Reflections of Gene Lees on His Birthday
by Harrigan Logan
Harrigan Logan knows Gene Lees because her father, director/producer/playwright Joshua Logan (Annie Get Your Gun, South Pacific, Mister Roberts, Picnic, etc.,) was one of Gene’s dear friends. Harrigan is a singer/ songwriter/ musician and among the favorite comments she has received for her music is this from Rosemary Clooney, "the minute the music started playing I burst into tears and reached for the Kleenex. That song is amazing. You sing dead center on the note which is exactly where you want your voice to be. Perfect." You can learn more about Harrigan and listen to her music at her website: www.harriganlogan.com
When Gene Lees celebrated his birthday on February 8th 2006 at a quiet dinner in Meiners Oaks, California, Canada also celebrated the birth of one of its exceptional native sons. When Gene’s book, You Can’t Steal A Gift: Dizzy, Clark, Milt, and Nat was published in 2001, Glen Woodcock of the Toronto Sun wrote, "Let me get straight to the point: Gene Lees is the best writer on the topic of jazz in the world today." When prominent jazz critic and journalist, Nat Hentoff was contacted for this article, he said "in many years to come, Gene Lees will be one of the few writers on jazz whose works will be permanently valuable because of the quality of his perceptions, the depth of his research, and his personal knowledge of the musicians about whom he writes." Gene’s contributions to jazz are enough to ensure him a place of honor in Canadian cultural history, but Gene’s other accomplishments are also remarkable.
Gene wrote the English lyrics to Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado) for Brazil’s most celebrated composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim; it is one of the more famous songs of the twentieth century. He wrote Bridges with Milton Nascimento and Yesterday I Heard The Rain with Armando Manzaneiro. Those and other Lees songs have been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee (one of Gene’s favorite singers and best friends), Tony Bennett, and hundreds of other singers and jazz instrumentalists. Three of his lyrics are included in Reading Lyrics: More Than 1,000 of the Century's Finest Lyrics, edited and with an introduction by Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball. The Lees lyrics included in the book are Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars, Waltz For Debby which he wrote with brilliant jazz pianist and composer, Bill Evans, and The Right To Love with music by Lalo Schifrin.
In 2004, Gene received his fifth ASCAP award; The Timothy White Award for Outstanding Musical Biography for Portrait of Johnny: The Life of John Herndon Mercer. In the same year he opened his home to two different film crews; one from Brazil and the other from the BBC. Both crews were after the same subjects: jazz and Jobim.
In the Fall of 2005 he sat patiently while a reporter from the Parisian magazine Jazzman, interviewed him for several hours. The resulting article is a paean to Gene. (At Home ...with Gene Lees, Décembre 2005, #119.) He is celebrated in France for his contributions to jazz and also for his songwriting with Charles Aznavour. Gene adapted some of Aznavour’s songs into English; Paris Is At Her Best In May, For Me, Formidable and Venice Blue. Gene also wrote much of the material that was featured in Aznavour’s first Broadway solo concert, The World of Charles Aznavour, 1965.
In 2004 Gene published his second novel, Song Lake Summer in the Jazzletter, his own magazine which he publishes twelve times a year and exclusively writes for.
Gene founded the Jazzletter in 1981, devoting it to history and biography. He’d earned enough money with The Modern Rhyming Dictionary: How to Write Lyrics (Cherry Lane, 1981), that he didn’t have to work for anybody else. He sent letters to all the musicians he knew and "asked if they’d be interested in this magazine and I had a tremendous response." The Jazzletter, begun on a typewriter, "would not have survived had it not been moved to a computer. I got my first computer in 1984." Seven volumes of Jazzletter essays have been published by Oxford University Press, Yale University Press, and Cassell. No other publication in jazz history has produced as many anthologies and the magazine is still going strong after twenty-five years without a single advertisement.
In the summer of 2005, Gene become so excited about his article on Artie Shaw for the Jazzletter, he's expanded that writing into his eighteenth book and is almost finished with it. At the beginning of March 2006 he "got a groove going" with his writing on Shaw and has to "consciously stop myself in the evening after pounding out three thousand words during the day. I have to consciously pull myself away from the work and tell myself to ‘relax, rest, you’ve done enough for the day.’
"For people who are artists," he told me, "the work is the life. It defines and justifies your very existence. If you’re not actively doing a project you’re nothing in your own mind. You can’t retire from it. There is no way out. You are your work. You’re life is defined by it."
I told Gene that in the early 1980s my father visited Irving Berlin, then in his nineties. Josh had directed This Is The Army, Annie Get Your Gun and Mr. President with songs by Mr. Berlin and they were good friends. Pop came home shaking his head. "He doesn’t think he’s written anything important." I was incredulous. Irving Berlin doesn’t think he’s written anything important? Gene explained, "Mr. Berlin was likely depressed because he hadn’t done anything lately." As it happened Mr. Berlin hadn’t written a new song in twenty years. Gene said when an artist is not doing his art he agonizes over the questions "who am I really and what is the point of life?"
On February 17th, nine days after his 78th birthday, Gene sat in the control booth of Capitol Records’ Studio A, "one of the best recording studios in the world, "as coproducer for an album of classical music written by his friend, composer and arranger, Claus Ogerman. The four pieces, Nightwings, Prelude and Chant, Sarabande-Fantasie and Concerto Lirico, originally composed for violin and orchestra, were recorded in duet by world renowned pianist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet who Gene feels is "one of the truly great pianists of our time" and Gene’s brilliant young protégé, violinist Yué Deng. The recording was done for Decca Records. (http://www.deccaclassics.com)
Gene Lees is the only person I know who’s tweaked a Pope’s poems and been praised by said Pope for his efforts. In 1984 Gene was approached by the record producer, Gigi Campi, to set the late Pope Paul II’s poems to new music. Mr. Campi had read Gene’s The Modern Rhyming Dictionary: How to Write Lyrics and felt he was the man for the job. Gene was very reluctant to do it at all. "The translation of foreign lyrics is nearly impossible because you cannot possibly make a verbatim translation that will fit the music, and you also lose the rhymes."
The poems were written by the Pope in the late 1940s when he was a young priest in Krakow; the original Polish had been translated into Italian and some of the Italian translations were set to music. Gene "read the poems in English, French, Spanish and Italian," languages he is fluent in, "and found variance in all of them. Nothing ultimately can be translated," he told me. Gene thought "I don’t want to write what the Italians think the Pope said," so he did what he always does, he consulted an expert: Gene contacted the distinguished Polish film composer, Bronislau Kaper. (Mr. Kaper cowrote the words and music to the song Hi-lili Hi-lo with Helen Deutsch and his film scores include Green Dolphin Street, Butterfield 8, and Somebody Up There Likes Me.)
Gene spent an afternoon at Mr. Kaper’s home in Los Angeles while the composer explained exactly what the Polish words meant. Gene made crude but accurate translations; then Gene constructed lyrics, using his own translations of the Pope’s poems. After he’d done that he wrote two original lyrics to bookend the project: The Mystery of Man which opened the evening and Let It Live which closed it. The songs were to be sung by Sarah Vaughan with a full orchestra in front of a live audience at the Tonhalle, in Dusseldorf, on June 30th, 1984. As well, the performance was being filmed for television.
When Miss Vaughan arrived in Dusseldorf, barely four days before the live performance, she didn’t know the songs. "She had a tremendous technique," Gene explained, "and like all people with big techniques, she trusted it, so consequently she hadn’t learned the material. But this stuff was difficult and when she saw the music and heard it, it scared the hell out of her." She learned the music because Gene rehearsed her every moment right up until she put on her beaded gown and stepped out onto the stage; she was pitch perfect, faultless and magnificent. I’ve listened to the live recording and heard the thunderous applause afterward.
When the Pope saw the television broadcast, he turned to his aide and said, "I am only an amateur - this man is an artist."
In the last few years, Gene has been slowly and often painfully recovering from a list of ailments including open heart surgery. Because of this, Gene’s friend, the Canadian conductor, arranger and composer, Marc Fortier, wanted to have a birthday tribute written about Gene. "I want him to know how loved he is now," Marc told me.
Both Marc and Gene deeply mourned the loss of their great friend, composer, conductor, musical arranger and trumpet player, Robert Farnon in April, 2005. When I contacted him for this article, Johnny Mandel told me "I stole everything from Farnon." Gene said "Everyone stole from Farnon. And Mandel often says ‘what I know of orchestration is what I tried to steal from Farnon.’"
"I’ve done my best prolific writing on Scotch," Gene once told me, "and my best hangouts with Farnon were on Scotch."
"Growing up in Canada," Gene said, "I had this overwhelming feeling that nobody Canadian could do anything. I was listening to Farnon records one day and was astounded to learn he was Canadian. I was working for the Montréal Star in 1954 and going to Europe. I wrote to Farnon and arranged to meet him in London. We became immediate friends. For years I tried to get Canadian publications to write about him and they always said no. Canadians don’t recognize Canadians. Of course, Bob went to England for the orchestras, which, at the time he left Canada didn’t exist there. He’s got a lyrical melodic sense that’s unsurpassed. He wrote richly romantic music without sinking into the saccharine. Farnon had exquisite taste."
Gene introduced me to Mr. Farnon’s music by playing his score for the 1951 film, Captain Horatio Hornblower starring Gregory Peck. Then he played Farnon’s arrangement of À La Claire Fontaine. "Bob wrote that arrangement when WWII ended. He thought it would be nice to get back to peace time. He wrote it for himself. Marc Fortier calls it a ‘tone poem.’ Farnon took a wisp of a beloved phrase of music and created a masterpiece. Marc played that arrangement at a luncheon for Canadian composers and they all wept when they heard it."
In Gene’s article on Artie Shaw, [Jazzletter, Vol. 23, No. 6] he wrote: "When you are young, in any generation, major public names surround you like great trees. When you grow older, and start losing friends, one day you realize that you don’t have many left. And then there is another dark revelation: even those famous figures are going, and one day it comes to you: They’re clear-cutting the landscape of your life."
I happen to know Gene was writing that article around the time he lost three of his friends, one on top of the other, and the world lost three great film composers; Jerry Goldsmith in July, Elmer Bernstein and Dave Raksin, both in the same week in August, 2004.
If The Russia House is showing on television and I’m visiting the Lees, Gene will holler for me to come into his room and listen to the hauntingly beautiful score by Jerry Goldsmith, featuring Branford Marsalis on saxophone.
Gene is always teaching me something. He’s said to me, more than once, "You are my target audience, Harrigan. As a child of ‘the Beatle generation,’" a phrase he practically spits out it’s so distasteful to him, "you know absolutely nothing about good music." Then he’ll look at me as if he’s just sucked a lemon.
I might weakly mention how much it meant to me to listen to Joni Mitchell or Marvin Gaye when I was a kid, and whether he likes it or not I adore John Lennon with or without The Beatles, but these admissions of my early musical influences move Gene Lees not one whit.
My musical knowledge is assuredly a drop in Gene Lees’ musical bucket and my comprehension is unschooled. Gene knows what he’s listening to; he can read the score, analyze whether or not the music is exquisite, place it in historical context, understand the harmony, recognize the quality of the playing and compare it to the best or worst musicians who ever played which instrument.
My lack of good musical knowledge is redeemed in Gene’s eyes by the kindness of two members of my family who took the time to educate me. My older brother, Tom, has been passionate about jazz since he was a child and he took me to listen to the music every chance he could.
We were underage children when we went to Shelly’s Manhole in Los Angeles to hear Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. I asked Gene why Mr. Davis kept leaving the stage every so often and then returning after half an hour or so. Was he doing drugs off stage? Gene enlightened me; "He left the stage because he didn’t want to attract attention away from the soloists. Miles knew the audience would keep staring at him even if he wasn’t playing, which they did, because he was so magnetic. He also didn’t want to look stupid with his horn hanging down. Miles would sometimes just go over to the bar and have a brandy. He did that with me. Sometimes we’d just sit at the bar together, talking and drinking brandies. One night Miles walked up behind me and pulled my curly hair. He said ‘you ain’t no ofay’ which is pig latin for foe’ meaning white. The word ‘honkey’ has replaced ‘ofay.’ I liked Miles. And I liked him a lot. Miles was funny and sardonic and dry and sarcastic. He could be an absolute delight."
My second redemptive musical heritage is that my father taught me the songs of Lorenz Hart, Kurt Weill and other giants of the theatre from babyhood, and that early training instilled in me a lifelong love of great lyrics and beautiful melodies. Gene began teaching my father, Joshua Logan, about jazz when they worked together on a musical play and Josh taught Gene about musicals. Josh thought Gene was one of the greatest lyricists there’s ever been. In a recent article for the Jazzletter, Gene referred to my father as, "my late friend and great mentor."
(Josh received a Pulitzer Prize for South Pacific, which he cowrote with Oscar Hammerstein, II. He directed, wrote and/or produced thirty-three Broadway productions; sixteen musicals, seventeen dramatic plays. Half of Josh's work in the theatre was produced before The American Theatre Wing's Tony award was created in 1947, including Annie Get Your Gun (1946). The Broadway plays Josh either wrote, produced and/or directed after 1947 were nominated for forty Tonys and collected twenty-eight trophies. He personally received eleven nominations and took home nine. In The New York Times Book of Broadway, edited by Ben Brantley, two of his plays are listed in the chapter The Unforgettable Productions of the Century. He wrote/produced and/or directed ten films which received a total of thirty-six Academy Award nominations and eleven wins; Picnic, Bus Stop, Sayonara, South Pacific, Mister Roberts, Fanny and Camelot. Six of his films are included in The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made.)
The musical Gene and Josh worked on in 1973 was called Jonathan Wilde; it was based on the novel by Henry Fielding who also wrote Tom Jones. The play was produced by Roger L. Stevens and two inexperienced authors were attached to the libretto. Wilde was never presented onstage not because the songs by Gene and Lalo Schiffrin weren’t great, and not because they hadn’t raised all the money; in a single backer’s audition at Josh’s apartment in New York City they raised over eight million dollars which, in 1973 dollars, was a gigantic sum. So they had the script, the songs and the money but it still couldn’t be produced because the original authors wouldn’t give up their claim to the public domain story of Jonathan Wilde so Gene and Josh could go ahead with their own production.
Over the course of the two years they worked together their friendship grew, which is no surprise, as they are mirror images of each other. We haven’t yet found a single instance where they disagree. On anything. Just the other day I told Gene that my father was bored silly when it came to sports and Gene clutched his stomach in a hearty guffaw. "Me too, me too. The minute anyone says let’s turn on the ball game I’m out of there." Then he shook his head in amazement.
"My God, Harrigan, is there anything Josh and I are not alike in?"
"No," I replied. They are so alike I call Gene, "Josh Jr."
By a wonderful circuitous route of happenstance, Gene telephoned me out of the blue in September 2003. He wanted me to know he’d known my father and had some great stories to tell about him. Gene does things like that. Easily. He is a man of action. In his world there is no time like the present. No second thoughts--do.
I adored Gene Lees the moment I spoke with him on the telephone. Here was my Pop all over again. Gene has the same wit, warmth, charm, hilarity and mental radiance and is as chock full of stories as Josh was. When my father died in 1988 I thought all the light in the world dimmed. The giant soul that was Josh was gone and everyone in the world seemed small by comparison--until I met Gene.
On a recent evening, Gene looked at me across his dining table and made the following pronouncement: "While you were away at school, I knew your father well. For more than a year I worked closely with him. Saw him practically every day. And in the years afterwards we talked on the phone every now and then or exchanged letters. As far as I’m concerned, that makes you family."
He repeated "that makes you," and then he paused and fixed me with a laser beam stare, "fa-mi-ly."
I was touched to hear these words from someone I care for so dearly. As an adopted child I know about making family with people whose blood doesn’t course through my veins. It's simple. People are family if they are in your heart, if life is unimaginable without them, if you’re a better person for knowing them, if you can share your secrets and weather disasters together and still know you are loved. Gene and Janet Lees felt like family to me from our very first phone call. We chattered together like clucking hens, overlapping sentences, interrupting each other’s stories, telling tales about those departed and those still here, laughing heartily every few minutes. A few months later, Janet left a message on my machine, "have Christmas dinner with us."
Gene and Janet Lees reside in the small Southern California town that Frank Capra chose as his setting for Shangri La in his 1937 film, Lost Horizon. Ojai is populated with artists, musicians, writers, spiritual seekers and health spas and the Lees have lived in their graceful home for twenty years. Just down the road is Gene’s dear friend, Roger Kellaway; "the greatest jazz pianist I’ve ever heard and certainly the finest musician with whom I’ve ever written songs."
I was very nervous to meet the Lees, needlessly, as it turned out. I’d parked my car in their circular driveway which is surrounded by oak and eucalyptus trees, walked the gravel path past night blooming jasmine and cautiously stepped into their gracious living room proffering a holiday Poinsettia. I was warmly and winningly embraced from the first "how do you do."
I’d sat in front of a ceiling high Christmas tree that Janet had decorated with glittering ornaments, twinkling lights, mauve satin bows and a host of porcelain angels, basking in the warmth of scintillating, hilarious conversation, feeling right at home. Their behavior was what I’d come to know as parental: a couple in their seventies who’d lived exciting lives, were chock full of insights and anecdotes about extraordinary artists they’d known and worked with, possessed of passionate opinions on everything and ecstatic appreciation of anything that is the very best. Gene has lately decided that Laurence Olivier is better than he thought and taken to quoting Shakespeare at length.
"When you talk about writing, Harrigan," Gene said, "you never even mention Shakespeare. He’s out of the equation. There’s Shakespeare and then there’s everybody else."
Just the other evening Gene told me Shakespeare was his God. He doesn’t care about the plots and stories so much as the language. "I can open up to any page and be gone for half an hour," he said. His favorite play is Hamlet.
"Words have always been crucial to you," I say.
"No, " he said, "not really. Words don’t hold that great an interest for me."
"Yes they do," I insist. "You’re a stickler for exact usage."
"Well, yes, that’s true. Exact usage is essential. I keep The American Heritage dictionary beside me at all times."
"And you’re studying Latin now and learning the roots of words," I keep going.
"Well, of course, that fascinates me," he agreed. "I would also like to study Greek" he said, "because it’s the true root language," which I didn’t know.
"So it’s clear that words are essential to you," I finish, while he pours himself a glass of wine.
For all of his accomplishments, Gene Lees is unimpressed about what he can do and what he has done. He doesn’t think whatever he does is particularly remarkable. No one buys it, of course. Thornton Wilder addressed unassumingness in brilliance in his novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. In describing his character, the Marquesa de Montemayor, who wrote masses of letters to an estranged daughter, Wilder wrote, "The Marquesa would have been astonished to learn that her letters were very good, for such authors live always in the noble weather of their own minds and those productions which seem remarkable to us are little better than a day’s routine to them."
In other words, great people don’t know they’re great because being great is natural to them. That’s Gene. Great, and doesn’t know it.
Early years in Canada
Eugene Frederick John Lees was born in Hamilton, Ontario on February 8, 1928. Gene was born under the sign of Aquarius which reminds me of the song Age of Aquarius from the 1968 musical Hair, a play that both Gene and Johnny Mercer absolutely hated. Gene thought it was "musically cretinous." They’d gone to see it together and after a few bars of the opening song, Aquarius, Mercer turned to Gene and said, "let’s go" and they left.
Gene, his three siblings and all his cousins are first generation Canadians; his parents and grandparents were born in England. His paternal grandfather, Jack Lees, was a coal miner born in Taunton-under-lynne, Lancashire. He married Elizabeth Haslam, also from Lancashire.
Gene’s grandparents and their four children emigrated to Canada in 1919 because of the collapse of the coal industry in Britain; one of the children was Gene’s father, Harold.
Harold Lees, no middle name, was born in 1901 and "went to work at age thirteen in a cotton mill in Lancashire. He went into a coal mine when he was fourteen or fifteen. He was a talented painter (like Gene), studied music (like Gene), and played the violin. He practiced his fingering on his shovel when he was working in the mines." Gene has never been in a coal mine in his life but he has "a brain full of images of what it was like" from talking with his father.
Gene’s maternal grandfather was Fred Flatman, a gifted ironworker, who was born in London and married there. His wife was Lillian Gillard, originally from Bristol. They emigrated to Canada around 1905 or thereabouts. Gene’s mother, Dorothy Flatman, was born in England, as were all her siblings. Gene has a notion the Flatmans’ emigration had something to do with Fred’s radical politics. "It was my grandfather’s politics that got him into trouble. He was very left wing."
The Flatmans settled in Hamilton, Ontario. When I asked Gene if Hamilton was beautiful he replied, "no, not particularly. It is a cotton mill and steel town. An industrial town that sits on Lake Ontario." Toronto, Hamilton, Buffalo and Rochester are located within a hundred-mile radius.
Fred Flatman was one of the great decorative iron workers and made the georgous wrought iron gates that hang at the Oakes Garden Theatre in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and the gates in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton. He was active politically and was one of the organizers the Westinghouse strike of WWI. He was a member of the Independent Labour Party which grew in power during the war years.
Fred Flatman was a great orator (like Gene.) He founded a newspaper (like Gene.) He adored Gene and Gene adored him. Some of the cousins hated Mr. Flatman because he had a violent temper (as Gene has sometimes.) Gene can’t ever remember his grandfather having a meal without a book. He was partially deaf and used to turn off his hearing aide (like Gene tunes out whenever he feels like it.) He remembers his grandfather once put a bowl of eggs on Gene’s high chair and allowed the baby to throw them all on the floor.
During the 1920s, Harold Lees played violin in a theatre pit band. "In those days many of the theatres had full orchestras. The idea that silent films were only accompanied by piano is incorrect. In fact the picture arrived with orchestra parts. Hugo Friedhofer taught me this."
Hugo Friedhofer, born in 1901, was a renowned film composer with more than two hundred and fifty film scores to his credit (The Best Years of Our Lives, The Bishop’s Wife, The Sun Also Rises, etc.) He and Gene became friends in 1959 when Gene was the editor of Down Beat. Two of Gene’s favorite Friedhofer scores are Boy on a Dolphin, the 1957 film that made Sophia Loren an international movie star, and One-Eyed Jacks, the 1961 film starring and directed by Marlon Brando.
One-Eyed Jacks is a Western that, to Gene, is still frustratingly underrated, an opinion shared by Francis Ford Coppola. Mr. Friedhofer once told Gene, "I have known two men of genius in this town--Orson Welles and Marlon Brando--and Hollywood, not knowing what to do with genius, destroys it."
Harold Lees, violinist, met Harry Flatman, trombonist, in one of the orchestras for silent films and introduced Gene’s parents. Harold Lees and Dorothy Flatman met and married in 1927 and rented a house in Hamilton. Gene was born at home but it was a breach birth and he was badly damaged. They tried to crush his skull in order to deliver him and when they’d done that they threw him on the bed convinced that he wouldn’t live. His grandmother, Lillian Flatman, insisted, "he will live." She would daily massage Gene’s head with olive oil and squeeze it like sculpture until it got back into normal shape. Lillian was Gene’s guardian angel. She literally saved his life at birth and was one of the lights of his childhood. He remembers "she always had a full refrigerator and all kinds of canned food in the basement. Her house was replete with food" which was a relief compared to the continuous lack in the Lees household.
Gene is the eldest of four: Patricia, four years younger, passed away in 1990. When she was in her forties, Patricia Lees finished and graduated from high school, then took some college courses. She become a writer and did some editing and reporting for one of the local newspapers in Fergus, Ontario.
Dr. Victoria Lees, sixteen years younger than Gene, is the former Secretary General of Montréal’s McGill University. Dr. Lees is an expert in medieval English literature and is often her brother’s research assistant.
The youngest child by eighteen years, David Lees, is an award-winning science writer in Canada. All three siblings became writers under Gene’s influence. Gene smiles when he thinks of them; "the family is witty," he admits.
Gene recalls that "we were all treated very badly [as children] regarding never having enough money for books and schooling. I had to work in the paper mills during the summer and bring my pay home to the family, which I resented, because I still didn’t have enough to get by on. And there was no need for stinting. There was actually enough to go round, but it never did. My parents were not good to us; yes, we had vitamins and the bare necessities, but as far as any emotional nurturing, forget it. My mother gave none of us any confidence and I have never fully recovered from that. Everything I have ever done has been against a wind of self-doubt blowing in my face."
His first baby utterance was the complete sentence, "leave me alone" and he has not swerved from that desire in seventy-eight years. Regardless of the fact that he is a marvelous story teller and capable of generating hilarity in any social gathering (if he feels like it,) "leave me alone" is his core desire because he is always creating something in his giant mind - a book, a song, an article - and that constant creative activity requires solitude. He needs to be alone to "hear himself think."
I often see Gene sitting peacefully in his chair at his dining table which is his favorite perch. He gazes sometimes for hours, through a wall of windows onto a view he fashioned with his own hands; the fence on the right side of the swimming pool, the bougainvillea around it which are now thirty feet tall and hang in graceful arches of purple, pink and white, the palm tree at the foot of the pool and the lavender bushes beside it, and Janet put in a dozen pink and white rose bushes on the left side to complete the rectangle. Gene will sit serenely in his chair, thinking, reading and socializing, but mostly gazing wordlessly into the beyond forming phrases in his mind that are eventually typed into his computer.
Although Gene was blessed with a giant intellect it separated him from the other children; he told me "being brilliant was humiliating." For all his intelligence he "was a lousy student. Terrible. My parents were so disturbed by my poor showing in school they took me to a psychiatrist when I was twelve. I was given an IQ test and the doctor said, ‘the trouble with this boy is he’s bored.’
"Radio was a huge influence on me. Stamford, Ontario was only five miles from the American border and I’d listen to WBEN, Buffalo, WKBW, WHAM in Rochester, all the American network on radio. Most of what you listened to was live. I remember Jack Benny, Fred Allen, and especially Duffy’s Tavern which was written by Larry Gelbart. Duffy’s was based on McSorley’s Saloon. Forty years later, when I met Larry Gelbart, I blew his mind by reciting whole segments of that show for him. He couldn’t believe I used to listen to it and actually remembered it.
"The Metropolitan Opera broadcast every Saturday afternoon. My grandmother would never miss that. The Service Gasoline Company and Firestone Tires subsidized orchestras. Artie Shaw was on staff for CBS. The Bell Telephone Hour had Donald Voorhes conducting their orchestra. All the live comedy shows always had an orchestra. Fibber McGee and Molly had an orchestra on the show. The Billy Mills orchestra would play theme music and spots in between. I could pick out the guitarist. I was particularly struck by the rhythm section which turned out to be Perry Botkin."
"Johnny Mercer’s Music Shop had to perform twice; once for the East coast and once for the West. Jo Stafford told me that after the first show they’d all go out to dinner and have a few drinks so by the time they did the second show they were a whole lot looser.
"I went to the movies as much as I could. You could get into the movies for a nickel. I went every week, regularly. The Royal Theatre in Hamilton.
"I wanted to be a painter when I grew up. I was naturally good at it and it is what I really focused on. I won a scholarship to the Ontario College of Art. I dropped out of High School at seventeen to go."
When Gene went to The Ontario College of Art in September, 1945, "it was full of returning service men. One guy, a navy man, was a brilliant painter. He taught me what under painting was and he taught me about Rembrandt. And I remember there was an old beat up piano in the school and he would play Bach. It was the first time I ever heard Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring. When I listened to Teddy Wilson’s piano, I knew he’d played a lot of Bach."
"When you’re discussing music, Harrigan, there are two people you don’t ever mention because they are Divine. They are not even human: Bach and Mozart. There’s them, and then there’s everybody else.
"They were playing Andy Russell’s Besame Mucho a lot on the radio. He was a great singer on Capitol Records. Some of those people who were far away distant stars of mine eventually became friends in later years. Especially Peggy Lee. I adored Peg."
Gene told me one of the remarkable things about Peggy Lee was how still she stood on the stage. "She was completely motionless. Maybe she’d give a flick of the eye brow or the slight gesture with a finger. The point was that you heard the song. She got out of the way of the song. She let the song happen. I once asked her ‘where do you get the courage to do nothing? And she replied, ‘there is power in stillness.’"
Becoming a writer
"I was in Art School for only a year and a half. What happened is I found myself skipping classes and haunting the Public Library. I read Fitzgerald (I don’t think he wrote a memorable phrase in his life.) I also read Robert E. Sherwood, Eugene O'Neill, the complete works, Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream, a novel I love and John Dos Pasos, another huge influence. The best novelist I’ve ever read is John Steinbeck. Steinbeck is the guy who taught me how to show. Don’t tell, show. Show the external behavior of people and let the reader figure out what it means. I also read Morley Callahan who wrote Now That April’s Here which was a collection of short stories I was enraptured by. He is the best short story writer of our time." Mr. Callahan is also an angel in the life story of Gene Lees.
"I happened to be reading one of his stories that referenced ‘Younge Street’ which is in Toronto. It also referenced ‘Windsor’ making it the city of Ontario, across the river from Detroit. I didn’t think Canadians could achieve anything, that we were inferior to England and the United States. What I did not know was that key Canadians practically created the U.S. movie industry: Max Sennett, Mary Pickford, the Warner brothers from Ontario, and Louis B. Mayer, who always considered himself a Canadian even though he was born in Russia...
"Anyway, I was absolutely enthralled by Callahan’s short stories. I did some research on Morley Callahan and found out he was Canadian which absolutely blew my mind. It occurred to me that if he were Canadian then he might live in Toronto. I picked up a phone book and saw ‘Callahan, Morley, Walmer road.’ I was sharing a room with Harry Harley, who later became a prominent cartoonist, and I got to talking to Harry about this. Harry suggested, ‘why don’t you go and meet him.’ I said, ‘oh, I couldn’t do that.’ But one day, with Harry in tow, I walked up to the door and knocked on it and a man answered the door. I asked ‘sir, are you Morley Callahan?’ ‘Yes, I am,’ he replied. ‘Sir, I think I want to be a writer.’ ‘Well, I’d invite you in but my son has the mumps. There’s a restaurant called the Varsity, and if you go down there and wait for me, I’ll join you in twenty minutes’
"He talked with us for three or four hours. The one thing I remember he told me is, ‘the only thing you can do about writing is to keep doing it until you get it right.’
"The worst advice given to writers is ‘write about what you know about.’ That’s bull----. Learn what you want to write about.
"That meeting with Morley was the turning point in my life. The fact that this man of towering stature took the time to talk to me, changed my life.
"The year was 1947. I went home at Christmas and my mother actually had insight into me. She said, ‘you don’t want to go back to school, do you?’ I said no, so she said ‘then don’t.’"
"My mother was stupefyingly well read (like Gene). She could quote Wordsworth by the yard, also Walt Whitman and Robert Frost."
Inspired by Callahan, Gene wrote his first novel. "The authority on William Blake is Northrop Frye. He’d published the book Fearful Symmetry (1947)which was an analysis of all of Blake’s writing. My friend, Bill Mather was studying with Frye and I’d written a novel I would sell my soul to get a copy of, incidentally. Bill encouraged me to show it to Frye. I went up to Frye’s office. I was tremulous at meeting the great man. I sat down and I gave him the manuscript and he said, ‘yes, I’ll read it.’
"And he did and he taught me another great lesson. ‘Some of this is very good,’ he said. ‘Some of it is ordinary. If it were entirely ordinary, you could sell it. But unfortunately, what is good shows up what is ordinary.’
"From that moment I never let up on my writing. From 1948 I’ve tried to keep it all at a high level. Don’t ever get lazy.
"My mother knew Lady Hendrie of the Hendrie truck company because my grandfather had built the gates in front of their mansion. She called Mr. Hendrie who arranged for me to have an interview at the Hamilton Spectator with the city editor, Frank Keene. There is no law that says the city editor has to be Irish, but it helps.
"I went down there wanting to be a copy boy. He interviewed me for a while. He said, ‘OK, come in Monday at 9 o’clock.’ So I went in and discovered I was assigned to be a reporter. My assignment was sitting on my desk: it was a photograph with information attached as to where it came from, with the caption 2 col. cutlines. I had no idea what that meant. I was sitting next to a guy out of the Air Force named Ray Blair. I said ‘Ray, what does this mean?’ He said ‘Caption for this picture. You write in capital letters two or three words marked bold face about the subject.’ That was the only lesson in journalism I ever had. I was a reporter from then on.
"Somewhere in my early newspaper days I trained myself not to arrive at a conclusion because I wanted to but to arrive at a conclusion I disliked. If I let it get too emotional, I lose control of the material. It’s the same with writing lyrics. Your way into a lyric is not to let any emotion into it.
"There are two major serious errors a writer can make: to assume ignorance on the part of the reader and to assume knowledge on the part of the reader. The trick is to teach the reader without letting them, him, or her, know it. When I was a young reporter and I would be sent to cover a story I didn’t understand, I had no problem telling people, ‘I don’t understand anything.’ The person who doesn’t know often does better work than someone who does. The person who does know takes knowledge for granted. The one who doesn’t has to research it.
"In 1955 I was at the Montréal Star. The editor was George V. Ferguson, who had once been a Canadian delegate to the United Nations. He was a very distinguished and fine man. I went in to see him and told him I wanted to leave Montreal.
"In those years, artistically, Canada was very restricting. For instance, you couldn’t make a big orchestral recording in Canada like Farnon did in England. The publishing industry was very small. There was no movie industry. The theatre, back then, came in from England or the States. I wanted greener pastures. Nowadays it’s different: Norman Jewison still lives in Canada and Donald Sutherland does. But Canadian artists generally come to America. (Mary Pickford, Colleen Dewhurst, Raymond Burr, William Shatner, Peter Jennings, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Dan Aykroyd, Michael J. Fox, Céline Dion, Jim Carrey, Mike Meyers, Shania Twain, etc.)
"Ferguson said, ‘where do you want to go?’ I said, ‘England or the States.’ He advised ‘go to the states. They pay better.’ I asked him if he would write me a letter of recommendation and he did better than that. He wrote applications to all kinds of American newspapers and I got five offers. Two were from the Washington Post and the Louisville Times. I took Louisville because they wanted a music editor and I knew music.
"I’d never been south of New York City. I was shocked by the fact of segregation and on the other hand I was astonished by the warmth and kindness and generosity of Americans. One of the first stories I was sent on was to do color stories at the Kentucky Derby. I was very good at reporting atmospheric stories. So I’m sitting in the press box next to a gentlemen who looks kind of familiar. After a little while I said, ‘how do you do sir, my name’s Gene Lees.’ He said, ‘how do you do, my name’s Bill Faulkner.’" It was an auspicious start to life in the United States.
Gene originally went to Louisville to be the music editor. "I was part-time music and part-time general assignment. Then it became full-time drama, and then I was handed the entire arts section of the paper. I covered ballet, the symphony, opera (which I don’t particularly care for but I had to be fair about it.) I like Puccini, Bizet and Mozart; all the connoisseurs will cut my head off but I don’t like Verdi and I don’t like Wagner."
Gene once sent me into paroxysms of laughter when he quoted Mark Twin’s quip, "Wagner’s music isn’t as bad as it sounds." And "you know," Gene said at the time, "it isn’t as bad as it sounds" making me laugh even harder.
"All the people I was covering, major pianists, conductors, movie actresses, Alan Ladd, James Stewart, Larry Parks, I met a lot of them. I was able to discuss movies with them. Not reading it out of a book but discussing it with them. One of the first things I asked Josh about was the scene where Brando discovers the bodies in Sayonara. And how the music scene in Picnic was done. I’d ask him all kinds of things like that. How did that happen, and this. You can’t get it from books.
"I met Nat King Cole for the first and only time in Louisville. I spent the whole day with him. We met in his hotel room and had lunch. He was very gracious. Always was--to everybody--famous for it. It was only later that I realized we’d never have been allowed in the hotel restaurant and he knew it and wasn’t going to make an issue of it."
Gene said to me, "you probably only think of Nat Cole as a singer, Harrigan, but he was also a great jazz pianist. He influenced every piano player who came after him--Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Roger Kellaway. He had an exquisite touch and fabulously good time. I’ve said this many times: if I could be reincarnated I would come back as Nat Cole, the pianist."
Eventually I left the Louisville Times because I got into a row with the managing editor.
"I had lunch with a friend who was a press agent from Disney. He told me Down Beat had two openings: editor and New York editor which was was Nat Hentoff’s job and he was leaving. I wanted Nat’s job and to move to New York. The PR man picked up the phone and called Down Beat and then handed the phone to me. ‘Can you come up here this weekend and see us?’ they asked. I flew up to Chicago on a Saturday and a week later I was the editor for Down Beat. I knew a lot about jazz."
jazz & Jobim
"I’d studied music as a kid. Various instruments. I hated practicing, however, and so do a lot of musicians. Roger Kellaway hates practicing. Bill Evans hated practicing. I’ve know few major jazz pianists who like to practice except Oscar Peterson. He actually likes practicing."
"I grew up surrounded by Beethoven and by jazz. I was drenched in drums and a little later, Stravinsky. I started listening to jazz on the radio, although at the time, we didn’t know it was jazz."
At the risk of causing a collective sigh heard round the world, I asked Gene what exactly is jazz?
"Jazz is a particular form of music that originated in the United States which puts down a steady and specific pulse over which the rest of the music occurs. The rest of the music is syncopated. It’s off the center of the beat, unlike classical music. Duke Ellington’s song, It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing is literally true. To me, the beat is essential in jazz. Over that and on top of all of that, it has the wonderful dimension of improvised solos. The thrill is the unpredictability of it. I know people who compare jazz to football, meaning that it’s athletic."
"What is written down?" I ask.
"Sometimes nothing at all. It’s like this. Let’s say five guys get together on a bandstand who’ve never met. One of ‘em says, how about I’ve Got You Under My Skin in D flat? They all know the tunes, they all know the keys. Every jazz musician knows hundreds of tunes and the harmony. It is a myth that they can’t read music. I’ve only known two jazz musicians personally who couldn’t read music: Errol Garner (Misty) and Wes Montgomery. And Bix Beiderbecke, who died when I was three, was a very poor reader. It didn’t hurt them one bit. It’s a myth, coming out of classical music, that the music is all about reading. That’s not true. Music is about sound. Unless somebody’s playing it or listening to it, Beethoven’s Fifth doesn’t exist. The written symphony is only a diagram.
"In May, ‘59 I moved to Chicago, which is my favorite city in the United States. The architecture, the vitality. Carl Sandburg called it the ‘City of Big Shoulders’ because it’s strong. A functioning city. Beautiful neighborhoods, parks, museums. A working town. Not some phony Hollywood town full of movie executives who are all vapid and killers. Down Beat was in the loop and the clubs were in the deep South side, in the Negro neighborhood. What we would now call the ‘black’ neighborhoods."
Gene explained that "the correct word in 1960 was ‘Negro.’ I object to the term ‘African American’ because it excludes Oscar Peterson, Ray Downs and other musicians from other countries."
"When I was in Chicago I lived mostly in the black neighborhoods, as did Dizzy, Oscar, Benny Golson and Art Farmer. Chicago had a substantial jazz movement of its own. I knew them all personally as friends: Johnny Pate, Lurlean Hunger (singer), Eddie Harris, Johnny Griffin. They later became famous but there was a whole Chicago cadre of fine musicians. I’d go to sit at the bar and just listen. Sometimes I’d write reviews and do interviews. I’d listen and hang out. That’s where my books come from. And the Jazzletter. All in the space of three years. Within six months I knew them all--Buddy Rich, Jerry Mulligan--and in three years I knew them all well. My whole life flows out of Chicago. There are still a lot of musicians in Chicago who think of me as a Chicago boy. It was a formative period of my life. Chicago and Paris."
"I left Down Beat because they wanted to fire our Art Director, Bob Billings, and I wouldn’t do it. I wrote my resignation in the form of a song called It’s National F___ Your Buddy Week.
"At the end of 1961 I went on a State Department tour of South America with the Paul Winter Sextet. I wanted to go because I’d heard Joâo Gilberto and knew some of the songs and I wanted to meet Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. When we arrived in Rio de Janeiro I got their number and called up. I went to a rehearsal at Jobim’s house and he and I got drunk, and we got drunk many times after that.
"I had been experimenting with lyrics, but not professionally. I told Jobim that his songs could be done in English and I showed him what could be done. He immediately gave the songs I’d written in English to publishers in New York. I wrote Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars [Corcovado] on a bus going to Belo Horizonte [northwest of Rio de Janeiro] and mailed it back to him in Rio. It was my first professional lyric.
"The bossa nova was an aberration. The fact that it was a hit in the 1960s is proof that in the middle of all that crap that if they were exposed to it, people would embrace what is good."
"When I got back to the States from South America I lived in New York. It was a rough, grim and desperate time of my life.
"I had no money and no one would hire me. I was living at the YMCA. It was a time of humiliation and being broke. But I got an agent and he sold my novel, And Sleep Until Noon, [about an expatriate singer from the States in Paris, begun when Gene was in France in 1958], which I hate, by the way. Then the first recordings of my songs started to happen. I got a substantial advance from BMI. My song with Bill Evans, Waltz For Debby, became a hit, and my songs with Jobim were being widely recorded (Song of the Jet, Dreamer.) Another adaptation of a Jobim song, Someone to Light Up My Life, became a standard."
In the winter of 1968, just before Christmas, Gene met his wife, Janet. Gene was living on West 86th Street between Central Park West and Columbus. Janet was staying in a friend’s apartment on Central Park South. She had written a musical play, Morning After Carnival, which involved Brazilian music and she needed a lyricist in the first act. A friend of Janet’s who’d read the play, raved about it to a vice president at BMI. The vice president said, "there is only one lyricist I would recommend: Gene Lees."
Gene called Janet after he’d been contacted by BMI. Janet was going out that night and told her date they just had to drop off her script to "this writer," and then they’d go on to dinner. When they arrived at Gene’s apartment building on West 86th street, they happened to all meet in the lobby. Gene told me that when he first laid eyes on Janet he "nearly fainted because she was so beautiful. I remember seeing her in the doorway of my building and she was so georgous I actually became weak in the knees. I was afraid I was going to pass out."
Janet is descended from the Hazelius family of Sweden, who built the Nordic Museum and the first open-air museum, Skansen, in Stockholm. Her mother was a member of the Ballets Russe de Monte Carlo. In the 1920s she went to Hollywood to visit her Aunt Rose Hazelius and soon worked as a dancer in a number of movies. Janet’s father, Lawrence Donald Suttle, was an engineer who helped design the B-29 bomber. After WWII he worked for Ford and Chrysler and then formed his own company where he designed and developed the first turbo steam engine.
Janet majored in theatre at Wayne State University and she and her friends would often go out to hear jazz. Janet remembers that "jazz fans were highly educated, intelligent people" and her crowd was always well dressed as were the musicians, "who wore jackets and looked very Ivy League, very Brooks Brothers, which was the look in the late 1940s and ‘50s. Everything was pretty much segregated at that time except there were what they called, the ‘black and tan clubs’ where all colors could mix." They heard Lockjaw Davis, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Elvin Jones and many others. Charlie Parker used to call her "Miss 101" because she often had her text books with her.
One evening as Janet was leaving a club after the first set was done, she heard a voice, "which could only have belonged to Miles Davis because he had a very distinct voice. ‘Where you going all by yourself?’ he asked.’"
"I’m going to my car. I’ve got an exam tomorrow," Janet replied.
"I’ll walk you to your car." Mr. Davis said and he accompanied her. When she was safely sitting in the driver’s seat, he told her, "I will watch you ‘til you turn onto the freeway and then I’ll know you’re OK."
Gene and Janet Lees have been married since 1971.
As far as Gene is concerned, the definitive version of Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars was recorded by Frank Sinatra: Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim, Reprise Records, 1967, Arranged and conducted by Claus Ogerman. Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars is cut #4.
Gene loves and admires many singers who have influenced his own singing but "when it comes to American popular song in the English speaking language the ones who can deliver a song like none other are Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra.
"He was the best," Gene said. "No one came close to his artistry. The other day Placido Domingo was asked who he felt the greatest artist was in any medium and Domingo replied, ‘Frank Sinatra.’
"Technically," Gene began, "he was superb. His sound; he had a great natural instrument which he constantly trained by swimming underwater to expand his lungs. His voice production; the way he made the sound with his diaphragm, ribcage, and throat. He had a range of two octaves and he was terribly in tune with the musical surroundings and the instruments."
"All our music is played on the tempered scale which is an adjusted scale that is naturally out of tune. But if you get rid of the piano and you have only strings they don’t play the tempered scale, they play the untempered scale. Sinatra sang in relationship to the chord and the sound of the orchestra and whichever scale they were in. The problem in even discussing this technically makes him sound like a cold singer but he wasn’t. There was a dramatic inwardness like some of the very best actors; Clift, Brando, James Dean. He was a Stanislavskian singer. So was Peggy Lee. They sang like truly great acting. Sinatra was an actor of the song. An actor cannot control the muscles of his face by conscious effort. If you want sadness to register you have to feel it and then it will show on your face. Sinatra felt the music like none other. Nobody could surpass it, nobody could get into the emotion of it like Sinatra.
"He found an emotion in my lyric This Happy Madness I didn’t even know was there. He sings it at first like a self-mocking adult ‘I feel that I’ve gone back to childhood and I’m skipping through the wildwood so excited—’ but then he goes into this curious puzzlement, this vulnerable whisper ‘I don’t know what to do.’ It’s breathtaking. Sinatra does difficult songs and tosses them off like there’s nothing to it.
"Miles Davis said ‘it takes a long time to sound like yourself.’ When Frank was with Harry James (c 1939) his version of All or Nothing At All (Cole Porter) sounds mechanical and a little piss-elegant like he’s trying to be British. But as he progresses, when he’s with Tommy Dorsey he’s finding himself; The Song Is You (Jerome Kern) and The Lamplighters Serenade (Hoagy Carmichael, Paul Francis Webster), by then he is sounding like himself but not as much as he is going to sound. His voice really sounds like him on the Columbia recordings after he left Dorsey. There he is inimitable. (1943-1952.) Once he got the mechanics, then he forgot about it. Sinatra had so internalized his lessons. He has no peer."
"I love a lot of singers, actually. But Sinatra is like Shakespeare; there’s him and then there’s everybody else.
"The night before I was going to sit in on the session for Quiet Nights I got a call from Claus Ogerman to come to his hotel room and teach him Change Partners, which I knew by heart (Irving Berlin,1938). Neither Claus nor Jobim knew it and Frank wanted to record it. Claus was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel in a room that had a piano. I sang that song all night long so he could write the arrangement around me because I sing in the same key as Frank. When we went into the studio the next day they recorded it. It was common then to record three songs a day which is why it only took three days to record the whole album. Nowadays," Gene couldn’t resist adding, "rock ‘n’ roll bands can’t get a decent sound in five hours, much less record three songs."
I had the privilege to know Mr. Sinatra from the time I was a child. He was a friend of my parents and would often come to dinner. I knew him to be a gracious, funny, thoughtful, charming and generous man. He was sweet enough to always say hello to me which, as the child, was very special. When I became a young woman he’d say, "please call me Frank," but I could never do that. Aside from the fact that he was so much older, he was a little bit dazzling even if he was just being himself and I couldn’t bring myself to call that radiant being "Frank," or even "Francis" which is how he sometimes signed his notes.
I remember an important conversation I had with him that bears on the recording session for Quiet Nights. Mr. Sinatra told me that when he was "a kid" he listened to Arturo Toscanini on the radio and dreamed of being a great conductor. He also loved classical music and dreamed of being a great composer. "But," he said, "I knew I’d never be able to write as well as the great composers and I just couldn’t settle for writing anything that wasn’t great. And I didn’t want to split my concentration and just become mediocre in all three areas. I wanted to be great and I knew I could sing, so I decided to concentrate on that." Later he said, "what I love most about singing is the lyrics. That is the most important part of the song to me."
When he was sitting in the sound booth in the recording studio in 1967, Gene could tell the minute Mr. Sinatra walked in. Gene said "I could feel him enter the room."
Mr. Sinatra always had an acute awareness of everything going on around him; who was there and where they were sitting, and he knew Gene was in the control booth because they’d chatted during the course of the session. By knowing the lyricist was in the studio, Mr. Sinatra would have wanted to deliver the song as at no other time and his recording of Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars has a specialness I can feel in my bones; I believe the reason is because Gene was there.
Gene said, "I’d quit smoking at that time but I got so excited about the way he was recording it, I started smoking again." Mr. Sinatra was smoking during the session and you can hear the smoke in his voice. It cracks a little bit on "by quiet streams" and on a "my love."
Mr. Sinatra recorded four songs Gene wrote with Jobim and for Gene, they are definitive; the other three are Someone to Light Up My Life, Desafinado, and This Happy Madness.
Excellence to earnings
Why write about Gene Lees? Why even bother to think about him? Because Gene is the embodiment of greatness and we find ourselves, temporarily, because the pendulum always swings, in an artistically mediocre time. I asked Gene where was the turning point? What happened that we lowered our standards in music, books, theatre, ballet, radio, television, opera and on. Gene said "it happened in the music business in the 1960s. Money became the goal. Record companies switched from excellence to earnings."
When Columbia Records was headed by Goddard Lieberson in the early 1960s, it was a company that offered recordings in all areas of music: popular, country, classical, jazz, theatre and opera. Gene told me "the violinist Joseph Szigeti, said to Tony Bennett, ‘I can record for Columbia records because you record for Columbia.’ Meaning Tony was bringing in enough of a profit for the company that they could also record an artist that didn’t sell as much but was important artistically and essential for the culture. They used to review movies on their merit but now they tell you what the box office returns are instead: we slid from excellence to earnings."
This is the reason to reflect on Gene’s life. He is a standard-bearer; one who exemplifies what is worthwhile, necessary and great about the arts. When it comes to passionately caring about a high level of artistic excellence there’s Gene Lees, and then there’s everybody else.
When we lose our way, as individual artists or as a civilization, we need to be reminded that there exists a high standard, a North Star of art from which to navigate. It is a comfort to know that in a future dark age, the writings and songs of Gene Lees will ever be twinkling from stores and libraries; we can read passages from his books and become inspired to excel, or listen to Mr. Sinatra sing Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars and be restored to the high road again.
I hear Gene’s mantra in my mind, loud and clear; "Keep it all at a high level." This is his gift to the world.
©2006 Harrigan Logan, all rights reserved
BRITISH CHILDREN’S AUTHORS AND LIGHT MUSIC
by Philip L. Scowcroft
For JIM, I have previously traced the connections between light music and Beatrix Potter , Lewis Carroll and J.M.Barrie’s "Peter Pan". But there are many more British authors for young people who have inspired music, usually of the lighter sort and this article is an attempt at a "sweeping up exercise" in that direction.
Several of our authors flourished in the 19th Century. A particularly notable one was R.L.Stevenson, author of those rousing boys’ adventure stories Treasure Island and Kidnapped. Both have been adapted for the stage and screen. The former’s stage versions were in 1973 at the Mermaid Theatre with music by Cyril Ornadel and 1984 at the Birmingham Rep. (music by Denis King), its screen adaptations appeared in 1934,1950,1971,1990 and 1991, by far the most distinguished musically being 1950 – Clifton Parker’s attractive score has been recorded recently. Kidnapped’s stage version (1972) was a folk opera setting with music by the group Steeleye Span ; it had three large screen adaptations, two of them British, in 1959 and 1971, with music by Cedric Thorpe Davie and Roy Budd respectively.
Stevenson’s Child’s Garden of Verse was set by, among others, Frederick Nicholls and Sir Malcolm Williamson; his From a Railway Cottage ("faster than fairies, faster than witches….") has been put to music many times, twice by cathedral organists (Henry Ley and Francis Jackson), and at least twice by composers celebrated for their music for children (Alec Rowley and Carol Barratt)
Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies was another children’s book to be adapted for stage and screen, the former’s versions including ones by Frederick Rosse (1902) and John Taylor (1973), the large screen Water Babies (1978) had music by Phil Coulter, better known for his song Congratulations.
W.M. Thackeray was one of the earliest British writers specifically for children and his The Rose and the Ring was at least four times the subject of a Christmas season stage musical, in 1890 (music by Walter Slaughter), 1923 ( Robert Cox), 1928 (Christabel Marillier; Malcolm Sargent conducted) and 1964 (John Dalby). Edward Lear’s nonsense poetry, long popular with children, has been set to music many times, especially The Owl and the Pussy Cat. One setting, by the American born Reginald de Koven, was for years a party piece for the Thurnscoe Harmonic Male Voice Choir (South Yorks) and other choral settings of it were made by those giants of light music Haydn Wood and Montague Phillips, and by more serious composers, not least of them Igor Stravinsky! Lear made the musical stage in 1968 with The Owl and the Pussy Cat Went to See… (music by David Wood and Sheila Ruskin) which had enormous success in various productions both provincially and in London.
Rudyard Kipling’s work was by no means entirely for children, but The Jungle Book and Just So Stories undoubtedly are. The latter inspired six songs by Edward German and more recently a children’s operetta and a radio musical. "The Jungle Book"has had a wider influence. Best known of its film adaptations was the 1967 Disney version with a score by the brothers Richard and Robert Sherman though others set some of the songs. Miklos Rossa supplied music in 1942, Basil Poledouris in 1994 and John Scott in 1997. Percy Grainger set much of The Jungle Book as songs and found it rewarding and there were instrumental spin-offs from Cyril Scott and the Frenchman Charles Koechlin. Much of Kipling’s poetry, like the Barrack Room Ballads, was not for children but Elgar set his Big Steamers for unison voices, presumably child ones.
In my article on Beatrix Potter (JIM 167) I stressed the charm of music inspired by her work. The same is at least as true of the music which grew out of the work of Kenneth Grahame and A.A.Milne. The two indeed were associated in the musical play "Toad of Toad Hall", Milne’s adaptation of Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows which opened at London’s Lyric Theatre in December 1930 and was subsequently revived seasonally, even into the 1980’s, and also on T.V. The music was by Harold Fraser-Simson whose slender but nevertheless real, talent was ideally suited to music for children. He set some of the poems in the Alice books and many more of Milne’s children’s poetry,about sixty songs in all – Hums of Pooh, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. Others, like Henry Walford Davies, tried their hands at Milne but never approached the charm of Fraser-Simson. Later versions of Pooh had music by the Sherman brothers, already noted and Julian Slade; latterday music includes that by John Gould for Pooh audiobooks and the Grade 1 Associated Board piano piece Eeyore’s March by Timothy Jackson.
Many have had a go at stage versions of The Wind in the Willows. Apart from Toad of Toad Hall these have mostly come since 1980, by Michael Howlett, David Raksin, Derek Taverner, Denis King, John Rutter, Piers Chater Robinson, Jeremy Sams, Pam Hilton and Peter Lawson (there may be others). Individual songs have been set down the years, like Michael Head’s Carol of the Field Mice and also Duck’s Ditty, set many times but most notably by Barbara Reynolds, wife of Alfred, Colin Hand and Norman Gilbert. There was a Wind in the Willows Recorder Book by Philip Stott and a "tone poem" by Laurie Johnson.
When I think back to my childhood reading, I remember in no particular order, W.E.Johns’ Biggles, Arthur Ransome, Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, Worzel Gummidge, Barbara Euphan Todd’s scarecrow and Enid Blyton. All have had music associated with their work. Biggles was adapted for the large screen in 1986, (one critic said that if one was in an undemanding mood it was daft enough to be enjoyable) its music was by "Stanislas" which Alan Bunting’s Dictionary of Musical Pseudonyms helpfully identifies as Stanislas Syrewicz.
Arthur Ransome’s film version of Swallows and Amazons (1974), his most famous story, had a score by Wilfred Josephs, one of many by him; however I associate Waldteufel’s Skaters Waltz with this as it introduced a radio adaptation in the 1940’s. The Prisoner of Zenda was twice filmed in America in 1952 and 1979 with two Hollywood greats supplying the music, Alfred Newman and Henry Mancini.
For Black Beauty’s translation to the large screen, Dimitri Tiomkin obliged in 1946, Lionel Bart and John Cameron in 1971, but the tune most associated with it is Denis King’s delicious Galloping Home, from a TV adaptation in 1972. King it was also who provided the music for Worzel Gummidge’s stage appearance at the Birmingham Rep in 1980.
Enid Blyton’s most famous character made a stage musical appearance too, with "Noddy in Toyland"at the Stoll in 1954, Philip Green composing the music and for TV’s Noddy Miles McNaught wrote music; among those who set her songs were Cecil Sharman (Miss Nan Nockabout) and in 1965 for very young children, her nephew Carey Blyton.
I read only a few of Richmal Crompton’s books about Just William but these generally seem to have had some notable musical connections. In my mind’s ear I can still hear the catchy tune –by Leighton Lucas- which introduced radio adaptations of the 1940’s.Three large screen versions appeared either side of the last war and two, Just William’s Luck (1947) and William Comes To Town (also known as William At The Circus) (1948) had scores by none other than Bob Farnon. For William’s more recent TV appearances, Nigel Hess composed some wonderful music redolent of the popular idiom of the 1930’s.
I did not read Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children until I was an adult, no doubt on account of the film version of 1970 which had that wonderful score by Johnny Douglas, still much enjoyed; Simon Lacey did well with music for the TV remake of 2000, considering what an act he had to follow. Back in the seventies, the Welshman, Alun Hoddinott composed a ballet version and Peter Durrent a stage musical in 1981. John Halford and Eric Thiman are among those who set Nesbit’s children’s poems.
Over the last half-century or so there have been many children’s classics most of them enhanced by music. Howard Shore’s for the three Lord of the Rings movies for example, and Ian Fleming’s story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, first as a film with music by the Sherman brothers, now a stage musical. C.S.Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was turned into a musical in 1984 and put on for the Christmas season in Newcastle conducted by Brendan Healy who wrote the songs.
And finally we come to Harry Potter; seven books, four of them filmed so far as I write. The great John Williams has been the composer for most of the series up to now though Patrick Doyle is credited with music for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Williams seems to have signed off Potter.Unsurprisingly, Harry Potter music is popular in concert versions for orchestras and concert bands. Indeed many of the musical pieces I have mentioned in this article and my earlier ones, could add up to a satisfying and varied concert programme or programmes whether live or on CD.
This article first appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ June 2006.
A name from the past remembered by
Although not too well-known to the general public, the name and reputation of Matty Malneck are a legend in the music business in America which he graced for something like sixty years as musician, composer, arranger and conductor.
Born in Newark, New Jersey on 10 December 1904, he went into music at the age of sixteen, when he began taking violin lessons from his school music teacher Wilberforce J. Whiteman, whose son Paul was to play an important role in the young Matty's future career. He was soon playing with small local bands until he was 22, when he met up again with Paul Whiteman who asked him to join the mammoth (for those days) Whiteman Concert Orchestra on violin and viola.
His first recording session with the band was an (unreleased) version of Ferde Grofe's Mississippi Suite on 27 March 1926, and an early live appearance with Whiteman was at the Royal Albert Hall in London two weeks later, which HMV recorded but never issued. Malneck left the band for a few months in 1928 to do a number of sessions with that ubiquitous self-publicist and musical faker Irving Mills & His Hotsy-Totsy Gang, and other Mills groups like Goody & His Good-Timers and TheWhoopee Makers.
He returned to Whiteman as a major influence in composing and arranging, his fiddle playing was a by no means negligible part of the band’s string section and he was a jazz performer in recordings by Whiteman splinter groups led by sidemen such as Frankie Trumbauer, which found Matty Malneck partnering Hoagy Carmichael, Bix Beiderbecke, Jimmy Dorsey, Lennie Hayton, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang & co.
On a return visit to London in November 1932 he guested on violin with Carroll Gibbons & His Boy Friends in a new version of On The Air/Till Tomorrow. His first experience as a leader was on a 1931 session for singer Mildred Bailey when he led a sextet to accompany her, repeating his function as leader a few months later when he conducted more or less the full Whiteman orchestra for a batch of singles including her famous version of Rockin’ Chair.
Deciding it was time he earned all the fruits of his labours Matty Malneek formed his own band in 1935 with dates booked in hotels, restaurants, theatres and clubs, but he was still busy doing recordings with Bing Crosby with whom had worked back in the Paul Whiteman days. If fact it was he who had put Bing together with Al Rinker and newcomer Harry Barris to form Whiteman’s Rhythm Boys.
The Malneck orchestra worked steadily featuring his bespectacled piano-accordionist Milton Delugg, until it got around to recording for Columbia in 1940 with Helen Ward as vocalist. But it wasn't a successful venture, as of the nine sides the band made the company issued only four in the USA and none at all in this country.
Matty appeared with his band in films like "St. Louis Blues" (1938) for which he and Frank Loesser wrote I Go For That, and in 1939 they wrote Fidgety Joe for "Man About Town", but Matty didn't contribute any songs to "Scatterbrain" (1940) and 1944' s "Trocadero" in which the band was featured.
Other film songs written by Mattv Malneck were for "Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round" (1932), If I Had A Million Dollars written in collaboration with Johnny Mercer, as was Central Park which they did for "Let's Make Music" (1941) and the complete score for "To Beat The Band" which included Eeny Meeny Miney Mo and If You Were Mine. He worked again with Frank Loesser on "Hawaiian N/ghts" in 1939, once more doing the entire score including Hey Good-Looking and I Found My Love.
Most of Matty's songs became standards, as did many not written for films, like Goody Goody, Pardon My Southern Accent , I'm Thru’ With Love, Deep Harlem and Snug As A Bug In A Rug. He also did such instrumentals as Little Buttercup and Park Avenue Fantasy co-written with his Whiteman cohort Frank Signorelli. The latter was premiered by Paul Whiteman in his 'Experiments In Modern Music’ at the Metropolitan Opera House in December 1933, and was later lyricised by Mitchell Parish as Stairway To The Stars while the Buttercup opus was transformed by Gus Kahn into I’ll Never Be The Same. One work that has not been heard since was Matty's collaboration with Harry Barris on Metropolis, an ambitious fantasy for piano and orchestra.
Clearly Matty Malneck was no ordinary musician/writer, and the only facet of his talent that might have limited his appeal to RFS members is that he does not appear to have entered the light orchestral field to any great extent. In fact, going back over the years he apparently made no records, LPs or CDs under his own name. His post-war activities decreased somewhat, although he carried on working. He did well with Bebop Spoken Here reuniting with his pre-war accordionist Milton Delugg, teamed up with harpist Robert Maxwell for Shangri-La, and resumed his old partnership with the great Johnny Mercer in two songs from the Audrey Hepburn-Gary Cooper movie "Love In The Afternoon".
His long association with dance music and jazz in the thirties made Malneck an obvious choice as MD of the 1959 United Artists film "Some Like It Hot", set around that era. His contribution was to supervise and conduct the band sequences by "Sweet Sue & Her Society Syncopators"... also to ensure that the score included his own I'm Thru’ With Love as a feature for Marilyn Monroe and Stairway To The Stars as romantic background music for her and Tony Curtis.
It's virtually inconceivable that such a man would not have continued making his mark musically, yet as far as I have been able to ascertain this might well have been his last assignment of any stature and importance before his death in March 1981 at the age of 77. A name from the past, perhaps, but what a name and what a past!
Editor: Matty Malneck’s date of birth is given as 9 December 1903 in some reference works; his date of death also appears as 25 February 1981.
This article first appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ June 2006.
THE NOSTALGIC DELIGHTS OF BBC TELEVISION NEWSREEL
By PETER LUCK
When BBC Television resumed transmission on 7th June 1946 after an interval of more than six years during World War II, news was seen as the preserve of sound radio and no attempt was made to broadcast televised bulletins. At that time the BBC had a monopoly of public service broadcasting in Britain, long before the advent of any form of competition, and the only concession to news broadcasting on television took the form of an audio recording of a BBC radio news bulletin, latterly the 9 o’clock (21:00) Home Service bulletin, without any form of graphics, following the end of each day’s television transmission. This had been the practice in the pre-war era also, the idea having been implemented on 3rd April 1938, although on Sundays it had been customary to broadcast the 20:50 National programme News ‘live’ instead.
This derisory coverage was not an oversight, as the then Director General, Sir William Haley, was a newspaper journalist who later became editor of The Times, and he felt that news was not appropriate for television. Prime Minister Clement Attlee disliked the medium, and the opposition leader Winston Churchill, believed that the BBC was a hotbed of communists. It was for this reason that Churchill, when he became Prime Minister, encouraged the development of Independent Television. He did not give any television interviews throughout his term of office, and furthermore, it had been agreed in the Attlee/Churchill era that ministerial broadcasts were to be for sound radio only.
The early history of newsreels coincided with the turbulent times of early twentieth century Britain. Cinemas had been showing newsreels since around 1910, with the birth of Pathé’s Animated Gazette, and in the early days of television before the second world-war the BBC had begun showing Movietone and Gaumont British Newsreels. This practice continued after the war until the newsreel companies became cautious or completely obstructive. As the popularity of television grew, they saw it as competition and no longer supplied the BBC with this material.
As a result, in 1948 the BBC began to make its own newsreel style programmes, recruiting senior journalists from the established newsreels. These films were light in content but tended to be deferential to the political establishment. BBC Television Newsreel was launched on Monday 5th January of that year, on a weekly basis. The newsreels were shown on Monday evenings, with three repeat showings during the ensuing week, but very soon two new editions were broadcast each week and this situation continued until the end of 1950. This was the first time that any form of visual in-house news presentation had been attempted.
From the outset, BBC Television Newsreel opened and closed with an animated caption showing ‘rings’ radiating from the aerial mast at Alexandra Palace round which the titles were fed in a circular motion from right to left, to the accompaniment of Hubert Bath’s ‘Empire Builders’ march (from the film "Rhodes of Africa") played by Eric Robinson and his Orchestra.
Each news story had its own introductory caption, but with the aerial mast depicted at 45 degrees, originating from the bottom left hand corner, and the ‘rings’ frozen, with the item’s title superimposed. During the course of evolution, these ‘rings’ later also became animated.
Television Newsreel was an instant success and was under the control of the Television service at Alexandra Palace rather than the news department at Broadcasting House. News editors on BBC radio were content to see it as entertainment and therefore no threat to their reputation for news that was up to the minute, accurate and impartial.
One of the most interesting aspects of the television newsreel presentation from this writer’s viewpoint was the practice of allocating a suitable item of light music as a background to each of the stories covered in the programme. This resulted in a regular feast of light music, and although many of the musical numbers were instantly recognisable to the light music devotee, e.g. ‘Comic Cuts’, ‘Melody on the Move’, ‘Peanut Polka’, ‘Joy Ride’ etc., others were less familiar. The programme’s title music was changed to Charles Williams’ composition ‘Girls in Grey’ in February 1949.
It was frustrating that there was no means of identifying the many wonderful tunes used. Some of these are now gradually coming to light over fifty years later, by chance appearances on Compact Discs of light music. Two recent examples of this are ‘Fashion Parade’ and ‘Wedding March in Midget Land’, but it is a slow process, to say the least.
If, as sometimes happened, there were several minor news items to cover that did not merit a specific item in their own right, these were swept up into a ‘Here and There’ feature. This had its own title music, in a piece entitled Bowin’ and Scrapin’ (R.Casson).
From the outset the commentary was spoken by Edward Halliday, but his appearances on screen were extremely rare, such as for example when introducing a review of the year. There is much to be said for this approach, rather than having the newsreader habitually staring into the camera, but that is not currently a fashionable view. Other regular BBC announcers also took turns with the commentary.
A standard running time of thirteen and a half minutes was adopted, but in due course the editions became more frequent. Cecil McGivern, then BBC Controller of Television Programmes, wrote in the Radio Times of 29th December 1950, "….We started 1950 with two editions of Television Newsreel per week; we start 1951 with three….." This took effect on 1st January 1951, with new editions being shown on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
The frequency was further enhanced to five editions per week (one edition each weeknight), as from 2nd June 1952, and this continued until the final edition on 2nd July 1954. Although it seems that the ultimate aim had been to produce seven editions per week, this goal was overtaken by events.
Snippets of hard news did tend to creep into the newsreels, but it was not until 1954 that agreement was reached on an improved format for television news. However, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in June 1953 was an event that people were able to watch ‘live’ on television, and this effectively marked the beginning of the end of BBC Television Newsreel.
Eventually, on 5th July 1954 (by coincidence the very day of the withdrawal of the branch line train service to Alexandra Palace), the BBC launched a daily 20-minute ‘illustrated summary of the news’ with a commentary by an anonymous Richard Baker, off camera. The first broadcast, however, was not met with universal approval.
From this date BBC Television Newsreel was discontinued, but was replaced by "BBC Television News and Newsreel", with a similar format for the opening titles and, initially at least, it continued to use ‘Girls in Grey’ as its title music. The BBC News Division was to be responsible for all visual and audio output, and the programmes would run for a total of 25 minutes, including a 3-5 minute weather report.
The programmes were compiled at Alexandra Palace, and they incorporated film reports as received. The News Division staff assigned to the work took up their duties with great enthusiasm, and quickly developed a team spirit vital to the success of any enterprise.
In 1954-55 the amount of television air-time devoted to news increased greatly, and in September 1955 Independent Television was launched, with its own Independent News coverage.
BBC television newsreaders appeared on screen for the first time on 4th September 1955, eighteen days before the launching of Independent Television News (ITN), but only for late night summaries and only then during the headlines.
Whatever the advantages might be, if any, of today’s saturation news coverage, news reporting in those cosy far off days was a measured response to recent events based on available factual information. We were still in the time when news and comment were separated and the news itself was presented in a more positive light. Furthermore, to anyone growing up in the period, the newsreels were a joy to watch and the music enhanced their appeal.
A spin-off from the success of Television Newsreel was the introduction of a parallel programme aimed at children, entitled "BBC Television Children’s Newsreel", the first edition of which was broadcast for the first time on 23rd April 1950. The structure and style of presentation were very much the same as for the original Television Newsreel, and not in the least patronising. The commentary was spoken by Stephen Grenfell and the similar background music was used,but the title music was Clive Richardson’s ‘Holiday Spirit’. Here, again, regular BBC announcers took turns in speaking the commentary. Children’s Newsreel continued until September 1961.
Editor: any new collectors of production music may like to know that the signature tunes of the BBC Television Newsreels are available on the following CDs: "Empire Builders" Music From The Movies, Louis Levy – Living Era CD AJA 5445 [this is the original version, not the later one actually used by the BBC]; "Girls In Grey" The Great British Experience – EMI CD GB 50 [this is the commercial recording by the composer, Charles Williams]; "Holiday Spirit" – the original Chappell recording is on Guild GLCD5120 and also on Vocalion CDEA6021. Many pieces of music used in both BBC newsreels can be found on these CDs of tracks from publishers’ libraries: Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra Vol. 1 – Vocalion CDEA6012, Vol. 2 CDEA6061, & Vol. 3 CDEA6094; Sidney Torch and the New Century Orchestra - Vocalion CDEA6080; Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra – Guild GLCD5107; Bosworth recordings – Guild GLCD5115.s article first appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ June 2006.
THE GREAT ONES COMPARED
By Enrique Renard
I remember distinctly being 14 years old, in 1946, when I first heard Holiday for Strings in my native Chile. The reason that prompts such remembrance has to do with the particular sound of the recording. Nothing of the sort existed in a musical genre just starting to surge forth in those days of very limited recording technological resources. Clearly, to capture the ear of radio listeners what is required is a sonority way beyond that which sound engineers were able to produce then. Hence arranger-composer David Rose and the RCA engineers and producers came up with a sound that, keeping proportions, was not that different from what we heard years later, at least in terms of sonority if not fidelity. The year was 1942. That was the year Holiday For Strings was recorded for the first time.
Listening to recordings done by some of the big bands in 1938, for example, the sound is unbearably flat and pretty dead. The available mikes ignored the low register of the string bass and the treble of brass cymbals. That took away half of the sonority of the band, and if that was bad, recording strings with some fidelity was practically impossible. In the USA RCA and Columbia Records had pretty good sound engineers, and one of them came up with the idea of retarding the sound signal slightly to achieve an aural effect that would resemble an echo chamber. These things usually happen by accident, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it were found that such was the accidental result of someone manipulating the primitive electronics of the period. Whatever the reason, the sound that came out with Holiday For Strings plus a couple of other numbers recorded simultaneously by the Rose orchestra, represented a novelty, a new sound and a very attractive one at that. The record sold hundreds of thousands worldwide, but then a disastrous musicians strike took place in the USA that lasted over two years, and Rose could not continue to record, and neither did anyone else that used musicians. For a while top singers such as Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra were accompanied only by a choir.
However, a new trend had been launched and by then Andre Kostelanetz was recording with similarly sonorous effects in the US east coast around 1941/42. Kostelanetz recorded for Columbia at Liederkrantz Hall, in New York City, a place with remarkable acoustics, and he used musicians from the New York Philharmonic. By 1945 his sales output was impressive, and Columbia gave him a free hand to do as he wished. Kosty was a remarkable musician with a range that went from classic baroque to jazz. Although he was also a splendid arranger, the scope of his activities forced him to use other arrangers. But, as correctly surmised by David Ades, and similarly to other famous orchestra leaders, arrangements done by his collaborators were supervised by him so as to conform to his well recognized sound and style. Besides, on top of having good arrangers and the best musicians, Kostelanetz could call upon as many musicians as he wanted to, regardless cost. It is no wonder, therefore, that he was able to produce such masterful recordings of Light Music covering practically the whole American song book issued from the likes of Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Vincent Youmans and other remarkable American, British and European composers.
Kostelanetz understood popular tastes. He realized that there were some sophisticated people out there who could appreciate a fine way of voicing the strings, for instance. He also understood that such people were in minority and that in order to reach massive audiences and sales he had to play close to the melody. And he did, usually adding to it tempos that allowed dancing to the music! Hence he got not only the listeners, but the dancers and their shindigs as well! Pretty clever, but his was not only a commercial effort. He wanted to get the American public acquainted with symphonic structures, with the sound of a symphonic orchestra, and what better way to do it than playing popular songs (mostly Tin Pan Alley and Broadway melodies) with a symphonic orchestra! It is reasonable to assume he openly achieved his purpose, since by 1950 he had sold over 40 million records worldwide. His appeal was indeed universal.
Then RCA, aware of Columbia’s success with this type of music, hired Morton Gould, classified by some experts as a musical genius by the age of 6. Now Gould was quite another story in that his approach to popular standards by the aforementioned composers was entirely different. He used the jazz approach that consists of stating the theme of a song by sticking to the melody and then "going somewhere else", as he was fond of saying. His variations were invariably of impeccable taste and, in my view at least, they enriched whatever material he was using, but they were clearly for more sophisticated ears than those of the majority who listened and bought Light Music records. Still, and surprisingly, his stuff sold well, though not as well as Kostelanetz. He delved pretty much into classical music, and used the same musicians used by Kostelanetz in New York, where he too recorded.
Both had a distinctive sound. No one has ever duplicated the Kostelanetz string sound of that period. And Gould’s brass was unmistakable. It was low, even ominous at times, when he blended trombones and French horns with remarkable effectiveness. Kostelanetz never had that. Let’s take as an example the recordings both made of a Porter standard: Night and Day.
Kostelanetz first recorded the song in January, 1942 (at present it can be heard in a CD called The Kostelanetz Touch on the label LIVING ERA, CD AJA 5422, issued in England) and it is a gorgeous arrangement (with echo sound, of course). Later on, in 1953, he recorded another version under much better technology (though not stereo yet) considered by many as an archetypal arrangement that influenced many arrangers of the period. More or less by the same year RCA issued the Morton Gould version, without question way more "symphonic" than the two Kostelanetz versions (the first one by Kosty himself and the second by one of his most qualified arrangers, Carrol Huxley). Both the latter version and that of Gould couldn’t be more different, yet they are both masterful.
All this material was issued on 78 rpm shellac records. LPs appeared around 1949 and both Columbia and RCA quickly transposed the 78s into 12 song LPs, which gave a greater impulse to Light Music, expanding the public’s knowledge about it and increasing sales. Anyone who had a record player by the late 40s or early 50s knew about the Andre Kostelanetz Orchestra, the Morton Gould Orchestra, the Percy Faith Orchestra, etc. What few people knew was that none of these remarkable musicians had an orchestra of their own! They all used the same musicians provided by the contractors who supplied them. In the case of the above named, they all worked with musicians from the New York Philharmonic.
That most composers and arrangers of Light Music were heavily influenced by jazz and blues cannot be disputed. Kostelanetz was an excellent jazz pianist, and so was Morton Gould. David Rose started as a jazz pianist, and most of his arrangements have jazz phrasing in them. What Rose had in common with Kostelanetz was his string sound, not because he sounded like Kostelanetz (which he didn’t) but because like Kostelanetz he was widely imitated but never equalled. Aware of the lush effect that Rose’s string writing projected in his mood numbers and the potential for public interest in it, Jackie Gleason, who never learned music theory but was a natural musician, hired arrangers such as Pete King and George Williams to imitate Rose’s string sound, all with the bending of those long legato phrasings and voicings and using a languid cornet played by Bobby Hackett. Capitol smelled money in it and they were right. Gleason and the label made millions on those LPs, but again, because he played the melody straight. Most of Gleason’s string albums are mediocre and repetitive, but as he himself stated: "What we have here is stick-to-the-melody pure vanilla…" clearly giving to understand he wasn’t interested in interesting music. He was interested in sales, and that he achieved most effectively. And Rose who inspired in him the idea, never achieved Gleason’s fame nor his financial success. He did pretty well for himself, but keeping his integrity and his belief in his music. Ironically, he became better known worldwide for his recording of "The Stripper", a song far removed from his own style and musical character.
And speaking of David Rose, I was touched by Donald Southwell’s interesting short article in JIM 167 about his acquaintance with Dave during a flight from Los Angeles to London in 1975 wherein he was informed by the master of strings himself on the reasons why he wrote The Stripper. I’m indeed grateful to Donald for clarifying matters for me with an explanation by Rose himself that appears plausible. There are of course other slightly different versions of the occurrence, like the one that states that Rose had recorded a single that required another song for the other side of the disc, and Dave’s producer slapped The Stripper on it. It is a well known fact that the commercial success of a record largely depends on disc jockeys playing it repeatedly. One of those DJs apparently liked The Stripper more than the other side of the single, and kept playing it. It suddenly took off, as it usually happens with that kind of superficial, meaningless, syncopated music used for stripping! No wonder Dave took years to finally come around and release it and that after a lot of pressure from his producers. In my article on David Rose on JIM 166 I do state that he probably wrote the song as a lark, and I’m amazed to read he used those exact words when referring the story to Mr. Southwell.
I must confess my envy about Donald’s precious opportunity to meet David Rose in a situation where he could talk to him at leisure. What a marvellous thing that was! I met Dave personally at Epcot Center, in Disney World, Florida in 1985. It was a brief encounter as he was walking through the open amphitheater towards the orchestra stage accompanied by the local orchestra director, so I could only briefly chat with him and wish him well after I mustered the courage to approach him and shake hands with him. But I too found him personable and possessing a great sense of humor. I was so sorry I could not a have a more extended moment with him, and I can well share Mr. Southwell’s delight at his meeting with someone who, through the years since I was a kid, had been, and continue to be, my favourite musician.
In comparing talented musicians of Light Music, it is impossible to neglect the British simply because their contribution to the genre is as enormous as it is beautiful. Robert Farnon was not British (except maybe by adoption), but comparisons cannot be applied to him. He was, in the words of Frank Sinatra, "the Guv’nor". There was no one quite like him and plenty has been said about him that makes it unnecessary to repeat here. Quite simply put, he was the best! But then came a host of others. By 1953 we had in Chile the arrival of The Melachrino Strings. I remember listening on the radio, around 1948, "Winter Sunshine" and "There’s a Tavern in Town", by the Melachrino orchestra, and loving them. Unfortunately, those records were not commercially distributed, and I couldn’t buy them. Stations got them by means of record exchanges with the BBC in London. Those arrangements included more than strings, though. Anyway, when RCA issued the Melachrino Strings in 45 rpm format later in 53’, they were a hit, and I did buy the records.
I had also been listening through the same BBC records played by radio stations the Ray Martin Orchestra, and it immediately caught my ear. There was something in the way Martin wrote strings that resembled David Rose, not so much in texture but rather in concept, especially in the mood numbers, and I was taken by it. In 1948 I heard an arrangement by Martin of a Mexican song by composer Manuel Ponce called Estrellita (Little Star). Around the same time MGM released the Rose version and I was amazed at the similarity in concept and sound. One would assume that someone plagiarized someone there. But we know better, don’t we? Neither Martin nor Rose needed to plagiarize anyone. The Rose version was issued in Chile on a 78 that had Intermezzo on the other side, and the latter arrangement does not resemble at all Martin’s arrangement of the song. I was able to acquire the MGM 78, but the Martin version of Estrellita I never heard again. In 1954, however, and to my delight, Columbia issued a 10 inch LP featuring Ray Martin arrangements! (most can be found now in a CD titled "Unforgettable, and Other Great Melodies", issued by EMI in Britain, and also a couple of CDs titled "Music in the Manner of Ray Martin", issued by Vocalion, CDLK 4105 and CDLK 4119, but no Estrellita on them, regrettably).
Being a Rose fan, I always found a sort of musical closeness between both composers. But I don’t even know if they ever met each other personally. Other 78s by Martin were also issued in my country those days, and one truly fascinated me: The Golden Trumpet, solo trumpet by Eddie Calvert (who had an incredible tone) with strings arranged by Ray Martin. It is a marvellous piece, and one cannot but wonder why both never recorded an LP together that would have been a smash hit. It would have been something vastly superior to what Jackie Gleason was doing in those days with great commercial success.
Martin’s version of Unforgettable, the Irving Gordon piece made into a hit by Nat King Cole is, to me at least, the best orchestral arrangement ever done of the song. Surprisingly very few other orchestras recorded it.
It appears that Martin was a busy body. Among other things, he became A & R man for the Columbia label in Britain, and his recording possibilities diminished probably due to lack of time. When he migrated to the USA under a contract by RCA in 1957, he recorded two LPs that showed great versatility, but that excluded mood numbers: Dynamica and Excitement, Inc. He had become known to USA listeners through a mood album that sold very well there: Rainy Night in London, recorded in London for Capitol and issued by EMI in Britain in 1956. What he did for RCA was excellent but entirely different and somewhat unusual, and commercial success wasn’t there. Eventually, he returned to Europe and recorded six LPs for Polydor, in France. To my mind, Ray Martin hit his peak in 1957 when he scored the music of a movie called It’s Great to be Young, which included a song called You Are my First Love, winner of the Ivor Novello Award and eventually recorded by Nat King Cole.
Stanley Black and Philip Green were excellent arranger/composers, but they never achieved a sound that was immediately recognizable, as did Melachrino, for instance. They probably weren’t interested in that. But Peter Yorke was another story. I cannot agree with a writer in JIM 164 that described his arrangements as "pile driving". Despite being a great arranger and musician, it is true that Yorke cannot be compared favourably with Robert Farnon. But then no one can, really. However, he had in his outfit someone Farnon didn’t have: Freddie Gardner playing alto sax. I remember one occasion in 1951 when a radio station was playing Yorke’ version of These Foolish Things, my father, who knew NOTHING about music and who cared even less about it, stopped dead at the sound Gardner got from his horn and asked me: "Who is that!..." There was something glorious about Gardner’s tone, a sound that fascinated even Duke Ellington! And Yorke came up with a device that made the sound of his outfit instantly recognizable: four clarinets playing in harmony with Freddie’s alto to produce a transparent, sweet, surging sound that conceptually resembled Glenn Miller’s reed sound. Tragically, Gardner’s death at age 39 deprived the orchestra of its distinctive sound, and it was never the same again. Still, what a joy it is to listen to those records by the Peter Yorke Orchestra with Freddie Gardner playing alto.
And one cannot mention British arrangers/composers without mentioning two unsung heroes: Malcolm Lockyer and William Hill-Bowen. Lockyer was, aside from Farnon, the only arranger who could make strings swing. His musical sense with respect to big bands was unequalled and his work with the Knightsbridge Strings is brilliant.
Hill-Bowen, on the other hand, was responsible for the sound of the Melachrino Strings that appeared only when he started arranging for George Melachrino. Hence it is only fair to state that he was responsible for Melachrino’s success, although George had already made quite a name for himself leaning on his considerable talent only.
It is well understood that music is a matter of personal taste, and what appears great to some is not that great to others. In the particular case of Light Music, tastes on the different orchestras and their leaders and arrangers vary widely, but some of those musicians seem to transcend the relativities of personal taste. A survey done around 1963 about the David Rose Orchestra, for instance, showed that every minute of every day at least one radio station in the USA was playing a David Rose selection. There was something about his sound that was incredibly catchy and beautiful, and his music was being used in 22 different television shows. Ditto for Robert Farnon. Every time I play one of his records for someone they are instantly fascinated, even when people are not particularly interested in Light Orchestral Music. One thing is clear, though: to all these musicians who graced airwaves and recording studios with their talent and sensitivity during the 40s, 50s and early 60s, we owe a debt of gratitude. They made the world a better, gentler, more musical place for all of humanity, and they shall not be forgotten.
This article first appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ June 2006.
YOUR ENJOYMENT OF VINTAGE LIGHT MUSIC COULD BE AT RISK
Take a look at your CD collection and note which ones contain recordings between fifty and seventy years old. To give you a clue – many releases by (in alphabetical order) Guild, Jasmine, Living Era, Naxos, Pearl and Vocalion fall into this category – and there are many more small British independent labels similarly affected. The major record companies are supporting attempts by ageing pop stars to get the period of sound copyright extended beyond the present 50 years, which would deprive many music lovers of a large amount of music. The British Government set up a committee to investigate the whole subject of copyright, and invited members of the public and interested parties to make their views known.
As the 21 April deadline for submissions to the Gowers Review approached, British radio and television audiences were subjected to a barrage of reports which were high on emotion, low on serious discussion, and notable for presentation of one-sided and questionable statements. Hopefully the educated people chosen by the Government will have approached their task with an open mind, in which case some of the submissions received from members of the Robert Farnon Society will have received fair consideration. No doubt this subject will rumble on for many months, as pressure groups attempt to sway the outcome, so in order to achieve a balance we reprint below part of the documents sent in by Alan Bunting and your Editor. If you agree with some of their comments, you may wish to make your feelings known to your MP, MEP or the press if it seems that there is still an opportunity to influence the final outcome.
David Ades began his submission by questioning the motives behind the current pressure groups seeking a change in the law.
I am concerned to note that there appears to be considerable pressure building up for an increase in the present 50-year period for sound copyright in the United Kingdom. Reports in the media indicate that certain people in the music business (1960s pop groups have been specifically mentioned) are lobbying the Government for a change, but what particularly worries me is that the public are being fed information with is often one-sided and shallow. I have yet to see a report on television which attempts to deal with this important matter in a serious manner, since there are far-reaching implications involved.
Sound recording has been around for well over 100 years. Why has the question of sound copyright suddenly arisen? In my view the copyright act of 1988 was a sensible piece of legislation which struck a fair balance, and I cannot accept that a change is now necessary. Of course, the entertainment business thrives on publicity, and the cynical among us might believe that the current controversy is doing some aged pop groups no harm. But to suggest that they are about to lose a significant amount of income when their original recordings are more than 50 years old is questionable, to say the least.
The public are not being informed that there is a difference between sound copyright (which is owned for 50 years by the company making the recording) and composer royalties (currently payable for a generous 70 years after the composer’s death). If we take pop groups as an example, many of them from the 1950s onwards used to perform music they composed themselves – the prime example being The Beatles. Their royalties will continue to be paid, whoever reissues their music on CDs or whatever formats may be used in the future to provide music.
From the outset, Alan Bunting made his objections to the proposals to extend sound copyright protection very clear:
I am writing to the Gowers Review to express my views on the specific subject of the record industry’s desire to extend the existing 50-year copyright period for sound recordings. I am opposed to this proposal on the grounds that it would not benefit the public and I would even argue that, under certain conditions, there is a case for the period to be reduced rather than extended.
The campaign the record industry has waged via trade magazines such as Music Week has rarely been equalled for the number of misleading and incorrect statements that have been made. Throughout their campaign they have failed to mention just what would be lost to a world wide record buying public and a significant number of composers if their wishes became reality.
The truth is that the record companies’ concerns are centred on a very small part of the material which is now approaching the present 50 year deadline. This is almost all "pop" material, recorded by the likes of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley et al and one can understand their wish to retain control of these recordings. The problem is that this 50 year old material they are so anxious to protect amounts to but a small fraction (probably less than 1%) of recordings of this vintage. If we consider all of the recordings which would be embraced by the sought for extension, then the figure is even smaller.
The record companies lobbying for a change have little or no interest whatsoever in the other 99% plus of their material that is more than 50 years old. Their accountants tell them that it is not cost effective for them to make it available to the substantial minority who wish to buy and listen to it. We are talking about hundreds of thousands of recordings spanning a wide range of differing musical genres – dance bands, singers, jazz, light orchestral music, brass bands, military bands, film music, folk music, spoken word, opera, musicals and classical music covering a period from the 1920s to the 1950s. The desire of people to hear this music again, which they usually last heard on scratchy 78s, has resulted in a significant number of British and European companies that specialise in restoring and re-mastering onto CD large amounts of this material. These CDs sell in sufficient quantities for such companies to make a reasonable return from material in which the mainstream record industry has lost all interest – indeed they often do not know that they made these recordings in the first place!
These specialist companies operate quite legally. They also pay the royalties due on the music on these CDs. This generates a significant income for composers and arrangers, many of whom would currently have no income whatsoever if they had to rely on royalties from those seeking an extension. I doubt if the record companies have mentioned this in any of their submissions.
Just one of these specialist British labels, Living Era, has a catalogue of over 500 CDs, most of which sell all over the world in large quantities, the majority containing material that the major record companies would not even consider re-issuing.
If we take into account the catalogues of the dozens of smaller re-issue labels in Britain and Europe, then we are talking about several thousand CDs containing "forgotten" music which generates revenue for composers and music publishers and provides much pleasure for those who purchase it. BPI Executive chairman Peter Jamieson is on record as saying "I can’t see that it benefits anyone not to extend it" – he appears to be completely unaware of these royalties being paid to composers and music publishers.
He also seems to think that the companies, and the hundreds of people who make a perfectly honest living restoring these old recordings, writing the booklets, doing the art-work, and re-issuing them would "benefit" from losing their livelihoods! And we should also consider the pressing plants, the wholesalers and the retailers whose turnover is enhanced by these re-issues.
More importantly, extension of the copyright in these recordings would result in this music being lost forever because, and I can’t emphasise this enough, the major record companies have no interest whatsoever in making this material available should they win. Do we really wish to deny thousands of people the pleasure of listening to it simply because these companies want to protect the recordings of a handful of "pop" artists? Doubtless such deprivation would be considered another "benefit" by the BPI.
The PPL’s Director of government relations Dominic McGonical said at a DTI seminar at the beginning of March: "There would be thousands of musicians right now who would benefit straight away from extension of copyright". He should be challenged to substantiate this reckless statement.
Who are these "thousands of musicians"? Maybe a handful of pop singers would benefit and a few star names from the classical world, but the "musicians" (i.e. backing groups, choruses, orchestral players etc.) would have been paid a one-off fee for the recording and receive neither royalties nor a percentage share of sales revenue. Even many solo artists were forced into contracts where the main beneficiary from sales was the record company rather than the artist. I would also suggest that, for the majority of pre-1950s recordings, the artists concerned are either dead or untraceable and therefore the only ones to gain from re-issues of this material would again be the record companies. In any case, the claim completely ignores the fact that these "thousands" would only benefit if the record companies chose to re-issue their recordings and, in most cases, this is unlikely to say the least.
Research in America shows that the extension there has had little effect on the re-issue programmes of the major record companies. The net effect therefore was to considerably reduce the choice of recordings available to the public. The same would apply in Europe - an extension of the copyright would have little or no effect on the amount of back catalogue issued by the major record companies so, despite their bold claims, few artists would gain anything and the public would undoubtedly be the losers.
It is worth considering this extract from the American survey:
The argument was made that giving the companies such lengthy ownership would encourage them to preserve and reissue older recordings. With nearly 30 years of experience, however, it is now clear that nothing of the sort has happened. My own recent study of early African-American recordings (surely a field of interest) reveals that only one half of one percent of covered recordings made prior to 1920 have been reissued by the copyright holders (Brooks, Lost Sounds 10). Another study indicates that of the pre-1965 recordings of greatest interest to scholars and collectors, those listed in major discographies, only 14 percent are made available by rights holders, and for recordings made prior to the 1940s the percentage dwindles to almost nothing (Brooks, "Sound Recording"). Undeterred by such experience (or ignorant of it) Congress in 1998 passed the now-notorious "Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act," lengthening all the terms in the original act by 20 years. Now no covered recordings will pass into the public domain until 2067.
I suggest that the following questions be asked of each of the record company representatives:
1. How many recordings more than 50 years old are there in your current catalogue?
2. What percentage of your more than 50 years old recordings does this represent?
3. What percentage of your recordings have not been available for purchase for thirty years or more?
I can assure you that the answers to these questions will severely embarrass the record companies and considerably weaken their case for an extension – for example the answer to question 2 will be less than 1% and to question 3 it will be in excess of 99%. For some companies the answer to question 1 will be "none".
They could then be asked a supplementary question – "If this extension is so essential, then why do your answers reveal a total lack of interest in re-issuing the vast majority of old recordings?"
Despite my objections, I have no desire to prevent the record companies winning a copyright extension if, in return, they would undertake to make all of their recordings available to members of the public who wish to purchase them. However, as most of the recordings outside the "pop" field currently being re-issued by third parties haven’t been available from the original copyright owner for the past 50 years and, in many cases, 70 or 80 years, the chances of the original record companies ever re-issuing them are slim.
Of course, in reality, there is little need for an extension at all. There is nothing to stop the major companies from re-releasing their own recordings that are more than 50 years old. Provided that they have looked after their archives they should have the master tapes or pristine pressings of the discs in their vaults. This places them at a considerable advantage compared with the independent labels who usually have to rely on second hand copies of the discs, which are usually less than perfect. If the majors kept this material available, attractively packaged and reasonably priced, there would be no reason for any independents to want to get in on the act and duplicate these reissues.
However, except for the recordings of a (very) few pop artists, the record companies don’t currently do this (and never have), so why should an extension of copyright change anything, except to deprive the public of music they want to hear and ageing composers of an income?
There has been some suggestion that, should a change be made, it should be retrospective (i.e. apply to recordings which were already out of copyright the day the legislation is passed).
I find this not only unbelievable but totally unacceptable. Surely this would be akin to allowing a company to renew an expired patent on, say, an industrial process with all the ramifications and problems that such an action would cause? And what if the next step was to allow pharmaceutical companies to retrospectively re-patent drugs which are currently being manufactured cheaply and are saving lives all over the world? Some will dismiss this as pure fancy, but my view is that corporate greed knows no bounds and it wouldn’t surprise me one jot to see the extension of recording copyright being quoted as a precedent for further, potentially much more serious, claims.
Therefore, any extension should not be retrospective. i.e. any recording that is 50 years or more old on the day the legislation is passed remains out of copyright.
In addition to the above, I suggest that if the record companies insist on pursuing this matter then, in return for a copyright extension, they should be forced to agree to the following:
Recordings that have been unavailable for purchase for 30 years or more should come out of copyright as they are obviously not considered to be of any significant commercial value by the owning company. It is worth noting that there are thousands of LPs, most of which are less than 30 years old, that have never appeared on CD because the record companies don’t consider the sales would justify it – so why should anything more than 30 years old be they be protected if it has been ignored for so long? Such a change would generate much extra income for the composers concerned.
The copyright should only remain valid if the recording continues to be available for purchase by the public. With so many recordings in existence there would have to be some leeway here – perhaps along the lines of a condition that recordings should not be out of the catalogue for more than 5 years at a time.
The record companies also claim that a copyright extension would generate funds that they would use to promote new artists. Frankly, if anyone believes that, they probably also believe in flying pigs! The record industry’s track record in this area is abysmal and the way that they have treated artists over the years disgraceful. Perhaps everyone should read Louis Barfe’s excellent book "Where Have All The Good Times Gone – The Rise And Fall Of The Record Industry" before making a judgement on whether the record industry deserve a copyright extension.
Finally, I would urge the Review to constantly bear in mind that the motivation for requesting this extension is based on the paranoid desire of the major record companies to protect a few "pop" titles which represent but a fraction of a percent of the recordings which any change in copyright would affect.
The fact that an extension of the copyright period would effectively prevent public access to well over 90% of the music ever recorded and thus deprive Europe of its musical heritage and history does not concern them in the slightest.
Much of David Ades’ report to the Gowers Review made similar points (so it will not be repeated here), although in a few areas his recommendations were slightly different in emphasis and detail:
It has been claimed that the record companies continue to make payments to artists for recordings over 50 years old, and that this money would be ‘lost’ if the same music was reissued by independent labels. The record companies should be required to provide written proof to support this statement. From my knowledge many of them used contracts around 50 years ago that involved single payments to the musicians for the session, with minimal royalties being paid to the main artist named on the label for a stated period. I would go further to suggest that it is unlikely that documentation still exists in the majority of cases that would allow the record companies to calculate such continuing payments, in the unlikely event that they wished to do so.
One aspect which seems to have escaped attention from the media is: ‘why should independent labels wish to reissue old material’? The simple answer is because it has been ignored for many years by the major record companies. It is a well-known fact that accountants are in control, and recordings are deleted (often with indecent haste) as soon as sales slip below a certain figure. This can happen in as little as two years after the release of a disc, which means that probably as many as 90% of recordings can remain unavailable for up to 48 years until they fall into the public domain. This means that the composers of the music are deprived of royalties for their work. When reissued by independents, the royalties start flowing again.
Another factor which is escaping attention is the blindingly obvious fact that there is nothing to stop the original record companies from continuing to make their recordings available after 50 years have elapsed. If they wish to be generous to their former artists, they can continue making payments to them, over and above the composer royalties. It would be interesting to know how often this happens. To take The Beatles as an example, if EMI continue to reissue their recordings attractively packaged, and reasonably priced, why would an independent label wish to duplicate such material? EMI possess the master tapes and (provided that they have carefully looked after them – this is not always the case with every company) they are in a privileged position to be able to produce a superior product that could not be matched by an independent.
The truth is that the independents are often better at exploiting the archives than the record companies themselves. Having worked in both, I can confirm that a small company will take greater pains to use modern digital technology to produce sound quality that is often superior. The big companies have large overheads, and they cannot allow their sound engineers sufficient time to devote to sound restoration. This is an area where a growing number of small British companies excel, and their expertise is recognised internationally.
Yet these independents are, in the majority of cases, only dealing with recordings for a small minority of collectors who have long been ignored by the record companies. Make no mistake – sound restoration is an expensive business, and the small independents are certainly not making a fortune out of old recordings. The majors are simply not interested in releasing CDs unless they sell in tens of thousands, yet the dedicated enthusiasts who operate the small independent labels can survive with sales in the hundreds. They are providing a valuable extra dimension to the music scene, and preserving a culture for our country that might otherwise be completely lost.
Another reason why collectors find the independent labels appealing is the research which goes into providing detailed information in the booklets inside the CDs. Reading many of these it is clear that the CD has been produced as a labour of love; the corresponding booklets in many CDs from the major companies are poor in comparison.
I would summarise my main objections to an increase in the present 50 year period for sound copyright as follows:
1. 50 years is a reasonable (even generous) period of time in which record companies can recoup the cost of their recordings.
2. A change to more than 50 years would deprive many composers of the royalties upon which they rely, and which are paid by independent companies who reissue their material.
3. If the major record companies continue to release their older recordings, there is no attraction for small independent companies to duplicate such CDs, and probably lose money as a result.
4. A number of older singers have enjoyed a welcome revival of interest in their music as a result of independent CDs. This might not have happened if their fate had remained in the hands of the major companies.
5. The British independent labels have gained an international reputation for the quality of their work, which has generated valuable export sales that could be lost if the period for sound copyright is extended.
In conclusion I would make two important points. If it is decided to increase the period for sound copyright I urge you to insist that it is not made retrospective, and that a reasonable period of grace is allowed before any change is implemented. A date of 1960 would not seem unreasonable, with all recordings prior to that still being subject to the present 50-year period of sound copyright.
As an alternative to a blanket extension of sound copyright, a more equitable solution may be to allow recordings to fall into the public domain if they have not been made available by the original record company for at least two years during a certain period of time – I would suggest 25 years would be fair. This would allow independent labels to continue making available in relatively small quantities recordings of a minority interest that the record companies have long decided is of no further interest to them.
Editor: I apologise to any readers who may feel that too much room in the magazine has been taken up with this matter. However I know that many of you share my strong feelings on this subject, and we are talking about the distinct possibility that many of the records we currently choose to purchase may no longer be available to us in the future. Too often poor and unsatisfactory legislation gets enacted because people are apathetic and do not appreciate the full implications. Hopefully this feature will have alerted many of you to what is currently under threat.
This article first appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ June 2006.
The story behind an important series of Light Music CDs
THE GOLDEN AGE OF LIGHT MUSIC
Revealed by ALAN BUNTING
By the time you read this Guild Music’s Golden Age Of Light Music series will be celebrating its second birthday and number 23 volumes containing no fewer than 537 historic recordings, most of which have never been on CD before. Until now these treasures were the exclusive domain of the privileged few lucky enough to own the original 78s (and in a few cases, LPs and 45s) and, of course, the means to play them.
David Ades and I are jointly responsible for the series and we are often asked how we go about producing them, so this is an attempt to take you ‘behind the scenes’ and provide some answers.
In November 2003 Kaikoo Lalkaka of Guild Music in Switzerland approached David about the possibilities of producing a series of vintage light music CDs that would appeal to enthusiasts around the world. Guild already had a very successful series of Historical Classical CD re-issues as well as an extensive catalogue of modern recordings, ranging from choral and organ music to jazz, and thought that some re-issues of light music from the past would sit well alongside these. Naturally David reacted to the suggestion with enthusiasm and, as we had recently collaborated on some similar CDs for Living Era, suggested to Guild that I should come on board to do the restoration and re-mastering. This was agreed and a target of March 2004 was set for the first three issues.
Working with Guild has been a very pleasurable experience because David and I have total control over the content and sound of each CD. At the outset we agreed on some parameters for the series. Each CD would be themed and would be multi-artist, although we later broke this rule when, at Guild’s suggestion, we produced the two Mantovani compilations. We also decreed that there would not be any vocals and that an "orchestra" would always have a string section, although discerning listeners will discover that we have also broken this rule on a couple of occasions. It was originally envisaged that the series would be totally orchestral but one day Kaikoo casually mentioned that he rather fancied a CD featuring bands. Once we were over the shock, and despite some initial reservations, we realised that there was much light music specially written for brass and military ensembles. The outcome of our research was "Bandstand In The Park", one of the most enjoyable and interesting CDs in the collection.
The most important rule we imposed on ourselves was that every CD would comprise mainly recordings which were appearing on CD for the first time with, to the best of our knowledge, never more than five previously issued tracks on any volume. Bearing in mind the modest selling price we felt that, even if a prospective buyer already had all of the duplicate tracks (very unlikely), they would still be getting 20 to 25 new tracks for around 8 pounds which represents very good value. In fact, we have so far managed to exceed our target on every CD with several volumes having no duplicate tracks at all.
We had one correspondent who challenged this but it turned out that he thought we were claiming none of the music had been on CD before! For us, one of the pleasures of producing this series has been tracking down alternative versions of favourite pieces, often in better performances than the best selling version – good examples of this are the Orchestre Raymonde’s Decca recordings of "The Horseguards – Whitehall" and "Runaway Rocking Horse". Naturally, there will be no duplication of recordings within the series itself.
The duplicate tracks rule also caused problems with "Mantovani By Special Request Volume 2" when we discovered that another company was about to issue all of his 1951 to 1955 tracks as a 4 CD set. Although we had already chosen and re-mastered 12 of these we decided to avoid any duplication and changed Volume 2 to be exclusively "pre-Charmaine" recordings. We now think that it’s a better compilation because of this, although we know that some purchasers were disappointed to find that there were no longer any "cascading strings" – but now they know why!
The other rules have also caused the odd problem. The most unexpected one was when I had carefully edited out a (not very good) vocal selection from one of the tracks on "Theatre And Cinema Orchestras Volume 1" only for David to receive a letter from someone who had bought the CD especially for this recording. Naturally he was very disappointed to discover that the vocals weren’t there but he was delighted to receive, with our compliments, a specially "put back together" version on CD-R, a level of service one is unlikely to receive from the major record companies!
Now on to the "how it’s done" bit. Once we have decided on a theme, usually chosen from a list made up by David (although I have been known to contribute the odd one) David produces a list of potential titles, most of which he has in his collection. He sends it to me, together with what recordings he has and I will add a few suggestions, some of which I will have. Thus we generally end up with a list of up to 40 proposals, some of which we now have to find. This is where our network of collector friends around the world comes in. Most are members of the Society and are so numerous that it is impossible to name them all here – but their names appear in the booklets of the Guild CDs to which they have contributed and their help is invaluable. Between them I estimate that they own several hundred thousand 78s and, so far, we have always managed to track down everything we have set our hearts on for inclusion. Some titles are the result of requests from RFS members and others, often accompanied by the offer of loan of the recording.
As shipping fragile 78s around the world is a risky business, much of the material is dubbed by the owner and comes to me on either CD or MiniDisc. Many people express surprise when they hear this, but all those involved have very good record playing equipment and are capable of making good transfers. MiniDisc is probably the least understood and most under rated recording medium ever, and many Hi-Fi fanatics are amazed to hear that a large number of the tracks on each CD are sent to me on this medium. Incidentally, I prefer transfers to be done in stereo, even though the recordings are mono – the difference in background noise between left and right channels is sometimes quite dramatic, so the options of using the least-worn side of the groove or combining them when I do the restoration can be very helpful.
At this stage I do a basic restoration of the recordings, rejecting any which are not going to meet our technical standards and send David a couple of CD-Rs from which he will make a final selection and produce a tentative running order. Once I know which tracks we are going to use I then carry on with the full audio restoration process and make a first listening copy of the CD. At this point it is still possible that some tracks may not make it because David and I have an agreement that, if I can’t get the sound of any track up to my self-imposed standards, then I have the right of veto. On the other hand, no matter how much I might dislike a track musically, provided it sounds OK, the final word is David’s. Surprisingly, I can’t think of a single occasion when we have had any disagreement over the final track selection.
We are very critical when it comes to the sound of The Golden Age. I do all of the restoration work using very high quality Sennheiser HD600 headphones fed by a Technics SU-3500 amplifier and, when I am satisfied, I listen to the results on several loudspeaker systems. First a pair of KEF 105s, then some Wharfedale Lintons and finally the £30 mini system in the kitchen. If all is well I send another listening copy off to David who listens equally critically. He usually comes back with some very diplomatically phrased suggestions that this track or that track might be improved in some way or another and so we hone and refine, some tracks passing back and forth three or four times for further appraisal and modification before we are both satisfied. It is not unknown for us to reject a track altogether at this stage and attempt to find another copy or, in extremis, substitute another piece. Perhaps I should, at this point, insert a little commercial for the Post Office. David is in Somerset, I am in Scotland but, despite the 400 plus miles separating us, we invariably get next day delivery of the large quantities of material we post to each other.
One of the problems with restoration is that, until you actually run a track through the system it is almost impossible to judge how good or bad the final result will be. The other problem is that that, as you remove the clicks, crackle and the "shash" noise from the shellac, all sorts of nasties are revealed, ranging from hum to background noises and assorted bangs and clatters made by the musicians. A classic example is the Lionel Jeffries track on GLCD 5106, which is a location recording and, in the quiet passages, people can be heard talking in the background. Many recordings also have the odd wrong note or bad bit of playing but it’s often possible to lift the same phrase from somewhere else in the recording and substitute it. The opening notes on many 78s often suffer from excessive wear – I won’t reveal how many tracks in the series have had the opening re-created by lifting the same notes from elsewhere in the piece! Many Guild tracks have been "stitched together" by using different parts of several different copies of the disc. Some recordings end very abruptly, especially on early LPs where the master tape has been viciously edited. In such cases a judicious amount of reverberation, carefully chosen to match the original sound is added to the final chord. Recordings that are judged to be too "dry" also have a small amount of overall reverberation added.
As I’m often asked what equipment and processes I use for restoration here’s a list – most readers should skip this paragraph. There’s an EMT 938 Turntable with half a dozen Shure SC35C cartridges equipped with a selection of styli (for mono and stereo LPs plus varying sizes for 78s). MiniDiscs are played on a Sony MDS-JB920, DAT tapes on a Tascam DA-30 MkII, CDs on a vintage Sony CDP-970, cassettes on a Nakamichi Dragon and tapes, depending on speed, track configuration and size are taken care of by either a Technics RS-1506 or a Sony TC-377. The outputs of these are fed via a Behringer Eurorack pro Mixer and Yamaha YDP 2006 Parametric Equaliser into the Cedar De-Click, De-Crackle and De-Clickle boxes. A Behringer Ultramatch Pro Analogue to Digital / Digital to Analogue is used to handle the feeds to the computer and monitoring. The computer uses an EM-U 1212 professional sound card and Minnetonka Software’s Fast Edit 4 for the actual recording and editing process. Further processing is done on the computer using Adobe Audition, Sony Sound Forge, Red Roaster and Sound Laundry. Reverberation when required comes from a Lexicon digital stand-alone system. The CD masters are prepared using Sony’s CD Creator and recorded on a PlexWriter Premium drive.
I have to be honest here and say that most of my restorations of 78s are probably not appreciated by the "purists". It is my belief that most people buying this series have only ever heard 78s played on a radiogram or a modern hi-fi, probably using equalisation more suited to modern LPs than vintage 78s and expect the CD version to sound the same, so this is the sound I aim for. I also attempt to create a certain uniformity between tracks so that, although a 1920s recording may come immediately after a 1950s one, the listener is not aware of a jarring difference. There are no hard and fast rules – what I do is probably best described as "messing about" with the sound until I’m happy.
While I carry on with the easy bit (not always that easy when being "assisted" by a large Bernese Mountain Dog and an even larger St. Bernard), David has the far harder task of writing the booklet notes. Finding something new to say about Haydn Wood when we are featuring him for the umpteenth time becomes more and more difficult, especially when you know that many people have every previous Golden Age CD in their collection.
David will then send me a draft of the booklet as a Microsoft Word document (without the Internet and e-mail this series would never have happened!) for me to comment on and possibly add information. We usually get through two or three drafts before David is happy.
At this stage Kaikoo at Guild has no idea what we have been cooking up for his next release other than the overall title – he’s a very trusting sort of fellow! So it’s time for me to send a listening copy off to Switzerland and for David to send the booklet information. Assuming that he likes it (and we haven’t had one rejected yet, so we must be doing something right!) Kaikoo and his wife Silvia then choose a suitable cover picture and this and the notes will be sent to designer Paul Brooks in Oxford who is responsible for the very attractive books and inlays which, with their uniform style, have contributed immensely to the success of the series.
When Paul has done his stuff, Silvia e-mails proofs of the booklets and inlays to David and myself as Adobe Acrobat files for us to check and amend if necessary. Again we may go through this process two or three times until everyone is happy.
Meanwhile Silvia, who is also Guild’s Financial Director, deals with the time consuming but essential matter of sorting out royalty payments for the composers and arrangers via SUISA (the Swiss equivalent of the British MCPS). Perhaps it should be made clear that, although composer royalties are payable on most tracks, all the recordings used in the series are more than 50 years old which means that they are, under current European law, out of copyright.
It’s now time for me to make the master CD which is used by the pressing plant to make the glass master used to produce the CDs. This is sent to Peter Reynolds Mastering in Colchester where Peter checks that all the coding I have put on the CD for timing, tracks starts, pauses etc. matches the Table Of Contents I have produced to go with it, and that it fully complies with the Red Book standards. If all is well it’s sent to the pressing plant where it meets up with the booklets and inlays that have come from a specialist printer and the finished CDs are shipped to Priory for distribution. Meanwhile David and I (and Kaikoo and Silvia!) keep our fingers crossed that someone is going to buy them and enjoy them.
Footnote by David Ades: I would just like to add two points to Alan’s ‘history’ of the Guild Light Music CDs. Firstly mention must be made of the fact that it was Paul Brooks (of Design & Print, Oxford) who mentioned my name to Kaikoo Lalkaka when he was considering a new series of CDs concentrating on light music. I had previously worked with Paul on CD booklets, so he was aware of my interest in this area of the music scene. Secondly I cannot find enough words to praise and thank Alan Bunting for his expertise in making these old recordings sound so good. More than that, Alan has been invaluable in making many helpful suggestions regarding repertoire, and he has also been responsible for tracking down some elusive tracks. Without his enthusiasm and unfailing support, my job would be so much more difficult, and it is not an exaggeration to say that some of the CDs we have released so far would never have seen the light of day. I am indeed very fortunate to be able to rely upon so many kind and generous people who have all helped to make the Guild ‘Golden Age of Light Music’ series such an important part of today’s light music scene.
From ‘Journal Into Melody’ March 2006
Forrest Patten sets the scene for his interview with one of the most highly respected, and talented, American composers and arrangers
In the world of music, Neal Hefti has done it all. As a composer, arranger and conductor, he has contributed to some of the most memorable musical icons of the twentieth century. Had Neal only composed "Girl Talk" (from the film Harlow), the "Batman Theme" (from the campy 60’s action TV series starring Adam West), or the sauntering theme from the film and television versions of The Odd Couple, his place in musical history would have been solidified then and there. But there was so much more. There were all of those great Basie charts and originals. There were the Sinatra arrangements. And who can ever forget the musical accompaniment to Jack Lemmon’s surprise when Virna Lisi popped out of a cake in the movie How To Murder Your Wife? It’s one thing to come up with great melodies; it’s another to create great arrangements. Neal Hefti is a master of both.
In June, 2005, ASCAP (the American Society Of Composers, Authors and Publishers) inducted Neal as an honorary member of the ASCAP Jazz Wall Of Fame.
Today, Neal enjoys tending to his musical garden: the care and feeding of over 500 copyrights. On September 7, 2004, Neal joined us for a very special interview in Studio City, California as a part of Frank Comstock’s Summit. In his own words (and exclusively for Journal Into Melody), here is Neal’s story.
FORREST PATTEN: Neal, musically speaking, how did it all begin?
NEAL HEFTI: I received a trumpet for Christmas when I was about 10 years old. My parents’ thought was to have all the boys learn a band instrument. During those days, the high schools were connected with the R.O.T.C. (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) who gave us uniforms. That meant that our cash-strapped family would not have to buy clothes for the boys. Also, if we were drafted into the service, we would be in the band and not the infantry. My mother thought that it might help protect her boys. My two older brothers played the sax and clarinet. I fell in love with the trumpet.
I learned the instrument ranges and transpositions at age 12, when I started trumpet lessons at the local music store. It had a Conn instrument chart posted on the wall, showing all the instruments they made and the various ranges of each, starting with the piccolo and going all the way down to the tuba.
In high school, I played in the orchestra, the concert band, the marching band, and what they called, "the swing band." I started arranging music for the territorial dance bands of that day for the biggest Midwestern booking agency, Howard White. I was arranging for three or four bands. I didn’t know quite how to do it, but I learned with the help of my older brother, John.
FP: Who were your inspirations in the beginning?
NH: My inspirations really centered on the orchestras of that time. Duke Ellington, Jimmy Lunceford, Count Basie, Charlie Barnet, Glen Gray, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw. There were also two British bands, Ambrose and Ray Noble. Ray Noble played a week in Omaha, at the Orpheum Theater. After attending the show, I said to myself that if I ever became an orchestra leader, that's the kind of orchestra, I would want. Besides Duke Ellington, arrangers included Billy May, Billy Moore, Sy Oliver and Axel Stordahl.
When I was growing up, my favorite bands, besides the organized ones that would tour, were the ones I heard on the radio, like The Jack Benny Show and The Bing Crosby Show. I thought that conductors like John Scott Trotter were fabulous, fine musicians. Later I had the privilege to tell them how much I enjoyed their music.
FP: Neal, tell us about those early recordings for the Vik, Coral and Epic labels. That all really started in the 1940's didn't it?
NH: No, it started in the 50’s. During the forties, there were two recording strikes by the American Federation of Musicians. I recorded during that period mostly with Woody Herman, when he was with Columbia. While I was with Woody Herman, I married Woody's singer, Frances Wayne. Frances and I then concentrated on our own career away from the band. We settled in New York and soon had two children. I became a studio conductor. Whatever the studio wanted me to do, I learned how. I loved conducting, and I loved the music. So as a studio conductor/ arranger, I went directly into the recording world. I worked primarily at Decca/Coral, RCA/Vik and Columbia/ Epic. I did big band, vocal "doo-wahs," pop artists and catalog music.
FP: How much composing were you able to do at that time?
NH: A lot. When I began writing, I started with my own original instrumentals. Woody Herman recorded about five or six of them. Later I must have written about 20 pieces for Harry James.
FP: Let’s talk about your years with Count Basie.
NH: He was one of the artists I wrote for. At the time, he had a six piece band - three rhythm and three horns. I was working on some music for Columbia/ Epic at the time and I was approached by George Avakian to do four sides for Basie. I wrote two standards that Basie chose, plus two originals. Then Basie went with Norman Granz/ Verve Records, and re-organized his big band. I was asked to do four to five originals a year for him. Norman was mainly responsible for promoting and recording the new Count Basie big band. He also managed Ella Fitzgerald at that time.
It was late 1957 that I did The Atomic Basie album. Up to that time, I think he recorded maybe 25 of my originals. I also recorded a lot of my tunes with my own band, as well as with Frances. There were about seven bandleaders that the record companies tried to promote at the time. I was one of them, along with The Elgart Brothers, Ralph Flanagan, Richard Maltby, Ralph Marterie, Billy May and Sauter-Finnigan. The idea in building these studio bands was to promote the idea of bringing the big bands back. In my estimation, the big band era was over after WWII.
FP: Neal, when you were working for multiple labels at one time, did you ever have to write under a pseudonym for contractual reasons?
NH: I did one time. I was conducting for a Patti Andrews recording. I was on Coral and she was on the parent company, Decca, so they came up with the name "Paul Nielsen." Paul is actually my middle name. After that, they didn't care if my name bounced from one in-house label to the other.
FP: From your vast repertoire, do you have a favorite personal recording?
NH: We always remember our very first. The first was the best for me. It was called Coral Reef. It was a minor hit or what they called a turntable hit. A lot of disc jockeys used it as a theme song to open their shows.
FP: Let's talk about your music for The Odd Couple.
NH: We moved to California in the mid-sixties to compose film music. Most of the films that I did were at Paramount. They gave me a couple of Neil Simon films to work on. The first was Barefoot in the Park. It was a huge success and broke records. The next one they gave me was The Odd Couple, which broke the previous record. For The Odd Couple, I wrote this sort of forlorn piece for the movie. Every time it was heard, Jack Lemmon was trying to "end it all," because of his divorce. (The soundtrack album received two Grammy nominations.)
FP: It certainly is a well known theme. It started in film, then TV, and more recently, it's been used as a background for various commercial spots. How did you ever come up with that melody?
NH: You have to work on melodies. I don't have to work that hard on the orchestration. But melodies are something else. Sometimes I'd compose music in bed and Frances would tell me to stop playing piano on her back. I guess I write most of the tunes while lying down. And I don't really feel that I've finished it until I personally like it and can hum it to myself. In most cases, I know what harmonies I'm going to use. I'll then go to the piano and try to improve on the chords and so forth. But the more you write, the more naturally you can hear the harmonies. The melodies, though, take a lot of time.
FP: Over the years, I've heard "the Neal Hefti format" to a number of pieces, especially those that were written during the Basie years. It usually starts with a musical phrase, then goes into a percussive break and returns to the melody again. I've heard this style imitated by a number of composers.
NH: Basie told me himself that when he had people writing for his band, he'd tell them to "write like Neal."
FP: The Hefti standard, Girl Talk, from the film Harlow. Tell us about that one.
NH: That was the name of the scene in the film. Harlow was making the transition from "silents" to "talkies" and was barnstorming around the country taking questions from the press. I wrote the piece simply for that scene. When we did the soundtrack album, the disc jockeys started playing Girl Talk, more than the main theme. (My instrumental from the soundtrack album also received two Grammy nominations)
FP: And, of course, there was the theme music from the TV series, Batman.
NH: That one came very hard to me. It took me a couple of months to write. I had seen some footage and I knew how outrageous it had to be. So I needed to write a piece of music that was equally so. Well, when I first took the theme in to demonstrate it for Lionel Newman and the series producer at Twentieth Century Fox, I had to sing it and play it on the piano. Well, I'm no singer, and I'm no pianist. But I had Lionel and the producer, Bill Dozier, listening to me. My first thought was that they were going to throw me out, very quickly, but as I was going through it, I heard them both reacting with statements like, "Oh, that's kicky. That will be good in the car chase." My father, (a salesman) once told me, "If they say okay, get out of there before they change their mind." When I saw Bill smiling, then I knew we had it.
FP: RCA Victor released the TV soundtrack music from Batman. Not too long after, they released a follow-up album called Hefti in Gotham City. The lead track from that album is one of my favorite, Neal Hefti compositions titled, Gotham City Municipal Swing Band. For many years, that piece was used as a theme for a popular San Francisco, Saturday night TV movie program, called Creature Features.
NH: I sort of like that tune. I'm happy with my Batman collection. As I said, the theme was hard to come by. Originally, RCA released a single with Batman Theme on one side and Batman Chase on the other. They called and said, "Neal, this record is doing really well, (it won a Grammy that year) we've got to come out with an album right away." So over a weekend, I had to come up with ten more tunes. They already had an album cover and liner notes in progress. They had the musicians and the studio booked. Because I had already written the first one (agonizing over it for months), writing the ten follow-up tunes, turned out to be easier. The first album did very well on the charts. So RCA said we had to come up with a sequel. For Hefti in Gotham City, I had to write twelve more pieces. That included our mutual favorite, Gotham City Municipal Swing Band.
FP: Neal, you've accompanied a number of singers over the years. Do you have a favorite?
NH: Frances. When we got married and left Woody Herman's band, I wish I could have written for just the two of us. We couldn't seem to connect however, either together or alone. I tell people that our number one, major cardinal unforgivable sin, was that neither one of us ever made a million selling record. That would have changed everything.
FP: Any comments about Frank Sinatra?
NH: He was the last singer that I wrote for. After that I wrote for movies. When I was with Frank Sinatra’s company, Reprise, I was their first producer. Truthfully, I had never really been a producer, and they knew that. I told them that I would stay in that position until they found somebody. It took about two years until Sonny Burke joined - he was exactly what they needed. I really liked working for Reprise and Frank. He was such a good singer and there were never any problems. Besides myself, he had also recorded with Axel Stordahl, Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, Billy May, Johnny Mandel, Sy Oliver, Don Costa, Quincy Jones, Pat Williams and Robert Farnon. If Sinatra chose you to conduct, you'd consider it quite an honor. It was just beautiful working with him.
FP: You've mentioned quite a few important conductors and arrangers here. Does anyone stand out in your opinion?
NH: I did an interview with Peter Levinson, for a book he was writing in which I told him that I felt that Nelson Riddle should be considered, "conductor emeritus" for Frank Sinatra. I included myself in there, too. Nelson, however, was a part of what I called, "The Trinity." That included him, Capitol Records, and From Here to Eternity. They all happened in about the same year. Those three things in succession launched Frank into orbit. And nothing would shoot him down from that point on.
FP: In looking at today's artists, whom do you favor?
NH: Of the newcomers, I like Chris Botti, Natalie Cole, Laura Fygi, Norah Jones, Keb’Mo, Diana Krall, KD Lang, Rod Stewart, Sting and Steve Tyrell.
FP: What about today’s film composers?
NH: Johnny Williams. I think he's as good as they come.
FP: So Neal, what are you up to today?
NH: Taking care of my catalog. I started doing this about 18 years ago. Frances passed and I raised the children and put them through school. With all of that going on, I decided to concentrate on family and take care of my copyrights starting back when I recorded with Woody Herman and going all the way through The Odd Couple and beyond.
FP: If students or other musicians would like to study your scores, do you have plans to make them available?
NH: Most scores of mine are at Paramount, in their music library. I don’t know what their studio policy is for students studying their scores, scripts and so forth.
FP: Neal, do you have a personal message that you'd like to convey to Robert Farnon?
NH: Robert Farnon, you have an impeccable reputation here in the States. I first heard of you from a friend of mine in New York. Marion Evans. He had your albums and would tell me, "That’s the man!" I think as a fellow composer, arranger, conductor and trumpeter, we share the same passionate search; to create, tell a story and communicate emotion with our music. It’s our small contribution to the world.
FP: Neal, what a career. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
Author’s Note: I’d like to personally thank Neal Hefti and his assistant, Dawn Thomas, for their editorial assistance in preparation of this interview. I’d also like to thank Frank Comstock for his part in arranging "Frank’s Summit." Additionally, I’d like to express my thanks and appreciation to my wife Nancy who assisted me in all aspects in this series of interviews.
Copyright Neal Hefti and Forrest Patten 2006: published in ‘Journal Into Melody’ March 2006
The Genius Who Wrote both Words and Music
by Murray Ginsberg
During his illustrious career Bob Farnon recorded so many great songs by most of the finest composers, that to list them all here would be an impossible task. However, some of Cole Porter's creations on which the Guv'nor wove his magic were Begin the Beguine (Geraldo's Orch.); Just One Of Those Things; Do I Love You?; Easy To Love (withEileen Farrell); I Am Loved (with Vera Lynn); / Get A Kick Out Of You; I Love Paris; In The Still Of The Night (Singers Unlimited), and I've Got You Under My Skin
A remarkable composer who produced hundreds of smash hits during a career that lasted for more than 50 years, Cole Porter was born in Peru, Indiana, June 9, 1891, and died in Santa Monica, California, October 15, 1964. Perhaps the greatest songwriter of the century, he was the only one apart from Irving Berlin, who wrote both music and lyrics. Someone said Cole Porter was a Rodgers and Hart in one.
The genius of Porter rests not only in the brilliance of his writing the music and lyrics himself, but of the intricate interpretation of his lyrics. To try to distinguish the intent of his lyrics is to try to comprehend Porter the man. At least half a dozen biographers wrote glowing accounts of Porter's talents. "He was a master of subtle expression without sentimentality," one wrote. "A kinetic dash without vulgarity, and a natural blend of word poetry with the finest harmonious melodies," wrote another. Critic Dale Harris wrote, "Porter's songs offer sophisticated views of love; they express erotic feeling rather than tenderness or exhilaration; in them order is firmly controlled."
Coming from a wealthy background he took piano and violin lessons at an early age, and was educated at Yale University 1911-12, where he earned a B.A. He then took academic courses at Harvard Law School and later at the Harvard School of Music. While at Yale he wrote football songs and also composed music for college functions.
His grandfather, J.O.Cole, who was the source of the money, tried to stop him from being a composer and did not accept it even when he was obviously a success.
Because of his wealth Porter moved in American upper class society and in 1919 married "the most beautiful woman in Britain" and both spent the '20s in Paris. In the early '30s they moved back to New York but Porter never got Paris out of his blood.
Even though he was married, it was known to friends that he was a homosexual and that his marriage was one of convenience. His wife Linda's first marriage was a physically abusive one and sex to her became abhorrent, yet she fell in love with him. Porter, though he was sexually conflicted in the beginning, became more and more overt in his homosexuality as time went on. Yet he loved and adored his Linda, and they were devoted to each other.
I remember seeing a television documentary of Cole Porter on Canada's Bravo Channel in 1980 which left nothing to the viewer's imagination. In addition to presenting his many Broadway successes and the dozens of wonderful songs he had created for Hollywood films, a portion of the one-hour documentary showed scenes of more than twenty beautiful young men in bathing trunks lolling around his swimming-pool. I recognized some familiar faces from various movies I had seen earlier.
The documentary also showed Porter after his legs had been shattered in 1937 when a horse fell on him. The immensely sophisticated world traveller was a semi-invalid for the rest of his life and suffered countless operations to save the legs.
His first production in New York was See America First (1916). There followed a cascade of musical comedies which placed him in the front rank of American musical theatre.
The musical Paris, which opened in New York in 1928, produced his first big hit...
Let's Do It
"Birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let's do it, let 's fall in love."
Is it sex or is it love he's referring to? Or is it both?
In December 1929 in his musical Wake Up and Dream he wrote a song that went on to become a standard ... the poignant What Is This Thing Called Love
"What is this thing called love?
This funny thing called Love?
Just who can solve its mystery?
Why should it make a fool of me?"
Porter said the song wrote itself and he wrote it all in a few hours The song was not a frivolous play on words that Porter was so adept at. . ..this was something more. The enigma of Porter is there in the lyrics.
The list of Porter's 1930s musicals is enormous:
Gay Divorce (1932); Nymph Errant (1933), Anything Goes (1934); Jubilee (1935); Born To Dance (a film) and Red Hot and Blue (both 1936).
In The New Yorkers he had a white prostitute sing Love For Sale and the critics blasted him, calling it smut. In order to placate them he changed the venue to the Cotton Club in Harlem. This seemed to calm them. Yet the lyrics could not be broadcast on radio. Porter was bewildered. "You can write a novel about a harlot, paint a picture of a harlot, but you can't write a song about a harlot."
"Love for sale,
Appetizing young love for sale,
Love that's fresh and still unspoiled,
Love that's only slightly soiled,
Love for sale."
In the Broadway production of Gay Divorce he wrote Night and Day. Ring Lardner praised Porter for this achievement:
"Night and Day under the hide of me
There's an Oh, such a hungry yearning
burning inside of me "
Yet later on, Lardner complained about the suggestiveness of songs on the radio that he felt were largely under the influence of Cole Porter.
"Night and Day", a motion picture musical biography of Cole Porter, starring Gary Grant, was produced by Warner Brothers in 1946.
There were so many brilliant songs he wrote that have been performed continuously by the greatest artists of our time: Begin the Beguine; You do Something to Me, Just One of Those Things, So in Love, I Love Paris, C'est Magnifique, It's All Right With Me, It's De-lovely; Night and Day; My Heart Belongs to Daddy; Don't Fence Me In; and Wunderbar
After Porter's wife died in 1954, and his right leg was amputated in 1958, he became reclusive.
Cole Porter can be understood through his music: Haunting, full of passion, longing, but always mischievous, sexy and provocative.
His songs will live forever.
Copyright Murray Ginsberg 2006: from ‘Journal Into Melody’ March 2006
by Murray Ginsberg
Robert Farnon arranged and recorded the music of many of the great composers. Had those who had passed away remained alive to hear his arrangements, I'm sure each one, including the late great George Gershwin would have contacted The Guv'nor to lavish high praise for his stunning orchestrations of such gems as Porgy and Bess suite, Love Walked In, S’Wonderful and others.
The following passage is borrowed from a foreword by Richard Rodgers on the first page of a book titled The Gershwins by Robert Kimball and Alfred Simon (Atheneum, New York 1973):
"Composers, by tradition, are not a generous lot. Essentially, we are a breed of men and women concerned with the arrangement of the same seven notes. We tend to be somewhat taciturn when it comes to assaying each other's work, and will often go to extremes to avoid having to pay them public compliment.
So it ought to be with some misgivings that I attempt to set down my thoughts on George Gershwin and his music. In this case, however, I am delighted to break with tradition and pay my unreserved respects to a fellow composer.
George had an endearing appreciation of himself in his own work that was quite contagious. When he had a new song he could hardly wait to marshal his friends for a first-time-anywhere recital. On this occasion we were weekend guests at the home of a friend. All was quiet and relaxed, when suddenly George announced (to no one's surprise) that he had ‘a new composition’. Without further introduction he sat down and played his just completed symphonic poem, ‘An American in Paris’. I thought it was superb, and I raved about it. But a little later, as we were all on our way to the beach for a swim, George caught up with me and remarked with some puzzlement, "I never knew you were like that."
I was surprised and asked him what in the world he meant. Hastily, he clarified, "I didn't know you could like anyone else's stuff!"
Gershwin's ‘stuff' was marvellous, and I was crazy about it. I can hardly remember a time when I didn't know about him. He loved to play the piano. He played marvellously. Performing was like a shot of adrenalin to George; he loved to be the life of the party. The best way to sum up George Gershwin's work is simply:
The Gershwin brothers were born within two years of each other - Ira on December 6, 1896, and George on September 26, 1898. Their parents, Rose and Morris Gershwin, each of whom had emigrated from Russia before their marriage in 1895, produced two more children, a son Arthur and a daughter Frances.
Morris Gershwin, according to George, was "a very easy-going, humorous philosopher who took things as they came. He was at the time of his marriage, a foreman in a factory that made women's shoes. But in the next 20 years he moved his family no less than 28 times as his occupations shifted - part owner of a Turkish bath on the Bowery, part owner of a restaurant on Third Avenue, owner of a cigar store, and other pursuits."
Rose Gershwin, on the other hand, was, in George's words, "nervous, ambitious and purposeful." She wanted her children to be educated, feeling that with an education they could at least become teachers. She opposed George's desire to become a musician, thinking of such a career in terms of a $25-a-week piano player. But she did nothing to stand in George's way when he left school to take his first job as a pianist.
George and Ira were as dissimilar as two brothers could be. Almost everything that one was, the other wasn't. And yet, the various pluses and minuses of these two very distinct and individually creative men were so complementary, fitting together as snugly as the parts of a cleanly cut jigsaw puzzle, that, together, they formed a remarkably complete whole.
In everything they did they were opposites. George was open, exuberant, loving the spotlight, an irrepressible performer. Ira was shy, slow-moving, inhibited.
And yet they functioned together with the smoothness of a beautifully tooled piece of machinery.
The dynamism of George's personality was inescapable. Whenever he entered a room, he captured it instantly. He had an irresistible, infectious vitality, an overwhelming personal magnetism beyond that of most of the greatest movie stars.
George loved to play the piano. Whenever a piano was available, George would sit down and play. Part of his joy in going to parties was because of the opportunities they afforded him to play. And what he played was usually whatever songs he had written for many of his own shows.
Nor was his performing limited to the piano. He was a great storyteller and had a natural gift for dancing. If parties gave Gershwin an additional platform for his considerable talents, they were also the perfect showcase for a personality that helped give New York in the '20s so much of the character New Yorkers have come to associate with those years. New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia claimed that because of George Gershwin's reputation and his amazing musical output, New Yorkers were walking taller, smiling more, and seemed generally happier. Every citizen was proud to be a New Yorker.
Yet for all the love of self-acclaim that this seeking out of the spotlight might suggest, George was generous in his enthusiasm for other composers, helping to launch the careers of Harold Arlen, Arthur Schwartz, Vernon Duke, Kay Swift, and others.
On a different level he used a weekly radio show in 1934 and 1935 called ‘Music By Gershwin’, to promote the songs of his leading contemporaries - Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin, all of whom were close friends. According to several biographers, there was a surprising absence of professional jealousy amongst them.
George Gershwin's musical output was remarkable. During his career George wrote the music for at least 25 Broadway shows, the first of which in 1919 was "La La Lucille" when George was only 20. Others were "Lady Be Good", "I Got Rhythm", "Strike Up The Band", "Funny Face", and a folk opera called "Porgy and Bess", to name a few, as well as a piano concerto for symphony orchestra called "Rhapsody In Blue".
When "Rhapsody in Blue" - the title supplied by brother Ira - was first performed in February 1924, in Aeolian Hall, with Paul Whiteman conducting, the concert was slammed by the critics as rubbish. They felt the work contained too much jazz and blue notes, which classical music must never include.
However, "Rhapsody in Blue" and his other works were not only acclaimed in America, but in Europe as well where Gershwin was hailed a genius.
He was also involved in more than a dozen Hollywood films. And the large number of songs from these shows and films will live forever in the annals of American entertainment.
Gershwin did have a problem with one song however: The Man I Love.
The Man I Love was introduced by Adele Astaire November 25, 1924, in Philadelphia in a show called "Lady be Good!" The show was noteworthy for two reasons: outstanding performances by Fred and Adele Astaire and a superb score by George and Ira Gershwin.
But after a few "Lady Be Good!" performances, Gershwin wrote to a friend: "Imagine my discomfort when the tune received a lukewarm reception that we felt obliged to take it from the play.
"But my spirits rose again shortly after this when Lady Mountbatten asked me for a copy of the song to take back to England. Soon, Mountbatten's favourite band, the Berkley Square Orchestra, was playing The Man I Love. Of course, they had no orchestral arrangement, so they ‘faked’ an arrangement - that is, they played the song by ear. It wasn't long before all the dance bands in London had taken up The Man I Love - also in faked or ear arrangements. Paradoxically enough, I now had a London song hit on my hands without being able to sell a single copy."
"However, its out-of-the-theatre popularity continued to grow, and after considerable success in London and Paris, The Man I Love was sung by an artist who has almost been directly responsible for its American success. I refer to that remarkable personality, Helen Morgan."
In 1928 George Gershwin travelled to London, Paris, Berlin and Vienna. While in Paris he visited Maurice Ravel, composer of the Bolero, and other celebrated works. Both musicians hugged each other on meeting, as though they were lifelong friends. There was no doubt each had become a mutual admiration society for the other. When Gershwin expressed his desire to study with Ravel, the Parisian replied, "But I was coming to America to study with you."
George Gershwin was so busy making music that one wonders whether he was ever interested in women. At first George claimed he was not attracted by the women he met in Hollywood, but soon found companionship with Elizabeth Allan and Simone Simone and became very much interested in Paulette Goddard, whom he met at a party Edward G. Robinson gave in honour of Igor Stravinsky in March 1937.
But he admitted to Ira's wife Lenore that marriage would add responsibilities as a husband and father that would detract from much needed time for composing, so he never married. Rest assured however, that he had women constantly throwing themselves at his feet.
In June 1937 George Gershwin, who was visiting friends in Los Angeles, began complaining about headaches. He went to a doctor who suggested he should have an x-ray taken. When he did the doctor told him he couldn't find anything conclusive, but on July 9 George collapsed into a coma. Friends contacted Dr. Dandy, an eminent brain surgeon in Chesapeake Bay who agreed to fly to California to perform the operation.
When it was too late to get him there in time for the operation, they opened up a direct line between Newark and the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital on the Coast so Dandy could follow the course of the surgery and offer advice to the California doctor who wielded the scalpel if needed.
Without regaining consciousness Gershwin died on the operating table on July 11, 1937. He was 38.
He was buried on a rainy July 15 after a simple funeral service, attended by 3500 persons at New York's Temple Emanu-El. Outside the synagogue a crowd of more than 1000 gathered in the rain behind police barricades along both sides of Fifth Avenue. Hundreds had been turned away at the entrance, and policemen were forced to hold back the crowd.
Earlier, Mayor LaGuardia had ordered a two-minute silence to be observed throughout New York City at the precise moment the casket was placed inside the hearse.
I remember it well. I was 14 years old at the time and remember radio stations across America and Canada, reporting on the solemn occasion. And later we saw it in the cinemas when they showed the news before the feature movie started.
Every person on the street, every taxi cab, car and bus stopped, as did the underground trains. For two minutes the city was frozen in time.
George Gershwin was deemed so important that the homage paid to him was the same shown only to wartime heroes.