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  Best of the Big Bands, Volume 2 - 10 hours [Audio CDs] #RA042
The Best of Big Bands, Volume 2


 
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The Best of the Big Bands
Volume 2


"From the beautiful Garden Room of Hotel Claremont, high atop the Oakland-Berkeley hills overlooking San Francisco Bay, it's the music of Russ Morgan and his Orchestra!"

From the late 1920s through the late 1950s, radio helped popularize a time of dance bands and popular music that has become known as the big band era. Though their influence would continue to be felt for decades to come, this time of sweet bands, swing bands, hotel and society orchestras, and their personable leaders and unique styles was remarkably brief, lasting only about a dozen years.

But in their time...oh, the music they made!

Many factors contributed to the popularity of the big bands -- and first and foremost were the songs of the time. The 1930s and 1940s were truly the era of the songwriter, as composers, lyricists, and their agents and publishing companies heavily promoted every new melody written for radio, the Broadway stage, or the movies for recording and broadcast by the bands and their distinctive vocalists. "Song pluggers," as they came to be known, knew that the success of their product depended on both popularity and familiarity - and there was no way that a song could become better known faster than by having it played on the radio over and over again. Second in importance were the bands themselves -- musical aggregations of anywhere from twelve to over thirty musicians who played arrangements meant for dancing, romancing, listening, humming, singing along, or - when the leader or a talented sideman played a thrilling solo - swooning with admiration. Third - and no less significant - were the vocalists of the era, talented performers who, through a combination of style, experience, and personality, could take a simple tune and turn it into a massive hit. It's no wonder that many of the superstar vocalists of the 1950s received their first professional experiences by singing with the bands, for it was their voices that brought the lyrics of so many wonderful tunes into the ballrooms, nightclubs, and living rooms of America for the first time.

World War II played a significant part in the popularity of the big bands as well. While many depression-weary Americans saw their income rising thanks to the booming economy of the war years, they found little to spend their money on due to wartime shortages and rationing. Spending an evening out dancing to the music of the big bands became a regular habit of many between 1942 and 1945. For less than $5.00 (in the big-time ballrooms, tickets were usually priced at $1.50 for women, $2.00 for men), a couple living in Southern California could see and dance to Harry James or Henry Busse playing their trumpets at the gleaming new Hollywood Palladium or the Trianon Ballroom, fronting large bands that could be heard in nightly live remotes over CBS, NBC, the Blue Network, or Mutual. Those in Northern California could dance to sweet music at the Mark Hopkins Hotel or (if they had a car and could get the heavily rationed gasoline) visit the scenic Garden Room of the Hotel Claremont, nestled in the Oakland/Berkeley hills. New Yorkers, with a wide range of night clubs, hotels, and ballrooms to choose from, had their pick of the bands -- everything from Vincent Lopez and his piano in the Grill Room of the Hotel Taft (where, for shift workers, afternoon dancing sessions were a regular feature) to Shep Fields and his New Music at the Hotel New Yorker. People who lived between the coasts also had their pick of entertainment, as most of the popular bands traveled on tours of one-nighters throughout the country. Regional and even local bands held sway in small ballrooms, school gymnasiums, and lodge halls - often playing everything from polkas to waltzes to country swing.

If you lived in a rural part of the country - as so many did both before and during the war - the music of the big bands could still reach you via radio. Many a bandleader, recognizing the publicity that a series of live radio shots could provide, agreed to play for break-even wages or was even willing to lose money in order to gain that kind of exposure. The networks, recognizing that band remotes were an inexpensive way to fill broadcast time in the late night hours, usually aired bands live from nightspots throughout the country. NBC, CBS, and the Blue Network concentrated mostly on the bigger cities and aired the quarter- and half-hour programs between 11:00 PM and 1:00 AM; Mutual, with its many outlets in smaller markets, carried all sorts of bands from all sorts of places and continued their broadcast day until 2:00 AM.

By the end of the war, despite many of the top musicians being drafted and shipped overseas, there was a glut of big band entertainment stateside. With service men and women returning to their homes and starting families, attendance at ballrooms began to dwindle and, by the fall of 1946, many of the top bands of the war years had either downsized or disbanded completely. The sweet bands, with their wider appeal to various age groups, lingered a little longer than their swinging counterparts - and some even lasted through to the end of the decade and into the next - but it just wasn't the same as it had been...and it never really would be again.

The focus of this collection is on the sweet bands of the big band era and offers live performances by a dozen of its best bands. The majority of these broadcasts were recorded off network lines by the Armed Forces Radio Service and rebroadcast to military personnel under the series title "One Night Stand." From 1943 on, the AFRS was given carte blanch to record as much material as it wanted as often as it wanted - and it's a great service to history that so much of what they preserved featured the fine musicians of the era. Since all of these programs would have been aired live and never recorded, let alone rebroadcast, collectors and big band enthusiasts have long understood and accepted the minor editing which was done to almost all AFRS network-based programs. Without their efforts, after all, we might never have had the chance to hear these delightful performances ever again -- capturing, as they do, the bands in their prime, playing for enthusiastic audiences in the country's best and most elegant nightspots.

Freddy Martin and his "Music By Martin"

Freddy MartinFreddy Martin was probably the most respected tenor saxophonist of his time, projecting a warmth and richness of tone that impressed even the most ardent of jazz performers and earning him the nickname "Mr. Silvertone." Though he never pretended to be a jazz or swing musician, Martin's talent, technique, and personal good taste in both musical selections and in full, lush arrangements made his orchestra one of the most musical of the era, propelling him on a career that would span four decades.

Throughout its history, Martin's orchestra featured many top performers and even a few future bandleaders, including pianists Claude Thornhill, Barclay Allen, and Jack Fina, as well as guitarist Alvino Rey. Star vocalists included Buddy Clark, Helen Ward, Stuart Wade, and future talk show host and millionaire entertainment mogul Merv Griffin. A multi-talented trombonist named Russ Morgan was an early fixture of the band (though he played piano for most of his stay) and he and Martin worked together to develop the "wah-wah" plunger mute technique that would soon become the signature sound for Morgan's own band.

Martin's biggest hit, which shortly thereafter became his theme song, was "Tonight We Love," based on the primary melody of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto. The first recording, with a piano solo by Jack Fina, promptly sold over one million copies in 1942 and a vocal version, released later that year, was equally as popular, leading Martin to spend much of the next few years seeking out other classically based melodies to arrange for dancing. As one of the top bandleaders in the country, his group was featured on several radio programs during the 1940s and early 1950s, and he eventually supplanted the Waltz King, Wayne King, on the long-running "Lady Esther Serenade" over CBS. An early television pioneer - he hosted a weekly series in 1951 - Martin's career continued well into the 1970s, when he not only toured with a big band revival show but also fronted the house orchestra at Los Angeles' fabled night spot, the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel.

This collection offers two live remotes from the Grove, as rebroadcast by the Armed Forces Radio Service. Dating from Saturday, August 12, 1944 and Sunday, January 27, 1946, the broadcasts feature vocals by Artie Wayne, Clyde Rogers, Glen Hughes, Gene Cochran (who also solos on trumpet), and the Martin Men, with piano solos by Jack Fina and Jack DeShine.


Frankie Carle and his Orchestra

Frankie Carle & Marjorie HughesPianist Frankie Carle began his seventy-plus year career in 1916 at the age of seven, when he first played in his uncle's band in Providence, Rhode Island for the princely sum of $1.00 per week. Displaying an early interest in the keyboard, Carle's factory worker father could not afford a piano, so his uncle set him up with a jury rigged keyboard that allowed him to practice regularly, if not particularly musically. A beat-up dance hall piano was soon found, though, and by the age of seventeen, Carle was fronting his first band.

Going out on his own the following year, Carle's creative skill at the keyboard came to the attention of a variety of bandleaders, including Edwin McEnelley in the early years and, in 1936, the Mal Hallett band, where he performed with such stars as drummer Gene Krupa and trombonists Jack Teagarden and Jack Jenney. After Hallett's band broke up in 1937, Carle returned with his own regional band that played primarily in New England -- but his greatest professional break was still to come. In 1939, he was hired by bandleader Horace Heidt, providing Carle with a national radio audience via Heidt's various coast-to-coast broadcasts. Carle's fame grew quickly, as his unique piano style and talent for musical composition brought increased success to Heidt's Musical Knights. (In his career, Carle composed such well-known songs as "Carle Boogie," "Lover's Lullaby," "Sunrise in Napoli," "Oh, What It Seemed to Be," and his biggest hit, "Sunrise Serenade.")

Frankie Carle might have left the Heidt organization in 1941, when fellow pianist Eddy Duchin, who was about to enlist in the US Navy, offered Carle the opportunity to take over his popular orchestra in exchange for 25 percent of the gross profits. But when Carle mentioned the proposal to Heidt, Heidt offered Carle a thousand dollars a week plus five percent of the gross to stay on -- a deal which Carle quickly accepted.

By 1944, however, Heidt had decided to retire from the band business and helped his piano virtuoso with generous financial assistance as he began to form his own orchestra. The new band was an immediate success, featuring arrangements by Al Avola and Frank DeVol and vocals by Paul Allen, Lee Columbo, Betty Bonney, Phyllis Lynne, and Frankie's own daughter, Marjorie Hughes. Thanks to numerous hits for Columbia Records and regular national exposure via radio band remotes, Frankie Carle and his Orchestra remained a top attraction well into the 1950s.

As both a solo attraction and as the leader of a small combo, Carle carried on throughout much of the 1960s, playing small but classy venues and recording for RCA. He came out of semi-retirement in the 1970s, revitalizing his career through various tours with big band revival shows. (At the time, he joked that he was out to "get some of the money they're giving to rock 'n' rollers.") After finally retiring to Mesa, Arizona in 1984, he passed away in 2001 -- just 18 days shy of his 98th birthday.

This collection contains two outstanding and previously unavailable broadcasts from Carle's lengthy career. The first, dating from Sunday, June 13, 1948, is from the CBS series "The Summer Electric Hour" and features vocals by Marjorie Hughes, Greg Lawrence, Billy Williams, and the Starlighters, with announcer John Heaston as host. The second, first heard over NBC on Sunday, September 2, 1951, is a live remote from the Cocoanut Grove and offers vocals by Joan Haas, Peggy Barrett, and Don Maddox.


Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye

Sammy KayeSweet bands frequently relied on catchy tag lines to describe their musical styles -- and probably none is more famous or better remembered today than "Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye." The fact that Kaye's band could never, ever be accused of playing swing music didn't enter into it; dancers tightly packed into a crowded ballroom could indeed sway to his music, and that seemed to be enough to justify the billing.

The son of Czechoslovakian immigrants, clarinet player Sammy Kaye spent the early years of his band leading career imitating many of the techniques of the more successful band of Kay Kyser - including "the old professor's" singing song titles, audience participation stunts, and to a certain extent, even his theme song. ("Kaye's Melody," Sammy's rather tuneless theme, bears more than a slight resemblance to Kyser's more melodic theme, "Thinking of You.") After leaving Ohio State University in the early 1930s, Kaye was soon leading his own orchestra at the Statler Hotel in Cleveland, which led to engagements at many of New York's best hotels. Unlike most bands which featured instrumental soloists, Kaye focused primarily on vocalists - including, over time, Don Cornell, Johnny McAfee, Maury Cross, Marty McKenna, Tommy Ryan, and Arthur Wright. He also formed vocal groups, including the Kaydettes and the Kaye Choir.

An excellent and detail-oriented businessman, Sammy Kaye was well known to the members of his band for his strict attitudes and demanding nature. Though his orchestra seldom boasted any memorable or well-known musicians, those who served under him frequently spoke of his non-nonsense discipline and rather dictatorial nature - especially during his often-lengthy rehearsal sessions. For the audience, this regimen meant that his orchestra usually performed flawlessly - though, with such precision required by the leader, it was generally a pretty stiff outfit. (To his credit, Kaye was financially generous with his musicians and, unlike many a bandleader that refused to pay for the cost of food and accommodations on the road, Kaye's men always traveled and stayed first class.)

The Sammy Kaye band was a fixture on radio, appearing frequently in a variety of commercial formats on all of the major networks between 1937 and 1956, including memorable stints on the Chrysler-Plymouth "Sammy Kaye Showroom" and his long-running "Sunday Serenade" series. Kaye's career continued long after the big band era was over, ending only with his retirement to Southern California in the late 1960s. Even today, dancers are still listening to his music, as the Sammy Kaye orchestra continues to perform under the direction of trumpeter Roger Thorpe -- but, truth to tell, the band still doesn't swing.

This collection offers you the chance to swing and sway yourself (or not), as we offer two of the band's live band remotes, both emanating from the roof of the elegant Hotel Astor in New York City. The first, broadcast on Monday, August 27, 1945, features vocals by Billy Williams, Arthur Wright, Sally Stewart, and Nancy Norman and the second, a newly discovered CBS broadcast from the Summer of 1951, offers vocals by Don Burke, Barbara Benson, Tony Alamo, and the Three Kaydettes.


Vincent Lopez and his Orchestra

Vincent LopezIt would be hard to think of a more successful or diverse bandleader than Vincent Lopez. Seated behind a gleaming grand piano on the bandstand of his twenty-year home base, the Grill Room of the Hotel Taft in New York City, Lopez fronted a band that offered swing, dance music, Dixieland jazz, country-western tunes -- and, in the late 1950s, even a few rock and roll numbers.

Lopez had originally studied to become a priest, but soon decided to go into music and formed his first orchestra in 1917. Featuring his own flamboyant and florid piano style - a technique that would later inspire such performers as Eddy Duchin and Liberace - Lopez was extremely successful and gave important breaks to such future stars as Artie Shaw, Xavier Cugat, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Tony Pastor, Rudy Vallee, and Glenn Miller. The Lopez orchestra was also the first dance band to broadcast live on the new fangled "wireless," offering the first of his thousands of radio broadcasts over radio station WJZ on November 27, 1921. ("Lopez Speaking," the signature announcement that opened each program, began with that first show and continued on for over forty years of broadcasting.)

The Lopez band practically defined the style of popular hotel orchestras of the time. Playing primarily for dancing and light entertainment, Lopez was also an innovator when it came to the audience participation stunts that generated publicity. Wednesdays through Fridays, for instance, Lopez would have everybody in stitches at the Grill Room with his "Shake the Maracas" show, in which people came great distances to demonstrate their personal skill with the maracas and compete for such prizes as miniature piano cigarette lighters and autographed photos of the bandleader. On many an afternoon, tourists (and hooky-playing office workers) would head off to the Taft for an hour-long 1:00 PM dance session, often broadcast as "Luncheon With Lopez" over the Mutual Radio Network. He even sponsored "Fashions in Music," a weekly afternoon fashion show in which models would display the latest in day and evening wear to the instrumental melodies of the band.

Such novelties may have diminished the impact of his music, but it never affected his pocketbook - or his ability to hire the best musicians in town. For many years, a spot in the Lopez band was a real plum for a musician who also desired a stable family life; the show at the Taft always ended at 9:00 PM sharp, giving a sideman ample time to change into street clothes and be home in time to kiss the kids goodnight and watch the eleven o'clock news.

Vincent Lopez and his Orchestra are represented here by two 1959 broadcasts from the Grill Room, featuring vocalists "Texas" Teddy Norman, Barbara Barrie, Johnny Messner (himself a former bandleader and, at this time, the musical co-director of the Lopez band), and the Lopezians.


Chuck Foster and his "Music in the Foster Fashion"

Chuck FosterEmulating the style of Guy Lombardo's successful and popular Royal Canadians, reed player Chuck Foster began his career as a bandleader in 1938, bringing the sweet (and sometimes syrupy) sounds of his band to such sizeable venues as San Francisco's Mark Hopkins Hotel and the Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel's famous Biltmore Bowl. With radio remotes routinely being broadcast from both locations, the band hit its stride early and quickly achieved popularity with the help of talented pianist Hal Pruden and vocalists Dorothy Brandon, Jean Gordon, Dotty Dotson and Jimmy Castle. Appearances on the popular "Victory Parade of Spotlight Bands," a radio program sponsored throughout the war years by the Coca-Cola Company, led to a number of coast to coast tours, with one nighters in hotels throughout the country and lengthy stays in Chicago's staid Aragon and Trianon Ballrooms. After the band's success in the Windy City, Foster decided to make his home in the Midwest, leading the band into successful engagements at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, the Muehlbach Hotel in Kansas City, and New Orleans' Roosevelt Hotel.

Though Foster was proficient on both the clarinet and saxophone, for some reason he never played these instruments with his band. Instead, he would simply hold his clarinet as he conducted. He also sang the vocal on the band's theme song, "Oh You Beautiful Doll," always singing directly to one of the more attractive women in that night's audience - a trademark that undoubtedly thrilled some and embarrassed others. Foster was an attractive and personable leader, always ready with a handshake, a smile, and an autograph when requested; even if his band wasn't the most innovative of outfits, dancers could be sure of a pleasant tuneful evening when his orchestra was on the stand.

During World War II, Foster was drafted into military service and first trumpet player Ray Robbins took over the band until he returned. (Robbins would later use this experience to form his own sweet band, with a style similar to that of his former boss.) After the war, the band continued to tour throughout the Midwest well into the 1960s, but it finally relocated to the west coast in the early 1970s, eventually finding a long-time home at Myron's Ballroom in Los Angeles.

Heard today, "Music in the Foster Fashion" offers little to distinguish it from other similar sweet bands of the time. But it always succeeded in accomplishing exactly what it set out to do: play entertaining music for dancing, quiet conversation -- and perhaps a bit of romantic cuddling as well.

Chuck Foster and his Orchestra can be heard here in two live band remotes from the Terrace Room of New York City's Hotel New Yorker. Broadcast on Monday, August 13, 1945 and Saturday, September 8, 1945, the programs feature vocals by Judy Tremaine, Shirley Richards and Dick Roberts.


The Shuffle Rhythms of Henry Busse and his Orchestra

Henry BusseBorn in Germany, trumpeter Henry Busse came to the United States in 1916 and soon obtained an east coast job in a pit orchestra, playing accompaniment for silent movies and stage shows. Rapidly tiring of the repetitive work, he started his own quintet and eventually headed west to California. His specialty, his muted trumpet playing six-eight time numbers in a tempo he would later dub "Shuffle Rhythm," caught the ear of Paul Whiteman - the then-reigning "King of Jazz" - who hired Busse to play a variety of specialty numbers with his popular band.

Busse's greatest hit - and, in fact, his band's theme song - was "Hot Lips," a novelty number that he himself had composed along with Harry Lange and Lou Davis. With Whiteman, he co-wrote another hit, "Wang Wang Blues," which Whiteman used as the audition piece that secured his band their Victor recording contract in 1919. By all reports, Busse was happy with Whiteman, but still yearned to be independent. He went out his own in 1928, and soon found a home at the Chez Paree nightclub in Chicago.

The Busse orchestra spent much of the 1930s playing in and around Chicago, his music changing and keeping up with the new trends toward swing and "hot" music, but it's leader always understood the need for good dance tempos, with his own muted trumpet solos lending a unique sound to the arrangements. By 1938, the band was appearing at the Hotel New Yorker, where its "Shuffle Rhythm" arrangements gave popular tunes of the day a drive and appeal that was similar but different than the other popular bands. The fact that Busse had to play his signature hits - "Hot Lips," "Wang Wang Blues," and "When Day is Done," another number he had made popular with Whiteman - practically every day of his life was of no concern to him; the public enjoyed his band, liked him, and liked the music they made together.

Henry Busse remained in the band business throughout the 1940s, even making a few movie appearances, and was still leading a somewhat smaller band when he suddenly died of a heart attack in Memphis, Tennessee in April of 1955, just before he was scheduled to make an appearance at a local hotel. Busse's mid-1940s band, a dynamic organization that played both sweet and swing equally well, is represented here in a live broadcast from "the world famous Hollywood Palladium, on Sunset Boulevard in the heart of America's film capitol." First broadcast on Thursday, September 21, 1944, "Shuffle Rhythm" is well represented with a variety of delightful instrumentals, with Elaine Bower, Wyatt Howard, and Phil Grey singing the vocal numbers.


Horace Heidt and his Musical Knights

Horace HeidtBandleader Horace Heidt led one of the largest and most commercially successful orchestras of the big band era, even if it relied primarily on the showmanship of its soloists to entertain the audiences. However, with featured performers like guitarist Alvino Rey, pianist Frankie Carle, the King Sisters vocal group, baritone Gordon MacRae, and blind whistler Fred Lowery, there were few if any complaints from the crowds that inevitably attended their many theater and ballroom appearances or tuned in their radio shows.

Heidt himself was something of an enigma, even to those who knew him intimately. He led the band with a curious half-smile on his face and a rather stiff and stilted appearance that reminded some people of a high school principal keeping a close eye on his unruly students. This may have partially been because Heidt himself was, unlike most other leaders, not really a musician himself; he had studied piano as a youth, but his greatest skills were as a producer, promoter, and talent scout. The combination of the three, plus an outstanding business sense, brought fame and considerable financial gain over the course of his career.

Horace Heidt's musical career began in 1923, when a back injury diverted his hopes for a football career and led him instead into music. Originally called "Horace Heidt and his Californians," his band grew in both size and popularity throughout the decade and eventually led to tours of Europe and with the Fanchon and Marco vaudeville circuit throughout the United States. It was on these tours that Heidt's sense of showmanship really hit its stride, as his band began featuring everything from musical novelties to a trained dog act!

The Californians broke up in the early 1930s and Heidt formed a new band in 1932. This time called "Horace Heidt and his Brigadiers," the band was successful enough to obtain a regular radio program in 1936, broadcast from the Drake Theater in Chicago. It was on this program, and in its stage appearances, that Heidt came up with the concept of a give-away contest involving phone calls to listeners -- and thus was the highly successful "Pot of Gold" show born, one of the first big-money radio game shows to capture the public's interest.

By the late 1930s, Heidt's band had changed names again - it was ever after known as "Horace Heidt and his Musical Knights" - and, to the surprise of his critics, his musical style changed as well. He retained his most popular soloists but set out to hire such outstanding swing musicians as trumpeters Bobby Hackett and Shorty Sherock, sax player/arranger Frank DeVol, the great Dixieland clarinet player Irving Fazola, and bass sax player Joe Rushton. For the first time, Heidt's band played real authentic swing music -- and remarkably well, too.

By 1945, Heidt decided to leave the band business and focus his attentions on his many investments in real estate - including the vast and popular Trianon Ballroom in Southgate, California. He also opened "The Horace Heidt School for Stammering," an institution designed to help those afflicted with a condition which he himself had overcome at an early age through sheer strength of will. For the next forty years, aside from a brief return to band leading in 1947 and an occasional foray hosting radio and television programs, Horace Heidt managed his growing empire well. When he passed away in 1986, he died a very wealthy and, from all reports, a very happy man.

Horace Heidt and his Musical Knights are heard here in an opening night broadcast from his own Trianon Ballroom, originally aired on Tuesday, January 23, 1945, and featuring vocals by Gene Walsh, trumpet solos by Shorty Sherock (soon to depart to form his own band), and whistling solos by Fred Lowery.


Joe Reichman and his Orchestra

Billed as "The Pagliacci of the Piano," Joe Reichman is best remembered today for his captivating theatrical skill at the keyboard. Employing an expansive and flowery style similar to that of his contemporaries Eddy Duchin and Carmen Cavallaro, Reichman led a band that typified the "society bands" of the time.

The Reichman band was an elegant and highly successful outfit, playing the large hotel ballrooms that frequently hosted cotillions, wedding receptions, and coming out parties for wealthy debutantes. It helped that Reichman himself was a handsome and tuxedoed romantic figure, with a pencil thin mustache, aquiline features, and a ready wit. (Band members knew his other side, though; when particularly upset at rehearsals, it was not uncommon for him to pick up his piano bench and throw it forcefully across the room!)

Reichman's wit is evident in this live remote, broadcast in July of 1944 from the Biltmore Bowl of the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, California and featuring vocals by Maureen O'Connor and Ray Foster. Note in particular Reichman's smooth and captivating arrangements, his interplay with a rather hapless announcer, his encouragement to the audience to "show a little enthusiasm" in their applause, and, in an example of the hazards of live radio, Reichman's verbal recovery as he accidentally knocks over a music stand while introducing a vocalist.


Bob Chester and his Orchestra


Bob ChesterTo many, the distinctive clarinet lead arrangements of the Glenn Miller orchestra bring back the sound and feel of the big band era like noting else -- so much so that, in the late 1940s, a number of bands were formed solely to take advantage of this early nostalgia. Miller's own "ghost" band, led by sax player/vocalist Tex Beneke, toured well into the 1950s and other orchestras (including that of Miller's former arranger, Jerry Gray, and also one headed by Ralph Flanagan) found success in mimicking the "boo-wah boo-wah" trombone riffs and other sounds of the Miller band. But only one band intentionally chose to imitate Miller while he was still *alive* -- and what's more, record on Bluebird, the same RCA subsidiary label that first released Miller's biggest hits.

Tenor sax player Bob Chester began his career playing with a variety of successful bands, including stints with Irving Aaronson's Commanders, Ben Bernie, and Ben Pollack. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Chester was the wealthy stepson of the head of General Motors' Fisher Body Works. He formed his first band in the late 1930s and secured an engagement at the Detroit Athletic Club. From all reports, this first engagement was a fiasco and Chester was considering a return to sideman status when he met up with successful bandleader Tommy Dorsey. Dorsey, known for both co-financing bands and the habit of nursing a grudge for years, saw something in the saxophonist (some say he reminded him of himself) and took him under his wing - even inviting him to live with his family in New York until something could be put together for him.

Whether it was Chester's idea or a Dorsey inspiration is open to debate, but what the two of them came up with surprised everyone in the business: the new Bob Chester band was a virtual imitation of the Glenn Miller orchestra, then rising rapidly in popularity, complete with the clarinet leads, 'killer diller' instrumentals, and clean-cut vocalists upon which Miller had built his reputation. In retrospect, it seems likely that Dorsey was angry with Miller at the time and decided to get even by simply recreating the Miller band in his own way. Chester worked with Dorsey to hire some of the best musicians in the business, which over time included trumpeters Alec Fila and Conrad Gozzo, saxophonists Herbie Steward and Peanuts Hucko, and trombonist Bill Harris. The band also featured excellent vocalists, including the jazz-tinged Dolores "Dodie" O'Neill and a former Miller vocalist, Kathleen "Kitty" Lane.

Despite early success - and despite being booked at many of the same ballrooms and nightspots that had earlier boosted Miller to prominence - Chester soon found that copying the Miller sound required more than just playing similar arrangements. It also required the same discipline, lengthy rehearsals, level of talent, and virtual perfection that Miller sought from his musicians -- something that Chester just couldn't consistently duplicate. So, in 1942, Chester broke away from the Miller mold and, with the help of arranger Dave Rose, decided to concentrate on creating a more individual style. Focusing on swinging instrumentals and popular ballads, the Bob Chester band achieved a decent degree of success - though this was as much due to personable vocalists like Betty Bradley, Bob Haymes (brother of singer and Hollywood star Dick Haymes), Hall Stewart, Gene Howard, David Allen, and future "Hollywood Squares" host Peter Marshall as to the inconsistent quality of his music.

By the end of the war, economics and an overstocked musical marketplace forced Chester to disband his orchestra, whereupon he returned to his native Detroit to accept a job as a disc jockey. The band business beckoned again in 1947 and Chester headed up a Dixieland combo that featured vocalist Alan Foster, which survived through the early 1950s, after which Chester decided to leave the music scene for good. He returned once again to Detroit, where he accepted a job in the automotive industry and remained prosperous until his death in 1977.

Bob Chester and his Orchestra are heard here in a live performance from the Panther Room of Chicago's Hotel Sherman, originally broadcast on Sunday, October 8, 1944. Though this program is something of a departure from the other shows in this collection (by 1944, Chester was focusing on some pretty driving arrangements), we think that the presence of ballads featuring vocalists Dave Allen and Betty Bradley and a nice collection of wartime numbers makes it fit in quite nicely.


Russ Morgan and his "Music in the Morgan Manner"

Russ MorganBest remembered for the "wah-wah" trombone style that became his trademark, Russ Morgan was born in the coal-mining town of Scranton, Pennsylvania. His father and mother, both former professional musicians, encouraged their young son to learn an instrument, leading young Russ to seek work in the mines at an early age in order to pay for his piano lessons. By age fourteen, he was earning extra money by playing piano at a local movie theater and, with the profits, bought his first trombone. At seventeen, he spent a year playing with the Scranton Sirens, a band which also featured future bandleader Jimmy Dorsey, before heading off to New York in 1922, where the eighteen-year-old soon found work as a musical arranger for Victor Herbert and John Philip Sousa. He toured Europe with Paul Specht's orchestra in 1923 and, a year later, was invited to Detroit to serve as the arranger for Jean Goldkette's popular band.

Morgan was an extremely talented musician whose ability bordered on genius; he played trombone, piano, sax, guitar, vibraphone, and organ and successfully arranged music for many diverse orchestras. By 1927, the burgeoning field of radio broadcasting beckoned, and Russ Morgan left Goldkette's employ to serve as musical director at station WXYZ in Detroit, Michigan, where he sidelined as arranger and musician with the Detroit Symphony. A serious automobile accident in 1929 put him in the hospital and the stock market crash later that year caused a downturn in the fortunes of WXYZ, so back to New York he went, finding steady work writing arrangements and playing in studio orchestras.

Another automobile accident sidelined Morgan in 1933. Still recovering from his injuries and temporarily unable to play his trombone, he went to work for Freddy Martin as a pianist in 1934. It was with Martin's band that he first experimented with his soon to be famous "wah-wah" trombone style; played as something of a joke on quiet nights when the band outnumbered the customers, the savvy Morgan soon realized that this odd but appealing little gimmick was just the thing he needed to distinguish himself as a leader. Borrowing liberally from Martin's library of arrangements (and appropriating Freddy's tag line "Music in the Martin Manner" for himself as well) he formed his own orchestra in 1936 with the financial help of his friend and fellow musician Rudy Vallee.

The band was immediately successful, playing a lilting and well-blended mixture of vocal and dance tunes which, though loose and easy going, were actually very tightly arranged -- often by Morgan himself. Morgan also served as part-time vocalist for the band, composed it's theme song, "Does Your Heart Beat For Me," and contributed his trademark "wah-wah" trombone riffs to most every number it played. His style always leaned primary toward the commercial, so one was seldom likely to hear any of the "killer dillers" played by the more swinging bands, but he always had a knack for knowing just what the public liked -- and gave it to them over and over again.

As musical tastes changed with the turn of the decade, the Russ Morgan orchestra suffered a few downturns in the early 1940s. He kept his group together, though, and survived to experience his greatest popularity after the war and beyond. (His orchestra could be heard playing Las Vegas showrooms as late as 1965.) Morgan's sons, Jack and David, joined the band in the early 1950s and it remained a source of great pride to their father that his organization would be passed from father to sons. After Morgan's death in 1969, this is precisely what happened; Jack Morgan continues to lead the Russ Morgan band to this very day.

"Music in the Morgan Manner" is represented here by two live broadcasts from one of the most elegant nightspots of all time: the Garden Court of the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, California. The programs, originally aired on Thursday, December 14, 1944 and Thursday, June 28, 1945, feature vocals by Al Jennings, Marjorie Lee, and Russ Morgan himself.


Shep Fields and his "Rippling Rhythm" Orchestra

Shep FieldsIt may be difficult to believe, but the foundation of Shep Fields success rested on his ability to blow through a straw and make bubbles in a bowl of water. As Fields himself told it, his orchestra was playing a one-night stand in Rockford, Illinois where he and his wife stopped by a soda fountain for a drink. While sipping, Fields' wife happened to blow into her soda -- and Shep knew right away that the bubbling was the trademark sound needed to open each of his many broadcasts.

"Ripping Rhythm" was more than just hot air, though; it was a unique blend of styles and instruments, brought together to create an off-center sound that was immediately appealing and extremely danceable. Playing for dancing came second nature to the bandleader, as he had began his professional career as the sax playing leader of the house band at New York's Pierre Hotel in 1934. Opportunity knocked a few months later when Veloz and Yolande, the nation's top dance team, hired his band to travel with them as part of their stage show. Known as "The Veloz and Yolande Orchestra under the direction of Shep Fields," the band and their dancing bosses had their first booking in Chicago, and it wasn't long before Fields began to experiment with new and different sounds and orchestrations. With a limited budget and only stock arrangements to work with, Fields and his arrangers took bits and piece that they liked from other popular orchestras of the time - Hal Kemp's trumpet triplets, Eddy Duchin's free-flowing right hand embellishments, Ted Fio Rito's use of temple blocks, and so on - and assigned them to various sections of his band. Soon a unique style began to emerge - one so different and distinctive that audiences hearing it responded enthusiastically every time they gave the new arrangements a trial run. A contest was soon held to name the new sound and, out of the thousands of entries, a catch phrase was born: "Rippling Rhythm."

When his Chicago engagement ended, Fields and the orchestra traveled to Los Angeles with the dance team for an engagement at the Cocoanut Grove, but soon decided to try it on their own, paying for the trip back to New York by playing a series of one nighters and split weeks at various venues along the way. It was on this trip that the bubbling opening trademark came into being, putting a final touch on the polish of the orchestra and leading to a series of radio remotes. Soon after he reached New York and returned to the bandstand of the Pierre, Fields' band signed with RCA's Bluebird label and produced a string of successful hits that eventually led to a radio series, "The Rippling Rhythm Revue," which also featured the comedy of a brash young Broadway comedian named Bob Hope.

"Rippling Rhythm" was a major financial success -- but Fields was too good a musician to remain satisfied with blowing bubbles forever. So, in 1942, he put together another unique orchestra, this time consisting entirely of reed instruments and percussion. Billed as "Shep Fields and His New Music," among the members of this critically acclaimed and beautifully blended band were such future television stars as comedian Sid Caesar on saxophone and Ken Curtis ("Festus" on "Gunsmoke") as male vocalist. But, despite the excellent reviews Fields received for this new organization, the band never seemed to capture the public's fancy the same as his "Rippling Rhythm" had done. So, in 1947, the creative gave way to the practical and Shep returned to his previous sound -- and previous success, as well.

The bubbles rippled into 1955 and, when most of the ballrooms had closed, Fields put away his straw and became a disc jockey for a radio station in Houston, Texas, his band leading days over for good. His business skills and show business contacts stood him in good stead, though, and he and his brother - high-powered personal agent Freddy Fields - formed a Los Angeles-based talent agency called Creative Management Associates (CMA) in 1963. Fields died of a heart attack in 1981, richer and even more successful than he had been when his "Rippling Rhythm" filled the airwaves.

Shep Fields and his "Rippling Rhythm" are heard here in two live broadcasts. The first, from the Glen Island Casino in New Rochelle, New York, dates from 1947 and the second is as broadcast on March 6, 1948 from the Ice Terrace Room of the Hotel New Yorker. Both feature vocals by Toni Arden, Bob Johnstone, and The Three Beaus and a Peep.


Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians

Guy LombardoProbably no orchestra leader of his time suffered more ribbing - good natured and otherwise - than Guy Lombardo. Parodied for the distinctive vibrato of his sax section, his often pedantic rhythms, and the familiar nature of his band's personnel (the band boasted all four Lombardo brothers, as well as a vocalist brother-in-law), Lombardo early on adopted a philosophy that might best be described as "crying all the way to the bank."

Guy Lombardo was more than just a bandleader; he was a virtual institution. Thanks to broadcasts on both radio and television, it was his Royal Canadians who, for decades, welcomed in each and every New Year with their theme song, "Auld Lang Syne." (Writer and humorist Garrison Keillor once reported that, as a child hearing Lombardo on the radio, he mentally pictured the Royal Canadians dressed in official RCMP red uniforms ala Nelson Eddy, playing their instruments on horseback!) Lombardo himself was a consummate leader who, even in his last years, hated a night off from conducting because he didn't know what to do with himself. From the very beginning, Guy Lombardo believed in the music his orchestra made -- and it was his belief, along with the talents of his musicians, that made "The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven" a popular success for over fifty years.

One of four sons of an immigrant tailor, Guy Lombardo grew up in a family filled with music. Brother Carmen played flute and saxophone, brother Liebert played drums and trumpet, brother Victor played clarinet and sax, and Guy himself played violin. Forming their first band in 1916, the group became popular around their hometown of London, Ontario and, in November 1923, they chanced a trip to Cleveland, Ohio to see if they could break into the American music scene.

Times were tough, though, and the Lombardos found themselves just another band among the hundreds recording and playing hotel ballrooms at the time. In order to survive, they knew they would have to find a new and distinctive sound - one that would be both unique and immediately identifiable to the listener. Focusing almost exclusively on melody, playing simple but highly danceable arrangements, and featuring the soulful vibrato of brother Carmen's saxophone, their big break finally came in Chicago in 1927 when Lombardo paid radio station WBBM to broadcast a fifteen-minute portion of their performance at the Granada Cafe. By the end of the evening, the ballroom was jammed and the radio station had received so many calls that they extended the broadcast further into the evening.

Guy soon gave up his violin and traded it for a baton, fronting the band and enhancing its image with his bright and outgoing personality. He made it a habit to chat with audience members as they danced by the bandstand, laughing and joking with them to put everyone in a happy and festive mood. By this time, the Lombardo band had also adopted the moniker "the Royal Canadians" - a compromise to their booking agent's suggestion that they dress as Mounties to draw attention to themselves. Radio continued to play a major role in their success and, when they accepted a booking at New York's Roosevelt Grill in October 1929, their remotes over station WABC helped draw a considerably large crowd to the venue. Newly-formed radio networks CBS and NBC both vied for the exclusive right to broadcast the band and, unable to reach a decision, Lombardo suggested a well-received compromise: CBS aired the Royal Canadians from 11:30 PM to midnight and NBC took over between midnight and 12:30 AM.

The Lombardo organization continued to be influential throughout the 1930s and 1940s, consistently scoring high ratings on network radio and drawing huge crowds of dancers. It seemed that people of all ages and races loved Lombardo's music - even trumpeter Louis Armstrong, who modeled the style his own band after the Royal Canadians. Through the years, vocals were provided by Carmen and Leibert Lombardo, Kenny Gardner (who became Guy's brother-in-law when he married Guy's sister, Elaine), singer/comedienne Rose Marie, Bill Flannigan, Cliff Grass, Don Rodney, Tony Craig, Stuart Foster, Jimmie Brown, "The Incomparable Hildegarde" - a talented pianist/singer/chanteuse who later became a prime supper club attraction - Edie Adams (before she found Broadway success and married comedian Ernie Kovacs), Kenny Martin, and Billy Leach.

When most of the other big bands had filed away their arrangements and disbanded, the Royal Canadians carried on right through the 1950s, 1960s, and into the 1970s - their bookings and popularity undaunted by changing times. It seemed to many that Guy Lombardo would live forever -- but, alas, in November of 1977, while playing an engagement in Houston, Texas, Guy suffered a massive coronary and died shortly thereafter. Victor Lombardo, who had briefly fronted his own band in the late 1940s, briefly carried on in his stead, but found that he couldn't maintain the pace. Finally, after Leibert Lombardo decided to retire in 1979, the group was disbanded -- but not for long. The Lombardo estate reorganized the band in 1989 and, to this day, it continues to entertain under the direction of pianist and arranger Al Pierson.

The band that played "The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven" can still be enjoyed today, either in person or in the thousands of recordings, radio broadcasts, and television programs the Royal Canadians made through the years -- including the two offered here, both from "Musical Autographs," a weekly series heard over the Blue Network in the summer of 1945. These two programs, rather heavily edited for rebroadcast by the Armed Forces Radio Service, feature announcer Dan Seymour introducing the (supposedly) favorite songs of a variety of celebrities and movie stars of the time. The concept may be a little contrived - but the music of the Royal Canadians remains as timeless as New Year's Eve.



Average Customer Review: 5 of 5 | Total Reviews: 2 Write a review

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I Loved the Write Up September 18, 2009
Reviewer: Archie Hunter from Canada  
I loved the write up on the "The Best of the Big Bands Volume 2" set! Well done. Thank you for a wonderful year of great memories.

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Thanks For Your Great Work September 18, 2009
Reviewer: Larry Thomas  
I'll be giving the Big Band set to my brother as a birthday gift. He doesn't know it yet, but he's got a real treat in store for him. Thanks for your great work. I truly miss radio like it was, but you let me enjoy it all over again.

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