxophonist brother Carmen (1903-1971) as principal vocalist and arranger, by 1927 had created the supersweet sound that was thereafter to remain the band’s instantly recognisable trademark. A prolific recorder (for Columbia, Brunswick, Decca and Victor), his New Year’s Eve broadcast, climaxed by "Auld Lang Syne", was an eagerly-awaited annual event.

Star Burst … Closing our survey of band themes is Gene Krupa (1909-1973), the best-known of all jazz drummers and a virtual synonym of Swing. Dubbed ‘The Chicago Flash’ on account of his unashamed virtuosity and colourful life-style, Gene cut his first record, with Ben Pollack, in 1925. The following year he was with Red McKenzie and Eddie Condon and with the latter, in 1929, he first played in New York. During the early 1930s Gene worked with, among others, Irving Aaronson, Russ Columbo and Mal Hallett and in theatre bands under Red Nichols, before joining Benny Goodman’s recently-formed swing band in December 1934. His dazzling playing and screen-idol looks quickly won him an enthusiastic, predominantly female, following and, by 1936, Krupa was a household name. He formed his first big band early in 1938. His second, formed early in 1945, lasted until 1951.

Peter Dempsey, 2002

Transfers and Production: David Lennick

Digital Noise Reduction: Graham Newton

The Naxos Historical labels aim to make available the greatest recordings of the history of recorded music, in the best and truest sound that contemporary technology can provide. To achieve this aim, Naxos has engaged a number of respected restorers who have the dedication, skill and experience to produce restorations that have set new standards in the field of historical recordings.

David Lennick

As a producer of CD reissues, David Lennick’s work in this field grew directly from his own needs as a broadcaster specializing in vintage material and the need to make it listenable while being transmitted through equalizers, compressors and the inherent limitations of A.M. radio. Equally at home in classical, pop, jazz and nostalgia, Lennick describes himself as exercising as much control as possible on the final product, in conjunction with CEDAR noise reduction applied by Graham Newton in Toronto. As both broadcaster and re-issue producer, he relies on his own extensive collection as well as those made available to him by private collectors, the University of Toronto, Syracuse University and others.

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