Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ralna English, Going Single

It's been a really long time since I posted a blog on any musician.  A new computer has kept me struggling to find things, and it seems to me the format has changed. 

The Lawrence Welk Show produced a lot of good musicians.  Maybe they would have been good musicians without Lawrence, but he certainly provided a broad showcase.  The upside of that sort of opportunity is name face recognition and lot's of exposure.  The downside, so says Ralna English, is that once you are a Welk performer, you are always a Welk performer. Not a direct quote, but close.

Ralna English was born In Texas in 1942.  As a youngster of five she sang "Daddy's Little Girl" at Spur Texas High School.   She said she remembered it clearly in a short dress with a sash, knees shaking and thinking, "Can they see my knees?"    She formed her first band in junior high school called Ralna and The Ad-Libs and entertained around Texas.  In a "Battle of the Bands" competion, she beat out Buddy Holly, who was also from Lubbock.  She sang backup for  a Waylon Jennings recording.  After high school Ralna went to Texas Tech University, and participated in the Campus Revue at Six Flags Over Texas .  Her career also included singing jingles for television ads. Clearly she was talented and headed for a career in vocal performance.

Ralna moved to California  in the late 1960's and became a club vocalist around the Lake Tahoe area.   One biography says it was there that Welk's son saw her and suggested to his father that she get an audition.  At that time she was singing at The Horn* in Santa Monica.  It was there that she met her future husband Guy Hovis.  (I'll do a separate blog on Guy.   Ralna deserves one of her own.)

In 1969 certainly was a life-changing year for Ralna.  She and Guy Hovis got married.   She was contacted by the Welk company, auditioned and was hired as a solo performer doing Christian standards, and other Welk styles.  She persuaded Welk to bring her husband, Guy into the troupe and everyone fell in love with the beautiful couple who were so much in love there was no hiding it. 
Ralna was drawn to jazz ala Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington and Morgana King, but that was not the Welk sound, nor was it Guy's.

Ralna was married to Hovis for about fourteen years.   They have one daughter Julie.  Neither discussed their differences in public.  The most Ralna said was that they were totally compatible on stage, but in life they just couldn't handle being together.   (Again, not a direct quote but close.)
During the hard times, in 1980, Ralna was hospitalized for two weeks. Welk had her placed on a quiet floor where only a few doctors knew who she was.  She was in a mental ward, it was night, and she she said that night changed her life.  She said she prayed, and felt the comforting hand of Jesus and a love and assurance she could not describe.   

She had an opportunity to do some recording for Capitol Records, but when her manager went to the Welk people, the opportunity was lost.   Ralna accepts that God has a plan for her and is guiding her.   She considers herself very fortunate to have had a steady career in a fairly unsteady business. She does not live in the past, nor does she fret about what might have been.  She and Guy, who remarried, have a compatible working relationship and have raised their daughter with equal responsibility.   They continue to perform as a duo, traveling to clubs, colleges and theaters.  

Larry Welk has said the Welk program did not do Ralna justice, that she was capable of doing a lot of songs that would not have been acceptable on the program.   

Ralna says,  "I have a feeling in five or ten years,  I'll be sitting on a barstool in Phoenix some place with a trio, just singing jazz."  (Will the Welk fans accept that?) "Some will," she says, "some won't."

Good luck, Ralna, may 2013 find you doing just that if that's what you want.

*The Horn was also a launch pad for such stars as Jack Jones, Vikki Carr and Steve Martin

Thanks to Wikipedia; 
and other internet biographical sites for musicians
Comments and corrections welcomed

Thursday, December 20, 2012

This is the first blog I have done in a while and it is a little different in that it is more personal, not about a well known band or person.   It is about what comes after a door closes.

For about fourteen years (I should be playing a lot better than I am after all that time!) a group of "senior hobby organists" have met every week.   We had in the past, several different teachers with different methods and ideas about technique ranging from the Lowrey EZ-Play method to straight piano method.   From all of this, the program evolved into a short lesson each week from a really proficient mentor.  We were meeting all this time in the Lowrey dealer's store.   Recently,  changes were brought about at the store and we really had no "home" there.   So although the store is still in business,  it without with rancor or ill will,  that a business decision has been made to concentrate on piano sales primarily, and they will no longer support the Lowrey organ program.   At a gathering of the people involved, by consensus it was decided to try meeting weekly and the only place we could consistently be is here at my home.  SO, hereon for as long as it works, the fourteen or so members of the organ group will meet here at ten a.m. on Thursdays.  We don't have a teacher,but we will work on our skills and help each other improve.  There are a few who feel they are satisfied with where they are, but most would like  step up their tempo, find chords more easily, sight read and read the base clef.   

We decided to choose a song from music arranged by a former teacher who wrote in a lot of double right hand notes, and some interesting left and right hand fills.   A Foggy Day is a well recognized piece that doesn't have move very fast.  It has a lot of minor chords and Mr. Miller wrote several passages with double notes.   He wrote in all the chords, and identified them as in fake music giving us the opportunity to play either way.   

A little more about what we will be doing on Thursdays.  We will decide on a song, as we did today, and go over it briefly to see if there are any cords or passages that will give us a problem.  Someone will run through it by sight reading it, and then we will have it to work on for a week.   Next week we will go over it, anyone who wants to will play it, tell us what they chose for sounds and rhythms, and anything else they want to say about it; i.e., they found it boring or beautiful, etc.   The learning part of the meeting should take no more than an hour.   Following that, we will have a "performance for friends" time during which people who choose to can play something they chose from their music stash, telling us what they are playing, and any other thing they want us to know like did they change sounds from the ones found built in the organs.

I think this is a good way to go, and hope it will work as people get used to it.   It's a little more organized than we have been used to, so if it doesn't appeal to people involved they will have a chance to express that opinion as time goes on.   The important thing is, we don't want anyone to drop out because they are unhappy with the way things are going.   

One of the things we did today was explore "upper and lower drawbars" which change the sounds with almost limitless possibilities.  It created a lot of interest so next time we will explore it a little more and I will have some information available from our good friend Dennis.

Check back now and then to see what happens with our organ friends.   Next blog will be about a personality.  Which one?  Well, I am not sure.  I have several in mind.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving and Giving Thanks

We Gather Together to Ask The Lord's Blessing ~

Sing praises to His Name; He forgets not HIs own.

In my old hymnal it is listed as a Folk Song from the Netherlands.   Perhaps the early Dutch immigrants sang it on THEIR first Thanksgiving in this country.  It is one of the most popular Christian songs for this season.  But not the only one -

...raise the song of harvest-time; all is safely gathered in, Ere theWinter storms begin, God, our Maker, doth provide.
And there is another one: SING TO THE LORD OF HARVEST
"....sing songs of love and praise; with joyful heart and voices, Your hallelujahs raise."

Clearly these early hymns of Thanksgiving were inspired by the bountiful harvests and safe keeping of seamen and those who came to America via ships.   

"...our exiled fathers crossed the sea; and when they trod the wintry strand, with prayer and psalm they worshipped Thee."

I wonder as I randomly compose this not very well thought out blog, if today's immigrants are composing psalms and verse of their thankfulness for having made it to this country, by sea or land,  which  gives them the chances make a new life - with GOD'S BLESSING.

Thanksgiving is an American Celebration.   Have a happy one and say a .little prayer of thanks for your blessings, and another for the less fortunate to be provided for BENEATH GOD'S GUIDING HAND.


Monday, October 29, 2012

Dennis and Jim do it again

I have just spent a couple of days at the Falcetti Music Company's annual Fall Extravaganza.   Falcetti Music is a family  business in it's second generation of ownership.  The elder Falcetti's came to the event as honored guests, and I am thinking as long as they live they will always do that.   Sam shared with me that in his retirement  he is now working with Roland Accordian students and has 60 of them.  Sam is a small man (shorter than my 5'3") sharp and tidy, and he played his accordian for us during a social hour.
Mrs. Falcetti (senioritis has caught me and I can't bring her first name to mind) is just as sharp and even shorter than Sam.    With her carefully coiffed snow what hair and cheerful smile, she thanked everyone for coming and for supporting the company and told us she has nothing to do with the extravaganza anymore, that her boys, Tony and Michael do it all.  But as I went to sign up for next year's event, there she was driving Michael crazy with directions to put the registrations in order and be sure the checks were attached to them, and that everyone had put in all the information.   Michael looked at me and rolled his eyes and said patiently, "Yes, Mom.  I  have it all."   She turned to me and said, "I've trained him well."  and I agreed.

After dinner Friday night, Jim Weider entertained us with a few stories and an hour or so of wonderful music.   He opened with a tribute to Glenn Campbell which included about twelve of Campbell's best known songs.    I guess I should have written down what  he played because the only  specific ones I can remember are  Rhinestone Cowboy and Witchitaw Lineman   He played the Carpenters' Sing, Sing a Song and invited everyone to joing in the "la-la  la  la-la chorus",   and closed with one of his inspiring patriotic medleys. 

Saturday morning we had breakfast, of course, and then a workshop with Dennis.    He was supposed to give us a lesson in playing the Addams Family and Munster theme songs, but chose instead to talk to us about styling, expression and ways to make our music "bounce" .    Dennis told us about his heart surgery last year and shared some of his usual humor about an event that was not at all funny and very nearly took his life.  HE credits the skill of a doctor from Massachusetts, one of only six in the country who perform the surgery, for "super gluing" his heart back together after a post-op set back.   It's not my place to give details, but I will tell you,  it is a medical miracle,and maybe more than a little bit of the Hand of God, that we still have this remarkable performer with us.

After lunch on Saturday we had a second workshop with Jim Weider.   I have been to Jim's workshops a few times and always find them to be worthwhile.   He is organized and knows the organ inside out, in fact, he is now part of the "product development team" for Lowrey.    And yes, they are still thinking up things to put in future "virtual orchestras."   (Dennis says "It still looks like an organ to me!)   Jim's workshop was on modifying pre-arranged rhythms to represent other band sounds.  For instance, by modifying a Gospel rhythm and using piano sounds, you can get a great "bar room rinky-tink".   Jim makes playing fun and interesting. Jim explains that "the little lady who played the hymns in church on Sunday spent Saturday night entertaining  in the local saloon." 

Saturday night dinner was some of the best roast beef I have ever eaten, at least since I left home.   Of course, we don't go for the food, but there's no doubt, it doesn't discourage us to have such great meals.   All through the meals and social times, student players provided background music.   It was interesting to hear what others people were doing with their music.   There were two organs on stage, the newest "Sterling" and the older Stardust, still a great organ.   I got to play the Sterling and think I could get used to it, but another organ is not in my future.  Dennis, a Falcetti salesman and I got together early Sunday morning for a personal, very detailed demonstration by Dennis, and a pretty aggressive pitch by Ron the salesman.   Yes, if I had the money, I would have succumbed.    Then Tony Falcetti, a handsome second generation family member, spent about ten minutes telling me how I could work it with a credit company which deals only in music sales.  He also told me I could change my mind and buy at any time and the price he  quoted would still be good, and he would send Ritchie Mitnick to my home to teach me to play, and Dennis would also come to my home to spend a day with me.  Now, let me tell you, a day with Dennis almost sold me!  But I kept seeing my kids looking at each other with disbelief, which kept me strong.

Saturday night Dennis did a concert for us with a medley of familiar oldies for us.    Going from beautiful waltzes to clever two-steps, polkas and fox-trots, his favorite Hawaiian melodies and some Latin pieces with smooth transitions that you hardly notice until you realize you are hearing a different song.    He played for more than 45 minutes.  He told a few little side stories about his personal connections to the performers of yesteryear like Connie Francis, (he played for her first recording),  Harry James, the Dorseys, Bert Kempfert and Lenny Dee.   And a nice story about being with Rosa Rio just before her death.   He also told us that shortly after his heart surgery, to fulfill  a contract he had made before the event, he got the doctor to medicate him sufficiently to perform the organ music for a Phantom of The Opera DVD.  He said he was so drugged, he had no pain, felt like a youngster, and all his music came back so that he was mentally "one note ahead at all times."    And then he went home and crashed.

Following Dennis' concert Sam Falcetti, Ritchie Mitnick and a guitarist whose name I did not get, but I know he is from the Falcetti Music Company, played dance music.

Sunday a.m. Dennis was on again.    He is amazing in his energy.  He told me someone said he is a relic and the last thing he wants is to be performing past his time.  To me and to others who love the music we grew up listening to, and are playing as amatuers, he is not a relic but a treasure.  He confided in me that he fears looking old and not performing well and not realizing it.    He has an amazing memory and no matter what is going on in his life, when he is on he "is on" all the way.   He played Big Band music, beginning with Harry James sounds and going on with The Three Sons, The Dorseys, and such tunes as Sunrise Serenade, You Made Me Love You (which he told me last year is his favorite song), Twilight Time, and on and on.   The Sterling "Virtual Orchestra" does sound amazingly like the solo instruments of those bands.    And, of course, the talented Lowrey artists do get the best out of them.    There are things I really like about the new organ (ooops! VO) that I think I would enjoy.   Some new rhythms  like a really lovely waltz with less "thump";  the piano and guitar rhythms which are far beyond what is in the Prestige; and a greater variety of solo instrument choices.  But getting a bigger, newer fancier organ does not make one a better player.   So .........

Ron and I both signed up for next year's event.   God willing and barring any unforseen incidences, we will be there and so will Dennis and Jim.   And my friends Joyce and Corliss, and The Falcetti's elder and younger, the couple celebrating their 54th anniversary and all the rest of the wonderful organ-izers.

If you have a chance to attend a music store event with Lowrey organ artists, please do take advantage of it.

Keep music in your life, share it with others, and encourage the young to find a place for it in their lives.   IF I were younger and could take on a new challenge, it would be to get more kids into music.  Instrumental, vocal, or appreciation - it lasts a lifetime.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The "Rest of the Story"

As promised,  ~ the rest of the story.   Steve Lawrence.
I noticed it has been more than two weeks since I posted the bit about Eydie Gorme.   There is something about age and time - the days go by much more quickly the older I get.   As they say " little time, so much to do."

Sidney Liebowitz, who will be referred to as Steve Lawrence from here on, was born in 1935 in Brooklyn to Max,  a Jewish cantor who also was a house painter, and  Anna Gelb Liebowitz.  He and his brother both sang in synagogue with their father.    Steve once commented, "My parents were so poor they were thinking of moving in with Eydie's parents!" 

When Steve's voice began to change he stopped singing for several years, but continued in music to play piano for his brother, Bernie.  Early in the '50's Bernie was drafted which prompted Steve to take up singing again.
After several auditions for Godfrey's Talent Scouts (TV Show) he finally made it, and won.  He prize was a weeks of appearances on Godfrey's show.  Borrowing suits from friends, he performed and got the attention he was seeking form Syd Nathan of King Records (known mostly for its "race" recordings, R&B and "hillbilly" music).   He recorded a very emotional "Poinciana" which became an instant hit.   Steve still had high school to finish, so balancing it with scheduling gigs recording for Decca Records was a challenge.  

According to some accounts, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme were introduced Bob Manning, who was a Dick Haymes sound-alike.  Their paths crossed randomly for awhile, and they both made short music videos for the same company.  One reference states Steve looked so young in these he could be singing at his own bar mitzvah. 

Then, as I wrote in my previous blog on Eydie, they were booked as individuals for the Steve Allen Tonight Show, and later as summer replacements for Steve Allen's own show.   There are conflicting accounts of their ages, but all place Eydie at least five years Steve's senior.   Yup, he married an older woman.  And lucky for him because they became a great team. 

I probably should have done this duo as a double entry, but there seemed to be so much written about both I was a little stumped how to do them both justice.   Now I am stumped again because from here on their lives are intertwined and I don't want to repeat what I have already written. 

The Lawrence/Gorme team charmed their audiences with an easy chatter between them, often becoming personal and sharp witted, but always affectionate, even if a bit bawdy.   Their success as entertainers did not isolate them from tragedy.  They had two sons, David (who is a composer) and Michael, who died suddenly in 1986 at the age of 23.   Michael had a history of a slight arrhythmia but his ventricular fibrillation had not been caught.   He was an assistant editor of a television show at the time.  (A side note:  they had performed and were in Atlanta at time their son's death.   Frank Sinatra, hearing of it, sent his private plane to pick them so they could get to their other son who was in school.)   

Following their son's death, Steve and Eydie took a year off with no professional public appearances.   

In the early 2000's they announced they would be cutting back on appearances,   and began their "One More For The Road" tour in 2002.   Eydie retired in 2009, but Steve (remember? he's still "just a kid")
is still touring as a single. 

In 1980 Lawrence appeared in The Blues Brothers as Maury Sline. ANd in He played Mark McCormick's father Sonny Daye in two episodes of Hardcastle and McCormick; and in 1999 was Morty Fine in The Nanny.
He won awards for his performance of Sammy Glick in What Makes Sammy Run, and two Emmys  for his contributions to Steve & Eydie celebrate Irving Berlin. 

As a couple, Steve and Eydie took the Las Vegas Entertainment Award for Musical Variety four times; and honored with life time achievement awards from the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Ella Lifetime Axhievement Award from the Society of Singers, a non-profit which aids and counsels professional singers.

Ihave to say, this is just a thumbnail of information on this very well known  couple.   They have been devoted to each other; they have experienced the ups and downs of  life just like the rest of us and they have done it gracefully. 

I am  leaving tomorrow to spend a bit of time with other music lovers and I am going to go right now and practice  "What DId I Have That I Don't Have?" on my Lowrey Prestige organ.  No, I won't kill it by singing along.    

SO, until Terpsichore (muse of song and dance) visits me again, keep a song in your heart, and share it with others.

Ref: A Biographical Gide to the Great Jazxz and Pop SIngers , Fiedwald
       The Big Band Almac


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sephardi Jews

A little lesson in history:   Sephardi Jews are, generally speaking, the result of the blending of Spanish and Portuguese Jews in the Iberian Peninsula before 1492.  Descendants of these exiled people follow the Sephardic Halakha in their traditons, customs and religion.  

August 16, 1931, Edith Gormezano was born in the Bronx of New York City, the youngest of three children.  Her father was a tailor from Sicily, her mother was from Turkey, and they were Sephardic Jews.  By the age of three Edith had made her radio debut; in high school she sang with a band organized by her friend Ken Greengrass.   After high school she took a job as a Spanish interpreter with Theatrical Supply Export Company while studying at City College night school.    Her desire to continue a singing career led her back to Greengrass who agreed to become her manager.   You would hardly go professional with the name Edith Gormezano no matter how proud you might be of your parents.   Thus:   Eydie Gorme.

During her early career Eydie sang with Tommy Tucker in his touring band; then with Tex Beneke.   She went solo 1952 recording a series of singles with Coral Record. Steve Allen, the host of the Tonight Show, which at the time only aired in New York, brought her in as regular guest.  Steve Lawrence was a regular on the Tonight Show also.

The program went national in 1954 on NBC.  Lawrence and Gorme made a single recording as a duo, "Make Yourself Comfortable" on one side and "I've Gotta Crow" on the flip.
(The latter from the hit musical Peter Pan)

In 1956 Gorme got a job at the Copacabana Club in NY. She was now recording for ABC-Paramont ("Too Close for Comfort",  "Mama, Teach Me To Dance", "Love Me Forever") .   SHe  had two LP"s in the Top 20:  "Eydie Gorme" and Eydie Sings the Blues".
In 1957 Steve Allen left the Tonight Show and was hosting a prime time series, Steve Allen Presents.     Eydie and Steve, now married, took over as summer replacement hosts.
Eydie did not score another US hit (she did have a Top Ten hit in the UK,  "Yes, My Darling Daughter" in 1962.  But in 1963 she recorded "Blame It On The Bossa Nova" and not only hit the charts in the Top Ten, but earned a nomination for  Grammy for "Best Female Vocal Performance.  She continued to record, sometimes with Steve Lawrence, sometimes solo, and placed several more tunes in the high numbers on the charts.  BUT -  along came the British invasion.  Like many performers of "easy listening" style music, her popularity faded.

Eydie teamed up with TRIO LOS PANCHOS, a Spanish language album.  They recorded "Amor" amd "More Amor" both successful efforts.   At the same time she began trying her hand, or more appropriately, her voice, at some show tunes: "Do I Hear A Waltz", "What Did I Have That I Don't Have", and "If He Walked Into My Life" which gave her another TopTen easy listening hit, and she earned her first solo award - Best Female Vocal Performer Grammy.  (what does a Grammy look like?  I know what an Oscor looks like, it 's clearly a man.  Is a Grammy and little old lady in a rocking chair? Just wondering.)

Meanwhile, Eydie and Steve Lawrence were working on their ambitions as a couple.   Together they starred in "Golden Rainbow, which was a stage adaptation of Frank Sinatra's " A Hole In The Head", a movie which was first a Broadway play. They  opened in February 1968 and ran until January of 1969.   Into the 1970's Gorme and Lawrence were "out of  the charts"  in their careers.  Music changed and their easy listening was not grabbing the attention of the young set.  However, their reputations as entertainers kept them in the club scene.  Gorme made a solo album, "It Was A Good TIme" and together they made "We Can Make It" which featured the Osmonds.  Eydie made other Spanish language recordings with Danny Rivera, and Gorme and Lawrence had a TV special in 1975.  "Our Love Is Here To Stay" was their tribute to Gershwin which won and Emmy Award.  

I dropped in on my beloved sister-in-law Esther one day and caught her doing a little dance and singing along with Steve and Eydie's "Hallelulah".  She told me it was her favorite song of all time.   SHe said she heard it on the radio and called  the station to see if she could get a recording.  The told her they did not sell tapes, but would pass the request on.   She got her tape, directly from Steve and Eydie.  Unfortunately, she did not save the nice little note they put in it, but I have that tape.   It's just a cheerful little piece that grows on you.   Steve and Eydie recorded that under the name
"Parker and Penny."  

There's more to the Gorme Lawrence story.   Check back in a week or so for the "rest of the story."

Keep the music playing; hum along, whistle and dance if you can.

Ref:  A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers
         Sephardi Jews: Wikipedia
         Yahoo Music & Wikipedia

Sunday, September 23, 2012

I suppose there should be a method for blogging about a subject. My son who does a daily blog on the saints chooses them by the day of celebration or feast.  I have no system.   SO, as I was thinking I had not written anything for a couple of weeks, I begain thinking.   Dangerous!   It occurred to me that most compositions are associated with specific artists.  I like the tune "Dreamy Melody", a very nice waltz that brings back some nice memories.   When my we were first married,  in Florida, we used to go to an American Legion dance on Saturday nights.  It was outdoors on a terrazzo pavilion, BYOB, set-ups on site.  It was live music and near an after hours club called Rita's Lobo Lounge where we would get a nice late supper.    Nice memories, but I have interjected too much personal history. 

I listened to "Dreamy Melody" by several bands and decided Sammy Kaye and Guy Lombardo came close to what I remember from those warm southern nights. 

"Dreamy Melody" was the theme song for Marion McKay's band.  McKay was a banjo player who "fronted" a band of nine pieces plus a couple of male vocalists.   He began in Indiana in the early '20s and was one of the first bands to record with the "new" electrical recording system in Gennett's RIchmond (Indiana) studio.  New equipment, inexperienced technicians and a band hardly known anywhere except in the mid-west failed to bring forth acceptable recordings and most were scrapped.   The band did a few engagements in New York for a nightclub, according to Paul Weirick, one of McKay's trumpet players, but the band folded in the mid-thirties, and Mr. McKay give up the profession.
None of my sources had anything to add about his life.   Besides Weirick on trumpet, who seems to be the only one available to find when the "Big Band Almanac" was written, the band members faded into obscurity.   I was unable to find any information on any of them.   This being so brief, I'll toss in a "free-bee":

Meyer Davis was born in Maryland in 1893 (d. in NY in 1976).
He was not the usual "band leader".   He formed a band in 1915, one of the first dance bands organized.  It got busy, so he formed another - and another - and another.   He became the "leader of a string of bands" known as Meyer Davis Units, and played the Washington, Philadelphia, New York and Boston society scene for many years.    HIs only real rival was Lester Lanin.    

As busy as Davis became with his booking bands, he continued to record and as late as 1961 made an album called "Meyer Davis Plays the Twist".    And in 1973 recorded "Meyer Davis Plays ColePorter". 

Here's a modest quote from himself:   "What we provide is an atmosphere...of orchestrated pulse which works on people in a  subliminal way.   Under its influence I've seen shy debs and severe dowagers kick off their shoes and raise some wholesome hell."

Good for you, Meyer Davis.

Keep the music playing and remember to share the joy.


Friday, September 7, 2012

How BIG is BIG

We talk a lot about the BIG BAND ERA and BIG BANDS and if you are "pretty old" you are talking about a band that has between 9 and 17 pieces.  If you're REALLY old, you might remember there were bands with as many as 25 pieces. Paul Whiteman, for instance, had 23 pieces, plus himself and two vocalists. Although, earlier he had only nine pieces including himself.   They usually played straight JAZZ which included strings - sweet romantic dance music with very little improvisation.   Think, Ted Lewis, Nat Shilkret, Vince Lopez, Sam Lanin, Fred Waring, Shep Fields, etc. 

 What is considered "authentic jazz" emerged in the late '20's to early '30's.  It wasn't good for dancing but recordings (race records) were popular with the urban fans.  A limited number of white musicians moved into it.  Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Hoagy Carmichael being a few.   It must have been a nightmare for arrangers whose talent was making sure every arrangement was well arranged! Now there were good instrumentalists who wanted no restrictions for their eight bars. And those eight bars had to be fit in artistically and smoothly so the rest of the band understood it's place.  Drummers like Gene Krupa would never have gotten the opportunity to showcase their fiercely energetic  "breaks" before this time.  These bands were the cradles of such greats as Artie Shaw, the Dorsey brothers and many others whose names we all recognize.  Louis Armstrong was a star in Luis Russell's band.

SWING began in the '20's but didn't become really popular until the mid to late '30's.  It was 4/4 time, played quite literally, but every band leader created his own style according to his own taste.  Bob Crosby played Dixie; Duke Ellington had a sophisticated style.
And band leaders often did their own arranging using their own instrumental talents as soloist-in-chief.
Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw on clarinet; Jack Teagarden with his smooth trombone; Harry James on trumpet; Gene Krupa on drums; or Lionel Hampton (a favorite of mine) with his vibes.  This also brought forth some fine vocalists like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Doris Day, Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday and Jimmy Rushing.  

The "society bands" of the day (Paul Whiteman, Guy Lombardo, the Lanins) used fewer soloists in their more carefully constructed arrangements that were primarily for dancing and listening at weddings and parties.    

Once radio stations began broadcasting live shows,  in studios and in clubs and shows,  big band music really became popular with both older and younger generations.   And then came WWII and BEBOP, but that's another story.    Earl "Fatha" Hines and Billy Eckstein both led BEBOP bands, followed after the war, with Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton.

Into the '40's and the war in Europe, Big Bands toured the war zones to entertain the troops.  It was hugely uplifting to the battle front men and women to have a Big Band and all it's entourage come into their dismal surroundings.  Some bands joined the services en masse; many men were drafted, many volunteered  to have a better chance at the service of their choice. 

For every up there is a down; and the downside of being a musician in those days (before these behemoths with every creature comfort and room for the wife and kids) which carry the bands around today) life was hard and hectic.   Side men, except for soloists, made little money.   One night performances, all night travel led to alcohol and drug addiction.  Long periods away from family led to discontented spouses.  Having gotten used to being adored on the road, and believing all the hype about their good looks and beauty did not always play well  at home.   Hence, separation and divorce and sometimes bigamy, became more and more common.

Not to leave this blog with a "downbeat", the music of the Big Bands is still popular, even with today's younger music lovers.  Some of my grandkids actually like it enough to down-load it on their gadgets.  Some young bands, there is a local one here in the Portland area, even bill themselves as "big bands" although they only have a few pieces and play a variety of genres not in any way resembling "Big Band Music."  But they have big ideas of what they can become as a group, and kudos to them for doing what they love and making a go of it.  

 This chart below shows what the standard 17-piece band of looked like. (Except I cannot draw in the instruments, you'll have to use your imagination.)

      ( D  )          
                                 (  II )    ( I  )   ( III )   ( IV  )
(piano)                     (II  )     (I   )   (III )    (IV )

        (guit )               ( I )      ( I )   (II )   ( II)   (   )

The above show the seating in a typical big band  jazz ensemble of 17 pieces.  D=drums;percussion inst.
                      Back Row: 1st trumpet (sometimes doubling on piccolo trumpet)  2nd trumpet (also fllugelhorn) 4 trombones (sometimes IV is bass)
   There are two guitars; before electronics they were strummers in the percussion section.  They play a more melodic part now, one is electric, the other bass. Both now use amps.  

The front row Saxophones: 1st Tenor; 1st Alto; 2nd Alto; 2nd Tnor and Baritone.   Both tenors and altos sometimes double on soprano sax, clarinet, flute, oboe. 

Irving Aaronson And His Commandos had 23 pieces in the mid-twenties.  His theme song, by the way, was "Commanderism" and he recorded on Edison, Victor, Vocalion and Columbia.   He turned out  some of the best known soloists ever such as Tony Pastor, Artie Shaw and Gene Krupa, Nat Shilkret and Jack Armstrong.  

Just touching this "r-r-r-e-e-al-l-ly big subject" is all I have done.   But I think you'll be glad to hear me say .......

In closing, have a nice day and keep the music playing.

jan major

Re: Big Band Almanc 
       Big Band Historic Magazne                                     

Friday, August 24, 2012

Stepping Back in Time

I got off to a poor start this morning, having accidentally deleted a number of past blogs accidentally.   Not that they were important in content, but now I have no reference to see if I have covered a subject.  You may not know the story of my stash of sheet music. I have about 300 pieces, plus several old books. The Portland newspaper used to have a column called "Clearing House" which was a wonderful way to let others know if you needed or wanted something, and also to let people know if you had something to give away.    I put an item in that column saying I would like old sheet music.  I never dreamed how much was stashed in "mother's trunk" in attics and garages.   It came to me by the box-full.  I have given away much of the really difficult piano pieces to accomplished musicians, but I have kept over 300 pieces.  Plus several old "collection books."

I have on my desk, among a clutter of other books and papers, a book which says:
          Favorits of Mother and Dad
         Edward B. Marks Collection of Old Time Hits
           of the Gay Eightiesand Nineties
   for Home ~ Community ~ Song Fest ~ Dances
  the price is 74 cs.        Edward R. Marks Music Corporation
                                          RCA Building - radio City
                                               New York
Made in U.S.A.


At the top of each song there are a few words about the composer or performer.   

Jennie Linsay wrote "Always Take Mother's Advice"  Jennie was a popular music hall performer and composer. She wrote the ballad in 1884.  this was known as a "motto"  song, a style which was popular at the time.

An Englishman named Harry Dacre wrote "A Bicycle Built for Two" which has become a standard favorite at sing-alongs in nursing homes and senior facilities.  He also wrote "As Your Hair Grows Whiter" which is a short poem of devotion.

The next song is "The Boston Burglar"  written by M J. Fitzpatrick.  I tried to find out whether this was a fiction or fact ballad to no avail.  The lyrics tell the story of a man who, in spite of a good family background and a maiden at home, fell into bad company and ended up in the "pen-i-ten-tai-ry" in Charleston, Mass.   But, he is vowing to go straight when he has servedhis twenty years!

"Daisies Won't Tell" is another brief poem set to music in Waltz time, writtenby Anita Owen.  There is a great biography of Anita on the internet.  She worte dozens of songs, many of them about flowers including "Daisies Could Tell"   "Only a Bunch of Daisies"  "Only a Rose Bud"  "Only a Bunch of Violets"  "Just a Chain of Daisies"
"Pretty Pansies"  "When The Dew Is On The Rose".   But not all of her songs were about flowers. She wrote and sold her first song at age 15, sold it for $5.   Anita Owen was born in 1874 and died in 1932 after a "brief illness of pneumonia."  

"Everybody Works But Father" is a tongue in cheek piece by Samuel Lehman. who wrote for Broadway in the early 1900's.  It iwas among the first written about "fathers" and came originally from England, according to the information I was able find.   "...It keeps the old man very busy steering clear of work...."    cute song.

A team of Braisted and Carter (who  also used Berdan &; Redcliffe) were grads of Yale selling advertising to a music publisher.  They overheard a man (James Thornton) making a deal with the publisher for $50 for a mnauscript.  Impressed, they set about writing several songs that became popular in  1880's.  And their first "Bred in Old Kentucky" was a hit.  Strangely, in this publication of Marks, only the first page of this song is included.   Marks chose "The Girl I Loved In Sunny Tennessee"  and mentioned "Whispre Your Mother's Name" and "You're Not The Only Pebble On The Beach."   

According to the notes on this next piece,  (remember this publication is dated 1932) "one cannot go to the movies today wihout seeing a newsreel in which there is usually a horse race. During the race the orchestra inevitably plays George Rosey's "Handicap March" probably the best-liked fast march in the world.   I wanted to listen to it, but never got to a site that had an audio version.   Unfortunately, the connotation today mostly refers to handicapped people and the marches for their benefit.  A perfect example of how vernacular changes with the time and circumstances.

Anna Held, who was Florenz Ziegfeld's wife for a time, sang "It's Delightful to be Married!"    V. Scotto wrote the music and she the lyrics.  It's a cute optimistic young-love song.  "I will be your loving husband, your will be my loving wife."  So much for that; they didn't stay married very long.

In the minstrel days, Ren Shields and George "Honeyboy" Evans were a celebrated  pair.   They wrote "In The Good Old Summertime" and the song was introduced  in 1902 by Blanche Ring in the musical comedy "The Defender."   Amazingly it is still a favorite at all sing-along events in nursing homes and  senior centers and probably always will be.  

Ballads of undying love seem a little outdated now with our dismal record of divorce in America. A collaboration between Sylvester Maguire and Alfred Solman produced an enormously popoular song in 1908 called "If I Had A Thousand Lives to Live" and of course, the vow was  "...I'd live them all for you."    It's written in an unusual 12/8 time.

A little good advice from Dave Marion is "It's Not What You Were, It's What You Are To-Day".   Never tell them what you were once upon a time - Don't speak of thousands that you had when you were in your prime."  It refers to money - not girl friends!  Dave Marion was a BIG burlesque figure when that style of entertainment was in it's prime.  He toured with his own troupe and created "Snuffy, the Cab Driver", a very popular comedic character. 

Helene Mora was a female baritone.   She wrote the song "Kathleen" and was known for creating great harmony in her music.  "Kathleen" was a popular quartette piece even even before "Sweet Adeline." 
"Mid shady lane and meadow green, I long to roam with sweet Kathleen."   Mora copyrighted her song in 1894 but Marks, who was the third copyrighter, did so in 1932. 

In 1917 Gilbert and Friedland wrote what is considered the "original nut song".  The legend has it that it was written originally to be a serious love song but became a favorite in its day.  "Be my Lily, I'll be your Forget-me-not."

A team of Charles R.McCarron and Carey Morgan, who was in the Navy, wrote a "nut song" called "OH HELEN!"   It is a stuttering song, which gave comics a wonderful piece of material.   Sadly, McCarron died young, and just as his career was getting established. 

 "The Little Lost Child" (dedicated to Miss Minnie Schult), was written by Jos. W. Stern and Edw. B. Marks.  They were two travelling men who met in a small country town. It sold a million copies.  It established the Edward B. Marks Music Co. (which had formerly been Stern & Co.) in 1894.  In their 34 years of business they copyrighted (?) 10,771 pieces of music.  This song was the first ever to be produced with illustrated slides.

A collaboration of three men created "My Own Iona" (moi-One0Inoae) which is a Hawaiian song, but never mentions Honolulu or Waikiki.
But it does mention Mauna Loa---"...My ukelele played the Mauna Loa gayly..."

Gilbert and Friedland wrote a number pieces together.  You know, they wrote the "nut" song I mentioned earlier.   "My Sweet Adair" is in this collection; they also wrote "Romona", "Shades of Night", "My Little Dream Girl", "Hawaiian Sunshine" and ----"Waiting for the Robert E. Lee."    "..Adair, my sweet Adair - I dare you to be mine."

An incident in a restaurant during which a rude customer was rebuked by a spunky waitress prompted Marks and Stern to write "My Mother Was A Lady".  It was realll only half a song, so they finished it off with
"My Hannah Lady"  which changes the tempo from a Waltz to a Fox Trot for the ending.  

Moth And The Flame was the name of a theater production in the early 1900's.   It starred Effie Shannon and Herbert Kelsey and inspired a song by the same name.  It's a waltz which tells of a moth (maid ) who fluttered too close to a flame (man with bad heart) to her shame.   But she "flutter'd away just in time, so they say, that's the tale of the moth and the flame."  

John Stromberg, musical director at Weber and Fields Music Hall, wrote "My Best Girl's A New Yorker."  It's short and bouncy (although 3/4 time) and became one of those many "singable" songs of the early 20th Century.  

As did "Oh, Didn't He Ramble" written by Will Handy who was actually Bob Cole of Cole and Johnson. But "Ramble" fell into the genre of "low down" songs. Bob Cole also collaborated with James Weldon Johnson to write "Under The BambooTree".   Johnson was a statesman, "man of letters", an authority on spiritual and Negro art.  And obviously, adept at creating music.  "Bamboo" was copyrighted in 1902, but the right was later assigned to Marks.

Banks Winter wrote a song titled White Wings in 1884.  It is a simple,short song. I'm not sure what the meaning is, but the Young Women's Christian Association adopted it as their official song.  I was once a member of that organizaiton and do not recall ever hearing it.Certainly never sang it!

M. H. Rosenfeld copyrighted a song in 1888 called "With All Her Faults I Love Her Still."  There are few other words in the song, but then with those lyrics, little else needs to be said.  

The last song in Marks' collection is "Where the Sunset Turns The Ocean's Blue To Gold".    Eva Fern Buckner wrote the poem, and H. W. Petrie put them to music. 

I don't know where Eva watched the sunset turn the ocean's blue to gold, but I have seen it from Maine, Florida, Hawaii and  Puerto Rico.
It doesn't really matter what ocean it's a beautiful end to a day.

The incomparable music of the old masters, Bach, Chopin, Haydn - whatever you enjoy - are lovely listening pieces.  But lyrics tell more of a story the mores of the times.  

No matter what you like, keep enjoying it.   And if you happen on an old piece of music, frayed and well worn treat it kindly please.


Sunday, August 19, 2012

It's very encouraging  to check and see that you are looking for my latest blog.   SORRY!   I'm working on it.  Not that it's going to be spectacular or anything, but as usual, I got very distracted as I did some reading on the subject of  ~~~~ well, soon I will post what I hope will be a worthwhile read.

Remember, "Good things come to those who wait - patiently."