Friday, October 29, 2010

Wilberforce Whiteman

What? You don't remember Wilberforce Whiteman?
I have such fun deciding who to pick on each week for this little blog! I was thinking about a conversation I had with a fellow drummer in our high school band. I asked him whom he thought was the most accomplished band leader of the time. Without hesitation he said "Paul Whiteman". I had not paid much attention to Whiteman until then, and I suppose more to impress Greg than from actual knowledge, I agreed. And then I began to buy his recordings. Well, anyway, in my research on Paul Whiteman I came across the name Wilberforce Whiteman. Wilberforce was Paul's father, a music teacher. (The only other person I have ever run across with that name is a character on "Are You Being Served" a British comedy.)

Paul was born in 1890. Quite naturally, his father taught him music and he earned a place in the San Francisco Symphony as a violinist. In 1918 he formed his own band and eventually became know as the "King of Jazz". His band played in various hotels, and toured Europe. In 1924 he staged a symphonic jazz concert, which some say is the true beginning of the "jazz age." It was held in the Aeolian Hall which at the time was a "sanctuary" of classical music. Special compositions were written for this concert by both Victor Herbert and George Gershwin. Rhapsody In Blue was introduced that night with Gershwin at the piano. Whiteman paid out of pocket for this event and it cost him a lot of money! Rhapsody in Blue became Paul's theme song.

The the late twenties Whiteman was the biggest name in music. His band had 34 pieces, and he paid his musicians extremely well (for the time) at $150 - $575 a week)
Other bands were forced to pay their good musicians higher wages, too, in order to keep them.

Many bandleaders of the mid-twenties era were getting into radio, but Whiteman did not until 1928 when he went on air for Old Gold cigarettes with "The Old Gold Orchestra." When Kraft cheese sponsored him in 1933 he called his band The Paul Whiteman Band. Meanwhile, he made a movie called The King Of Jazz. This was the first of several movies in which he took part. His band evolved more into a show unit than a dance band, although he occasionally did dance engagements.

In the mid-forties, Whiteman, with a smaller band and a vocalist, continued to do some shows. He continued as a dominant force in the music business, became musical director for the Blue Radio Network, dropped the "King of Jazz" title and took '"Dean of Modern American Music". As live radio decreased and disc jockeys took over, Paul did that for a brief period on ABC. He replaced Jackie Gleason on television in the summer in 1955, which featured different great dance bands of the day each week.

I found it odd that in his seventies he became involved in the promotion of sports car racing in both Florida and California.

Some of the people whose careers were given a hand up by Whiteman are: Don Clark, Charlie Margulis, both Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Charlie and Jack Teagarden, The Rhythm Boys (Bing Crosby, Al Rinker, Harry Barris), Bob Lawrence, Johnny Mercer, Paul Robeson, Billie Holiday and a woman pianist who was billed as "Romano and her Grand Piano".

Some of the songs Whiteman recorded were: Wang Wang Blues, Say It With Music, I'll Build a Stairway to the Stars, Linger Awhile, My Blue Heaven - the list is very long. He did a fast version of "Old Man River" with Bing as vocalist; and then a slow, more traditional version. Two of my favorites were "WIllow Weep for Me" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes". From the varied pieces he recorded and played in live stage performances, I conclude he really loved music and had a good time with all types.

Paul Whiteman was married four times, the last one to Margaret Livingston. She was with him until his death at the age of 77.

Next time if I can find enough information I will bring you Jane Morgan, a extraordinarily accomplished vocalist who has a home and theater connections to Kennebunkport, Maine.

jan major
hobby organist, Scarborough, Maine

Friday, October 22, 2010

So Many Choices ---

I spent some time today thinking about all of the musicians - vocal, orchestral, solo; composers, lyricists - there are so many it is hard to decide which ones are most interesting. I was looking through some material and came across Horace Heidt. I remember him, but then, not only am I old, I had much older siblings and I remember their music too. Don't feel bad if you don't remember Horace. You're probably much too young.

Heidt was born in in 1901 (and died in 1987). Like many kids, his mother made him take piano lessons and he actually became quite accomplished. However, he did not publicly play very often. In the early twenties he was attending University of California and sustained a serious back injury. But for that, he would probably chosen a career in athletics. But he moved on in his music and got a job with a small band which featured a mascot, a trained German shepherd named LOBO. Throughout his career he continued to include some "offbeat" antics in his performances which were derided as corny by his contemporaries. But his public enjoyed them.

Heidt gained credibility and popularity as he joined a traveling show and in the early thirties he arrived in New York. As his reputation increased got engagements in places such as the Palace Theater. The competition was tough and his popularity waned. He then picked up a band and returned to California. He had an unsuccessful stint opening for Fred Waring (he "stole" some of Waring's arrangements and played them in the from the pit opening, before Waring could play them on stage.) He then moved on to Chicago where he played at the Drake Hotel for six years. It was from there that he got a spot in radio, with a fourteen piece band, a glee club, and featuring Alvino Rey on guitar, and the vocals of the King Sisters. Moving to the Biltmore in New York he developed the "Pot of Gold" , one of the first give-away shows.

The program used a spinning dial, telephone directory and phone call to the number selected b the dial. The person who answered the phone received a prize of $1000 which was a lot of money in those days. The program was so popular it was made into a movie with the band and all of its stars.

Going into the forties, Heidt's popularity grew. He moved into swing, hired some of the best musicians including members of the Glen Miller Band when Miller went into the service. During the war, because the draft was thinning the ranks, he ran an ad in Billboard offering top pay to any musician who was free to join him.

In 1943 Heidt went into retirement. He was fairly wealthy and the war was on. But in 1946 he assembled the "Youth Opportunity Show" . The show traveled across the nation, and everywhere it went it packed in the audience, utilizing amateur talent which rivaled the old Major Bowes Show, and produced a number of successful musicians. Think of Dick Contino, Al Hirt, Pat Boone, Nino Tempo, Ken Berry, Florence Henderson, Pete Fountain, and Dean Jones.

Heidt really did not shine as a musician, being more of a producer, but he did consistently lead a band and perform. Horace Heidt died in 1986 at the age of 85. (NOTE: I found two different dates of birth/death which differed by only a year each. I think this is the most likely one.)

Check out Horace Heidt Estates if you are interested in learning about a ranch which he purchased in Van Nuys . It has been "home" to a "boatload" of famous entertainers. The property includes an 18-hold golf course, an aviary and seven waterfalls. It was originally a horse ranch owned by King Charney, President oif Eastman-Kodak. It's an interesting story.

Horace Heidt's theme song was "I'll Love You In My Dreams"

You can listen to it on the internet in your favorite music site.
I always read Peanuts. Those little kids are always giving me a chuckle. Yesterday I was both amused and empathetic. Schroeder is laboriously playing a complicated piece at his little one-octave piano. Lucy, who constantly tries to get more of his attention, is resting against the piano listening. Schroeder finishes and says triumphantly, "I played it all the way through without one error." and Lucy, who rarely pays a compliment anyway, says "LUCK!".

I seldom play anything through with out an error and I call those my signature adaptations.

Keep a song in your heart and keep the music playing.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010


BARRY MANILOW was never one of my favorite vocalists. I appreciate that he is an accomplished musician with a vast number of compositions to his credit, as well as having performed on Broadway, in numerous clubs, shows and cutting hundreds of recordings both as soloist and collaborator. You can't get much better than that in the show biz world. My daughter had a friend who was crazy about him, and I wondered why. He certainly was not good looking, and didn't seem to have a great personality. But, in recent years I became acquainted with a professional musician who said she had the opportunity to be in his company in a club in New York, and he was absolutely charming and funny and generous. He sent her a copy of his original score for Copa which she translated to simplified (not E-Z Play) music and shared with others with his blessing.

Manilow was born in New York,(either in 1943 or 1946) raised in northern Brooklyn. His mother was Jewish, his father had a Jewish father and Irish mother. Following high school he enrolled at Julliard performing arts school. He paid for his education by working at CBS where he had an opportunity to write a musical score for a melodrama, an off Broadway production of The Drunkard.

You will perhaps be familiar with Barry's jingles written in his early career:
"Like a good neighbor, State Farm is There" "...'cause Bandaids stick on me." Other commercials were for Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper, and Tab. And the famed McDonald's ad: "You deserve a break today."

Barry Manilow wrote or collaborated on over 400 songs,but some of his most recognized were not his originals. If you want lists of songs they are available at Barry Manilow-BarryNet - His Music - Who Writes The Songs.
He did write a piece called "I Really Do Write The Songs".

I associate "Copa Cabana" with Manilow. He did not write that song, but no doubt made it famous. In recent months I have heard him sing some of the "old songs" which seem to fit him very well. At the end of the day, I am enjoying Barry Manilow's talent, as well as respecting it. Proving that even at this advanced age I can realign my preferences. His medley of "Could It Be Magic", "I Write The Songs", "Mandy" and Copacabana" is fun. It has changing tempos and moods and lots of interesting upper and lower manual changes.

I would encourage you to listen to some of his music (you can do that by Googling him and getting a site that plays the songs) and then going to your instrument, be it a keyboard, piano, or organ, and emulate his mood, because he really does a good job interpreting songs.

What was Barry Manilow's first No. 1 hit? Mandy.

Keep a song in your heart and keep the music playing. Janice

Monday, October 11, 2010


I have been exploring "the blues" on my organ. There are a lot of choices (I have the Prestige) and sometimes I just play the same piece in each of them to see what the differences are. It follows that I would begin to take an interest in W. C. Handy, the Father of the Blues.

W. C. Handy was the son of the pastor of a small church in Alabama. He was born in a log cabin which had been built by his grandfather, who after his emancipation became a an African Methodist Episcopal minister. That log cabin has been preserved in downtown Florence, Alabama. When W.C. brought his first guitar with money he saved by picking fruits and nuts, and making lye soap behind his father's back. When he brought the guitar into the home, his father asked him what possessed him to bring such a sinful thing into their Christian home. He made his son return the guitar and enrolled him in organ lessons. The organ lessons did not last. W.C. joined a teen band and purchased a cornet from a fellow band member. All of this he kept from his parents.

Handy worked in the "shovel brigade" at the McNabb furnace which produced iron ore. The workers would beat their shovels against the "iron buggies" and the scraping sounds of the shovels as they were thrust and pulled became music. Handy said ".....The effect was sometimes remarkable ...It was better to us than the music of a martial drum corps, and our rhythms were far more complicated." He also noted,
"Southern Negroes sang about everything....They accompany themselves on anything from which they can extract a music sound or rhythmical effect..." and noted that that became the material for the mood we now call "blues."

W. C. wrote a lot of pieces. A whole list is available over the internet, which if you are reading this, you do have access to. Soem of the ones I have worked with are
"Memphis Blues" which is political satire; "St. Louis Blues" ; "Beale Street Blues" which was his farewell to the old Beale Street of Memphis. As we all know, Beale Street did not go away and is still the cradle of the Blues. He also wrote "Yellow Dog Blues" which referenced the Southern Railway; "Loveless Blues" which was a complaint over modern synthetics - ("with milkless milk and silkless silk, we're growing used to soulless soul.") "Long Gone John" which was a tribute to a famous bank robber. "Chantez-Les-Bas" (Sing 'em Low) a tribute to the Creole culture of New Orleans. "Ole Miss Rag". There are probably others that are not listed here.

W. C. Handy went blind after a fall in a subway in New York. He was widowed twice;
his third wife was his secretary who, he said, had become his eyes. He wrote five books: Blues: And Anthology of Words and M of 53 Great Songs; Book of Negro Spirituals; Father of the Blues: And Autobiography; Unsung Americans Sing; Negro Authors and Composers of the United States.

W. C. Handy - 1873 - 1958.
Ref. Wikipedia (the free encyclopedia).

Play some blues. the Lowrey Organs have a variety of styles: Chicag0 Blues, Slow EZ Blues, Organ Blues, Sweet Rhythm, Texas Blues, Duke's Blues. Pick out a Handy blues piece, put in any rhythm and as you the song, change from one blues rhythm to another. You will get different instrumentation as well as different beats. Have fun with it. Personally, I alike Memphis Blues. But I think I might like some of the others if I could find them in Fake Book music.

If you know more about this interesting musical personality, put an answer on my blog or e-mail me at

Keep a song in your heart and keep the music playing.


Friday, October 1, 2010

Happy Birthday, Julie Andrews

October 1, 2010 - Happy Birthday, Julie Andrews
Born Julie Elizabeth Wells in 1935, Julie certainly has had a "colorful career' in such productions as Cinderella, Sound of Music, My Fair Lady,Mar Poppins,Camelot, the Boy Friend, and in her more recent roles as the Nanny for Eloise and The Princes Diaries.
It would be difficult to choose which of these would be my favorite. She is a very special actress.

Julie began her career as a child in England. Her parents divorced and each married again. She lived with her father and brother John, but as she showed musical talent, her father sent her to live with her mother and step-father. She describes this as a very dark" period of her life as their home was in a slum district of London. Her life was not good with her step-father but he did provide for her education at an independent arts school
Her parents were stage performers and she was added to their act. Of that she says,
"It must have been ghastly, but it seemed to go down all right." She sang both solo and in duet with her step-father with her mother on piano.

In each musical production there is probably one song that becomes a favorite. Sometimes my favorite is not the signature song, or even one of the best known. "You May Take Me To The Fair" from Camelot for the lyrics. It simply amuses me. From Mary Poppins, for the same reason, I enjoy "Let's Go Fly A Kite". In the Sound Of Music I think my favorite is "Something Good." I think it sums up the reasons for having good senior years. Nearly everyone does their best to live well, but not everyone really enjoys the later years of life. I know wonderful people who haven't found a happy old age. So,* "Perhaps I had a wicked childhood,
Perhaps I had a miserable youth, ..........
But somewhere in my wicked, miserable past
There must have been a moment of truth.........
Somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good."

Of course, the song is a love song, and Julie is singing with VonTrapp after their engagement. Julie must have sung that song straight from her heart, even though she was acting, because she did have a difficult childhood. If you read her bio on Wikipedia
I think you will agree, that song had to have special meaning for her.

The Hal Leonard Company includes many,many songs from all of the great musicals. And Joanie Manero, a Lowrey pro has created some great registrations for many of them.
If you like the fake book series, there are two that feature Broadway music. And there is a huge book of the "Best of Broadway" for around $50, but be warned, this is not E-Z Play format; all tunes are written in original keys. I recommend the more manageable fake book series.

*No, I did not have a wicked childhood, or a miserable youth. I just love the "Horatio Alger" idealism. I lived a happy privileged home in a small American town with about 3000 permanent residents which swelled to about 10, 000 in the summer. Several of my close childhood friends are still my close senior friends. Life is good.

Keep a song in your heart and keep the music playing.