Percy Faith arrangement analysed
by Robert Walton
Back in 1963 somewhere in the Bay of Biscay, I was the pianist on the Greek liner Lakonia with a quartet consisting of Norman Coker (leader and drummer), David Williams (double bass) and Mike Elliott (tenor saxophone). He was constantly extolling the virtues of the great jazz tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins (which he pronounced “Coil-marn Harkins”).
Norman came from West Africa, David from Trinidad and Mike from Jamaica. Four years later Mike was a member of the million selling rhythm-and-blues octet The Foundations. One of the pieces we played on the cruise was Ciao, Ciao Bambina (Piove) that I immediately took to. It was Domenico Modugno’s follow-up to his first big hit Volare. To this day I love it. Somehow it had passed me by when first released. Years later I discovered the Percy Faith version, so hence this analysis.
There’s no doubt Percy Faith is a master of the simple arrangement, which a brief 4 bar intro shows all too clearly. A series of hushed triplets lead smoothly into this relaxed Italian-type foxtrot and continues under the melody. A glockenspiel adds its colours to the now warm close-harmony strings, by which time you’re completely caught up in the dream-like atmosphere. This is then repeated.
Then the strings strike skywards building up to, or to be exact leading down to the next section, which is not the bridge. Why? Because there isn’t one! The violins now in their element sing out with the lower strings supporting from beneath. They continue (minus lower strings) with piano decorations. After an obvious pause, the lower strings take over the tune. The violins supported by the rest of the orchestra, then bring this delightful ditty via some pretty chords and harp help to a positive end with an unexpectedly gentle detached bump.
This is one of the simplest arrangements I know but craftsman Faith handles it as no one else could, giving the song the ultimate treatment. He always does full justice to the tune he’s working on. Whatever it requires he gives it just the right amount - nothing more and nothing less. He never employed effects just for the sake of them. Percy Faith is a restrained decorator and before he even puts pencil to paper he knows exactly how it will sound, always with the listener in mind. As ever he is conducting the very best musicians.
In the 1950s Percy Faith had a special affinity with Latin American rhythms which proved very popular, but when I was announcing on Radio 390, his 1960s albums of some of the finest standards were also given a great deal of airplay.
“Ciao, Ciao Bambina” Percy Faith
Golden Age of Light Music Guild (GLCD 5218)
Analysed by Robert Walton
It’s hard to believe that a film tune as original as On Green Dolphin Street would remain virtually unknown for over ten years. It was written for the 1947 Lana Turner movie “Green Dolphin Street” but if it hadn’t been for American trumpeter Miles Davis’s 1958 recording it might never have surfaced to first become a jazz standard and then a fully paid up member of the Great American Songbook. In the 1960’s I ordered a copy of the sheet music from a well-known shop in Fulham, London, but was told there was no such title as On Green Dolphin Street. I begged to differ of course insisting to go ahead with the order. The following week I was presented with the said song copy and a somewhat embarrassing apology.
One of the best arrangements of On Green Dolphin Street was by Englishman Brian Fahey for Cyril Ornadel’s Starlight Symphony. It was given the full treatment and how! Ornadel’s orchestral policy was to dress-up good tunes symphonically. For openers we find ourselves in the Finale of Sibelius’s 2nd Symphony before the orchestra builds up to a terrific climax getting every ounce of feeling out of this magnificent melody as it soars. Already you may well be saying “I know this tune but not from this source”. Well, you are absolutely right. It bears an astonishing similarity to Lionel Bart’s Food, Glorious Food from “Oliver” but from my observation, it was probably Bart who pinched the idea from Miles Davis.
Anyway since Bronislau Kaper was the first to compose this majestic tune it is only right and proper that this is the one we should be analysing and indeed praising. The beautifully quiet answering phrase with oboe singing its heart out (Sibelius again) is the perfect contrast to the opening. Even in an up-tempo setting it works well - it’s easy to imagine Oscar Peterson’s percussive fingers flying over the piano. The whole chorus reveals itself as a gorgeous song at a time when such compositions were a rarity (Ned Washington wrote the words). No wonder it entered the world of great standards.
Then going into a Latin beat the tune still holds up well revealing its ability to be played in any tempo. Even more in the final moments the answering phrase through to the end is simply gorgeous capturing the imagination. It all adds quality to Kaper’s creation.
To think the seeds of On Green Dolphin Street once lay dormant in the soundtrack of an MGM film about a Channel Islander who emigrated to New Zealand and sent home for the wrong bride. It might have been a weak romance but at least there was a convincing earthquake!
Heard on “Contrasts” Guild (GLCD 5218)
Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton
It may not have occurred to you, but Sidney Torch and Nelson Riddle have something in common. They both had a special “feel’’ for music and when the opportunity arose they couldn’t resist the temptation of maximizing the rhythm with a staccato effect, especially in three quarter time. The phrasing of the opening tune of My Waltz for You has two beautiful silences indicating the wonderfully appropriate cut-off points on the second beat of bars 2 and 6. These are both excellent examples of the Torch touch probably first captured by Johann Strauss Junior.
Nelson Riddle in his string arrangement of Vilia (Guild GLCD 5120) played as a waltz, gets every ounce of feeling out of the melody he could possibly find - living every natural nuance. He allows the notes to do the talking. It’s very similar to the Torch approach and gives the tune a whole new boost. They may be modern masters of music but it’s decidedly an “old fashioned” dance feel. In spite of their varied backgrounds, trombonist Riddle from the world of swing and organist Torch from popular music, both seem quite at ease with the same sort of phrasing. In no way is anything ever corny.
So let’s follow My Waltz for You in detail to find out what drives it. Johann Strauss Junior may have been the “Waltz King”, but Sidney Torch was perhaps the “Schmaltz King”, if that tiny intro with a violin solo is anything to go by. Listen to the satisfying way Torch writes for flutes. The first thing you’ll notice is what an exquisite but slightly sad melody it is, caused entirely by the strings arranged in close harmony like a jazz musician might score it. At the same time you couldn’t get a more relaxed waltz if you tried. It’s almost asleep! The first haunting 16 bars include all those staccato breaks, which build up quite logically to a song-like climax.
And so we arrive at the middle section with the tempo just a little faster. The lower strings are followed by flutes, clarinet and violins that shortly take a sudden dramatic dive. An oboe supported by the same flutes, hands back to the strings that ascend to produce a lovely Torch-like symphonic crescendo. Assorted solo brass and harp bring us gently back to the top, with the orchestra providing a positive finish. The tiny intro we heard earlier becomes the coda. The only grumble is that we aren’t treated to any orchestral “improvising” which we get in Torch’s faster pieces. However My Waltz for You is classic Torch with just the right amount of rubato and is given a perfect performance.
“The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra”
Vocalion CDEA 6094
(Felix Barnard and Johnny S Black (music)
Ben Selvin and his Novelty Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton
Over the years I have regularly mentioned one of the most significant moments of popular instrumental history in the 20th century, that of David Rose’s million selling Holiday for Strings of 1944. Its influence on light music is still being felt right up to the present day.
But let’s go back nearly a quarter of a century to another important date, 1920, and see what was happening then in the music industry. It was the year of the first known ‘pop’ disc to sell a million - Dardanella - a fictitious Italian or Spanish girl’s Christian name illustrated on a 1919 sheet music cover and inspired by the narrow strait in northwest Turkey. It would eventually sell a staggering 6,500,000 records. Ben Selvin (1898-1980), violinist, bandleader and recording manager, made more band discs than anybody else in the business - 9,000. Dardanella was written by Felix Bernard and Johnny S Black (music) and Fred Fisher (words). Its popularity was due to its continuous pattern in the bass, and is probably the first example of ‘boogie woogie’ in American music. There’s also an obvious touch of ‘shuffle’ tempo about it.
If you happened to have inherited any old 78rpm records, this sound will immediately take you back to those scratchy pre-electric days now of course cleaned up. After a quote from the end of the tune acting as the intro, it goes straight into a four bar rhythmic notation sounding like the first bar of Yankee Doodle. Also there’s a clear reminder of Poldini’s Dancing Doll and plenty of cutting syncopation from the world of ragtime.
Apart from its popularity another claim to Dardanella’s fame comes from a lawsuit in which Fisher sued Jerome Kern for plagiarism, insisting that the boogie-woogie-like recurring bass theme Kern used in his song Ka-lu-a was a steal from a similar device in Dardanella.
It took a good deal of arrogance for Fisher to sue Kern, since Dardanella had itself actually been stolen involving Fisher in a lawsuit of his own. It started out as Turkish Tom Tom a piano rag by Johnny S Black. Fisher wrote words for it and became its publisher, now using the new title of Dardanella. After its initial success, Felix Bernard, a vaudevillian came forward with a claim that it was he and not Black who had composed the main melody and renounced his prior rights to it for a cash settlement of 100 dollars. Bernard went to court to claim some of the royalties, insisting Fisher had defrauded him. Bernard’s case was dismissed but all later sheet music carried Fisher’s name as lyricist, while Black and Bernard are named as composers.
To hear Dardanella try Google.
Charles Shadwell and his Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton
As well as developing and refining light orchestral music, Robert Farnon brought the genre to a whole new level. However we mustn’t forget it was actually David Rose who pioneered a totally original form of light music that even now in the 21st century remains unchanged and relevant. (It’s a similar situation to the standardization of the big band style in the 1950s that is still part of our culture).
The fast pizzicato opening and the slow sweeping arco middle section of Holiday for Strings stimulated a whole generation of post-WW2 composers and arrangers. And lovers of light music weren’t disappointed either. To prove it, a million of us purchased a copy of the 1944 hit record. But more than that, there’s plenty of evidence suggesting that even writers with an old-fashioned style couldn’t help but being influenced by the unique Rose format. In fact it’s no exaggeration to say that all light music written after that time was affected in some way. Here’s a good example.
Starting with the sound of rustling in the woodwind and pizzicato strings, immediately after two soft cymbal strokes (quite common in the early days of 78s), a solo flute emerges to play a bright exotic tune with a persistent rhythm over the tonic chord, like a muted Sabre Dance. But as well as that, there is a definite touch of the chords of the Latin-American tune The Breeze and I. Woodwind and strings are brought together to repeat the melody. A flute provides some decoration before the next section.
And taking a leaf out of Rose, we slip into the bridge for a little string lushness supported by the ever-faithful woodwind. As the brass enters, the Latin beat becomes evermore marked. In a way the influence of Bolero is heard. It’s strange but until I studied it more closely, Dancer at the Fair of 1947 had always sounded quite dated.
A distinct break then occurs after which we head ominously to the underworld, courtesy the cellos. The next sound could almost be the start of the 5th theme of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue but we’re soon back in the land of Rose. We’re in the final stretch now as the brass booms in, heralding a repeat of the first chorus ending with one soft cymbal stroke.
Charles Shadwell and his Orchestra made several 78s for HMV including Dancer at the Fair that was a very popular novelty number in the early years of the BBC Light Programme and has truly earned its place in the annals of light music. “Memories of the Light Programme” EMI 8 27260 2
The article "Seventh Heaven", an analysis by Robert Walton can be found here (Ed.).
by William Zucker
I have read Bob Walton's article on this piece, and am induced to provide further notes and impressions on it, as I have long considered it one of Robert Farnon's best selections, judging from my own vantage point of serious music, as I feel that it exhibits a strong feeling of direction and purpose, most particularly in the latter portion of the piece.
These notes are intended to be strictly complementary to Bob's notes, and I have found nothing in them to cause disagreement, but rather for me to approach it from a different perspective, as my mode of analysis is of necessity quite different from Bob's, as I have pointed out on numerous past occasions.
First of all, I have to refer to the provenance of the recording. In a recent article I referred to the fact that many recordings released here in the USA were ambiguous as to their actual origin. I am aware of the musicians' strike that occurred in the late 40's to early 50's, during which period all recording for the purpose that "Seventh Heaven" and other selections were created had to be recorded abroad under assumed names such as in this case the Danish Radio Orchestra under Robert Farnon being presented as the "Melodi Light Orchestra" under "Ole Jensen." This is all very slowly being sorted out today, but I should mention that according to my friend Graham Miles' notes, the recording of this piece was issued in 1952, and here in the USA, an album containing this selection (the second of two albums under these auspices) appeared on the market in approximately late 1954 to early 1955. Very interestingly, regarding both of these albums, which incidentally appeared here with the name "Queen's Hall Light Orchestra" given as the performing group, with no further information about the conductor or any other specifics, also appeared in piano sheet music form, almost exactly as appearing in the albums, with the same selections and composers in the same respective order - totally unexpected, and quite a boon for anyone with a particular affinity for this genre of music.
Getting back to the musicians' strike for a moment, I should point out that we had one of our own immediately after the war. I didn't know too much about it at the time, being still in my early teens, but from what I subsequently ascertained, many recordings were made during this period that could be presented in broadcasts but were prohibited from commercial release. Undoubtedly many pirate recordings did circulate, but I can say that to this day I am discovering recordings made during that period that I had never heard of, some of which I found quite surprising.
In any event, I would suspect that Bob, who had a background in radio broadcasting as I did not, would have far more insights into these issues than I would have, and in any event I would prefer to concentrate on the music itself.
To begin, we get a preview of the main idea with its first phrase at the very outset, along with those downward arpeggio type flourishes that Bob refers to, completing the introductory portion, following which the piece gets under way.
The main idea is notable by a series of sequences following the initial rise upward, and this is repeated extending a step further up to start from a higher point, thus culminating on a different degree of the scale to pass into the next section.
This latter contrasts with the preceding in that the melodic movement is far more stepwise and conjunct than hitherto, with those repeated notes that Bob mentions, passing us into different remote keys that can be quite difficult to trace without sheet music for assistance. Especially at the end of this section, where for the moment we find ourselves back on an F pedal (F being the key of the outset of the piece), the sensation here is of having momentarily lost our way, somewhat similar to an effect I pointed out some time ago in a comment on Peter Yorke's "Melody of the Stars." But this "lost our way" effect can easily be thought of as something cleverly conjured by the composer, who was a master of this sort of effect (think of the middle section of "Promise of Spring," another of his better selections).
The tension and uncertainty is immediately resolved by the reappearance of the main idea, now stated in the horn to give it a degree of prominence which it clearly must have against the rather heavy accompanying background. What also immeasurably helps to this end is the harmonic step from F to B Flat which is a natural resolution; B Flat now being the key for the remainder of the piece.
After the full statement is disposed of, the aim is now not to once again head into uncertainty but rather to sum up everything, to pull it all together, which in this case I feel is phenomenally successful. One could point out the appearance of the main idea in augmentation, and also the final appearance over the tonic pedal with those Neapolitan and other flatward harmonies leading to the final B Flat chord, but for me, everything from the moment that the horn appears to restate the main idea to the very last note is rock solid and is subject to the highest praise as far as I'm concerned. This is what actually "makes" the piece for me. And in general, I find myself liking it far more than "Melody Fair" which Bob has also compared it to.
As far as the matter of this orchestra not having the same feel and "fit" with this material as the actual Queen's Hall Light Orchestra as Bob claims, for me the musical results sound entirely acceptable for the purpose, and I have always enjoyed listening to these recordings whatever their origin, so I would prefer not to nitpick on this issue but to simply enjoy the result as I receive it.
Analysed by Robert Walton
The 1940s and 1950s were unquestionably the Golden Era of Light Music. The 1940s was especially an exciting time for the genre because the greatest mood music orchestra of all time was conceived by Chappells of London. This was in response to an unprecedented demand for specialized production music for use on radio, television, films and particularly for cinema newsreels.....The Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra reigned supreme.
The earlier New Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra existed from around 1916 until 1927 for the performance of Chappell Ballad Concerts. But in 1942 a new aggregation on the block was born, comprising many players from London’s symphony orchestras. All it needed now were conductors and composers but there was no shortage of them. Charles Williams took care of the first batch of 78rpm discs and later Sidney Torch and Robert Farnon added their considerable talents. The results of this teamwork became legendary and almost overnight modern state-of-the-art light music in its finest form came like a bolt from the blue into the 20th century. Like big band music of the time it never really dated. The sounds it produced were out of this world. The old-fashioned compositions of the 1930s and before were now just a memory.
But sadly this state of affairs was not to last. A dispute with the Musicians’ Union in the late 40s forced publishers to switch their recording sessions to the continent. This unfortunately had its downside as European orchestras weren’t capable of interpreting light music in quite the same way. Hence the “electricity”, “feel” and indeed expertise established by the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra was simply not replicated by the new orchestras. And it showed. But before we examine Seventh Heaven, let’s find out the origins of the title.
Being in seventh heaven is a state of ecstasy or perfect bliss. The term occurs in Sir Walter Scott’s novel “Heart of Midlothian” Chap.33 (1818) - ‘You may go to the Seventh Heaven’. It may also have been popularized as “Seventh Heaven”, the title of a Janet Gaynor/Charles Farrell silent movie (US 1927). But the concept of a seventh heaven is an ancient one. In the Jewish and Muslim religions there are seven of them. The Jews also call it ‘the heaven of heavens’ where God and the most exalted angels live. The division probably derives from an ancient Babylonian theory of astronomy in which the seventh ring of stars was the highest, and represented supreme bliss.
Going straight in, the main melody acting as an introduction, sets the scene for a glamorous Hollywood premiere, pageant or show. Then the strings effectively play two muted “fanfares” over which descending broken chords prepare for the official tune. This typical Farnon surge in a very danceable tempo like Melody Fair is propelled along by the rhythm section. It’s as if Seventh Heaven has just been unleashed and found a new freedom. There’s also a feeling that “everything in the garden’s lovely”. In other words ‘all is well’ with the world.
The tune literally sparkles under Farnon’s floodlights and then a beautiful key change tells us we’re well and truly on our way in one of his famous “travels into tunes”. Then, unusual for this type of majestic piece, the melody loosens up with three staccato string notes repeated after another key change. A climax takes us into an exclusive universe where we are free to wallow in the world of Robert Farnon. The horns join in for yet another chance to hear this gorgeous tune gradually slowing down and working towards a fabulous finish but not before the strings show who’s really boss!
It may not have been the pre-1950s magical Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, but I have to admit the performance was very good. Perhaps it had something to do with the presence of the composer himself conducting at the recording session, because the Danish State Radio Orchestra played so well!
CD AJA 5470
Following this article, William Zucker was induced to provide further notes and impressions on it in a follow-up article "Some Further Notes on Robert Farnon's "Seventh Heaven"". His article can be read here.
Another twelve months have sped by, and it was time for the 2018 May Bank Holiday concert performed by the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra, which took place once again in the Gallery of Lauderdale House, Highgate Hill, in North London. This house has a long history; it dates from 1582 and was briefly the home of King Charles II's mistress, the famous (infamous?) Nell Gwyn, whose ghost is reputed to haunt the building even unto this day!
Uncharacteristically glorious weather encouraged an excellent turnout, including several from the LLMMG (and their guests) and an unexpectedly large number of most welcome 'first-timers', in addition to many loyal 'regulars' – some of whom have supported every single one of these concerts during the last sixteen years.
As one of woefully few contemporary exponents of the Palm Court genre, the orchestra always manages to surprise and delight its audiences with new material, which is continually being added to an already extensive repertoire. This year's programme was no exception, and much of the music was totally new to the players!
Their mission is to feature compositions which have been totally forgotten or ignored, alongside more familiar favourites, and these can range from 'the highlights of the Palm Court era to the delightful but obscure', to quote from their concert programme.
Amongst the roll-call of 'more familiar' composers were to be found the names of Jack Strachey, Vittorio Monti (of Czardas fame), George Gershwin (his opus 1, Rialto Ripples) , Albert Ketelbey, Matyas Seiber, Oscar Straus, Haydn Wood, (who lived for some years in Highgate, quite close to the venue), Gerhard Winkler and Cole Porter.
In addition to the purely instrumental pieces, the proceedings were - as always - enlivened and garnished with some songs from Liz Menezes (who also plays second violin) and Camilla Cutts.
As has been remarked upon in the past, the members of the ensemble perform with great competence and enthusiasm, and the Aspidistra Drawing Room Orchestra can arguably be regarded as one of the very best of its type.
Congratulations and very many thanks are therefore due to Adam Bakker and his players for another splendid and extremely enjoyable afternoon of wonderful music.
© Tony Clayden 2018
Pictures courtesy of Brian Luck
Footnote – The ADRO will be our guests at the next LLMMG event in October, at our usual venue in Central London - click here for full details.
As part of the Camden Fringe Festival, they are also giving two concerts at Burgh House, Hampstead, North West London, on Sunday 19th August, at 2.30 pm and 7.00 pm - click here for full details.
Al Caiola’s Orchestra
Analysed by Robert Walton
Of all movie music there’s nothing so instantly recognizable as a western theme. This is because many of the best stories of the Wild West captured the ultimate desire and desperation of the human spirit to journey into the unknown in search of a better life. This was the dream of millions of Americans. Still is perhaps. According to the Marx Brothers, “Go West” is where the sun always shines and the fun never sets! But in reality it was nothing like that. Anyone determined enough would take the “plunge”. And there were not only mighty rivers to cross, but also plains and deserts to traverse and mountains to climb. And with that hope came an almost religious fervour calling upon God to give them guidance in their quest and bring them safely to their destination. So hence good western themes have an almost hymn-like or folkish quality with the immigrant’s blind faith in their future prospects. All this positivity produced good vibes and hopefully a happy ending. So let’s focus on one such theme.
Television arrived in New Zealand as late as 1960. One of the first series I remember was “Laramie” in back and white. But even more than the storylines, what truly struck a chord was the gorgeous theme by Cyril Mockridge. British-born Mockridge, arranger, pianist and composer emigrated to America in 1922 and was staff composer for 20th Century Fox from 1935 until 1961. Although he wrote the soundtracks for many well known films including “River of No Return”, “The Man who Shot Liberty Valance” and “Cheaper by the Dozen” his name never meant much to the general public. Perhaps it was because he often orchestrated scores for some of the big names and didn’t always get the credit. Incidentally his surname has Devonian origins.
Al Caiola, a highly respected studio guitarist, who played for Percy Faith and André Kostelanetz, takes care of the opening chorus. Then what we’ve all been waiting for, the strings enter in clippity clop-trot tempo with that unforgettably strong tune supported by the horns. From here to the end, the guitar and strings take it in turns to play. It’s the strings that eventually win out declaring their total dominance of the situation. Listen to the way the melody climaxes before coming down to earth.
Hear it on 100 Greatest American Light Orchestras - 2
Golden Age of Light Music, Guild Records (GLCD 5231)
Analysed by Robert Walton
In the 1970s when British commercial radio became legal, George Elliott was Head of Productions at LBC (the London Broadcasting Company off Fleet Street). We first met in that capacity when I was a voice over artist. He was also a commentator but I had no idea he was a composer as well. Clearly a man of many talents.
His Piccadilly Playboy was along the lines of Robert Farnon’s ManhattanPlayboy but eminently less frantic with a more basic orchestration. Strangely enough before Bob moved to Guernsey, the Farnons and Elliotts were neighbours in Gerrard’s Cross. Perhaps George caught the musical bug in Buckinghamshire. He remembered the occasion Bob wrote Bird Charmer for his son David. The inspiration for the title actually came from David’s mother Pat who said that “he could charm the birds out of the trees!”
But this is George Elliott’s Piccadilly Playboy written in 1958 and played by the Symphonia Orchestra conducted by Curt Andersen. It starts with 4 bars of busy woodwind and muted brass straight into the arms of waiting unison strings for a lesson in the art of smooth legato phrasing. At the appropriate moments decorative woodwind slot in to this pleasant 1940’s-type mood music melody.
There’s a noticeable moment’s silence before the bridge begins. Normally this would be filled with orchestral activity but the arranger decided on this occasion to have a deliberate pause. The rhythm section you’ll observe is barely audible. The brass takes the lead while arco strings steadily climb up for decorative duties changing to pizzicato. Another silence.
Back to the main strain as the strings now in harmony keep things moving. Yet another silence. Unison strings play another section, effectively a bonus bridge. After much coming and going we eventually find ourselves back at the official bridge.
Before you can say “George Elliott” the opening is repeated and we go headlong towards the close. Piccadilly Playboy builds up to a satisfactory conclusion with a positive brass assisted finish. It all sounds so effortless.
The English playboy mightn’t be quite as hurried as the American but predictably is more formal and laid back.
Can be heard on
“Light and Lively”
Golden Age of Light Music
Guild Records (GLCD 5160)