A name from the past remembered by
Although not too well-known to the general public, the name and reputation of Matty Malneck are a legend in the music business in America which he graced for something like sixty years as musician, composer, arranger and conductor.
Born in Newark, New Jersey on 10 December 1904, he went into music at the age of sixteen, when he began taking violin lessons from his school music teacher Wilberforce J. Whiteman, whose son Paul was to play an important role in the young Matty's future career. He was soon playing with small local bands until he was 22, when he met up again with Paul Whiteman who asked him to join the mammoth (for those days) Whiteman Concert Orchestra on violin and viola.
His first recording session with the band was an (unreleased) version of Ferde Grofe's Mississippi Suite on 27 March 1926, and an early live appearance with Whiteman was at the Royal Albert Hall in London two weeks later, which HMV recorded but never issued. Malneck left the band for a few months in 1928 to do a number of sessions with that ubiquitous self-publicist and musical faker Irving Mills & His Hotsy-Totsy Gang, and other Mills groups like Goody & His Good-Timers and TheWhoopee Makers.
He returned to Whiteman as a major influence in composing and arranging, his fiddle playing was a by no means negligible part of the band’s string section and he was a jazz performer in recordings by Whiteman splinter groups led by sidemen such as Frankie Trumbauer, which found Matty Malneck partnering Hoagy Carmichael, Bix Beiderbecke, Jimmy Dorsey, Lennie Hayton, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang & co.
On a return visit to London in November 1932 he guested on violin with Carroll Gibbons & His Boy Friends in a new version of On The Air/Till Tomorrow. His first experience as a leader was on a 1931 session for singer Mildred Bailey when he led a sextet to accompany her, repeating his function as leader a few months later when he conducted more or less the full Whiteman orchestra for a batch of singles including her famous version of Rockin’ Chair.
Deciding it was time he earned all the fruits of his labours Matty Malneek formed his own band in 1935 with dates booked in hotels, restaurants, theatres and clubs, but he was still busy doing recordings with Bing Crosby with whom had worked back in the Paul Whiteman days. If fact it was he who had put Bing together with Al Rinker and newcomer Harry Barris to form Whiteman’s Rhythm Boys.
The Malneck orchestra worked steadily featuring his bespectacled piano-accordionist Milton Delugg, until it got around to recording for Columbia in 1940 with Helen Ward as vocalist. But it wasn't a successful venture, as of the nine sides the band made the company issued only four in the USA and none at all in this country.
Matty appeared with his band in films like "St. Louis Blues" (1938) for which he and Frank Loesser wrote I Go For That, and in 1939 they wrote Fidgety Joe for "Man About Town", but Matty didn't contribute any songs to "Scatterbrain" (1940) and 1944' s "Trocadero" in which the band was featured.
Other film songs written by Mattv Malneck were for "Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round" (1932), If I Had A Million Dollars written in collaboration with Johnny Mercer, as was Central Park which they did for "Let's Make Music" (1941) and the complete score for "To Beat The Band" which included Eeny Meeny Miney Mo and If You Were Mine. He worked again with Frank Loesser on "Hawaiian N/ghts" in 1939, once more doing the entire score including Hey Good-Looking and I Found My Love.
Most of Matty's songs became standards, as did many not written for films, like Goody Goody, Pardon My Southern Accent , I'm Thru’ With Love, Deep Harlem and Snug As A Bug In A Rug. He also did such instrumentals as Little Buttercup and Park Avenue Fantasy co-written with his Whiteman cohort Frank Signorelli. The latter was premiered by Paul Whiteman in his 'Experiments In Modern Music’ at the Metropolitan Opera House in December 1933, and was later lyricised by Mitchell Parish as Stairway To The Stars while the Buttercup opus was transformed by Gus Kahn into I’ll Never Be The Same. One work that has not been heard since was Matty's collaboration with Harry Barris on Metropolis, an ambitious fantasy for piano and orchestra.
Clearly Matty Malneck was no ordinary musician/writer, and the only facet of his talent that might have limited his appeal to RFS members is that he does not appear to have entered the light orchestral field to any great extent. In fact, going back over the years he apparently made no records, LPs or CDs under his own name. His post-war activities decreased somewhat, although he carried on working. He did well with Bebop Spoken Here reuniting with his pre-war accordionist Milton Delugg, teamed up with harpist Robert Maxwell for Shangri-La, and resumed his old partnership with the great Johnny Mercer in two songs from the Audrey Hepburn-Gary Cooper movie "Love In The Afternoon".
His long association with dance music and jazz in the thirties made Malneck an obvious choice as MD of the 1959 United Artists film "Some Like It Hot", set around that era. His contribution was to supervise and conduct the band sequences by "Sweet Sue & Her Society Syncopators"... also to ensure that the score included his own I'm Thru’ With Love as a feature for Marilyn Monroe and Stairway To The Stars as romantic background music for her and Tony Curtis.
It's virtually inconceivable that such a man would not have continued making his mark musically, yet as far as I have been able to ascertain this might well have been his last assignment of any stature and importance before his death in March 1981 at the age of 77. A name from the past, perhaps, but what a name and what a past!
Editor: Matty Malneck’s date of birth is given as 9 December 1903 in some reference works; his date of death also appears as 25 February 1981.
This article first appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ June 2006.
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