JOHNNY HARRIS - "all to bring you music"
a Profile by DAVID NOADES
In a previous issue it was revealed that composer-arranger Johnny Harris started his career as a trumpet player in a series of dance bands in the 1950s after graduating from The Guildhall School Of Music. He got his first break as an arranger with Tony Hatch at PYE and throughout the 1960s worked with many top names both live and on record including Tom Jones, Lulu, Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey, Cilla Black, Jackie Trent, Connie Francis, Rolf Harris, Olivia Newton John, Roy Budd and John Schroeder.
The turning point in his career came in 1969 when his manager Daniel Secunda signed a deal with Warner Bros to record two albums, the first being the cleverly-titled "Movements" which is now considered by many to be a classic. There has been a lot of renewed interest in this album in recent years and Warners have now reissued the album on CD complete with bonus tracks. The album was preceded by a single, the hauntingly beautiful "Footprints On The Moon", which was Johnny's tribute to the Apollo moon landings. The single received a lot of radio airplay during the summer of 1969 and film director Richard Sarafian was suitably impressed and decided that he wanted Johnny to write the score for his new film, the psychological thriller "Fragment Of Fear". "The director said it was a movie about drug addicts and said that he wanted the music to be spikey" Johnny revealed, which led him to pen the hypnotic title theme and the fast and furious "Stepping Stones" which was used in a chase sequence. The score was recorded in London with a small 10-piece orchestra and a rhythm section including Mickey Gee on guitar, Herbie Flowers on bass, Harold Fisher on drums, Johnny Dean percussion with the addition of Roger Coulam on organ and Harold McNeil who played the distinctive screaming flute solos.
The result was a highly original and strikingly beautiful score which Johnny thought was too good to remain hidden away and so decided to re-record some of the material for the album. To achieve the same sound he used the same musicians who had recorded the score plus a larger string section. Originally he had wanted to fill the album with his own compositions but Warners also wanted him to duplicate the type of stuff he had performed on the Lulu show where he famously rearranged pop hits of the day in his own unique style. So the set includes impressive arrangements of The Beatles' "Something", The Doors’ "Light My Fire" and The Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black". The latter is especially memorable as it features elements of "Night On A Bare Mountain" but each and every track is an audio delight combining elements of rock, jazz and classical resulting in a truly memorable musical melange. As well as the fine blend of pop and orchestrations and the distinctive arrangements, many of the tracks were linked with tiny flute motifs. "'We wanted to make it like a trip" Johnny said and revealed that the effect was created by getting engineer Bob Auger to play the tapes of Harold McNeil's flute pieces back-wards during the mixing which gave the whole album a very haunting, almost psychedelic feel.
"Movements" received enthusiastic reviews and was a huge success in the UK and overseas and remained on Warners’ best sellers list for several years. However the public had to wait over three years until the next Harris solo album as he was busy on other projects. Eventually he found time to work on a worthy follow-up and the result was the enigmatic and energetic "All To Bring You Morning". Although not as memorable as the first album it contains blissfully delicate versions of John Lennon's "Imagine" and Leslie Duncan's "Love Song", plus one incredible suite (the title track) where over a 13-minute period Johnny takes the orchestra from a hard edged brass filled stomp to a beautiful finale of crying strings. During the sessions for the album Jon Anderson and Alan White from the rock group Yes got involved as they were in the studio next door and were fans of Johnny's work. As well as adding to the rhythm section they also provided vocals resulting in a nice mix of rock and orchestra.
Following on from the success of the two Warner albums United Artists reissued an album Johnny had recorded for them in 1966 which was a tribute to the music of Lionel Bart. Here Johnny rearranged a number of the writer's famous songs for string orchestra, and the results hinted at the spine-tingling sound which was to be a feature of later projects. Far more satisfying however was "The Guitar Workshop" which was a project he did for PYE with Tony Hatch. The idea was to present well-known classical pieces arranged for a pop beat combo and Johnny took the idea further injecting elements of jazz and baroque with melodies played by guitar, mandolin and harpsichord resulting in a wholly superb musical experiment.
Highlights are Delibes’ "Valse Lente" presented as a choppy jazz-waltz and a suite from "Peter and The Wolf" with Peter's Theme played on guitar in octaves and The Cat's Theme enhanced by some serious fuzz guitar.
Sadly Johnny rarely got to perform his solo material live, however there were a few occasions when he was given the opportunity to put on a show. The first of these was "Uptight!" which took place at the Talk Of The Town in 1968 and was a one-off special filmed by the BBC. Producer Stewart Morris had watched Johnny's performance when he appeared at the Royal Variety Show with Tom Jones and was so impressed by the way the audience paid just as much attention to him as they did to the singer that he created the special show just for him. The result was truly amazing and featured songs from Georgie Fame and Lulu, dance sequences and most importantly instrumental numbers from Johnny and the orchestra for which they received a standing ovation.
This led to him being invited to act as musical director for Lulu's series "Happening For Lulu". Here Johnny used the same highly visual conducting style and quickly became very popular with audiences and received almost as much fan mail as Lulu. He also conducted the orchestra for Lulu's appearance at the Eurovision Song Contest in Madrid where she won. This made further impact with the public and even influenced comedian Benny Hill to stage his own spoof "European Song Contest" with Benny playing all the contestants as well as the British conductor "Jet Pacey" which was an obvious reference to Johnny's kinetic conducting!
Johnny also found time to sit in for Johnny Pearson as MD for "Top Of The Pops" and also provided the music for a TV documentary about the footballer Georgie Best. And on New Years Eve 1969 it was his orchestra who backed the many artists who appeared on "Pop Go The 60's", which was a look back at the music of the decade, and a show which Johnny confesses he can't even remember. As well as backing such singers as Tom Jones, Adam Faith and Sandie Shaw one of the highlights of the show was Johnny's superb interpretation of The Rolling Stones’ "Jumping Jack Flash" where he whipped the orchestra into a funky frenzy much to the delight of the studio audience.
However the best was yet to come when Johnny was invited to conduct for Dionne Warwick when she appeared at the Albert Hall in 1970. Here he enjoyed the pleasure of conducting an impressive 40-piece orchestra who as well as backing Dionne and guest singer Ritchie Havens, presented some tracks from Johnny's solo album to great effect as a warm up to the main show. The orchestra included young musicians from the Royal College and the Royal Academy of Music and were greatly enhanced by the addition of rock musicians including Tony Colton and Ray Smith from the country-rock band Head Hands and Feet. "It was quite an evening " Johnny recalled and the press thought so as well calling it "One of the most exciting experiences in show business" .
As well as arranging for a great number of artists during the 1960s and early 70s Johnny was also partly responsible for kick-starting the careers of Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and Paul Anka who all went on to achieve international success after succumbing to the Johnny Harris sound. Up until 1966 Tom Jones had always performed with his backing band The Squires but it was decided to back the singer with a big orchestra to give him a fuller, harder sound and Johnny was hired as musical director. He toured extensively with Tom throughout 1966-67 in the UK and in the US including Las Vegas where they were very well received. It was during these times that Johnny first developed his highly visual conducting style having recognised that with a singer as dynamic as Tom Jones it was necessary to offset what he was doing on stage. So Johnny literally became part of the music, cavorting round the stage and directing the musicians in a highly flamboyant manner which gave the audience a show to remember. Some of the highlights of these concerts can be found on the highly charged "Live At The Talk Of The Town" album which was issued in 1967. Johnny also arranged for Tom on record and toured with him again in the 1970s.
With Shirley Bassey Johnny was asked to do almost the opposite and turn her from a cabaret star into a pop star. Although she had enjoyed enormous success as a live act and was now living as a tax exile in Switzerland she hadn't had a top ten hit for nearly seven years and her managers wanted to give her a new image and a new style. Johnny had already worked on arrangements for her albums and shows and was considered to be just the man for the job and was encouraged to take the pop-orchestral sound he had created on "Movements" and develop it to suit the singer. Once again he called upon the services of Tony Colton and Ray Smith who along with guitarist Chris Spedding supplemented the orchestra and the result was the truly stupendous "Something" album which was one of the most successful of her career. The title track was also lifted as a single and gave Shirley her biggest hit ever and put her back on the musical map. Johnny went on to work on no less than four other albums with her for United Artists which although were not as memorable as the first one contained more stunning arrangements and wonderful performances.
Throughout this time Johnny was also busy working with other singers including Richard Harris, who he became great friends with, Sacha Distell, Jack Jones and Petula Clark. Johnny worked with his song writing partner John Bromley on songs for the latter's "Petula 71" album which Harris also produced, conducted and arranged. He also did some concerts with her at this time including a TV special, "Petula and Friends" as well as other TV shows with Lulu, Tom Jones, Matt Monro and Keith Michell, who like Richard Harris was another actor turned singer. Johnny also met up with Paul Anka who he had originally met while he was working with Tom Jones in the UK. Anka had enjoyed enormous success in the early 1960s but a decade later was looking for a new sound and came to the UK to record an album which he asked Johnny to arrange and produce. The result was the highly polished "Jubilation" set (released on Buddah) which included the six minute title track which became Anka's theme song throughout the seventies. And it was the start of a five year working relationship which saw Johnny relocating to America and working on the singer's follow-up albums "Feelings" and "The Painter" as well as a series of memorable concerts.
The main reason for moving to the States was that although he was happy with his producing and arranging work in the UK he felt that he wanted to concentrate on writing scores for film and television and Hollywood was the place to be as the UK film industry was on the decline. He had written the scores for a few British films including the controversial "I Want What I Want" and the Richard Harris vehicle "The Hero", but as they were not mainstream material his music went largely unnoticed. He set up home in California and quickly found work writing music for TV commercials (which he had also done successfully in the UK), however get-ting commissions to write film scores took a little longer. His work with commercials soon paid off when he won a Clio Award for his Kodak commercial with Paul Anka, "The Times Of Our Lives". And once he became established as a composer-arranger in this field he found he had more offers of work in both film and television.
The first of these was for the horror film "The Evil" which led to a string of others including "The Initiation Of Sarah", "I Spy Returns", "Raw Courage", "Raven Hawk" and "Cyber High" which has just been released. There were also TV serials including "Mathew Star" and "Family Pictures" starring Angelica Houston and Sam Neil for which Johnny was nominated for an Emmy Award. He was also asked to rearrange the title theme and provide the incidental music for the cult series "Wonder Woman" which bought his name to the attention of a whole new audience. The star of this series was Lynda Carter who was also an accomplished singer and wanted to purse a career in music. Her manager Ron Samuels had seen Johnny's work with Paul Anka and hired Johnny to help mastermind her live act. At first Johnny refused as he was concentrating on his film work, but in the end he accepted and the result was a series of wonderful concerts, a world tour and three TV specials for CBS. Lynda continued her acting career as well and Johnny supplied the score and songs for a trio of TV movies which were released to critical acclaim in the 1980s. His success with Lynda led to requests to conduct other TV specials for CBS including shows by Jack Jones, Vikki Carr, Lisa Minnelli and Goldie Hawn and Diana Ross where he also got to work with Michael Jackson. There were also live concerts where Johnny conducted for Kenny Rogers, Johnny Mathis and also continued to arrange and compose for artists such as Sammy Davis Jnr, Barbra Streisand, Sacha Distell, Shirley MacLaine and Anthony Newley.
Johnny's success with the "Wonder Woman" series led to writing music for another cult sci-fi series "Buck Rogers In The 25th Century" for Universal. Here he had the luxury of working with a 40-piece orchestra on the lot although he found the work quite stressful creating new music for 26 shows a year. However as a result of the series the composer suddenly found himself in the charts when a piece of music from the series was turned into a disco track. One of the episodes centred around a mythical futuristic pop group and Johnny was required to write a piece of "space age pop" for them to be seen playing. With help from a synthesiser and a funky rhythm section the orchestra jammed for several minutes until the required sound was achieved. The result was a fast and funky 6 minute disco track which so impressed Howard Casey of KC and The Sunshine Band that he put the track out under the title "Odyssey" on his own label which became a huge hit in the clubs in the summer of 1980.
In 1990 Johnny was asked to supply the music for the newly launched Palm Spring Follies shows. These were the brainchild of retired TV producer Riff Markovitz who came up with idea of staging 1930s-style song and dance shows at the then-vacant Plaza Theatre in the heart of Palm Springs in California. And the neat part was that all the performers taking part were aged 50 or over having been coaxed out of retirement and were veterans of the vaudeville era. Some critics thought the idea was a total folly, however the shows quickly grew in popularity and were soon completely sold out every night. Johnny had been recommended by his friend TV composer Earle Hagen and was required to reproduce a Broadway-style orchestra to back the various singers, dancers and comedians for a three hour show which he worked on in association with vocal arrangers Earl Brown and Scott Lavender. As well as resident performers guests artists have also appeared including Frankie Laine, Tony Martin, Gloria DeHaven and The Mills Brothers who were all very well received. Johnny also takes part in the show conducting the overture, however the music is all pre-recorded and he is actually directing a non-existent orchestra although the sound is so good the audience think there are real musicians in the pit!
The work at The Follies has kept Johnny busy seven months a year for the last twelve years however he still manages to devote time to other projects. He now lives in Rancho Mirage, California with his second wife Laura and their young son Emerson and he has built himself a state-of-the-art studio in his garage which includes a place to record live musicians and its own digital control room. This enables him to work from home where he is able to prepare all the music for the Follies shows and to rehearse live material and try out new ideas.
Johnny is currently working on a few projects including "Musical Names" where pieces of orchestral music are created using women’s names. The letters of a name have notes assigned to them and a piece of music is built around it resulting in a full orchestral love theme which is presented on a CD as a unique gift idea. Johnny is also busy working on songs with Alan J. Freedman and Bob Merrill for a new pop opera based around the children's story "Pinnochio" which is planned to star Howard Keel and will debut next year. Recently he was also asked to re-record the "Movements" track "Stepping Stones" for use in a TV ad for Levis jeans. It seems that the ad agency had approached Warners to use the original but were put off by the $100,000 price tag and enquired if Johnny would be prepared top remake it. He said he could and brought in guitarist Paul Jackson and well-known jazz player Tom Scott on flute and recreated the sound using samples, painstakingly transcribing Harold Fisher's drums note for note from the original. He did such a good job that very few people realised that it wasn't the original recording and the track was released as a single which reached the charts.
This single bought Harris' name to the attention of a whole new audience who searched out copies of his original albums, which in turn led to deejays and dance acts sampling tracks from "Movements" and Shirley Bassey albums. His music also became big in the clubs where "Stepping Stones" and "Odyssey" so entranced listeners that the tracks were featured on a number of dance compilations. There was also the recent Shirley Bassey remix album which included new mixes of many of her old numbers including several Johnny Harris productions which proved to be very popular. This renewed interest in his old work has completely taken Johnny by surprise but he is always delighted when fans track him down to his west coast hideaway. "It's amazing to me that people are still interested and I'm getting e-mails from so many people" he revealed, both shocked and pleased by his new-found fame.
Recently he announced that he is devoting his spare time to ideas for "Movements 2" which will hopefully include contributions from all members of his family who are all involved in some capacity in the music business. "I just want to do another album, to do what I want to do" he said and revealed that the set might include his arrangement of the Leslie Bricusse song "Pure Imagination". However as he doesn't have much spare time at the moment it might be quite a while before we get to hear this sequel to his classic 1970 album. But one thing's for sure, it will be well worth the wait...
Johnny Harris Discography (All UK releases except*).
A Personal Tribute by Arthur Jackson
RFS members who attended the Bonnington meeting on 18 April 1999 had the rare privilege of meeting Loonis McGlohon and hearing some of his lovely music, without realising that just 2½ years later he would be gone from us. But even those who weren’t present would have seen from the photo in JIM140 that he seemed as cheerful and healthy-looking as ever at the age of 77.
Born in September 1921 in Ayden, North Carolina, he made it to East Carolina University at Greenville and apart from World War II more or less remained in North Carolina all his life. He served in the 345th Army Air Forces Band, then after demob joined Jimmy Dorsey for a while. He had an offer to join Ralph Flanagan's band, but having just married his childhood sweetheart Nan, he decided to stay in the south, making his permanent home in Charlotte. A true Southerner, he justified his decision by saying they wouldn't be able to get hominy grits in New York!
Spending the next half century in Charlotte was no hardship for Loonis. As Special Projects Director at Station WBTV he produced many musical and non-musical programmes for the ten stations on the circuit, adding to his wholehearted adoption of the city by originating the first "Park And Ride" system in America, and turning a patch of waste ground into a green park.
In 1985 he found out that some music he had written for his church choir on radio was popular in Kenya, and after learning from a music teacher out there about severe water shortages Loonis used the resources of WBTV to raise $100,000 for well-digging equipment, any unused money going to other African water projects.
Loonis was also highly active as a jazz pianist and accompanist to a host of singers including Dick Haymes, Margaret Whiting, Judy Garland, Maxine Sullivan, Eileen Farrell, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Joe Williams and Mabel Mercer. He also worked with Benny Goodman ("a horrendous experience, boorish, rude and uncouth"), Charlie Spivak and Bob Hope, but perhaps his greatest experience was when he co-hosted, and with his trio provided the backings to all the guests on Alec Wilder's "American Popular Song" series on National Public Radio. 42 pro- grammes in all, with Alec and Loonis talking to the world's greatest popular singers, all ad-libbed!
He was Wilder's last collaborator on such musicianly songs as Be A Child, Blackberry Winter, Saturday's Child, also A Long Night and South To A Warmer Place, commissioned by Frank Sinatra for an album to try and helpthe dying Wilder, and the last songs Alec ever wrote but which he didn't live long enough to hear performed by Frank. Loonis' own Songbird is well-known via the Farnon/ Shearing recording, and Nobody Home had several versions including one on his own "Name-Dropping" CD which I reviewed in JIM148. A Las Vegas performer once called Loonis "the best-known unknown songwriter in the country", but that wasn't his only commendation, having received awards and citations for his work outside music.
I got to know Loonis when he wrote me a fan letter about the booklet and liner note I did for a Dick Haymes LP on which he was MD, and I had no idea that he was to become one of my beat friends. In 1981 he came to England to make an LP and he and his wife Nan, two daughters and a son-in-law came down to Cornwall to see us for a couple of days during which we took them to National Trust properties, also visiting Mevagiasey. This was an experience Loonis never forgot … in fact he mentioned it in every letter for the next 20 years.
We saw them all again four years later at their holiday flat in London (plus another new son-in-law) by which time I had a (temporary) professional relationship with Loonis collaborating on a number of songs which publishers naturally wouldn't look at in the current musical climate. As long as I knew him he never changed in his admiration for Bob Farnon, who he regarded as the greatest composer-arranger in the world. I can't honestly remember whether I introduced them to each other but I certainly did mention each in my letters to them both.
About the end of 1994 he started seven years of chemotherapy for lymphoma cancer, with periods of remission which enabled him to function professionally, though not as much as in previous years when he had played in China, Yugoslavia, Israel, Rome, Oslo etc. He recovered enough to appear at the Pizza In The Park in London when he rang me for the last time, and when he attended the RFS meeting at which he was pictured in JIM. Yes, he had finally achieved one of his life's ambitions when he worked with Bob on the Eileen Farrell sessions.
His letters were always optimistic, even when discussing the cancer, reporting open-heart surgery, gradually going blind and announcing a further heart condition. Then last year he was glad to say he had been cleared of the cancer and was looking forward to being honoured at a jazz concert at a Charlotte theatre named after him. And, even more important to such a family man, he was to have a mutual 80th birthday party for himself and Nan organised by "the kids" to which they had, appropriately enough, invited 80 friends.
But he hadn't been cleared of the cancer after all, and it finally returned, the end coming on 26 January 2002. Typically he ended that last letter still reminiscing about their visit to Cornwall 21 years ago. His musical talent apart, Loonis McGlohon was one of the nicest people I ever knew, and I count myself privileged to have had him as a friend.
In this exclusive feature for ‘Journal Into Melody’,
FORREST PATTEN interviews the famous American musician
FORREST PATTEN: Frank, tell us how it all began.
FRANK COMSTOCK: When I was eight years old, I just had to have a trombone. I thought that was the greatest horn in the world. My folks bought me one and I started to play in a local marching band in San Diego. That’s where I learned the horn. During the 1930’s and 40’s, most of the junior high schools had some sort of a dance band. While playing trombone in my school’s band, I asked the teacher if he could come up with some better arrangements than what we were playing. He said he couldn’t at that time but asked me if I’d take a crack at writing something. I told him I wouldn’t know where to begin. So he took some musical notation paper and on each staff wrote where the individual instruments would play middle C. That helped me to transpose the instruments and get them right. And that was it. I think that was my only legitimate training or lesson in music arranging. I went home and started copying all the Basie, Lunceford, and Goodman records that I could. Little by little, things started coming together and sounding right.
By the time I graduated from high school at 16, I was making a few bucks around town and doing pretty good. I went to high school with two outstanding musicians. One was trumpeter Uan Rasey and the other was pianist Paul Smith. They are both masters and have played on just about every date that I did.
I had a small dance band in San Diego for a few months. Suddenly, I got a message from Uan letting me know that he had landed a job with the Sonny Dunham band. He told me to get on the next train because Sonny needed an arranger and a trombone player. I left for the big time! I’ve been very fortunate in my career in that I have never really had to "look for work." It’s all been by word-of-mouth. All my life I went from one place to the next and never had to rely on an agent of any sort.
FP: As an arranger, did the individual bandleaders dictate how they wanted their charts to be, or were you given a free reign?
FC: I was very lucky. I never had a bandleader who told me what to do or demanded that I write something in a particular way. They requested an arrangement of a song and seemed to like what I turned out for them.
FP: Tell us about your time with the Sonny Dunham band.
FC: I liked Sonny very much, although I didn’t get to know him that well. I was with him for six or eight months both playing and writing. Then one day his manager made the announcement that the band was going to break up. He came up and told me that he had another job lined up for me with the Benny Carter band. He said that Carter didn’t want to spend months writing and wanted to just play his horn with the big band. This same manager, by the way, also represented Stan Kenton. Before I joined Benny Carter’s band, I did about three or four arrangements for Kenton which, I believe, he recorded.
Unfortunately, because of the recording ban that was going on at the time, none of my work with Sonny Dunham was ever recorded. Benny recorded four or five of my arrangements a year or so after I left his band and joined Les Brown.
FP: Tell us about your time with the Benny Carter band.
FC: Benny was a super guy who I dearly loved. We had more fun and laughs in that group. I sat next to J.J. Johnson. Behind me were Snooky Young and Gerald Wilson from the Lunceford band. Paul Webster was there, too. It was a great organization. Not too long after, Benny announced that he was breaking up the band. About that time, Les Brown brought his band to town. One of the trumpeters (who had been with Sonny Dunham) told Les to hire me as I could produce good arrangements. Because Benny was in the process of dismantling his band, he told me to "take the job and run!"
FP: So from there, it was on to Les Brown and his Band Of Renown.
FC: Les hired me as an arranger. That was it. However, right before we left the Hollywood Palladium for a road trip, one of the trombone players announced that he was not going any farther than Los Angeles. Les told me to bring my horn and I ended up playing in the band for a year and a half until he found another trombone player! In 1944, I settled into writing arrangements for Les full time. I was with him practically every day from 1943 through 1995.
FP: Your career seems to have progressed very naturally.
FC: I’ve always had great luck. Things just seemed to fall into place. An example is when Doris Day left Les’s band. .She wanted me to come along as her arranger-conductor. I was still writing for Les, but I went with her because she was heading back to California. As that was my home, I was very happy! When Doris went to get her screen test at Warner Bros., she took one of my arrangements. Ray Heindorf liked it and I began writing vocal and dance scores for her pictures. One of Heindorf’s best friends was Jack Webb and that’s how I got to work for a number of his shows. Webb then introduced me to Lowell Frank, one of the top recording mixers at Columbia. And that’s how it went.
FP: All of the greats that you have worked with over the years must have felt that you had the "Midas touch" when it came to creating top quality arrangements.
FC: I have to be honest with you. I never once wrote an arrangement that I really liked. Everything that I wrote, when I heard it, I always felt that it could be better. It was never really tough for me. I just wanted to do it another way, only better.
FP: Who are some of your favorite arrangers?
FC: Bob Farnon would be one of my super number one guys. I also like Billy May and Bill Finegan. There’s also Eddie Sauter and Neal Hefti. These are good old pals and arranger friends that I like very much. Sy Oliver is the "Robert Farnon of swing" because just about every band had a "Sy Oliver" flavor to it somehow. He was the leader of that sound. Les Brown had a trumpeter, Wes Hensel, who wrote some beautiful things for Les. Had he not played such beautiful trumpet, he might have been known as a fine arranger. When you talk about the studio people, there’s Eddie Powell who, working for Alfred Newman, must have orchestrated just about everything Twentieth Century Fox turned out in the last 100 years! Herbie Spencer was another beautiful writer that I loved. Ralph Burns, who worked with Woody Herman’s band in the mid 40’s, is another favorite. Fletcher Henderson was an early inspiration. There are many others that I’m leaving out. I’ve appreciated the fine work that they all did.
FP: What about classical composers?
FC: I couldn’t continue without mentioning Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Richard Strauss. I listened to them constantly and, hopefully, something rubbed off.
FP: How did you discover the music of Robert Farnon?
FC: Gene Puerling (who I’ll talk more about later) and I were working on the first of maybe ten or twelve albums that we did together. He brought some tapes over to the house that we listened to for hours and just flipped over them. As I recall, the two albums were TWO CIGARETTES IN THE DARK and FLIRTATION WALK. I think Gene and I both learned some things from listening that day. As far as Bob’s writing is concerned, I think the best thing he did for everybody (where they all benefited from him) was to say "Do what you want to do. Open up the chords. Add some more fat chords. Do anything you want." There was a period in the studios where things were so rigid that you couldn’t add a flat note. Bob’s writing said "Hey, come on. Let’s do something!" Even with a dance band like Les Brown’s where I didn’t have the strings or the woodwinds, I think that we pushed the envelope quite a bit in those days. I can only thank Bob over and over for the idea of "doing what you want to and it’ll come out well." I think that philosophy has benefited a lot of people.
FP: Were you responsible for the "sound" of the Les Brown band?
FC: I guess that something must have rubbed off after 60 years of writing for that band. The sound that he did acquire at one time was my idea. Les said that he wanted a "sound" so that when ever anyone heard it, they’d know that it was the Les Brown band (like the Glenn Miller sound with the clarinet lead). So I came up with the simple idea of having the trumpets in four-part harmony play in "harmon mutes." And underneath them (an octave lower) using the same notes, the trombone players were playing with either a hand over the bell or maybe a soft felt mute. Underneath that, I had a guitar playing the melody again, and it was a real nice sound. In later years, Les cut the band down a bit. He cut one trombone player and the guitarist. The sound never quite worked after that.
It was easy to write for. Through the years, Les and I had many arguments about tempos; but other than that, we had no problems about writing. I don’t think he ever once said that "you have to write this sound or this chord or whatever." He would ask for an arrangement of something like "Blue Skies," and I would write it. I never really had anything in mind. I just started to write and whatever came out was it. When I first joined the band, he also asked me to write an improved arrangement of his theme "Leap Frog." Les had been using an old stock arrangement that was written for three trumpets and two trombones plus three or four saxes. Since he had four trumpets, four trombones, and five or six saxes, half of the guys were faking it and trying to find the right notes. I took the original arrangement, put a few little "bumps" and "kicks" here and there and orchestrated it (as opposed to arranging it) so he could play it with his big band of eight brass and five saxes.
FP: Do you have any favorite Les Brown arrangements or recordings?
FC: There’s a recent CD "The Best Of The Capitol Years" with a lot of great stuff on it. There’s also the old Coral LP set "Les Brown—Live At The Palladium" which was done in 1953. The band didn’t know they were being recorded so things were really loose. You can hear the guys pounding their feet and laughing. It’s a great record worth listening to (if you can ever find it!). As I listen to all of these re-issued old LP’s containing tunes from Les’s band during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s (on CD), I think of my old arrangements and wonder how the hell did I write half that stuff. I couldn’t even start to find the chords now!
FP: You mentioned Doris Day. What was it like working with her?
FC: She’s an old pal of mine, really. When she joined Les’s band, she brought her son Terry (who was a few years old at the time) with her on the road. She also brought her mother to take care of Terry while she was working. One night, Terry went whipping out the front door of the hotel with Mom Day chasing him. Everything was icy on the sidewalk and Mom Day ended up slipping and breaking her leg. The only guy in the band who was free at night and didn’t have to be on the bandstand was the arranger! And guess who I had to baby sit every night? He was a little devil, but lots of fun. We’re still friends. I’d have to chase him all over the hotel, up and down the stairwells. We had a ball. I think that’s how Doris and I became such good friends because I saw her a lot. And writing her songs and arrangements was part of the story, too. We’ve been good friends for years. When she went for a screen test, she’d take my arrangements with her. Then I’d get hired on. I can’t remember exactly how many pictures I did with her and, although it wasn’t her fault, I know that it took six or seven years before I actually got a screen credit. That’s part of the Hollywood mystique. Doris was a part of my "laughing gang."
FP: Your "laughing gang"?
FC: When I had a record date, I just wanted to enjoy and have fun. I made great efforts to find the players who were all laughers. We had a ball. I think that’s a good secret for a lot of show business experience. There’s so much pressure and you have a lot of idiots yelling at you. It’s just nice to have a bunch of guys around you who can laugh and roll with the jokes. My late wife Joanie and I used to spend a lot of time with Doris at her place up in Carmel. We’d get laughing about the old days. I still talk to Doris every couple of weeks or so. Every time we talk she says "I wish we were back on the road, Frank. We had so much fun." I keep telling her "Yeah, we had a lot of fun but we were both 19 or 20 years old then. There’s a big difference." I think we’ll remain friends until we die.
FP: Tell us about Gene Puerling and the Hi-Lo’s.
FC: That was one of the happiest periods in my life. They were something else and fun to work with. Gene has such a great sense of humor. We joked about everything. I think if Gene and I were honest, we both pushed the envelope trying to top each other! He’d write something and I’d think I’ve got to get in there somehow. I’d write a line that was a little harder or wilder. On every date we’d have fun doing all those kinds of things. About three or four years ago, I called Gene to wish him a Merry Christmas. He said "You made my day. I’ve only had two phone calls today. One was from Bob Farnon and you’re the other one!" I can’t say enough about Gene. I feel that he’s the top vocal arranger of all time. I don’t know of anybody else who had the nerve to write what he did.
FP: How about some of the other artists that you’ve worked with?
FC: Rosemary Clooney. I did her TV show and the Hi-Lo’s were singing on there, as well. Every week we had to do several numbers. I also did an album with the Hi-Lo’s called RING AROUND ROSIE. It had some nice stuff on it. She was a nice girl. I didn’t get to know her too well. Frankie Laine. I knew Frankie before he made it big. He was singing in a little nightclub on Vine Street in Hollywood. After he became well known and had recorded some rather wild things, he decided that he wanted to do a "pretty" album. We did a couple together. One was TORCHIN’ and the other was YOU ARE MY LOVE, both for Columbia. He was always off on tour somewhere so we never became "bosom buddies" as they say. Norman Luboff. He was my pal. He used to call me "Smiley." We worked on a lot of shows together. When he started making vocal albums of pop songs, he’d call me in to write the rhythm and horn parts. Dick and Ted Nash played fill-in solos between the choruses. We lost track of each other after a while. I know he’s no longer with us. That happens. Margaret Whiting was Bob Hope’s singer for many years. I did her work on Bob’s television show plus several outside projects. She was a good singer and a nice gal. I knew Andy Williams from Doris Day’s old radio show before she joined Les’s band. While she was on radio in Cincinnati, Ohio, she was backed by the Williams Brothers. Andy was just a young kid. I think I did a record date with him some years later. He’d call every other week or so when he needed a little extra something for his TV show. That’s the same story for the Carol Burnett Show. Her husband, Joe Hamilton, was an old friend of mine. He sang with Six Hits And A Miss. He’d always call when they wanted a big production number or something like that.
FP: We can’t forget your work on the Bob Hope Show.
FC: I started writing for his show in 1947 (when Les Brown became his bandleader) and quit in 1964. That was quite a job. We never knew where we were going to be half the time. It might be a bus, a boat, a train, or a plane. I remember that we once did a tour of 90 towns in 60 days! I finally had to quit because I was getting so much studio work.
FP: How were you able to balance all of those shows with your arranging assignments?
FC: When you look at my bio, you’ll see all of these different shows that I worked on. Of course, in many cases, it wasn’t every day or every week. Most of the big musical shows had staff arrangers who would get swamped and would call. People like me, Billy May, and others would end up working all night on those shows just to help out, with no credits. I want to emphasize that all of my arranging assignments were just another job. Many of us would work with our fellow arrangers to help them finish a project. I also used to do a lot of ghost writing for Andre Previn.
FP: Tell us about some of your work in the movies.
FC: At Warner Bros., Norman Luboff was known as the "vocal man" and I was known as the "hot man." In the old days of radio, television, and studios, you really got pigeon-holed. They wouldn’t let you do anything that wasn’t in your "style." I remember when I started working there (thanks to Doris) they let me do all sorts of things in addition to her projects. However, I wasn’t allowed to write any "dramatic" cues. Because I had written for Benny Carter and Les Brown, they considered that "hot" music. Therefore, I became their "hot man". So if anybody sang or danced in a picture, I was the guy who’d get the job. That lasted for years and years. Ironically, after I’d been working for Jack Webb for some years, I had a shot at doing another picture. I talked to somebody and they said "we can’t hire you because all you do is dramatic stuff." Give me a break! What can you do about that? Everything is a challenge in the movies because there’s always so much going on. Where they add sound effects like car screeches and other elements, you’ve got to be careful with the music that you’re not stepping on somebody’s toes.
FP: I’m going to mention just a few of your films and have you fill in some background. Let’s start with the all-time classic SOME LIKE IT HOT.
FC: Somebody called me and asked me to do a few numbers. I said "fine." You know, young guys have to get the work where they can. I did two or three songs for Marilyn Monroe. One was "I Want To Be Loved By You." I just walked in, did it, and walked on to the next project.
FP: THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY.
FC: I did several orchestrations for Dmitri Tiomkin on some of his movie theme records. I guess he liked them because he asked me to do a couple of orchestrations (including the main title) for THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY. I also did the arrangement for another Tiomkin theme, GIANT.
FP: THE MUSIC MAN.
FC: Gus Levene and I were both doing orchestrations for musicals like that. We both got a screen credit. My big number was "Marion The Librarian." It was tough. It seemed as though it went on for 70 days. When you see a picture like that, you’ve got to realize that the arranger has to sit down and watch the dancers for a week, six months or whatever. So when they kick on certain beats, twirl on this beat, and jump up the stairs---those actions have to be put on beats somewhere. You then have to go home and write something that sounds like the music that you’re supposed to be arranging that still captures the "tricks" (choreography) that the dancers do. I did several other numbers for that picture, as well.
FP: CALAMITY JANE.
FC: That was the first screen credit I ever got in my life for orchestrating. I think I did almost everything for that picture. In fact, the last time that my wife and I went to see Doris Day, she greeted us at the airport singing one of the songs from the movie. We had a good laugh over that.
FP: THE DESERT SONG.
FC: That was a tremendous effort for Norman Luboff and me. We had to work and work to get everybody lined up. We had some people there who were not professional singers. We had to cut bars and slice notes to get it to sound right. That was another case where I went in, did what I was asked to do, and then moved on to something else.
FP: FINIAN’S RAINBOW.
FC: Gus Levene and I shared that credit, too. I did five or six tunes. I think I was the last guy who ever wrote a dance number for Fred Astaire. He was so gracious and kind that I couldn’t believe it. He gave me a nice compliment. He told me that this was the only dance arrangement that he had done where he didn’t have to change a single note on it. That was a very flattering comment to me because I always prided myself on getting every beat and every note right where it should be.
FP: WHERE’S CHARLEY?
FC: I was called in by Ray Heindorf who told me that I had to go down and look at that picture in Room 12 and "fix it up." To this day, I really can’t recall what I did. I was quite embarrassed because I had been asked to "fix up" something that Bob Farnon had done in London! My only thought on that is maybe the dance numbers were elongated or that Ray Bolger, the star, had changed some of his dance steps. I know I did a couple of numbers, but couldn’t tell which ones they were. I don’t think that film ever had wide distribution. I talked to Bob (Farnon) about it one day and he really didn’t remember that much about it either!
FP: Frank, in addition to being an arranger, you’ve also done some composing. Tell us about some of those pieces that we might recognize.
FC: I wrote the original theme for Jay Ward’s TV cartoon series ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS. I also wrote the segment themes for "Fractured Fairytales," "Bullwinkle’s Corner," and "Mr. Peabody’s Improbable History." Those cues were sent to Mexico where they were recorded by a small orchestra conducted by Fred Steiner. If anybody looks at those cartoons, they’ll notice that there really isn’t any "scoring" to the pictures. There’d be the "main title" and then we’d play the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" theme. When that faded out, they’d go into their cartoon segment for three to five minutes. When that finished, we’d do a quick reprise of the theme for a quick play-off. Then we’d play a theme for another segment of the show. Because there was no scoring to picture, I think that’s what made it so good. You didn’t have a set of notes emphasizing every bit of action. A couple of years after we got going, somebody got to Jay Ward, the producer of the show, and told him "Frank Comstock is making all the money on the music because he owns it. You gave it to him and told him to go publish it." He didn’t think about that at the time. He found out, though, that if he owned the music, he might make fifty cents out of a dollar. So he hired Fred Steiner to write four new themes to replace the cues I had written. From that point on, you’d hear a combination of Fred’s pieces along with my pieces. I think that the music editors still liked what I had written, so they never really took my cues out of the show. Dennis Farnon also wrote quite a few tracks for Steiner and Jay, as well. It was a hip show that adults could enjoy because the humor really went over the heads of most kids. I hate to say it, but I did pilots for about 20 or 30 shows that never made it on the air. Hopefully, it was because of the script or something and not because of the music!
FP: And, of course, there was this fellow named Jack Webb.
FC: I really enjoyed working for him. We had a lot of fun together. When we were both single, we used to travel around to all the clubs listening to the big bands. He was a great lover of jazz. It was always a challenge doing his shows. You always wonder how you could make something sound better or find a new chord. For PETE KELLY’S BLUES, I did the dramatic scoring. Matty Matlock, who was a clarinetist in Bob Crosby’s band, did the small band jazz things. That band had people like Dick Cathcart, Morty Korb, and Ray Sherman playing in it. It was fun to do. For DRAGNET, Jack Webb wanted to pep up the theme that he had been using for years. I really couldn’t change the melody, so I ended up putting a real wild chord in every hit of the melody. I added a ninth and a sixth and all these other "blue" or "hot" notes. I put in a French horn counter melody and it ended up sounding pretty good. You couldn’t do very much musically on a show like that because it was so stylized. For ADAM 12, I got to write just about anything I wanted to and it was a lot of fun. As in the case of all the other things I did for Jack, he’d tell me to go down to the stage, see the picture, and write some music for it. There were never any demands or anything like that. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) helped a lot because they sent out a sheet explaining all of their radio calls. When I was reading a script and came across a "Code 3 or Code 4," that meant that things were pretty settled and you didn’t have to rush to get to the scene. I would know right away that I didn’t have to write screaming chase music or something like that. If it was a "Code 1," then I’d have to write something with a little more excitement to it. I did have some help on that show since we did it for eight years. Every now and again, the music editor would tell me that I wouldn’t have to write anything for a certain cue because he had a pretty sizeable library of tracks to pull from when he needed, let’s say, a two-second segment or something. That was a big help! Composer John Williams had it right when he said, "In TV, they don’t want it good….they want it tomorrow." Anyone who’s ever worked in the system will know exactly what I mean.
FP: You also worked with the late Axel Stordahl on Ernest Borgnine’s ABC-TV series McHALE’S NAVY.
FC: Axel was a good friend of mine. He was doing the HIT PARADE show on radio with Frank Sinatra. After Doris Day left Les Brown, she became the female vocalist on the show and continued using my arrangements. When Axel got the "McHale" show (he wrote the theme and incidental cues), he called me in one day to help him with something. Not long after, he passed away. The studio then asked me to finish the series and that lasted a couple of more years until the show was cancelled.
FP: Tell us about HAPPY DAYS and LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY.
FC: They were something else. My friend Pete King got the job and asked me to help him during the first season. They had something like 60-to-80 tunes from the 1950’s (which they got clearances on) that needed to be re-recorded (without the original artists) for use within the shows. I think they ended up using most of that stuff in the malt shop scenes where you’d hear it coming out of the jukebox. Our job was to take the original 1950’s record and copy it note for note. Besides the clearance issue, we did it in order to get a cleaner sound without all of the pops and clicks from the original records. So we took the old records and made new versions of them. We’d bring in some good players and some vocal impressionists. We’d have them do Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, or Johnny Mathis. It saved the studio a lot of money! At the end of the first season, Pete King came down with spinal meningitis. He recovered from it, but he became stone deaf. He couldn’t hear a thing. As much as the studio tried to compensate on his behalf, he gave up the shows soon after. He asked me to continue and the studio wanted me to, as well. It was rather sad because Pete and I had done so many shows and movies together. It got to a point where we wrote so much alike that nobody could tell the difference.
FP: One of our RFS members, Ron Hare, has described your approach as "happy music" or a "happy sound."
FC: That’s the way I’ve always felt about everything. I hate to have any kind of dissension and I love to write swinging, happy music. Even on ballads, you can find a spot to throw in a little double-time to give it a little pep or cuteness. I used to write music without any conscious awareness of what I was doing. Somebody would say that they needed an arrangement and I’d start writing. Whatever came out came out. As I mentioned earlier, I always liked working with guys who came in with an "up" attitude. It’s tough enough going into a record or movie date, sitting there and trying to play everything perfectly. If you’ve got some fun-loving guys who are doing their best, it will come out just great. We had a fun time doing it. I hired people like Pete Candoli, Dalton Smith, and Uan Rasey. Alvin Stoller used to break us up when he’d drop his drumsticks. He’d do this when we had to do another take. Do you realize that almost every great studio recording musician came from the dance band days? I guess you had to be in a dance band to develop a sense of humor like that because we had some pretty tough times in those days.
FP: Frank, I know that a number of our readers would be interested in hearing about some of the recordings that featured the Frank Comstock orchestra.
FC: My first solo album was A YOUNG MAN’S FANCY where I tried to write nice, happy, chuckling kind of music. It was produced by my friend Paul Weston who was, at the time, A&R man for Columbia Records on the west coast. We were originally going to call it COMSTOCK’S LODE, named after one of the greatest mining discoveries of all time. Dear Mitch Miller in New York shot it down because he didn’t know what it meant. He insisted that if I had written and recorded it in New York, it would have been a much better album. You can imagine that Paul and I just about blew our stacks. We continued to do what we wanted to do out here. In fact, Miller went so far as to say that the album was never really released---it escaped! We did a couple of other albums and Paul always gave me carte blanche. He told me to write what I wanted and go with it. I did an awful lot with Columbia and their artists (writing background accompaniments). I can’t thank him enough for being the kind of man he was.
FP: For Warner Bros., you did an unusual concept album with an outer space approach. You had the regular orchestra augmented with some rather unique electronic effects. Tell us about PROJECT COMSTOCK.
FC: The outer space album was really a ball to do. We had one electric organ and several repeating amps that they were starting to use with woodwinds. For example, a flute player might play a short phrase and it would repeat constantly until he would play the next phrase. It would do the same thing. We employed a few little tricks like that. We didn’t have any synthesizers back then. When I wrote the scores on paper, I’d take the last note and put it first and vice versa. The bottom line there is when somebody played that note, there was no attack and it came out backwards. Think about it. Any note, whether soft or loud, has an attack on it. In this case, the accents were all in the back. We recorded them that way, and played the tape back three or four times faster making the trombones sound like trumpets. The stereo era was just beginning and the labels were trying to come up with crazy sounds to help demonstrate the new left/right effect. We were playing nice songs that everybody knew, but we also threw in some pretty far-out items. I think that Lowell Frank, the engineer, went mad trying to find all of the parts as we cut them apart and pasted them back together again. The album must have sold three copies.
FP: You also got to work with Warren Barker while at Warner Bros.
FC: We’d been old friends for years. I never knew why he quit in the middle of his career. He moved to Northern California and opened a cattle ranch. While he was in Hollywood, we did quite a few things together. Warner Bros. assigned us to do an album of TV Themes. Neither of us really wanted to do it. We flipped a coin to see who would lose! We each got six songs to arrange. When we came back, we actually ended up having a lot of fun because we had a really great band. There were five trumpets, five trombones, five saxes, three or four percussion, and harp. It was wild. Some people asked me how I ever got back into Disneyland after arranging "The Mickey Mouse Club March." Warren and I used the same band. He conducted his six pieces one night and I conducted my six pieces the next night.
FP: Of all the things you’ve done, do you have a favorite arrangement?
FC: That’s really hard to say. I was never really thrilled with anything that I wrote. I always wished that I had done something else with bar 12 or whatever. I always felt that I could do better on everything. I’m really a shy guy who finds it hard to take compliments from people. That’s the kind of attitude I’ve always had. I scared my darling, late wife in bed one night. I sat up all of a sudden and yelled "I should have written a Bb for the third trumpet on bar 12" on whatever tune it was. The arrangement I was referring to was something that I had written maybe 20 years before! I don’t know why I thought of it then. What can I say? Maybe all musicians are nuts.
FP: Earlier, you talked about Paul Weston. How about some of the other musical greats you’ve worked with.
FC: Billy May is one of the funniest arrangers of all time. A great arranger, but funny. He called me once and said "Hey, Bill Finegan is in trouble. He’s got a record date tonight and he forgot about it." So Billy May, Skip Martin and I all sat down and wrote at least two tunes apiece. Bill Finegan had his record date that night without any problems. Another time, Billy May really got me laughing when he said "Let’s go to the Arranger’s Society meeting. I’ll introduce you to all of the young guys who don’t know that you can write for brass and saxes at the same time."
FP: Will your scores ever become available for the new generation to study?
FC: I don’t have much to show. The producers and the studios own everything that you write. So when I wrote an arrangement for somebody, the studio got it. They could publish it, whatever. The only things I have are the arrangements I did on my two albums for Columbia (A YOUNG MAN’S FANCY and PATTERNS). I don’t know who’d want to copy that sound now. If you want to work, then you’ve got to give the studios the rights to publish and sell your songs.
FP: Your philosophy, then, has been to always be happy and to keep moving forward.
FC: Maybe it was my upbringing or the greatness of my parents, but I’ve always had to be doing something. When I was not working on a picture, I’d be out building a model railroad. I’ve built three over the years. I love to work with tools. When I felt that I couldn’t write up to my standards anymore, I simply quit and took up painting. I don’t know if my art is up to anybody’s standards, but I’m having fun doing it. My motto is: I’ve got to do better the next time, but enjoy yourself while doing it.
FRANK COMSTOCK: A SELECTED DISCOGRAPHY
---Frank Comstock and His Orchestra
1. Jazz Lab -- Starlite 7003, 2. A Young Man's Fancy -- Columbia CL 7003, 3. Patterns -- Columbia CS 8003, 4. Project Comstock: Music From Outer Space -- Warner Bros. 1463, 5. TV Guide Top Television Themes (6 tracks) -- Warner Bros. 1290, 6. Real Gusto -- Mark 56 #513, 7. Dipsy Doodle Disco -- Mark 56 #816 ---The Hi-Los w/ orch. arr. & conducted by Frank Comstock, 1. Listen! To The Hi-Los -- Starlite 7006, 2. The Hi-Los On Hand -- Starlite 7007, 3. The Hi-Los Under Glass -- Starlite 7005, 4. Suddenly It's The Hi-Los -- Columbia CL 952, 5. Now Hear This -- Columbia CL 1023, 6. Ring Around Rosie (w/ Rosemary Clooney) -- Columbia CL 1023, 7. Love Nest -- Columbia CL 1121
---Les Brown And His Band Of Renown / arr. by Frank Comstock
1. Dance With Les Brown -- Columbia CL 539, 2. That Sound Of Renown -- Coral 57030, 3. College Classics -- Capitol T-657, 4. Concert At The Palladium (2 volumes) -- Coral 57000/57001, 5. All-Weather Music -- Jasmine 1019, 6. The Best Of Les Brown (6 tracks) -- MCA 2-4070,
---Frankie Laine w/ orch. arr. & conducted by Frank Comstock
1. Torchin' -- Columbia CL 8024, 2. You Are My Love -- Columbia CL 8119 ---Doris Day w/ arr. by Frank Comstock, 1. Personal Christmas Collection (4 tracks) -- CBS Sony LGY 64153 (CD), 2. Lullaby Of Broadway (4 tracks) -- Columbia B-235
---Ray Heindorf w/ arr. by Frank Comstock
1. Top Film Themes Of '64 (7 tracks) -- Warner Bros. WB 1535, 2. Finian's Rainbow (Sound track) (6 tracks) -- Warner Bros. WB BS2550
Footnote from FORREST PATTEN: Gene Puerling describes Frank Comstock as the greatest arranger in the world who was fun to work with. He added that Frank knew how to balance his orchestral parts with the demanding vocal group arrangements. This is high praise coming from one musical legend to another. As you read the above interview, you will have seen that the idea of "fun" seems to be a recurring theme.
When you meet Frank Comstock, it’s like you’re spending time with an old friend. He’s a very modest, almost shy man who was never quite satisfied with his final product. He always wanted to do better. Here’s a guy who has worked with some of the biggest names in the music business, arranged for countless movies and television programs, recorded several instrumental albums, and has composed some very memorable pieces. He’s a very down-to-earth individual who really appreciates the opportunities that life has offered. Putting quality arrangements together is something that comes very naturally to him. It’s a God-given talent.
Today, Frank lives in Hunington Beach, California and will reach the age of 80 on September 20. He still keeps in touch with many of his musical friends and associates. He also is enjoying another artistic outlet --- painting. In December, 2001, Frank became a member of the Robert Farnon Society.
To cover every important milestone in Frank Comstock’s career would require a separate volume on its own. For this exclusive interview, we touched upon some highlights of a very special musical journey.
David Ades recalls a Great British Orchestra
THE QUEEN'S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA
During the past two years Vocalion have released two CDs of recordings by this legendary light orchestra, and the latest has just reached the record stores. But what exactly was ‘The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra’, and why is it still held in such high esteem by many light music aficionados?
The QHLO was the survivor of a musical tradition which began in the nineteenth century. For many years the orchestra was associated with the highest standards of 'traditional' light music, although it was also responsible for introducing to the public many new works by the post-war generation of composers.
The Queen's Hall (from which it takes its name) was built in 1893 on a site close to where the BBC’s Broadcasting House is now, at the top of Regents Street in London. It had a superb acoustic, and was the only major concert hall situated conveniently in London's West End. Sadly it was destroyed on the night of 10/11 May 1941 by enemy bombing during World War 2, and was not re-built.
The first Queen's Hall Orchestra was formed in 1895. It became the New Queen's Hall Orchestra in 1915, by which time the London publishers Chappells were lessees of the Queen's Hall. It gave its last concert in March 1927. Fearing they would lose too much money at the box office, Chappells decided to disband it, rather than allow it to broadcast. For a while the orchestra continued under the auspices of the BBC as 'Sir Henry J. Wood and his Symphony Orchestra'.
The New Queen's Hall Light Orchestra (proprietors: Chappell & Co. Ltd.) existed from around 1916 until 1927. It was conducted by Alick Maclean and performed mainly for the Chappell Ballad Concerts.
Fifteen years later the name 'Queen's Hall Light Orchestra' was still owned by Chappells. When they began to issue mood music recordings for films, newsreels and radio in 1942, the name QHLO appeared on the 78rpm discs, initially directed by Charles Williams. For their radio broadcasts and recordings, the orchestra consisted of some of the finest players in London, often from leading symphony orchestras. Although not a regular ensemble, it is clear that Chappells were careful to ensure that high standards were always maintained, both in terms of performance and repertoire.
The orchestra contributed to various radio series in the 1940s and 1950s, including Morning Music, Home to Music and in their own programme Musical Mirror (Reflections in Melody) in 1950. Occasionally the orchestra gave public performances, such as in 1947 when Sidney Torch conducted broadcasts of seaside concerts from resorts in the south east of England. Chappells continued to use the name for many of their orchestral recordings of mood (production) music well into the 1960s.
Within the famous Chappell music publishing group, the Chappell Recorded Music Library was set up in 1941 to provide mood music for professional users throughout the world and, as mentioned above, after months of preparation the first discs were actually issued a year later. Often copyright problems prevented the use of commercial records, and producers of films, newsreels, documentaries, radio and television programmes needed a source of music covering every possible mood, that would be free from such restrictions - and affordable. The British pioneers in this field included De Wolfe, Bosworth and Boosey & Hawkes, but it has to be acknowledged that Chappells quickly became the industry leaders, especially during the 1950s.
Teddy Holmes was appointed by Chappells as the first manager of their Recorded Music Library in 1941. He was well aware of the capabilities of the composers then working in the British film industry, notably Charles Williams, Clive Richardson and their colleagues who were employed (often anonymously) by Louis Levy.
Williams was chosen to conduct the first series of recordings, which took place at the EMI Studios, Abbey Road, London early in 1942. They were made by EMI’s Special Recordings Department, and the first single-sided 78s appeared with EMI’s standard label designs (at least three different versions). Chappells soon started designing their own labels, initially featuring the word 'Chappell' boldly shown against a black background with a red piano in silhouette. This was later changed to the more familiar red and white label, with black printing. Different labels were used for the same recordings when they were repressed at later dates.
During 1942 and 1943 Chappells continued to make their mood music recordings at EMI, Abbey Road, often on Saturday mornings when musicians were more freely available. Their venue changed to Levy's Sound Studios at 73 New Bond Street from 1944 until 1946; the following two years they were back at EMI. Towards the end of 1948, and during 1949 some recordings were made by Decca at the Kingsway Hall. Then a dispute with the Musicians' Union (involving all mood music publishers) forced them to switch their recording sessions to the continent of Europe, a situation which continued for many years.
By the mid-1940s the public was starting to notice the attractive light music in the Recorded Music Libraries of the various London publishers from its use on radio and particularly in cinema newsreels. These records were strictly not for sale to the general public, but eventually a few of the better-known works started to find their way onto commercial records.
When they were made, over 50 years ago, electrical sound recording had only been in existence for around 20 years, but the sound engineers had already become experts of their craft. Still in mono, they managed to recreate the subtle nuances intended by the composers and orchestrators with great success, despite the fact that often as few as only one or two microphones may have been employed in the studio. The mikes themselves were of an early vintage, adding to the atmosphere of these tracks; for example, the brass has a quality all of its own.
Maybe it was the acoustics, or those marvellous glowing valves. Certainly the musicians were familiar with this kind of music, and knew exactly how it should be interpreted. So many different elements combined to make the light music scene of the 1940s what it was, which is why compilations like these are providing such an important service in preserving our musical heritage.
When deciding upon the choice of material in these collections, I have tried to present many talented and important composers in the first versions of some of their best-known works.
Recognising that keen collectors will already possess recordings of much of the standard light music repertoire, the opportunity has also been taken to introduce a number of lesser-known pieces which are now appearing for the first time on commercial release.
Although most of the 78s featured in the first collection were taken from their Chappell sessions, I also included the QHLO playing four well-known compositions recorded by EMI for release on their Columbia label. It was necessary to include several works which would appeal to the casual buyer, because future CDs of light music depend upon existing ones selling in sufficient numbers to encourage record companies to spend their hard cash!
The latest CD (Volume 2) contains only Chappell 78s, and full tracklistings of both CDs appear on the next page. I have included several tracks which were requested by RFS members following the release of the first CD.
In total there are 57 scintillating performances by some of the finest composers of the 20th century, all conducted by the three ‘greats’ - Williams, Farnon and Torch.
Charles Williams (1893-1978) worked in cinema orchestras accompanying silent films, which provided an invaluable training in the technique of mood music. With the arrival of talkies he became one of a talented group of composers who set new standards in pre-war British films, and eventually the public began to notice his name on the credits. His Dream of Olwen (from the long-forgotten film "While I Live") was a massive seller, both in terms of records and sheet music. Another theme from the 1940s, Jealous Lover, was surprisingly chosen for the 1960 American film "The Apartment", providing Williams with a big international hit late in his career. One of BBC Radio’s most famous themes was Devil’s Galop (on the first CD) which introduced "Dick Barton - Special Agent". Williams attempted several sequels, possibly the best being They Ride By Night. It was extensively featured in a "Dad’s Army" episode, and perfectly accompanied the antics of Captain Mainwaring and his Home Guard platoon. Vocalion’s first QHLO collection opens with The Voice of London which became the signature tune of the orchestra. Rhythm on Rails and Trolley Bus are other ‘classic’ Williams titles on the CD. Charles Williams also excelled at ‘busy’ pieces, portraying everyday scenes from shopping to travel. Less specific than some, Exhilaration nevertheless conjures up a flurry of non-stop activity, reaching several climaxes but still maintaining a frantic momentum right to the end - providing a fitting finale to the second collection.
Robert Farnon (born 1917) is undoubtedly one of the major figures in quality British music from the second half of the 20th century. He excels as a conductor, composer and arranger, and the reissue by Vocalion on CD of many of his finest albums from the 1950s has revealed the timeless quality of his writing to a new and appreciative audience. His respect stretches across the Atlantic, and he has recorded with the likes of Frank Sinatra, George Shearing, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan and The Singers Unlimited, to name just some. These CDs spotlight Farnon working for Chappells, soon after he had been recruited by the Recorded Music Library’s founder, Teddy Holmes. In 1976 he reminisced: "I don’t think there has ever been a more star-studded orchestra than our Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, and how they enjoyed playing under Robert Farnon’s baton the fantastic stream of wonderful and perfect orchestral pieces that came from his pen." Jumping Bean and Portrait of a Flirt are among the Farnon treats on the first CD. There are two fine examples on CD 2 - Proud Canvas and The Huckle-Buckle. They are far from being Farnon’s best known works (these can be found on Vocalion CDLK4104), but the sheer inventiveness of Farnon’s fertile talent shines through in every bar. When asked to arrange another composer’s work (such as Honey Child by Joyce Cochrane) it assumes an identity that proclaims its pedigree without question. Now well into his eighties, Farnon is still creating charming new works from his home on the idyllic island of Guernsey.
Sidney Torch (1908-1990) began his professional career as pianist for the celebrated violinist Albert Sandler. Like Charles Williams, he also worked in cinema orchestras just before the silents were replaced by talkies, then during the 1930s he became one of Britain’s most accomplished theatre organists, appearing at the consoles of Christies and Wurlitzers in London and the Home Counties. After service in the Royal Air Force during World War 2, Torch decided on a career change which resulted in him becoming a familiar name conducting orchestras on radio and records. A prolific composer for Chappells, he also made numerous recordings for various transcription services (in the USA as well as Britain), and researchers are still making fresh discoveries which reveal the considerable extent of his non-BBC activities. But it was the BBC that kept him before the public, notably through the radio programme "Friday Night Is Music Night" which he helped to devise in 1953. Torch composed over 100 works for Chappells, and also arranged for some of their other writers (Alpine Pastures by Vivian Ellis is a famous example). His best-known compositions include Shooting Star and On a Spring Note (both on the first QHLO CD). Back in the 1950s he achieved some success with Meandering which is now available again after an absence of more than forty years. Amore Mio is another Torch cameo, full of charm and bearing the unmistakable hallmarks of its creator. Torch’s successful career was rewarded with an MBE in 1985, but sadly his last years do not appear to have been happy. He died at the age of 82, having taken an overdose shortly after the death of his wife, the former BBC producer Eva Elizabeth Tyson.
Space does not permit us to include biographies of all the composers featured on these CDs, but the following deserve special mention.
Jack Strachey (1894-1972) has ensured his musical immortality by composing These Foolish Things. In the world of light music he is also remembered as the composer of In Party Mood, the catchy number he wrote for Bosworths in 1944 which was later chosen for the long-running BBC Radio series "Housewives’ Choice". This is just one of a series of catchy instrumentals that have flowed from his pen, and the opening number in the second collection reveals his affinity with theatre and the entertainment scene. Another well-known piece in similar style is Theatreland. One could be forgiven for thinking that Top Of The Bill could almost have been written by one of Strachey’s contemporaries, the ‘Uncrowned King of British Light Music’ - namely Eric Coates. But the keen listener can identify sufficient touches which attach the work firmly to JS.
Vivian Ellis (1904-1996) will always be remembered for Coronation Scot which introduced the BBC Radio series "Paul Temple". Some years later he struck lucky again, when the producer of "My Word" chose his Alpine Pastures - perhaps a surprising choice, since it had previously appeared in cinema advertisements for Ovaltine! Ellis also had a distinguished career in the musical theatre, notably "Mr. Cinders" (1929) and "Bless The Bride" (1947); in his eighties he came to the public’s attention when Sting resurrected Spread A Little Happiness.
Haydn Wood (1882-1959) was a contemporary of Eric Coates (1886-1957), both of them enjoying similar successes - originally with ballads, then concentrating on full scale orchestral works and suites. Roses of Picardy has been in the repertoire of most singers of the 20th century (even Frank Sinatra!), and that alone could justify Haydn Wood’s place among the great popular composers. Recent recordings of his works have demonstrated the depth and wide scope of his composing abilities, especially in suites. This native Yorkshireman often dedicated such works to London, yet the suite on the second CD Snapshots of London seems to have escaped attention elsewhere for the past 50 years. The first QHLO CD includes the charming Prelude from Wood’s Moods Suite.
Peter Yorke (1902-1966) was pianist-arranger with the famous Jack Hylton Band, but the seeds of his enduring success were sown in 1936 when Louis Levy engaged him as chief arranger with his famous Gaumont-British Orchestra. The wonderful, rich sound that Yorke created for Levy was embellished in later years when Peter Yorke’s own Concert Orchestra made numerous recordings (some of them have recently appeared on a Naxos CD with the saxophone player Freddy Gardner - see ‘Keeping Track’ in this issue). Yorke was a household name in Britain 50 years ago, thanks to his numerous broadcasts and records. Happily more of his music is gradually reappearing on new CDs (there is also a fine collection on Vocalion CDEA6005), but little is known today of his many original compositions. Often Yorke’s scores can sometimes verge on the rumbustious, but in Quiet Countryside he reveals the peaceful, mellow side of his nature. This gentle, flowing melody has been unfairly ignored for far too long. The first QHLO CD includes the piece he selected to introduce so many of his programmes, his own Sapphires and Sables.
Clive Richardson (1908-1998) composed many fine light music cameos, and he came to the forefront of the light music scene in the 1940s, following a distinguished pre-war career in theatre and films, scoring (uncredited) most of the Will Hay comedies. Two of his best pieces are Holiday Spirit and Melody On The Move both on the first CD. In the style of the former is Jamboree, no doubt demanded by his publishers as the obligatory sequel which often has to follow a successful number. It appears on the second QHLO collection, alongside Outward Bound, which proves that Richardson could also write in a more contemplative vein.
Montague Phillips (1885-1969) worked in the same areas as Eric Coates and Haydn Wood, except that his ballads possibly lacked something which would have made them popular to the masses, and thus they have tended to be forgotten. But Phillips did succeed in a musical genre that failed to survive the last century, the operetta: his "Rebel Maid" (1921) still gets occasional amateur performances, helped by its ‘hit’ song The Fishermen of England. Disliking the influences of jazz and syncopation in the 1920s, Phillips thereafter concentrated on ‘traditional’ orchestral music, much of it in lighter vein. Works such as his Surrey Suite deserve to be preserved in modern recordings, and the Waltz from his "Dance Revels" suite illustrates the kind of well constructed melodies he seemed to be able to compose at will.
Frederic Curzon (1899-1973) is represented on the first QHLO CD by his best-known work The Boulevardier. Also a one-time organist, he held an executive position at London publishers Boosey & Hawkes where he guided their Recorded Music Library through its formative years.
Clifton Parker (1905-1989) produced some fine film scores, notably "Western Approaches" and "Sink the Bismarck". He composed The Glass Slipper, a children’s operetta, in 1943; the Chappell recording (on the first QHLO CD) was used frequently in the early days of television, often when the dreaded words ‘Normal Service Will Be Resumed As Soon As Possible’ appeared on the screen.
All of the recordings on these CDs originate from the 1940s, a period which saw a remarkable outpouring of talent from a group of dedicated composers who were masters of their particular art. One could easily dismiss a three-minute work as a mere trifle, unworthy of serious consideration, but that would ignore the fact that such a brief time-scale obliged the composers to develop their ideas with a passion and intensity, and a brilliance of orchestration, that is thoroughly rewarding for the listener. There can never have been a period when so much high quality light orchestral music was being written by so many talented composers.
At the beginning of the 21st Century, music lovers have never had such a wonderful and varied choice of recorded music available to them. Long Playing records were superb (and still have many loyal fans), but it has to be acknowledged that the invention of the Compact Disc has resulted in an explosion of available music of every kind. Modern sound restoration techniques (especially the pioneering British CEDAR system) have encouraged the reissue of numerous recordings from the past, much to the delight of silver haired collectors who are now able to hear old friends sounding better than ever before. Happily this trend does not appear to have stifled new talent: in the world of Light Music many CDs of new performances have been released in the past ten years, proving that this particular style of music still has a lot of life left in it today!
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA - Volume 2
1. TOP OF THE BILL* (Jack Strachey) 2. ALPINE PASTURES* (Vivian Ellis) 3. HONEY CHILD (Joyce Cochrane)
4. LOOKING AROUND (Colin Smith) 5. CHAMPAGNE MARCH* (Geoffrey Henman) 6. PROUD CANVAS (Robert Farnon)
7. PALM BEACH PROMENADE (James Moody) 8. DRIFTING* (Richard Addinsell) 9. NEWS THEATRE* (Jack Beaver) Snapshots of London Suite (Haydn Wood)
10. SADLERS WELLS* 11. QUEEN MARY’S GARDEN, REGENTS PARK* 12. WELLINGTON BARRACKS*
13. SEASCAPE (Tony Lowry) 14. MEANDERING* (Sidney Torch) 15. QUIET COUNTRYSIDE* (Peter Yorke) 16. LUNA PARK* (Eric Siday) 17. ORCHID ROOM (Robert Busby) 18. THEY RIDE BY NIGHT* (Charles Williams) 19. THE HUCKLE-BUCKLE (Robert Farnon) 20. JAMBOREE (Clive Richardson) 21. AMORE MIO* (Sidney Torch) 22. PAN AMERICAN PANORAMA* (Philip Green) 23. OUTWARD BOUND* (Clive Richardson) 24. COLISEUM MARCH+ (Michael North)
25. PUNCHINELLO+ (John Holliday) 26. MOON LULLABY+ (Mark Lubbock) 27. WALTZ from ‘DANCE REVELS’+ Montague Phillips) 28. EXHILARATION+ (Charles Williams)
Conducted by ROBERT FARNON, except *SIDNEY TORCH and +CHARLES WILLIAMS
VOCALION CDEA 6061
The two other volumes in this series:
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA Volume 1 - Vocalion CDEA 6021
conducted by Charles Williams, Robert Farnon and Sidney Torch
THE VOICE OF LONDON (Charles Williams); JUMPING BEAN (Robert Farnon); BOULEVARDIER (Frederic Curzon); SHOOTING STAR (Sidney Torch); HOLIDAY SPIRIT (Clive Richardson); DUSK (Cecil Armstrong Gibbs); PORTRAIT OF A FLIRT (Robert Farnon); DEVIL’S GALOP (Charles Williams); ON A SPRING NOTE (Sidney Torch); JAMAICAN RUMBA (Arthur Benjamin); PICTURES IN THE FIRE (Robert Farnon); RHYTHM ON RAILS (Charles Williams); EIGHTH ARMY MARCH (Eric Coates); THE GLASS SLIPPER - OVERTURE (Clifton Parker); HIGH STREET (Robert Farnon); CINEMA FOYER (Len Stevens); UP WITH THE LARK (Robert Busby); TAJ MAHAL (Robert Farnon); MELODY ON THE MOVE (Clive Richardson); DANCE OF THE BLUE MARIONETTES (Leslie Clair); WAGON LIT (Sidney Torch); HEY DIDDLE DIDDLE (Charles Williams); WILLIE THE WHISTLER (Robert Farnon); SAPPHIRES AND SABLES (Peter Yorke); TROLLEY BUS (Charles Williams); PRELUDE FROM ‘MOODS’ SUITE (Haydn Wood); BARBECUE (Sidney Torch); HURLY-BURLY (Len Stevens); RADIO ROMANTIC (Sidney Torch).
QUEEN’S HALL LIGHT ORCHESTRA - Volume 3
1 ALL SPORTS MARCH* (Robert Farnon) C339; 2 PADDLE BOAT (Joyce Cochrane) C358; 3 MELODY OF THE STARS (Peter Yorke) C366; 4 GOING FOR A RIDE (Sidney Torch) C314; 5 STATE OCCASION* (Robert Farnon) C294; 6 SOLILOQUY* (Haydn Wood) F9295; 7 VALSE D’AMOUR*** (Tony Lowry) C273; 8 ALL THE FUN OF THE FAIR** (Percy Fletcher) C127; 9 MUSIC IN THE AIR (Byron Lloyd) DB2436; 10 SUNSET AT SEA** (Charles Williams) C132; 11 WAIATA POI (Alfred Hill) C326; 12 COMIC CUTS (Sidney Torch) C378; 13 PALE MOON (Frederick Knight Logan) DB2564; 14 CUBANA** (Charles Williams) C199; 15 ECSTASY (Felton Rapley) C384; 16 GRAND PARADE** (Clive Richardson) C276; 17 SONG OF CAPRI (Mischa Spoliansky) DB2564; 18 SPRING SONG** (Haydn Wood) C214; 19 MY WALTZ FOR YOU (Sidney Torch) C291; 20 FIESTA* (Mark Lubbock) C311; 21 THE AWAKENING (Robert Busby) C334; 22 KINGS OF SPORT* (Jack Beaver) C295; 23 FIDDLER’S FOLLY (Len Stevens) C358; 24 CASANOVA MELODY* (Michael Sarsfield) C374; 25 GRANDSTAND* (Robert Farnon) C344
Several hundred hours of effort have gone into this new edition of the Robert Farnon Discography but, apart from these first few pages, much of the credit for its existence is due elsewhere as, in truth, I have merely compiled and re-arranged the earlier labours of others.
Prime among these was the late Michael Maine, editor of the pre-computer age 1977 edition, and his team of researchers. Since then David Ades has produced numerous supplements which are incorporated here and further information has been gleaned from the pages of the Society's magazine Journal Into Melody.
The late Don Furnell was responsible for the onerous task of checking and amending the information in the draft print-outs from the database and for proof-reading the final results, other than the Chappell entries which were verified by David Ades.
Alan Bunting - July 1996
Below are PDF documents containing the following parts of the Robert Farnon Discography (please note that several files are very large and that downloading them may take some time):
Many CDs have been released since the main Discography was last updated in 1996. Please visit the separate page in this website for further information:
Compact Discs of compositions and arrangements Conducted by Robert Farnon
Including important releases of his music by other orchestras
Full details of all Robert Farnon recordings up to 1996 can be found on the Discography pages in this website.
Some of the Compact Discs listed below have been deleted, but they may still be available from record dealers' stocks. Also copies may be available second-hand through various sites on the internet.
ROBERT FARNON'S SCORE FOR THE 1977 FILM "THE DISAPPEARANCE" is finally available on disc.
For full details on this recent release, please visit the following site:
THE HITS OF SINATRA
THE ORIGINAL LP SFL 13048 (1965) STEREO Second Time Around (Van Heusen; Cahn)
All the Way (Van Heusen; Cahn)
Come Fly with Me (Van Heusen; Cahn)
A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening (McHugh; Adamson)
In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning (Mann; Hilliard)
Only the Lonely (Van Heusen; Cahn)
Young at Heart (Richards; Leigh)
Call Me Irresponsible (Van Heusen; Cahn)
(Love is) The Tender Trap (Van Heusen; Cahn)
All or Nothing at All (Altman; Lawrence)
Nancy (With the Laughing Face) (Van Heusen; Silvers)
My Kind of Town (Van Heusen; Cahn) A PORTRAIT OF JOHNNY MATHIS
THE ORIGINAL LP SBL 7659 (1965) STEREO Misty (Garner; Burke)
The Twelfth of Never (Livingston; Webster)
It's Not for Me to Say (Allen; Stillman)
What Will My Mary Say? (Vance; Snyder)
When Sunny Gets Blue (Segal; Fisher)
Maria from 'West Side Story' (Bernstein; Sondheim)
Chances Are (Allen; Stillman)
A Certain Smile (Fain; Webster)
Gina (Vance; Carr)
Small World (Styne; Sondheim)
Wonderful, Wonderful (Edwards; Raleigh)
Someone (Kaempfert; Ilene)
Vocalion CDLK 4455
MY FAIR LADY AND OTHER MUSICAL BOUQUETS
THE ORIGINAL LP SFL 13047 (1964) STEREO Get Me to the Church on Time (Lerner; Loewe)
Wouldn't it be Loverly (Lerner; Loewe)
On the Street Where You Live (Lerner; Loewe)
I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face (Lerner; Loewe)
Button Up Your Overcoat (De Sylva; Brown; Henderson)
Black Bottom (De Sylva; Brown; Henderson)
Dancing in the Dark (Schwartz; Dietz)
The Best Things in Life are Free (De Sylva; Brown; Henderson)
I'm a Dreamer, Aren't We All? (De Sylva; Brown; Henderson)
Sunnyside Up (De Sylva; Brown; Henderson) THE SENSUOUS STRINGS
THE ORIGINAL LP 852011 BY (1962) STEREO The Touch of Your Lips (Noble)
To a Young Lady (Farnon)
Isn't it Romantic? (Rodgers; Hart)
La Casita Mia (Farnon)
Moonlight Becomes You (Van Heusen; Burke)
When I Fall in Love (Young; Heyman)
Two Cigarettes in the Dark (Pollack; Webster)
I'm in the Mood for Love (McHugh; Fields)
Hey There (Adler; Ross)
Something to Remember You By (Schwartz; Dietz)
Just a Memory (De Sylva; Brown; Henderson)
Alone Together (Schwartz; Dietz)
Mike Dutton, of the UK Vocalion label, has been responsible for restoring almost all of Robert Farnon's early recordings to availability in recent years. Farnon fans owe him a deep debt of gratitude for making available once more those glorious 1950s sounds on Decca, but there has been a gap waiting to be filled regarding the 1960s -; until now.
Surprising the copyright owners have shunned the 1960s Philips LPs for decades, despite false hopes being raised on a few occasions. For years it had seemed to RFS members that the pairing of Bob's Sinatra and Mathis collections was a 'natural' for reissue, but it has taken until late 2011 for this to happen. Mike Dutton has now obliged, but he has gone one step further, by reissuing the 'My Fair Lady' and 'Sensuous Strings' albums as well.
Readers will not need reminding that these two CDs contain fine examples of Farnon's mastery of string writing, as well as his instinctive feel for the swing era that played an important part of his upbringing. What stands out today, is that these recordings do not sound dated: they could have been recorded a month or two ago, such is the timeless quality of beautifully crafted music such as this.
A long held appreciation of Farnon's work must have been the main reason why Quincy Jones signed him up to make a series of LPs for US Philips, a division of Mercury Records, also released in Britain by Philips. This produced five outstanding orchestral albums, the first of which was "The Sensuous Strings of Robert Farnon", released in October 1962. As the title suggests, "Sensuous Strings" focuses on Farnon's mastery of string writing, rather than his command of the full forces of a modern concert orchestra.
The sessions took place on 10 and 11 May 1962 at the Cine-Tele Sound (CTS) studios then situated at 49-53 Kensington Gardens Square in Bayswater, London. In some ways Farnon was thumbing his nose at Decca for their failure to fully promote his work while under contract with them, because these were new stereo recordings of numbers that had previously appeared in mono on various LPs of the 1950s.
In JIM 18 (August 1962) David Ades reported on the final session on the evening of 11 May, which he was able to attend. David wrote: "The first tune played at my visit was Just A Memory and it took well over an hour before everyone was satisfied with the result. The other three tunes -; When I Fall In Love, Hey There and To A Young Lady -; were recorded with very little trouble. Of these, To A Young Lady was the most memorable for me. It was about 9:40 and the session was due to end at 10:00pm. Only the string session and a flautist were left in the studio, and the almost haunting quality of the flute introduction had everyone in the control room amazed. The first 'take' was perfect, but with a few minutes left it was decided to play safe and have another run-through. This second performance turned out to be one of the few occasions when it has been possible to improve upon perfection!"
David also spoke with producer Quincy Jones: "Quincy Jones, A & R Manager for Mercury Records, couldn't hide his enthusiasm for Bob's music. 'I'd like to record fifty albums with him!' he told me." Douglas Gamley was also present, sitting with the balance engineer and closely checking the score to make sure that all the notes were finding their way on to the tapes.
Although the emphasis was on strings, Farnon makes subtle use of occasional woodwinds and brass. It is also good to hear two of his own compositions, the afore-mentioned To A Young Lady (dedicated to his daughter Judith) and La Casita Mia, blending perfectly with the standards making up the rest of the collection. On numerous occasions we hear the sublime violin of Raymond Cohen, for many years Farnon's concertmaster.
In later years Robert Farnon's recording sessions would be regularly reported in Journal Into Melody, but a glance through back issues in the 1960s reveals very little about the other sessions that Bob did for Philips. There were actually five instrumental LPs, the one still awaiting reissue being "Captain From Castile and other Great Movie Themes". This could be paired with the "Shalako" soundtrack, and we have suggested this to Vocalion. Will there be some good news to report about this one day soon?
This report is taken from 'Journal Into Melody', issue 191, March 2012.