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27 May

Moonlight becomes you

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JOHN WILSON AND HIS ORCHESTRA

Play Classic Arrangements of Paul Weston

"moonlight becomes you"

1 MOONLIGHT BECOMES YOU (Burke, Van Heusen)
2 YOU TURNED THE TABLES ON ME (Mitchell, Alter)
3 TIME AFTER TIME (Cahn, Styne)
4 THIS CAN’T BE LOVE (Hart, Rodgers)
5 TIME ON MY HANDS (Adamson, Gordon, Youmans)
6 KEEPIN’ OUT OF MISCHIEF NOW (Razaf, Waller)
7 THROUGH (how can you say we’re through?) (McCarthy, Monaco)
8 I’M CONFESSIN’ (Neiberg, Daugherty, Reynolds)
9 AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY (What can I Say) (Donaldson, Lyman)
10 JUDY (Carmichael, Lerner)
11 EAST OF THE SUN (Bowman)
12 BUT NOT FOR ME (G. & I. Gershwin)
13 AT SUNDOWN (Donaldson)
14 IT’S THE TALK OF THE TOWN (Symes, Neiberg, Livingston)
15 POOR BUTTERFLY (Golden, Hubbell)
16 ALL OF ME (Simons, Marks)
17 BREEZIN’ ALONG WITH THE BREEZE (Gillespie, Simons, Whiting)
18 SLEEPY TIME GAL (Alden, Egan, Lorenzo, Whiting)
19 WHEN YOUR LOVER HAS GONE (Swan)
20 IT’S A LOVELY DAY TODAY (Berlin)
21 JUST YOU, JUST ME (Klages, Greer)
22 MEMORIES OF YOU (Razaf, Blake)
23 YOU GO TO MY HEAD (Gillespie, Coots)

Vocalion CDSA 6808

This Compact Disc salutes the genius of two outstanding talents in the world of popular music. Firstly it allows us to savour the enthusiasm and sheer professionalism of one of the greatest conducting talents to have emerged in the past five years – John Wilson. Secondly, it unites this young musical prodigy with the work, around fifty years earlier, of Paul Weston, a pioneer of mood music and one of the very best American arrangers and conductors. The resulting performances by Wilson’s orchestra (which contains many of the finest young musicians in London), is a tribute that certainly equals, and sometimes even surpasses, the original recordings by the man who created these magical scores.

It all came together in EMI’s Abbey Road Studios last May, and the story of those sessions (with colour photographs) appeared in the September issue of Journal Into Melody, and can be found elsewhere on this website. What attracted conductor John Wilson to the music of Paul Weston? He first noticed his arrangements through the LPs he conducted for Doris Day, then the Ella Fitzgerald songbooks. This prompted John to investigate Weston’s instrumental albums, and he became impressed with what he describes as "…the unfussy, clean cut writing with a jazz-tinged sound". The more he listened, the more he wanted to conduct a collection of Weston’s scores as a tribute to a man who (although working in a fiercely competitive and commercial environment) managed to maintain high musical standards throughout his impressive career.

Paul Weston was one of the true ‘greats’ of the American Recording Industry of the 20th century. He was around for a long time, so it is hardly surprising that his talent was employed in several different aspects during his highly successful career. Many top singers owe a great deal to him for the perfect backings he provided to their songs, often resulting in hit recordings. He also achieved considerable fame in his later life as ‘Jonathan Edwards’, the pianist who had difficulty keeping to the right tempo in those excruciatingly funny parodies of off-key singers so brilliantly portrayed by his wife, Jo Stafford, as ‘Darlene’.

Some orchestra leaders are figureheads, replying upon the talents of others: Paul Weston’s success was entirely of his own making. When you hear his orchestra you are hearing Paul Weston. He was responsible for the notes on the music manuscripts that his musicians performed with such magical results.

In 2002 Vocalion released a CD of original Paul Weston recordings from the 1940s, based on his collections Music for Dreaming, Music for Memories and Songs Without Words (CDUS 3023). In an accompanying article (JIM 153 – December 2002) we explained the influences in Weston’s life, which resulted in him becoming one of the pioneers of ‘mood music’. But since that particular term is viewed with some derision by people with little knowledge, but inflated egos, it is important to emphasise that Weston’s contribution to the music business was immense, and a tribute such as this new CD by an ardent admirer is long overdue.

Paul Weston was also active in assisting and promoting the work of his colleagues. His standing among his peers can be judged by the fact that he was a founder member and first president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), the organisation which began awarding Grammys in 1958. (Robert Farnon’s brother Dennis was another distinguished musician who was involved with NARAS from its very beginnings.)

With the benefit of hindsight it is possible to split Weston’s career into several segments. Initially he gained recognition through his arranging, and he combined this with his conducting skills to good effect on the many vocal records he made, especially with his wife Jo Stafford. She enjoyed considerable success as a ‘straight’ singer, but in her later career it was her spoof performance as a poor amateur hopeful with an equally useless accompanist (Jo with Paul on piano as Jonathan and Darlene Edwards) that amused record buyers and even won them a Grammy. Weston also distinguished himself in films, and was a regular on US radio and television. But internationally it was his ‘mood albums’ that made him famous.

Unlike some of his contemporaries, he liked to use the whole orchestra, not just a few sections. "All I did was add strings to a dance band" he once explained. "The reason it still swung was because I used good jazz musicians." These included soloists of the highest calibre, like Ziggy Elman, Eddie Miller, Paul Smith and Barney Kessel. He sometimes resisted the temptation to amplify the strings, by having the rest of the band play softly during important string passages, resulting in a chamber-music quality that went right to the heart of his kind of music. But it has to be acknowledged that Paul Weston’s scores come into their full, rich beauty, when he has the entire orchestra at his command. The opening track on this CD Moonlight Becomes You is a prime example, with lush strings vying with the brass yet blending to perfection, allowing Gordon Cambell to solo on trombone during the middle-eight.

Paul Weston regularly employed a loyal coterie of musicians who were present on many of his recordings. The trumpets would be led by Conrad Gozzo, with Zeke Zarchy, Ziggy Elman and Don Fagerquist on hand for solos. Bill Schaeffer and Joe Howard were regulars in the trombone section, and Babe Russin could always be seen on saxes, often ably supported by Ted Nash, Freddy Stulce and Lenny Hartman. Paul Smith was a fixture on piano, and Nick Fatool and Alvin Stoller handled the drums. Jack Ryan was on bass, with George Van Eps (a true genius of the seven string) on guitar. At one time each chair in the violin section was the concertmaster of a leading motion picture studio orchestra. As recognition of their admiration for Paul Weston, they would often just take turns at sitting in the first chair. Many of the names on this list will be recognised as leading instrumentalists who had met and worked with Paul during the big band era, and who subsequently ‘migrated’ to the studio session scene in Los Angeles.

In some passages the string sound coming from the John Wilson Orchestra was noticeably fuller than used to be heard on Paul Weston’s own recordings. Was he restricted by his record company bosses, or did he decide for himself that a massive string section was not required? Maybe the microphones and/or studios in the USA produced a different sound? Tim Weston discussed this with his mother upon his return home from London: Jo Stafford said that the small string section reflected the fact that Paul himself was paying for the sessions. Jo was one of the few artists who, by virtue of her big sales, could dictate that the company ‘ate’ the costs of recording.

In 1971 the Trustees of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gave its Trustees Award to Paul Weston. The citation read in part: "To Paul Weston, whose dedication, wisdom and strength led it (the Academy) through its earliest years, and whose inspiration and dedication ever since, has contributed so greatly to the Recording Academy’s development, acceptance and respect throughout the world." Paul Weston died on 20 September 1996, at Santa Monica, California, aged 84.

David Ades

This CD is available from all good record stores. It can also be purchased by Robert Farnon Society members from the RFS Record Service for £13 [US$26] plus postage and packing.

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