ROBERT FARNON ON "DESERT ISLAND DISCS" IN CANADA Researched by PAUL CLATWORTHY
We have all done it at some time: you make a list of your favourite tunes then return to it in later years and make alterations.
While Robert Farnon was in Canada in Spring 1983 conducting at the National Arts Centre, lan Alexander was in the Toronto CBC studio talking to Robert in the Ottawa studio about his choice of music and his career. The interview (broadcast on 12 August 1983) started with a short burst of "The Happy Gang".
IAN. Your name is not mentioned in that list but you spent some years working on that show for CBC.
BOB. Yes I was one of the beginners, we started around 1938 I stayed until joining the army in 1941. I was expecting to hear my voice there but didn’t hear it.
IAN. What was the experience like - live radio I guess.
BOB. Absolutely marvellous anything went, we could do absolutely anything we liked and sometimes did. It was just a joy five days a week going down there; it was a shame to take the money.
IAN. I get the feeling that work like that and a lot of the other work that you’ve done - studio work with people like Percy Faith, can we call it "commercial work", hones a musician’s craft.
BOB. Yes that’s quite true. I must confess I enjoyed doing "The Happy Gang" but was set on writing serious music and in those days no one could make a living writing classical music so I joined the Gang and earned my bread and butter. I really enjoyed it of course but in my spare time I wrote more serious music.
IAN. Now back before even the "Happy Gang" I believe you put in a stint with the orchestra I’ve just mentioned, Percy Faith, I remember back in the sixties I was working as music director of an "Easy Listening" station on the West coast and the Canadian content regulations had just come in. We did try for a while to justify Percy Faith’s music as Canadian but really he did leave this country in mid-career didn’t he?
BOB. He did, as a matter of fact I played with Percy on trumpet at the same period I was working with "The Happy Gang"; it all happened around the same period.
IAN. A hectic sort of schedule then.
BOB. Oh but great fun!
IAN. Now we are calling this a kind of "Desert Island Discs" with Robert Farnon; Bob has indicated some of the music he likes to listen to and he would like to share with our national radio audience this evening. Bob I am interested in your first choice because it’s one that I enjoy very much, a classic piece of music.
BOB. It most certainly is lan and there’s a little story attached to that, I was introduced to the song by Canadian soprano named Doreen Hume who became very famous in Britain and we worked together many times over there. Before she returned to Canada she presented me with this recording by Madeline Gray of "Bailero" from "Songs of the Auvergne"; this is my favourite tune and the most familiar.
IAN. Let’s listen now to "Bailero" by Joseph Cantaloube.
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IAN. The passage of time has not sullied the beauty of that performance, a recording made more than half a Century ago as you can hear from the surface noise in 1930. Bob you worked with a number of singers over the years and one in particular Tony Bennett.
BOB. Yes I have done a lot with Tony - radio, television and a few concerts; he’s an absolute delight to work with, beautiful chap!
IAN. He’s strikes me as a musicians’ musician impeccable in terms of everything being in its place, everything happening just right.
BOB. Yes that’s exactly what happens. He is wonderful in that way when rehearsing a new arrangement he listens to it and doesn’t interrupt in the wrong places. He sings the song and appreciates the arrangement, especially if it’s a good one, Sinatra is exactly the same.
IAN. You have not only conducted for these gentlemen you have also recorded with them and other singers, Cleo Laine for example.
BOB. Yes I have done albums with Sinatra, Lena Home, Sarah Vaughan and Tony, They have asked me to provide the arrangements.
IAN. We have an album here which was not on your list but I have put it on mine, I thought it would be fun to sample, It’s an album made in concert on the 100th anniversary of the Royal Albert Hall. Tony Bennett the featured vocalist, a picture on the back with you conducting a large symphonic orchestra.
BOB. Yes I remember that.
IAN. Quite an occasion that must have been, What was the year?
BOB. In the early seventies I think.
IAN. Just looking at the sleeve - 1971 in fact.
BOB. That’s right.
IAN. A decade ago, there’s a poster here, sold out of course I thought we might sample it, was there a favourite?
BOB. I wondered what you have chosen?
IAN. I like "Get Happy".
BOB. Yes super.
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IAN. The London Philharmonic Orchestra really swinging to the tasty baton of Robert Farnon. That really does swing and jump. Was it hard to make a symphony orchestra sound like a show band?
BOB. Normally it is but Tony adds that little extra magic; he’s the one who made it swing, one way or another.
IAN. Now your career took a turn to England during the war years, in fact it was the war that took you to England first.
BOB. Yes I went over with the Canadian Army in 1944.
IAN. You worked with the BBC as well as concerts.
BOB. Yes but mostly broadcasting. There were three AEF orchestras, Glenn Miller with the American band, George Melachrino with the British and myself with the Canadian. We shared concerts for the troops throughout the country and eventually on the Continent.
IAN. Bringing things up to date I know that in more recent times the BBC has found it uneconomical to have as many orchestras on the payroll as it has in the past, a situation that probably did not make you too happy.
BOB. Unfortunately they disbanded five or six orchestras just a couple of years ago. Fortunately for me light music is very popular on the Continent in Holland, Belgium, France, Scandinavia and that has replaced the loss of performances in Britain for me and other light music composers.
IAN. Of course listeners across the country will know we are happy that Robert Farnon is back with some regularity to conduct concerts with Canadian orchestras. You are in Ottawa with the N.A.C.O. and as I am a former Vancouverite I know you have been out to Vancouver to conduct the V.S.O. many times.
BOB. That’s right I have.
IAN. One of the Desert Island discs you picked is a recording by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
BOB. Yes I am very fond of Respighi’s music. This is quite a coincidence: coming over to Vancouver last May in-flight music was playing a record of "Pines of Rome". I thought what a beautiful performance that is, I looked up the in-flight magazine and lo and behold it was the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.
IAN. Why don’t we listen to part of that performance now, it’s from a CBC recording, I wondered if it would be appropriate to play the showiest part.
BOB. Yes delightful.
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IAN The fourth and last section. Bob talking about great orchestras, you are very kind and generous about Canadian orchestras but certainly one of the lushest sounds of North American orchestras has to be that created by The Philadelphia Orchestra, honed over many years under Eugene Ormandy.
BOB, That’s quite true lan, I had the experience of providing a piece of music for them just before the beginning of the war, I had written my first Symphony and it had been played by The Toronto Symphony Orchestra. It was recommended to Eugene, he performed it in 1941.
IAN. I wonder that would not have been the complete programme, you were keeping some very good company.
BOB. Very good: one was Debussy a very good composer and I was very proud of my work; his "Afternoon of a Faun" was much better, which I would like to chose as my next selection.
IAN. A tender age to write a symphony.
BOB. It took me three years but I was so busy trying to make money to devote all my time to it. I finished it when I was about twenty two.
IAN. In terms of your musical taste you enjoy light music as well as what we call serious music.
BOB. Yes with the stress on romance, I am a romantic old trout.
IAN. That’s the thread that combines the two. We are also talking about the people you have worked with over the years. We heard from Tony Bennett, working with Frank Sinatra and many others and someone I think you got to know quite well, George Shearing - a great pianist.
BOB. Yes we first met when he was still in Britain working with Stephane Grappelli in a club in London.
IAN. Someone who went the opposite way to you across the Atlantic!
BOB. He went west and I went east to Britain. We did not meet again until two years ago when we made a recording with his trio and a large orchestra. My favourite is "A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square".
IAN. A wonderful tune; let’s hear it now. It comes from an album called "On Target".
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IAN. I am very interested in your next choice from the original cast recording of "Carousel"; how did it manage to slip in here?
BOB. Well I am a romantic and also a family man and they go together. The "Soliloquy" from "Carousel" is such a beautiful tale, first the girl and then the boy, very close to my heart, I have a tear or two each time I hear it.
IAN. John Raitt performing, one of the things one always thinks of with Rodgers and Hammerstein especially with the show that preceded "Oklahoma"; they created a seamless interwoven kind of musical theatre.
BOB. Yes they most certainly, my goodness all of their music is so delightful, I have arranged an awful lot of it.
IAN. When you talk about music for the Broadway stage the role of the arranger is a crucial one, maybe we could talk about that. A score comes from a team such as Rodgers and Hammerstein - it’s really the arranger who lifts it off the page and makes it work in the theatre.
BOB. In most cases I think the arranger was Robert Russell Bennett who did a wonderful job of scoring for them.
IAN. What kinds of things are involved, what kind of challenges, for the arranger in this kind of music.
BOB. The worst thing Ian is we are the last ones to get at it. They have made all the changes then they throw it at us and say arrange it. We go ahead and sure enough at rehearsals one of the singers finds parts are a little too high for her. We go back to the drawing board, not a very pleasant task but usually rewarding in the end.
IAN. You arranged a symphonic version of "Porgy and Bess" at one point in your career.
BOB. Yes that was a recording with The London Philharmonic Orchestra.
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IAN. We want to move back to the more serious side of the repertoire for our next music and I am interested in your choice here. We are going to hear "Nimrod" from "The Enigma Variations" by Sir Edward Elgar. I am interested in the performance you have chosen, the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andre Previn. A couple of things strike me about this: one is that with Previn we have someone who very much straddles the "Pop" as well as the "Classical" world. I have also found a quote from Previn talking about you. He says you are the greatest string writer in the world.
BOB. Well that was an overstatement, very kind of him to say but that’s not the reason why I chose the record.
IAN. Interesting to hear Previn because his career has really gone into serious music but that’s not how he began.
BOB. No it is not; he has done an awful lot for both Light music and Classical in Britain. Changed the scene entirely in many ways, brought visual to shows on television and presented them so beautifully making it very interesting to look at an orchestra, even though there were a few bald heads in view. Beautiful to watch the way he managed it.
IAN. Why "Nimrod"?
BOB. I think it has a tune all of its own. After he wrote it he said "Have I got a tune?" Indeed he had.
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IAN. We are coming to a pair of twentieth century composers who I believe have had an influence on your own musical career.
BOB. Very much indeed, you are referring to Stravinsky and Bartok.
IAN. Let’s start with Bartok, a personal connection there as well as a musical one.
BOB. Well not truly a personal one but I had the opportunity of meeting him in New York very shortly before he died. He was doing a concert in the McDowell Hall in New York with his wife and one or two instrumentalists. During the interval I went back stage and met my idol. I must say I found his music very positive since first hearing it. He walked up to the stage - it was like God walking I was so impressed by him.
IAN. In what way was he an influence… how important to your own compositional style?
BOB. Not composition wise, I suppose it was in his colour variation and his daring from time to time. Although I went in other directions when writing daring music, he gave me the courage to experiment.
IAN. You have chosen "Divertimento for strings". Let’s hear it now from a 1970 recording, Neville Marriner conducting The Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
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IAN. I guess it must be wonderful to be in London and hear all those fine orchestras.
BOB. A pleasure and a joy. From time to time we have the pleasure of working with them as session players, they love to come and do a recording with a singer or an instrumentalist.
IAN. Interesting because did not The Academy first sort of grow up with people who had other principal jobs. Now The Academy has become their main occupying work.
BOB. As you say they are now fully employed.
IAN. Now Stravinsky.
BOB. Ever since the age of twelve I have loved his music especially his Ballet music. In fact he once inspired me to write a ballet. It was not very good. I put it under the piano.
IAN. Don’t slide over it that way - tell us more!
BOB. It was not completely lost; I used lots of themes from it in later works when I took up writing "Light" music. One of the pieces I called "Jumping Bean". That will give you some idea of its content.
IAN. I hope your biographer is listening and will use that information.
IAN. The score still exists.
BOB. It does.
IAN. Back to Stravinsky.
BOB. It concerns a broadcast he did on the BBC. He could not let the conductor alone, keen that it would be right he would appear on his hands and knees pointing out parts of the score… "No not that way, this way", glasses perched on his forehead, it was a lovely scene. After the session I was introduced to him.
IAN. What age was he then?
IAN. Still very active
BOB. Oh yes I saw him nearly ten years later conducting at The Royal Festival Hall.
IAN, Now for his "Firebird" - Stravinsky conducting The Columbia Symphony Orchestra.
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IAN. Going over this list your modesty has omitted a single piece of your own for us to play.
BOB. I do not enjoy listening to my music that much.
IAN. Can I impose on you and play a little anyway.
BOB. Oh yes of course.
IAN. You are a trumpet player yourself.
BOB. Yes, but I started on violin when very young, at the age of fifteen I switched to percussion. I joined my brother’s college orchestra, they were very short of brass so I decided to take up trumpet. It remained with me until I gave it up.
IAN. A kind of pragmatic choice then?
IAN. You say you did not like playing violin but you do enjoy writing for it.
BOB. I love the sound but found it too difficult to play.
IAN. I mentioned the trumpet because I want to play a piece of your own titled "Scherzando for Trumpet and Orchestra" played by the CBC Winnipeg Orchestra conducted by Eric Wilde. The soloist is Raymond Parcells.
BOB. I have not heard this performance. It was originally written for the trumpet player in The Chapel Royal Orchestra in Copenhagen, commissioned in 1953. He did not record it, just played it from time to time with various orchestras. Then it was taken up by Mel Broiles, first trumpet of the Metropolitan Orchestra who did record it.
IAN. Let’s hear it now.
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IAN. You had not heard that before.
BOB. No but a very good version.
IAN. You show no mercy on the soloist.
BOB. I believe some ended up with lips bleeding!
IAN. I wonder if you have done much work on a specific player… does it help to know who you are writing for?
BOB. Yes it does help a lot. I wrote a piece for trumpet player Mel Broiles who plays for the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. I recently wrote a Concerto for him that he has played several times. It is in three movements that again is a tour de force, he said "Why do you do this to me, a fellow trumpet player?"
IAN. He thought you should have more sympathy.
BOB. He is such a fantastic player he had no trouble with it at all.
IAN. I know someone else you have written for is Harmonica virtuoso Tommy Reilly who, like yourself, is originally from Canada but now lives in England. Do you see much of him.
BOB. Yes we work quite a lot together, a lot of broadcasts on the Continent, television in Britain, and we made a recording of "Prelude and Dance" which I wrote for him many years ago.
IAN. I want to hear that because I believe while in a concentration camp he honed his skill as a harmonica player?
BOB. I think it was because he was originally a violin player. He said there were so many good violinists around he decided to take up harmonica instead, in 1935 or 36. He is now the world’s number one in the opinion of a lot of other people besides myself, a fine player.
I AN. He has made the harmonica a legitimate concert instrument.
BOB. I am sure he has; he is greatly respected and has had so many good composers write for him - Jacobs, Malcolm Arnold and others.
IAN. And yourself of course.
BOB. May I tell you a little fun joke regarding that. He was after me for years to write something as he is with other composers, providing he does not have to pay us. He was in Australia when I sent him a first draft, and when he got back to England he rang me and said the only difficult part is the last section, I will play a little over the phone. I said that’s absolutely perfect, but it goes twice as fast as that. He hung up.
IAN. Did you change it?
BOB. No I didn’t.
IAN. We will now hear that music, two men intimately involved in its construction.
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IAN. Next you have chosen the last part of Joseph Poulenc’s Concerto in "G" for organ and orchestra.
BOB. That choice came about because my son David studied organ about ten years ago coming to me with all sorts of material asking for my criticism. He brought the record to me and we both agreed that the last part was the most beautiful writing for the organ that we had ever heard. I said I would like that played at my funeral although I would not be able to hear it.
IAN. The soloist E. Power Biggs, the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy. Let’s hope that will not happen for very many years.
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BOB. Thank you Ian - you are going to end with that are you?
IAN. Certainly not - in fact I want to throw a few names at you because you have met with so interesting musicians in your long and distinguished career; perhaps if I mention a few of them you can say what they bring to mind.
IAN. Sarah Vaughan.
BOB. She was a joy to work with. On first hearing I did not like her voice, her vibrato was too wide, she shouted, very peculiar sound. When working with her rather than listening to recordings I fell in love with her singing. We did a record in Copenhagen that was an experience for both of us; she sang with a young Danish choir who sang better in English than most choirs in Britain, absolutely super. Sarah was a "doll" to work with - I have worked with her since on radio and television, we are great friends now, we smoke the same brand of cigarettes.
IAN. We won’t mention the brand, this is non-commercial radio. Now another great lady of popular song who has been back in the limelight lately due to her one woman show, did you catch it?
BOB. Lena Horne - no I did not, but I have the recording.
IAN. The great stories she told coupled with her sheer energy, well over two hours carrying the whole ball along.
BOB. Remarkable I saw a sort of junior version in person. Not just music, she talked about everything, a "sweety" to work with too.
IAN. Finally let’s talk about two other orchestra leaders, arrangers and people who you have associated with. One name springs to mind, Henry Mancini.
BOB. Oh yes, I have met him once or twice, I am a great admirer of his music; there’s a chap who knows how to write a tune, my goodness, I hate him.
IAN. Like yourself he has written much for the screen, big and small. We were talking earlier about the challenge as an arranger for Broadway I suppose there are many problems when you have to synchronise your score to the action.
BOB. It’s just a craft that you learn, not that difficult really. In musicals it’s even simpler because we record all the music before the film is shot. Sometimes we are the last to get at it - Henry would tell you they want everything yesterday - you have thirty or forty minutes of music to write, which can be a bit of a bind although enjoyable. It’s up on the screen not just a one-off and will last if it’s a good score.
IAN. You don’t feel compromised musically.
BOB. Not at all; when doing a dramatic film it can inspire you because you have a chance to see the product before writing. That’s a joy to have the inspiration.
IAN. Remind us of some of the scores you have written.
BOB. "Captain Horatio Hornblower" comes to mind, one of the swashbuckling sea stories I did. A case in point because they brought certain sections to have a look at so I could go home filled with ideas of what to write, so not difficult at all. I did the last Hope & Crosby film "The Road to Hong Kong" - I killed the series, but it was fun to do! I did "Gentlemen Marry Brunettes" where I sang in place of Scott Brady who did not have a voice; no one else was available so I was drafted in. They did not pay me.
IAN. Was that the start of a whole new career or a one-off?
BOB. No I sounded no better than in "Happy Gang".
IAN. One more classical choice: you talk about good tunes and enjoy the virtuoso show piece - this is Ravel’s "Daphnis and Chloe".
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IAN. It’s been great fun talking with you. Wonderful stories and anecdotes - a wonderful career and by no means over; what are working on at the moment?
BOB. I am writing a piece for The Canadian Brass, pushing the pencil as hard as I can. I wrote something about five years ago played here in Ottawa with a full orchestra but they wanted something for just the quintet.
IAN. Will this reflect the light hearted music you sometimes write?
BOB. No this is a serious piece.
IAN. When can we hear it.?
BOB. I have not finished writing. They are very kind… "whenever you can get around to it", not a good thing to tell a composer.
IAN. We look forward to hearing it, in the mean time my sincere thanks. I wish it had been face to face. We are glad you are back in Canada and hope to see much of you in the near future.
BOB. Thank you it has been an absolute pleasure.
Footnote from Paul Clatworthy : When this project was first mooted I had it in my mind that Farnon had earlier been featured on "Desert Island Discs" whilst living in England and it would be interesting comparing the selection. With the help of Vernon Anderson I received a list: "Soliloquy" John Raitt; "The Kid from Red Bank" (Hefti) Count Basie’s orchestra; "Music for strings Percussion and Celesta" (Bartok) The LPO; "Daphnis and Chloe suite No 2" (Ravel) French National Radio Orchestra; "My Man’s gone now" (Gershwin) sung by Anne Brown; "Iberia" (Images no 2) (Debussy) Paris Conservatoire Orchestra; "Thank heaven for little girls" (Lerner and Loewe) Andre Previn and pals; "Nimrod" (from Enigma variations) (Elgar) LPO. Bob made this selection on the first of June 1959.
MAJOR EUROPEAN STUDY REJECTS CALL FOR AN EXTENSION OF THE 50-YEAR PERIOD OF SOUND COPYRIGHT
In 2005 the European Union commissioned the University of Amsterdam to undertake a thorough investigation of the vexed question of copyright. This study has proceeded at the same time as, and quite independently of, the British review by the Gowers committee whose recommendations were given in our last issue. Although both investigations covered many aspects of copyright, the area which has been of specific interest and concern to us has been the period of copyright on sound recordings. Readers will recall that the music industry in Britain was clamouring for an extension of the copyright period way beyond the present 50 years. This would have had the effect of halting the release of hundreds of CDs by independent companies of recordings over 50 years old, thereby depriving the general public of a source of music that has been virtually ignored by the major record companies.
The Gowers Review came down firmly against any extension, and we are pleased to report that the exhaustive study by the University of Amsterdam has reached the same conclusion. Both reports have been made available in full on the internet; in our last issue we published extracts from the Gowers Review: below you will find short extracts from the Amsterdam report.
"The Recasting of Copyright & Related Rights for the Knowledge Economy
Institute for Information Law
University of Amsterdam
This study on the ‘Recasting of copyright and related rights for the knowledge economy’ was carried out by the Institute for Information Law* on commission by the European Commission. As does the call for tender that inspired it, the study covers extensive ground. Chapters 1 and 2 describe and examine the existing ‘acquis communautaire’ in the field of copyright and related (neighbouring) rights, with special focus on inconsistencies and unclarities, while Chapters 3-6 deal with distinct issues that were identified a priori by the European Commission as meriting special attention: possible extension of the term of protection of phonograms (Editor – this means gramophone recordings) (Chapter 3), possible alignment of the term of protection of co-written musical works (Chapter 4), the problems connected to multiple copyright ownership, including the issue of ‘orphan works’ (Chapter 5), and copyright awareness among consumers (Chapter 6). Finally, Chapter 7 provides an overall assessment of the benefits and drawbacks of the fifteen years of harmonisation of copyright and related rights in the EU and dwells on regulatory alternatives.
Chapter 1: Introduction Chapter 1 commences with an overall description of the process of harmonisation that has brought, in the course of 15 years, seven directives in the field of copyright and related rights. It goes on to discuss various institutional and exogenous issues relevant to the process of harmonisation Europe. The main focus here is on the question of competence of the EC legislature in the field of copyright and related rights.
Chapter 2: Consistency & clarity: consolidating the acquis? Chapter 2 examines the ‘acquis communautaire’ in the field of copyright and related rights, and identifies the main inconsistencies and unclarities. This chapter follows traditional categories: subject matter of protection; economic rights; exceptions and limitations; and collective rights management.
Chapter 3: Extending the term of protection for related (neighbouring) rights
Holders of neighbouring rights in performances and phonograms have expressed concern that the existing term of protection of 50 years puts them and the European creative industries, in particular the music industry, at a disadvantage, as compared to the longer protection provided for in the United States. Chapter 3 examines these concerns, first by describing and comparing the terms in the EU in the light of the existing international framework and existing terms in countries outside the EU, secondly by examining the rationales underlying related (neighbouring) rights protection and finally by applying economic analysis.
The authors of this study are not convinced by the arguments made in favour of a term extension. The term of protection currently laid down in the Term Directive (50 years from fixation or other triggering event) is already well above the minimum standard of the Rome Convention (20 years), and substantially longer than the terms that previously existed in many Member States. Stakeholders have based their claim mainly on a comparison with the law of the United States, where sound recordings are protected under copyright law for exceptionally long terms (life plus 70 years or, in case of works for hire, 95 years from publication or 120 years from creation). Perceived from an international perspective the American terms are anomalous and cannot serve as a legal justification for extending the terms of related rights in the EU.
An examination of the underpinnings of existing neighbouring rights regimes does not lend support to claims for term extension. Whereas copyright (author’s right) protects creative authorship, the rights of phonogram (record) producers are meant to protect economic investment in producing sound recordings. The related rights of phonogram producers have thus more in common with rights of industrial property, such as design rights, semiconductor topography rights, plant variety rights and the sui generis database right. Whereas all these rights share the same ‘investment’ rationale, their terms are considerably shorter, while setting higher threshold requirements. For example, whereas the database right requires ‘substantial investment’ in a database, the phonographic right requires no more than the making of a sound recording, be it a complex studio production or simply a matter of ‘pushing a button’ on a recording device.
Indeed, a good argument could be made for shortening the term of protection for phonogram producers. Given that the legal protection of phonogram producers is based on an investment rationale, it is important to note that the costs of owning and operating professional recording equipment has substantially decreased in recent years due to digitalisation. On the other hand, the costs of marketing recordings has apparently gone up. These costs now make up the largest part of the total investment in producing a phonogram. However, it is doubtful whether these costs may be taken into account as investment justifying legal protection of phonogram producers.
Insofar as marketing costs accrue in the goodwill of trademarks or trade names, phonogram producers or performing artists may already derive perpetual protection therefore under the law of trademarks. For the large majority of sound recordings the producers are likely to either recoup their investment within the first years, if not months, following their release, or never. If a recording has not recouped its investment after 50 years, it is very questionable that it ever will. On the basis of this finding it can be assumed that a term of protection of 50 years offers phonogram producers more than enough time to recoup their investment.
As the rights expire, recordings falling into the public domain will become subject to competition and falling prices, which will lead to a loss of income for the former right holders. Stakeholders argue that this will negatively affect future investment in A&R. However, it appears that only limited shares of phonogram producers’ overall revenues are currently invested in A&R, so the predicted negative effect on investment in new talent is likely to be limited.
Another argument that stakeholders have advanced in favour of term extension refers to the so-called ‘long tail’ (i.e. the reduced costs of digital distribution has created new markets for low selling content). A term extension might indeed inspire phonogram producers to revitalise their back catalogues recordings, and make them available to a variety of digital distribution channels. On the other hand, the immense market potential of digital business models should already today have provided ample incentive to phonogram producers to exploit their back catalogues in new media. The recent history of the internet, however, indicates that these opportunities have not always been seized by those stakeholders now asking for a term extension.
Stakeholders have also posited that not granting a term extension would distort competition between right holders based in the EU and their competitors in non-EU countries, where right holders may enjoy longer terms. It has been argued that foreign countries would apply a ‘comparison of terms’ to the detriment of EU right holders. This argument is wholly unconvincing, for various reasons. In the first place, the Rome Convention probably requires full national treatment, which rules out a comparison of terms by those countries that are bound by the convention. Moreover, many countries not party to the Rome Convention, such as the United States, do not apply a comparison of terms at all.
Another argument advanced by stakeholders is that a failure to bring the term of protection in the EU in line with the US will negatively affect the competitiveness of the European music industry. However, the competitiveness of phonogram producers is based on a wide variety of factors, intellectual property protection in general and the term of protection in particular being just one of them. Moreover, the worldwide music market is dominated by only four multinational companies (the so-called ‘majors’), that can not be characterised as either ‘European’ or ‘American’. Juxtaposing the interests of the European and the American music industries, therefore, would be wholly artificial. Even so, the market dominance of the ‘majors’ is an economic factor to be taken into consideration. A term extension would in all likelihood strengthen and prolong this market dominance to the detriment of free competition.
A final argument sometimes advanced in favour of term extension comes from the world of accountancy. It assumes that a longer term of protection would increase the value of ‘intangible assets’ in the balance sheets of European record companies. Granting a shorter term of protection to record companies in the EU than their competitors in the US already receive, would arguably result in a comparatively lower valuation of assets of European companies. This argument, however, is largely without merit.
The value of a record company’s own recordings is not regularly recognised as intangible assets by the record labels, and not capitalised in the balance sheets. Acquired catalogues of recordings are usually capitalised, but routinely written off well before the existing terms of related rights protection expire. A term extension will perhaps play a minor role only in the valuation of the goodwill of a record company in the context of a merger or acquisition. Even then, its effect will be minimal.
The fact that some recordings still have economic value as rights therein expire, cannot in itself provide a justification for extending the term of protection. Related rights were designed as incentives to invest, without unduly restricting competition, not as full-fledged property rights aimed at preserving ‘value’ in perpetuity. The term of related rights must reflect a balance between incentive and market freedom. This balance will be upset when terms are extended for the mere reason that content subject to expiration still has market value. The public domain is not merely a graveyard of recordings that have lost all value in the market place. It is also an essential source of inspiration to subsequent creators, innovators and distributors. Without content that still triggers the public imagination a robust public domain cannot exist. Admittedly, an argument could be made in favour of extending the term of protection of performing artists, since the reasons for protecting artists are comparable to those underlying author’s rights. However, in the light of existing contractual practices, it is unlikely that performers would actually fully benefit from a term extension, since record companies routinely require a broad assignment of the rights of the performing artists.
Therefore, extending the term of protection of performing artists should be considered only in connection with the harmonisation of statutory measures that protect the artists against overbroad transfers of rights. Obviously, a term extension would benefit only those artists that are still popular after 50 years and continue to receive payments from collecting societies and phonogram producers. This however concerns only a small number of performing artists."
Anyone wishing to read the complete report on the internet should input the following: http://eu.europa.eu?internal_market/copyright/docs/studies/etd2005imd195recast_report_2006.pdf The report runs to 305 pages on the website. To save you spending too much time finding what you want, it is suggested that you look from page 83 onwards of the document (which begins on page 103 of the computer file).
Now that two major reviews have rejected the call to increase the term for sound copyright, it is surely inconceivable that politicians will dare to ignore the findings. On a positive note it is important to remember the great benefits of the 50-year sound copyright rule:
1 recordings can be made available by independent companies if the original company that recorded them is no longer willing to keep them in its catalogue
2 when reissued, the career of the artist may well receive a welcome boost (there are several examples of this in recent years)
3 composers start receiving royalties once again
4 and most importantly: music lovers have the chance to hear and own music that might otherwise have been completely forgotten and lost to future generations.
SOUND COPYRIGHT : THE SAGA RUMBLES ON!
At the end of the Editor’s report on the findings of the European Study on Sound Copyright Extension in our last issue (page 16), the following words appeared: "…surely [it is] inconceivable that politicians will dare to ignore the findings". Well, they have!
In May the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee of the House of Commons published a report disagreeing with the findings of the Gowers Review and recommended that the government should negotiate a period of 70 years for sound copyright to apply throughout Europe.
Upon investigation it transpired that this committee had not sought the views of interested parties, but had merely been influenced by pressure exerted upon it by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). MPs had been lobbied with CDs purporting to illustrate the musical riches that would be ‘lost’ to the nation (and presumably its musical heritage) if the 50 year rule remains when all the wonderful and glorious pop music recordings from the 1960s start to fall out of copyright.
Letters were sent to the chairman of the committee, John Whittingdale MP, by Alan Bunting and David Ades, but as we go to press no acknowledgements had been received. In his letter Alan stated:
"The issue which concerns me is the extension of copyright in sound recordings and I was most perturbed to read that the Committee has disagreed with the recommendations of The Gowers Review Of Intellectual Property and suggested that a term of 70 years be negotiated throughout Europe.
My initial surprise when I read the summary became concern when I read the minutes of the meetings and studied the written submissions to the Committee. I failed to find any submission which supported the retention of the 50 year copyright, despite the fact that over 90% of the submissions to the Gowers Review did. Virtually all of the submissions to your committee came from organisations, many of them with vested interests in copyright extension. I suspect the main reason for this is that, although the Gowers review was widely publicised and called for evidence from all quarters, there was no such publicity given to your investigation. Indeed, I was not aware that it was happening nor, I have now discovered, were several of my contacts who, like me, had submitted evidence to the Gowers Review.
When I went on to read the sometimes inaccurate and misleading answers given by representatives of the BPI and others to the questions posed, it became clear why you came to the conclusion you did.
It would also appear (unless I have missed it in the minutes) that the Committee was not made aware of an investigation commissioned and published by The European Union - "The Recasting of Copyright & Related Rights for the Knowledge Economy". This, like Gowers, investigated sound recording copyright extension and came to the same conclusions but expressed them in much stronger terms – indeed, this report made a good case for actually reducing the copyright term.
The full text of this report is, of course, readily available but for your convenience I have attached an excellent summary of it by David Ades of the Robert Farnon Society (which is also opposed to any extension of copyright) which will be published in the next issue of their magazine "Journal Into Melody".
I wasn’t sure from either your report, or the minutes, if the Gowers Review and, more importantly, the many submissions to it, were studied in depth by all of the committee. If they were, it should have been clear to anyone reading them carefully that virtually no one except the record industry supported a copyright extension and also that the arguments put forward by the industry were not only flimsy but, in some instances, dishonest.
I appreciate that the Committee’s report cannot now be changed but I am most concerned that MPs and others will read it and accept it without appreciating the damage to Britain’s culture that a copyright extension would bring about.
This concern was heightened when, just as I was preparing the final version of this letter I learned that, under the Ten Minute Rule, a Labour MP is planning to introduce a bill calling for an extension."
This bill received (and passed) its first reading on 8 May with virtually no prior warning to the public at large. The MP in question is Michael Connarty, who happens to be the MP for a constituency adjacent to Alan’s. However, when Alan asked if they could meet to discuss it, he declined on the grounds that Alan was not one of his constituents. In written replies to criticism of his stance he defended it on the grounds that "it is what the artists I know want". The second reading of the bill was scheduled for 29 June, but didn’t take place due to the fact that there was neither sufficient time nor enough MPs present to vote on it. It is currently listed in Hansard as both "not printed" and "lapsed" which hopefully means that it has died – at least for the time being.
But just as we were hoping that common sense might have finally prevailed, on 4 July a wannabe future prime minister, in other words Conservative leader, David Cameron, gets to his feet and makes a fool of himself. He said a future Conservative Government would bow to the record industry’s wishes and increase the sound copyright term to 70 years. The London Times reported:
"Addressing the British Phonographic Industry annual meeting, Mr Cameron said: ‘Most people think these are all multimillionaires living in some penthouse flat. The reality is that many of these are low-earning session musicians who will be losing a vital pension.’
Rejecting a report commissioned by Gordon Brown, which said that there was no case for extending copyright, Mr Cameron quoted research which found that the change could boost the music industry by £3.3 billion over the next 50 years.
He argued that extending the term would give an ‘incentive to the music industry to digitise both older and niche repertoire which more people can enjoy at no extra cost’."
The Times report on their internet website invited comments, and Messrs Bunting and Ades were quick to point out the weaknesses in Cameron’s position. Many other Times readers also added their opinions; no one supported Cameron’s stance on this matter. E-mails were sent to him at the House of Commons and, in response to messages received, David Cameron's office insultingly issued a standard reply which made no attempt whatsoever to answer any of the valid points raised.
Further potentially "bad news" is the fact that back in the new cabinet as Culture Minister is James Purnell who, when he previously occupied the post, was firmly committed to bowing to the BPI’s demands to extend copyright.
It should be emphasised that the RFS is not alone in opposing an increase in the sound copyright term from 50 to 70 years. The internet is buzzing with many other ‘freedom of speech’ organisations who take a similar view.
RFS member Terry Charlton recently sent us a cutting from the April 2007 issue of the American magazine "Jazz Times". Columnist Gary Giddins contributed a thoughtful piece on the problems facing the music industry in the USA, with regard to downloads from the internet and more pressing problems such as the sound copyright situation across the Atlantic. Giddins pointed out that the foreign-owned music giants in the USA have no interest in making the nation’s cultural heritage available. He concluded: "If Sony/BMG feels no obligation toward its archival history, the least it could do is open its vaults for fire-sale leasing. It’s undoubtedly too much to ask the Supreme Court to examine its foul copyright extensions. The fact that this Japanese-German holding company can insist that it continues to own 1923 classic American records, which it has no interest in marketing, is obscene."
We must not allow this situation to arise in Britain and Europe. We urge all RFS members and readers who agree that the sound opyright term should not be increased beyond the present 50 years to make their feelings known to their MPs. Write to them at House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA or send an e-mail direct to your MP: (name plus initial, such as)
Footnote Literally as this issue closed for press we were made aware of a new paper on the economically optimal term of copyright presented to a Berlin conference in July by Rufus Pollock, a PhD candidate in economics at Cambridge University. After extensive study he has come to the conclusion that, using a combination of new and existing data on recordings and books, the evidence strongly reveals that the optimal term is around fourteen years. This is substantially shorter than any current copyright term and implies that existing copyright terms are too long. This should give the record industry, and some gullible politicians, a few things to think about!
This article appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ September 2007. Just before publication date the UK Government announced that it was not proposing to alter the current 50-year period for the copyright on sound recordings.
GOWERS REVIEW OF INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
CALL FOR EXTENSION OF SOUND COPYRIGHT TERM IN UK IS REJECTED
The timing could hardly have been better. On the day of our last London Meeting (26 November) the press reported that the Gowers Review had rejected the call by major record companies to increase the present term of sound copyright in Britain from 50 to 95 years, and that this should apply retrospectively. This news was announced at our meeting, and it was greeted with cheers and sustained applause. The immediate threat to many of our independent record companies had been removed.
The music industry had mounted a national campaign, with extensive coverage in the press and on radio and television, and it seemed that their arguments were going to persuade the Government to act in their favour. Reporting by the media had been biased and one-sided, with the strong arguments against such a move receiving scant or no attention.
Our concerns were heightened by the fact that the Government was believed to be in favour of giving in to the record companies. One of the singers clamouring for change was Cliff Richard, and the Prime Minister had enjoyed holidays at his villa in the West Indies.
There is no point in going back over old ground once again, but if any readers would like to refresh their memories on the issues involved they are invited to refer to the article in Journal Into Melody for June 2006 (JIM 168). This is also posted on our website.
The Gowers team took each of the record industry’s submission point by point, and found that most of their arguments were unfounded. Their deliberations are available for everyone to read free of charge on the internet (just type in "Gowers Review of Intellectual Property" on a search engine). The Review covers many aspects of copyright, but the part that is of particular interest to us commences on page 48, and some of the main findings are given below.
"Sound recording term
The European Commission is reviewing the length of copyright protection for sound recordings in 2007 as part of the review of the body of Community copyright law. Some members of the UK record industry have called for the Commission to increase retrospectively the term of copyright from the current 50 years to 95 years. That is, that the term of protection should be extended for existing works that are already in copyright as well as future works. This extension would also apply to works that have fallen out of copyright, but which would still be in copyright if the longer term existed when they were created (the ‘retroactive’ revival of copyright). Some companies and trade bodies in the UK record industry have called for the UK Government to support their submission to the Commission that copyright term on sound recordings should be extended.
The Review consulted widely and has considered this proposal in some detail, both for a retrospective change in copyright term and for a prospective change in term that would only affect future recordings rather than those already in existence. As part of its research into the question of term extension the Review commissioned an economic analysis from the Centre for Intellectual Property and Information Law (CIPIL) at Cambridge University.
A number of reasons were advanced in the Call for Evidence from some groups in favour of extending the term of protection: (1) parity with other countries; in the USA, sound recordings are protected for 95 years. In Australia and Brazil the term of protection is 70 years; (2) fairness; currently composers have copyright protection for life plus 70 years, whereas performers and producers only have rights for 50 years. Such a disparity is unfair; (3) extension of term would increase the incentives to invest in new music; the ‘incentives argument’ claims that increasing term would encourage more investment, as there would be longer to recoup any initial outlay; (4) extension of term would increase number of works available; copyright provides incentives for rights holders to make works available to the public as it gives rights holders a financial incentive to keep work commercially available; and (5) maintain the positive trade balance; the UK has an extremely successful music industry. The UK industry has between a 10 per cent and 15 per cent share of the global market. In 2004, the UK sector showed a trade surplus of £83.4 million, earning £238.9 million in export incomes. The Review has carefully considered each of these arguments in turn.
Extension achieves parity with other countries It is important to note that the term of protection is only one factor determining the royalties that artists and recording companies receive. The breadth of protection is also important. In the EU, the term of protection for sound recordings and performers’ rights is harmonised at 50 years. During this period, rights holders receive royalties for almost all public performances of their work. In the USA, the term of protection is 95 years, but under the Bars and Grills Exception around 70 per cent of eating and drinking establishments, and 45 per cent of shops, do not have to pay royalties to performers. In the USA, performers only receive royalty payments when their music is played on digital radio, while in the UK all radio performances carry royalties. If the system in the USA was the same as that in the EU, estimates suggest that European rights holders would receive royalties of $25.5 million per annum for the broadcasting of their recordings in the USA. It is therefore possible that the total royalties received in the EU is no less than, and may even be more than, those received in the USA. The argument has also been put forward that the longer length of term in the USA encourages artists from the UK to sign to US recording companies, thereby remitting profits to the USA. However, the Review has seen no evidence of UK bands choosing to sign to US labels based on copyright term. If musicians are indeed signing to labels in the USA, there may well be other reasons for doing so, such as the size of the market. In fact, there is anecdotal evidence that bands from the USA are signing to UK labels to develop in a vibrant music scene.
Performers and composers should have equal protection Performers argue that the incentives to perform are no less than those required to write lyrics or compose a score, and that the performance itself is a work of art. The distinctive voice and aesthetic of the performer adds value to the composition and is vital to making a song a commercial success. But the fairness argument applies to society as a whole. Copyright can be viewed as a ‘contract’ between rights owners and society for the purpose of incentivising creativity. As MacCauley argued in 1841, "it is good that authors should be remunerated; and the least exceptionable way of remunerating them is by a monopoly. Yet monopoly is an evil. For the sake of the good we must submit to the evil; but the evil ought not to last a day longer than is necessary for the purpose of securing the good". If the exclusive right granted by copyright (or indeed any other form of IP right) lasts longer than it needs to, unnecessary costs will be imposed on consumers. Economic evidence indicates that the length of protection for copyright works already far exceeds the incentives required to invest in new works. Boldrin and Levine estimate that the optimal length of copyright is at most seven years. Posner and Landes, eminent legal economists in the field, argue that the extra incentives to create as a result of term extension are likely to be very small beyond a term of 25 years. Furthermore, it is not clear that extending term from 50 years to 70 or 95 years would remedy the unequal treatment of performers and producers from composers, who benefit from life plus 70 years protection. This is because it is not clear that extension of term would benefit musicians and performers very much in practice. The CIPIL report that the Review commissioned states that: "most people seem to assume that any extended term would go to record companies rather than performers: either because the record company already owns the copyright or because the performer will, as a standard term of a recording agreement, have purported to assign any extended term that might be created to the copyright holder". The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) submitted a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) to the Review. Using the maximum revenues predicted in the PWC report, CIPIL estimated that the net present value (NPV) of a prospective change in term would be 1 per cent or lower for performers. The report noted that distribution of income would be highly skewed, with most income going to the relatively small number of highly successful artists whose work is still commercially available after 50 years.
Extension will increase the supply of new music Investment decisions are typically based on the expectations of future returns. Therefore, in order for the incentive argument to hold, it must be shown that prospective extension of copyright term for sound recordings would increase the incentives for record companies to invest in new acts. In an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the challenge to the Copyright Term Extension Act, seventeen economists, including five Nobel Prize winners, estimate that extension for new works creates at most 1 per cent value for a twenty year prospective extension (using NPV calculation) and they conclude therefore that extension of term has negligible effect on investment decisions. Furthermore, they noted that the then term of protection in the USA had nearly the same present value as perpetual copyright term. As such, many economists suggest that increasing copyright term beyond 50 years does not provide additional incentives to invest, as monies earned so far in the future fail to impact on current spending decisions. The incentives argument is sometimes applied to artists as well as to record companies. That is, if musicians were to receive royalties for an additional period of time, they would have more incentives to make music. This seems highly unlikely given there are a large number of bands already creating music without any hope of a financial return. Dave Rowntree, drummer with Blur and The Ailerons, commented that: "I have never heard of a single one [band] deciding not to record a song because it will fall out of copyright in ‘only’ fifty years. The idea is laughable." Evidence suggests that most sound recordings sell in the ten years after release, and only a very small percentage continue to generate income, both from sales and royalty payments, for the entire duration of copyright.
More music would be available to consumers Extension would impact on all recordings. It would keep works in copyright even when they are not generating any income for rights owners. One study found that parties without legal rights have made more historic US recordings available than have rights holders. Furthermore, rights holders reissue recent works while largely ignoring earlier music. Of the sound recordings published between 1890 and 1964, an average of 14 per cent had been reissued by the copyright owner, and 22 per cent by other parties. These statistics suggest that the costs of renewing copyright, or reissuing copyrighted material are greater than the potential private return, but that these works may have enduring social and cultural value. The lack of commercial availability impacts upon consumers and users, but it is also worth noting the impact this has for all creators and musicians. Chapter 2 noted the increasing prevalance of licensing and the complexity of rights clearance. If works are protected for a longer period of time, follow-on creators in the future would have to negotiate licences to use the work during that extended period. This has two potential implications: first, the estates and heirs of performers would potentially be able to block usage rights, which may affect future creativity and innovation; and second, this would make tracing rights holders more difficult. Thus extending term may have negative implications for all creators.
The UK’s trade balance would improve The argument that the balance of trade would improve makes two assumptions; first, that increasing term is necessary to receive longer terms in other countries; and second, that because the UK is a net exporter of music, more money will flow in from foreign markets. The CIPIL report argues that this is not the case. Firstly, the term of protection depends on where a recording is played, not on where it was produced; therefore term extension would only be beneficial to the balance of trade if UK copyright owners were able to benefit from longer terms in other countries. However, most countries outside Europe, including the largest foreign markets for international repertoire – the US and Australia – do not apply a ‘comparison of terms’ to the protection granted to sound recordings. This means that the term of protection offered in a foreign country is not dependent on the country of origin of the sound recording. UK copyright owners already benefit from the longer term offered in the USA and Australia where royalties are collected from those countries, and the CIPIL report notes that changes in British law would not now affect the term granted to British phonograms. Secondly, the CIPIL report show that the US market, which is worth $12,153 million, comprises only 5 per cent of international repertoire. In comparison, the UK market, worth $3,508.7 million includes 43 per cent of international repertoire. Thus whilst the UK music industry is extremely successful, the UK is a substantial importer of sound recordings, and therefore the extra revenue from 43 per cent of international sound recordings sold would be remitted overseas. In combination, extension to UK sound term would cause little additional in-flows, but would increase remittances abroad. Therefore, as the CIPIL report concludes, "increasing copyright term at home from 50 to 70 or 95 years is likely to have a disproportionate, negative effect on the balance of trade." Increasing the length of sound term increases the length of time during which royalties accrue. Once copyright in a sound recording ends, no royalties are due for that recording, and fewer licences are required to play those songs (copyright in the composition would continue, and therefore would continue to require a licence). PPL collects monies to remunerate rights holders whenever their sound recordings are played. In 2005 PPL collected £86.5 million from venues, premises and broadcasters to remunerate rights holders. The majority of this was collected from UK organisations and broadcasters. Because the cost of the licences reflects the royalties payable on the copyrights, as those copyrights expire, so the cost of the licences will fall. Term extension would keep the cost of sound recording licences higher for longer. Extension would increase costs for all businesses that play music, for example hairdressers, old people’s homes, local radio and internet service providers (ISPs). The impact of extension would therefore be felt throughout the economy.
In conclusion, the Review finds the arguments in favour of term extension unconvincing. The evidence suggests that extending the term of protection for sound recordings or performers’ rights prospectively would not increase the incentives to invest, would not increase the number of works created or made available, and would negatively impact upon consumers and industry. Furthermore, by increasing the period of protection, future creators would have to wait an additional length of time to build upon past works to create new products and those wishing to revive protected but forgotten material would be unable to do so for a longer period of time. The CIPIL report indicates that the overall impact of term extension on welfare would be a net loss in present value terms of 7.8 per cent of current revenue, approximately £155 million.
Retrospective changes to sound recording term As discussed above, changes to the length of IP protection can be made retrospectively or prospectively, and the Review has considered the evidence for both forms of extension. The principal argument that is put forward to increase sound term retrospectively is that many recordings from the 1950s are beginning to fall out of copyright and that this will lead to a loss of revenue, therefore impacting on the incentives to invest in newer artists. As discussed earlier, investment decisions are made on the basis of expected future returns rather than those already received. Furthermore, if music companies have access to capital markets future investment decisions will be entirely unaffected by the length of protection of current works.
Recommendation: Policy makers should adopt the principle that the term and scope of protection for IP rights should not be altered retrospectively."
Apparently the UK Government’s original call for submissions to the Gowers committee resulted in a far greater response from the public than any similar proposal in the past. All of the submissions are included in the report, and they reveal that the messages sent by individuals (as opposed to the vested interests in the music industry) were almost 100% against a change in the existing term of 50 years.
We have to await the outcome of the European Commission’s investigation into the question of copyright, but it is believed that they are not sympathetic to an extension of the current period. There are even suggestions that the USA may have a rethink on its own decision around ten years ago to raise their copyright period to 95 years.
The conclusion reached by Gowers is good for composers whose works are reissued by the small labels because royalties will start flowing again after 50 years, and not have to wait for considerably longer.
It has been argued that the record industry’s case was weakened by the experience in the USA where very few historical recordings have been reissued. In fact some US collectors rely upon the independent British companies to make their older recordings available to them.
A few days after the Gowers Review was published, the record industry placed an advertisement in the press supposedly signed by thousands of its artists pleading for the findings of the review to be ignored. One reporter dryly commented that at least two of the ‘signatories’ had died several years ago.
This article appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ March 2007
The demise of Brian Kay’s Light Programme has once again focussed attention on the sorry state of Light Music broadcasting in Britain. We pay the piper – it is now time that we called the tune, argues David Ades.
BBC RADIO : TIME FOR A RADICAL RETHINK
Early last November rumours started circulating that BBC Radio 3 would be axing Brian Kay’s Light Programme in February. This is the only national programme which Light Music admirers can rely upon to let them hear recordings of the kind of music they enjoy, so the thought that it was to disappear from the schedules filled many of us with alarm.
Letters, telephone calls and e-mails started to reach me even before I had alerted members as to what might happen through our website, and it was clear that you were all concerned at the news. I say ‘might’ deliberately, because for many weeks the BBC fended off letters of complaint saying that a final decision had not been taken.
Of course, this was far from the truth. Having already decided on a big reorganisation of the afternoon schedules it would be naïve to expect the Controller of Radio 3 to make a U-turn and bow to public pressure. Such things don’t happen at the BBC.
The national press quickly picked up on the story. Paul Donovan in the Sunday Times urged readers to complain to Michael Grade about Brian Kay’s departure. Roger Wright (Radio 3 Controller) told The Guardian that concerts lasting from 2.00 to 5.00pm introduced by ‘consistent voices’ would fill the time vacated by the programmes being cancelled – presumably this means that money would be saved replacing presenters with staff announcers. Gillian Reynolds in the Daily Telegraph said that she loved Brian Kay’s programme and would miss it.
Our last London meeting was held shortly after the news had broken, and by then a number of members had asked us to organise a petition against the decision to end Brian Kay’s show. This was duly signed by most people present, and forwarded to the BBC; it was never even acknowledged.
Just as the groundswell of anger was steadily building the BBC’s boss Michael Grade defected to ITV, leaving the Corporation with other matters to contend with. A separate letter I had sent to Michael Grade a few days previously (in my private capacity) made the point that many of us have grown up enjoying light music provided on the old Home Service and Light Programme which is now almost completely ignored by today’s programme makers. Millions of pensioners find little to interest them on the radio, and turn to their CDs for their musical entertainment. Radio 2 is hailed as a great success, yet it is merely a carbon copy of countless commercial stations around the country. I further suggested that present Radio 1 and Radio 2 should be merged, and that a completely new Radio 2 should be aimed at over 55s.
No one of importance would ever have seen the letter. The reply from BBC Information in Glasgow merely said that it noted my comments and that it appreciated feedback from listeners.
Other RFS members were also not slow in writing to the BBC. Alan Bunting (a retired BBC employee) told Michael Grade that he was very disappointed at losing the 4.00pm programmes on Radio 3, and bemoaned the fact that Radio 2 had completely deserted the over-55s.
James Cahall e-mailed the BBC from the USA saying that one hour per week devoted to light music out of total broadcasting time of 168 hours was hardly greedy. James also emphasised how many people overseas listen via the internet – something that the BBC is unable to measure.
In a separate letter to me as secretary of the RFS, Roger Wright admitted that "Brian Kay's Light Programme has been a splendid part of our programming but we are responding to other listeners who want to hear more classical music, rather than a dedicated light music programme. I realise, frustratingly, that pleasing one group of listeners potentially disturbs others. There will still be some light music included in our other programmes but not a dedicated focus as in Brian Kay’s Light Programme." Personally I think that very few of us will want to endure the majority of Radio 3’s usual output in the hope of occasionally hearing a piece of light music.
David Daniels began his letter to Roger Wright with the words: "what the hell is happening at the BBC? I cannot believe that practically the only programme on the national network devoted to quality light music is to be axed. Once upon a time this material formed the largest part of the BBC’s output, indeed many pieces of light orchestral music formed the top selling recordings in the 50s and 60s and the generation who bought these still enjoy it given the chance." David’s letter went on to denigrate two particular "complete morons" who appear on Radio 2, and ended by saying that the BBC has a duty to serve the nation as a whole, not just the under 50s. This letter prompted the standard response from the BBC in Glasgow – in other words, no one cares what the audience thinks or wants.
Steve Fish also wrote in similar terms. He received the usual BBC reply, but in his case from the Managing Editor of Radio 3 rather than the ‘anonymous’ BBC Information. One suspects that there is a standard letter on a BBC computer which can be readily accessed to deal with complaints from the public.
Which leads us on to the important question: what can be done to persuade the BBC to respect the musical preferences of millions of potential listeners, and reconsider the structure of its national radio stations?
First of all let’s consider the shortcomings and the problems from the point of view of the licence payers.
1 BBC Radio does not fully reflect the wishes of the population when it comes to the music played. There is too much pop and plenty of classical music, with all kinds of ethnic preferences receiving attention. But over 55s are almost totally ignored.
2 There are too many radio stations playing the same kind of pop music that broadcasters admit is aimed at the 25-35 year old audience. What they seem unable to grasp is that more of these people are at work during the daytime, leaving the vast majority of the available audience aged over 55.
3 Britain has never had more radio stations, yet we are only too aware that ‘more’ means simply more of the same – not a wider choice (just like television, but let’s not get on to that!). Next time you take a long car journey press the ‘search’ button on your car radio. How many stations will it pick up all sounding the same?
4 BBC Local radio stations have a few interesting programmes, but these seem to be under threat from trendy young station controllers. A lot of presenters seem to think they are auditioning for Radio 1 most of the time, playing music which is unsuited to the kind of people who might otherwise enjoy listening to a magazine-type programme concentrating on local news and events.
5 Radio 2 is generally regarded by most RFS members as a great disappointment 90% of the time, and judging by comments in other music magazines we are not alone in our views. The BBC maintains that it is the nation’s most popular station with the biggest audience, yet this is only because it broadcasts over the entire country. Within radio circles it is known (but not admitted in public) that in cities and large towns where there is strong competition from a local commercial station, Radio 2 does not win the battle for listeners.
Britain badly needs a national radio station that can be enjoyed by people over 55 – and that means around 20 million of us! Presenters should be freed of the restrictions imposed by the wretched playlists (these are the recordings placed on computer from which programme makers have to choose) and be encouraged to share their knowledge and enthusiasms with their audience. Of course, it does still occasionally happen today (Russell Davies and Malcolm Laycock are two prime examples) but one wonders how a new generation of Alan Dells is ever going to surface amidst the mire of mediocrity that suffocates and stifles any hint of quality among younger presenters.
And the up and coming presenters have to be made to realise that they should be choosing and playing music to suit their audience, not simply spin their own particular favourites. The culture within the BBC must also change. It must be a brave person in Broadcasting House who would admit to enjoying Mantovani, and Bill Cotton jnr summed up the cloistered BBC mentality in a recent excellent TV documentary on Vera Lynn. Back in the early days of BBC 2, Bill decided that they should present a major series of programmes starring Vera, and he asked his best music producer to be in charge. His response was: "what have I done wrong?"
If the BBC decided today to give 20 million listeners what they wanted, and turn Radio 2 into a station playing quality popular vocal and light music, interspersed with intelligent spoken word programmes, one can imagine the problem in finding a Controller who would be willing to stand up to the snide remarks of fellow broadcasters and executives. Perhaps the listening figures would eventually silence the critics.
Of course one must acknowledge that the BBC does have its own problems. Although it is supposed to be free of any political interference, it is the politicians who have the last say regarding the level of the licence fee. If the BBC does not have a large audience some politicians (usually those with small majorities) are going to get their names in the press by complaining that the BBC does not deserve the money we all give it.
But the BBC is a public service broadcaster – something that its critics (and even some of its own staff) seem to fail to appreciate. We pay our licence fee so that the BBC can broadcast programmes that commercial broadcasters will avoid because advertisers dislike them. We do not pay our licence fee so that the BBC can duplicate the kind of programmes readily available elsewhere, which is why Radio 2 must undergo a serious rethink.
Which brings us back to the reason for this article: the termination of Brian Kay’s Light Programme. The Controller of BBC Radio 3 does not deserve to be made a scapegoat over this matter. It is his responsibility to keep his schedule looking fresh, and it does appear that the classical lobbyists have been putting pressure on him. If we are honest we have to say that Brian Kay should have been on Radio 2, along with the film, show and jazz programmes that are also being axed from Radio 3. Of course, we are very sorry that Brian’s programme has ended, but we should be grateful that Roger Wright commissioned it over five years ago. It was originally broadcast at an ideal time on Sunday afternoons and then shifted to Thursdays when its audience must have suffered. However the availability of the programme for seven days on the internet helped to compensate, and we know that many RFS members outside Britain have listened in this way.
Time will tell whether Radio 3 has lost listeners as a result, and it may be pertinent to mention that the only time in the week when Classic FM experiences a noticeable dip in its audience is on Friday evenings while "Friday Night Is Music Night" is on Radio 2. Someone still enjoys light music.
What of the future? Clearly we cannot sit back and admit defeat. The time has surely come when the BBC must be put under pressure to introduce more enjoyable music on Radio 2, especially during the daytime. If you share this opinion, please write to the BBC and the national press. It is probably a waste of time to write to the Controller of Radio 2, who will be under pressure from above to keep the status quo. So your comments would be better addressed to the new Chairman (when announced) or the BBC Director General, Mark Thompson. It seems that a new Trust has taken over from the former Governors, so the members should also be made aware of your feelings. However one recent letter from the BBC stated that it is the Executive Board which is responsible for implementation of strategy and for the BBC’s day-to-day operations and editorial decisions, so maybe the Chair of that committee should be approached (at BBC, Broadcasting House, London, W1A 1AA).
Your own comments will also be welcome for publication in our next issue.
David Ades - from ‘Journal Into Melody’ March 2007.
Peter Appleyard Wizard of the Vibraphone
by Murray Ginsberg
The career of legendary jazz artist Peter Appleyard spans more than five decades. He has performed with some of the world's greatest musicians, among them Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Duke Ellington and Oscar Peterson. He was the most played artist on FM radio in the 70s and 80s, while his award-winning TV jazz series, 'Peter Appleyard Presents' was broadcast across Canada from 1978 to 1981.
Peter Appleyard is an enthusiastic showstopper, all jazz and mallet work, dazzling melodic improvisation and breath-taking harmonic variations. Since Lionel Hampton, with few peers in the vibraphone world, he's the greatest jazz vibraphonist on the planet.
Born August 28, 1928, in Cleethorpes, England, he studied piano at age 14 and began learning drums on his own. "At 16 I was playing with various dance bands. I had a bicycle with a trailer behind it and would ride 10 to 15 miles just to play a gig," he recalls. He began his performance career with Felix Mendlessohn's Hawaiian Serenaders, the most popular dance band in England and the first to appear on British television. During this same period, he was conscripted into the Royal Air Force where he played dozens of drumming engagements with the RAF band.
After 18 months with the RAF, Appleyard performed with various leading British orchestras. In December 1949 he accepted an 18-month contract to play in Bermuda. Then in 1951 a vacation trip to Canada led him to move to Toronto. Hearing Red Norvo's trio with Charles Mingus and Tal Farlow inspired him to switch to vibes and form a trio that also used bass and guitar. They played the Colonial Tavern, the most important jazz mecca in Canada's largest city. At the Colonial he also heard and met Artie Shaw, Errol Gamer, Count Basie, Muggsy Spanier, and others. His Toronto reputation grew as he was featured vibes soloist with the Calvin Jackson Quartet at the Park Plaza Hotel, and eventually formed his own quartet.
Somewhere along the way Peter took a trip to New York City, which created a new musical focus for him. "I headed down Broadway and heard George Shearing and his quintet and Lionel Hampton's big band at Bop City. That was the thrill of a lifetime," he says. The extraordinary influences of piano great Shearing and vibraphone colossus Hampton changed his life forever.
By 1956 Appleyard was taking his quartet on tours and club dates. He has also enjoyed a long standing association with CBS Radio and Television which led to him winning the Arthur Godfrey Showtalent contest, and appearances on the Andy Williams Show, the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and the Today Show with David Garroway. His busy schedule in New York in the late 1950s included months-long engagements at the Embers and Round Table. The Dukes of Dixieland, Steve AlIen and Andre Previn also played there and helped him get a contract that resulted in three Audio Fidelity albums. Throughout his long and prestigious career Peter has appeared in virtually all jazz venues in the USA, Asia, Europe and Canada.
At the Embers Appleyard met Benny Goodman, who hired him for a concert in Hackensack, New Jersey. In the sextet were Hank Jones, piano; Milt Hinton, bass; Bobby Rosengarden, drums, and Bucky Pizzarelli, guitar. A few months later, Appleyard joined Goodman's group, which turned out to be the beginning of an eight-year relationship and friendship. The Goodman band, including Appleyard, was later formed to open the Rainbow Grill in New York City.
Highlights of tours with Goodman from 1972 to 1980 included a 1972 recording On Stage, Live at the Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen (Time Life Recordings); Benny Goodman All Stars with Zoot Sims, George Benson, Hank Jones, Slam Stewart, and Joe Venuti (Columbia Records).
In 1976, Frank Sinatra invited Peter Appleyard to appear with him, Ella Fitzgerald and the Count Basie Orchestra for a two-week engagement at the Uris Theatre in New York City. In the '80s he appeared with Sinatra again in an Ottawa fundraiser organised by Canadian comic Rich Little, which raised over $500,000 for the Ottawa Civic Hospital.
On July 24, 2005, I was happy to meet Peter at the Robert Farnon Memorial Tribute at St. Paul's (the Actors') Church in Covent Garden, London, which was packed with friends and colleagues who came to pay their respects to their late hero. I knew that Peter had been a member of the Robert Farnon Appreciation Society for years.
In early April of this year some friends and I travelled to Rockwood, a pleasant village 50 miles west of Toronto to hear Peter and Friends at La Vi//e Auberge, a lovely restaurant that was sold out for the concert. Peter lives on a 31-acre farm in Rockwood, from where he tours the world. The concert included jazz pianist John Sherwood and super bassist Neil Swainson. Although I've known and worked alongside Peter on various TV shows and live concerts for years, it wasn't until that Rockwood afternoon when I was astonished to hear him play drums (while pianist Sherwood soloed on various standards,) then actually play the piano with his right hand while Sherwood backed him with his left. On one ferociously high-speed tempo tune, Peter's million-note-per-bar variations rivalled the great Oscar Peterson.
On 30 June 2006, Peter was invited to the UK by Guy Saint-Jacques, acting Canadian High Commissioner in London to help celebrate Canada Day (July 1), Canada's 139th birthday. The programme, Canada On Stage, in Trafalgar Square, began at 5pm and presented not only Peter Appleyard but also a diverse range of talent from across the country that entertained a lively crowd of listeners until 9pm.
At 9pm, my partner and I were fortunate to be invited to Canada House where Peter and Friends entertained some 300 guests from 9 until 11pm. Peter brought pianist John Sherwood from Canada and added two of Britain's finest musicians to complete the group - bassist Paul Morgan and drummer Bob Worth. To say the least, Peter and Friends had the audience whistling and applauding until the show ended.
Peter Appleyard is considered, by fans everywhere, to be one of the leading jazz percussionists in the world today, and certainly a Canadian national treasure. He is the proud recipient of the Scarborough, Ontario "Civic Award of Merit" for his outstanding contributions to the international and Canadian music scene. He has also been honoured to receive The Order of Canada in recognition of his international stature as a musician and "Good Will Ambassador".
He is undoubtedly the greatest jazz vibraphonist alive.
Earlier this year Dr. Stanley Saunders conducted the premiere performance of Robert Farnon’s penultimate composition, which he dedicated to Dr. Saunders. Hopefully one day we will all have the opportunity of hearing this work, described in detail in Dr. Saunders’ programme notes which he has kindly allowed us to publish in ‘Journal Into Melody’.
Programme Notes :
"American Wind Symphony: The Gaels"
by Robert Farnon
Nowadays, the collective term ‘Gaels’ is often used in reference to a Gaelic speaking Celt in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man. Historical records show the evolution of the Gaels from very early times to the present. Records copied by the monks in monasteries for over 2,000 years and other accounts show that bagpipes were documented in Egypt back in 1500BC. Indeed, the cultural evolution shows that the Gaels enjoyed singing triumphant hymns and songs in their native language, beating with their feet in rhythmic jigs and other dances, clapping, and playing ‘caetras’ [bagpipes].
While many of the Gaelic words have been lost, derivatives of the original can be seen in such words as the term ‘Gael’ itself, which comes from ‘gaedel’ that has strong links to the Welsh word, ‘gwydel,’ which means foreigner, or raider. The military history of the Gaels show that they were among the best soldiers in the world, and the term ‘Gael’ designates a Highlander or Warrior. The Warriors often celebrated their military victories with bagpipe music.
The composition "American Wind Symphony: The Gaels" is dedicated by the composer to Dr. Stanley Saunders. The work was commissioned by the Roxbury High School Honors Wind Symphony, Roxbury High School, Succasunna, New Jersey, USA, Director, Mr. Todd Nichols. The arrangements were made by Professor Darryl Bott, Former Director, who now teaches at Rutgers University, New Jersey.
The work, which receives its premiere this evening, not only reflects the stirring and moving history of the Celts but also aurally depicts in a musical fashion the inhabitants of the British Isles with such sections as ‘The Warriors,’ ‘Battle Cry,’ ‘The Lassie,’ ‘The Bluebells of Scotland,’ the Lament ‘Emerald Isle,’ and ‘Scotland the Brave.’ In certain cases — programme music — the composer intends to convey specific images through music but often the composer intends the music to be nothing but — what is called absolute — music. This composition is a combination of both concepts.
The structure of The Gae!s is based on seven, continuous yet contrasting musical sections. The opening section of the composition, Introduction, starts with a crescendo roll throughout the percussion section heralding a spirited and delineated fanfare-like section in the brass that is based on a phrase from Scotland the Brave A lyrical, flowing melody is then announced by the low reed and brass instruments above which a florid woodwind counterpoint is woven that is complimented by percussion colourations.
A ‘lento’ section, featuring the keyboards and mallet instruments along with solo flute and bassoon, leads to the second section, The Warriors. A quiet, solo timpani roll introduces this ‘Allegro’ section with pyramid-like entries in the muted brass in triple metre. This triple metre passage increases in volume and intensity as other instruments make their entries. This portion of the work subsides both in tempo and dynamics with a flute solo followed by a keyboard link that transforms the mood from one of tension to a feeling of peace that continues throughout section three, The Lament: Emerald Isle. This moving melody is presented in antiphonal four-bar phrases throughout the wind ensemble. The modulating sequences played by the clarinets and saxophones continue with a quickening of pace.
This passage is followed by a sudden change of mood that illumes Farnon’ s great skill and ingenuity in orchestration as the high woodwinds float breezily along while the whole percussion section provides shimmering and scintillating contrapuntal embellishments. The whole ensemble then makes a spirited entry with staccato utterances from the low brass and tam tam [gong] leading into section four, Battle Cry. This rousing ‘presto’ section, which presents many challenges to all sections of the ensemble, depicts the Warriors as they prepare for action.
A soft roll in the percussion followed by a sustained tone in the French horns and low reeds introduces section five, The Lassie. In this part of the composition one can almost see and smell the heather of the Highlands as the solo piccolo quietly plays the main theme in brisk fashion accompanied by the rhythmic Scottish side drum. This part of the work increases in excitement and intensity as other sections of the wind ensemble join in.
At this point, section six, Bluebells, is announced but in an unusual 5/4 metre, while the contrasting The Lassie theme is continued in the piccolo, flutes, oboe, and keyboards as dancing filigree counterpoint. The main theme, Bluebells, continues but has now reverted to its more familiar quadruple metre. The Introduction music now reappears in full dress and section seven, Scotland the Brave, is announced in ‘vivace’ fashion by the trumpet section against an invigorating triplet figure in the high woodwinds, mallet, and keyboard instruments. The dance like figure makes its final, furious appearance at a ‘presto’ tempo and the thrilling build up concludes in stirring fashion with solo timpani and full ensemble in a dramatic climax.
Robert Farnon’s composition is a perfect symphonic wind ensemble setting that reflects the history of The Gaels both at Roxbury High School and throughout the ages. While the composition has programmatic aspects that are reflected in the Celtic melodies upon which the work is based, it still retains an overriding sense of formal splendour and majesty.
Programme Notes by Dr. Stanley Saunders
In JIM165 (September 2005) Dr. Saunders writes about the background to this major work in his article "Robert Farnon: Genius and Humility".
Reflections of Gene Lees on His Birthday
by Harrigan Logan
Harrigan Logan knows Gene Lees because her father, director/producer/playwright Joshua Logan (Annie Get Your Gun, South Pacific, Mister Roberts, Picnic, etc.,) was one of Gene’s dear friends. Harrigan is a singer/ songwriter/ musician and among the favorite comments she has received for her music is this from Rosemary Clooney, "the minute the music started playing I burst into tears and reached for the Kleenex. That song is amazing. You sing dead center on the note which is exactly where you want your voice to be. Perfect." You can learn more about Harrigan and listen to her music at her website: www.harriganlogan.com
When Gene Lees celebrated his birthday on February 8th 2006 at a quiet dinner in Meiners Oaks, California, Canada also celebrated the birth of one of its exceptional native sons. When Gene’s book, You Can’t Steal A Gift: Dizzy, Clark, Milt, and Nat was published in 2001, Glen Woodcock of the Toronto Sun wrote, "Let me get straight to the point: Gene Lees is the best writer on the topic of jazz in the world today." When prominent jazz critic and journalist, Nat Hentoff was contacted for this article, he said "in many years to come, Gene Lees will be one of the few writers on jazz whose works will be permanently valuable because of the quality of his perceptions, the depth of his research, and his personal knowledge of the musicians about whom he writes." Gene’s contributions to jazz are enough to ensure him a place of honor in Canadian cultural history, but Gene’s other accomplishments are also remarkable.
Gene wrote the English lyrics to Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars (Corcovado) for Brazil’s most celebrated composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim; it is one of the more famous songs of the twentieth century. He wrote Bridges with Milton Nascimento and Yesterday I Heard The Rain with Armando Manzaneiro. Those and other Lees songs have been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee (one of Gene’s favorite singers and best friends), Tony Bennett, and hundreds of other singers and jazz instrumentalists. Three of his lyrics are included in Reading Lyrics: More Than 1,000 of the Century's Finest Lyrics, edited and with an introduction by Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimball. The Lees lyrics included in the book are Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars, Waltz For Debby which he wrote with brilliant jazz pianist and composer, Bill Evans, and The Right To Love with music by Lalo Schifrin.
In 2004, Gene received his fifth ASCAP award; The Timothy White Award for Outstanding Musical Biography for Portrait of Johnny: The Life of John Herndon Mercer. In the same year he opened his home to two different film crews; one from Brazil and the other from the BBC. Both crews were after the same subjects: jazz and Jobim.
In the Fall of 2005 he sat patiently while a reporter from the Parisian magazine Jazzman, interviewed him for several hours. The resulting article is a paean to Gene. (At Home ...with Gene Lees, Décembre 2005, #119.) He is celebrated in France for his contributions to jazz and also for his songwriting with Charles Aznavour. Gene adapted some of Aznavour’s songs into English; Paris Is At Her Best In May, For Me, Formidable and Venice Blue. Gene also wrote much of the material that was featured in Aznavour’s first Broadway solo concert, The World of Charles Aznavour, 1965.
In 2004 Gene published his second novel, Song Lake Summer in the Jazzletter, his own magazine which he publishes twelve times a year and exclusively writes for.
Gene founded the Jazzletter in 1981, devoting it to history and biography. He’d earned enough money with The Modern Rhyming Dictionary: How to Write Lyrics (Cherry Lane, 1981), that he didn’t have to work for anybody else. He sent letters to all the musicians he knew and "asked if they’d be interested in this magazine and I had a tremendous response." The Jazzletter, begun on a typewriter, "would not have survived had it not been moved to a computer. I got my first computer in 1984." Seven volumes of Jazzletter essays have been published by Oxford University Press, Yale University Press, and Cassell. No other publication in jazz history has produced as many anthologies and the magazine is still going strong after twenty-five years without a single advertisement.
In the summer of 2005, Gene become so excited about his article on Artie Shaw for the Jazzletter, he's expanded that writing into his eighteenth book and is almost finished with it. At the beginning of March 2006 he "got a groove going" with his writing on Shaw and has to "consciously stop myself in the evening after pounding out three thousand words during the day. I have to consciously pull myself away from the work and tell myself to ‘relax, rest, you’ve done enough for the day.’
"For people who are artists," he told me, "the work is the life. It defines and justifies your very existence. If you’re not actively doing a project you’re nothing in your own mind. You can’t retire from it. There is no way out. You are your work. You’re life is defined by it."
I told Gene that in the early 1980s my father visited Irving Berlin, then in his nineties. Josh had directed This Is The Army, Annie Get Your Gun and Mr. President with songs by Mr. Berlin and they were good friends. Pop came home shaking his head. "He doesn’t think he’s written anything important." I was incredulous. Irving Berlin doesn’t think he’s written anything important? Gene explained, "Mr. Berlin was likely depressed because he hadn’t done anything lately." As it happened Mr. Berlin hadn’t written a new song in twenty years. Gene said when an artist is not doing his art he agonizes over the questions "who am I really and what is the point of life?"
On February 17th, nine days after his 78th birthday, Gene sat in the control booth of Capitol Records’ Studio A, "one of the best recording studios in the world, "as coproducer for an album of classical music written by his friend, composer and arranger, Claus Ogerman. The four pieces, Nightwings, Prelude and Chant, Sarabande-Fantasie and Concerto Lirico, originally composed for violin and orchestra, were recorded in duet by world renowned pianist, Jean-Yves Thibaudet who Gene feels is "one of the truly great pianists of our time" and Gene’s brilliant young protégé, violinist Yué Deng. The recording was done for Decca Records. (http://www.deccaclassics.com)
Gene Lees is the only person I know who’s tweaked a Pope’s poems and been praised by said Pope for his efforts. In 1984 Gene was approached by the record producer, Gigi Campi, to set the late Pope Paul II’s poems to new music. Mr. Campi had read Gene’s The Modern Rhyming Dictionary: How to Write Lyrics and felt he was the man for the job. Gene was very reluctant to do it at all. "The translation of foreign lyrics is nearly impossible because you cannot possibly make a verbatim translation that will fit the music, and you also lose the rhymes."
The poems were written by the Pope in the late 1940s when he was a young priest in Krakow; the original Polish had been translated into Italian and some of the Italian translations were set to music. Gene "read the poems in English, French, Spanish and Italian," languages he is fluent in, "and found variance in all of them. Nothing ultimately can be translated," he told me. Gene thought "I don’t want to write what the Italians think the Pope said," so he did what he always does, he consulted an expert: Gene contacted the distinguished Polish film composer, Bronislau Kaper. (Mr. Kaper cowrote the words and music to the song Hi-lili Hi-lo with Helen Deutsch and his film scores include Green Dolphin Street, Butterfield 8, and Somebody Up There Likes Me.)
Gene spent an afternoon at Mr. Kaper’s home in Los Angeles while the composer explained exactly what the Polish words meant. Gene made crude but accurate translations; then Gene constructed lyrics, using his own translations of the Pope’s poems. After he’d done that he wrote two original lyrics to bookend the project: The Mystery of Man which opened the evening and Let It Live which closed it. The songs were to be sung by Sarah Vaughan with a full orchestra in front of a live audience at the Tonhalle, in Dusseldorf, on June 30th, 1984. As well, the performance was being filmed for television.
When Miss Vaughan arrived in Dusseldorf, barely four days before the live performance, she didn’t know the songs. "She had a tremendous technique," Gene explained, "and like all people with big techniques, she trusted it, so consequently she hadn’t learned the material. But this stuff was difficult and when she saw the music and heard it, it scared the hell out of her." She learned the music because Gene rehearsed her every moment right up until she put on her beaded gown and stepped out onto the stage; she was pitch perfect, faultless and magnificent. I’ve listened to the live recording and heard the thunderous applause afterward.
When the Pope saw the television broadcast, he turned to his aide and said, "I am only an amateur - this man is an artist."
In the last few years, Gene has been slowly and often painfully recovering from a list of ailments including open heart surgery. Because of this, Gene’s friend, the Canadian conductor, arranger and composer, Marc Fortier, wanted to have a birthday tribute written about Gene. "I want him to know how loved he is now," Marc told me.
Both Marc and Gene deeply mourned the loss of their great friend, composer, conductor, musical arranger and trumpet player, Robert Farnon in April, 2005. When I contacted him for this article, Johnny Mandel told me "I stole everything from Farnon." Gene said "Everyone stole from Farnon. And Mandel often says ‘what I know of orchestration is what I tried to steal from Farnon.’"
"I’ve done my best prolific writing on Scotch," Gene once told me, "and my best hangouts with Farnon were on Scotch."
"Growing up in Canada," Gene said, "I had this overwhelming feeling that nobody Canadian could do anything. I was listening to Farnon records one day and was astounded to learn he was Canadian. I was working for the Montréal Star in 1954 and going to Europe. I wrote to Farnon and arranged to meet him in London. We became immediate friends. For years I tried to get Canadian publications to write about him and they always said no. Canadians don’t recognize Canadians. Of course, Bob went to England for the orchestras, which, at the time he left Canada didn’t exist there. He’s got a lyrical melodic sense that’s unsurpassed. He wrote richly romantic music without sinking into the saccharine. Farnon had exquisite taste."
Gene introduced me to Mr. Farnon’s music by playing his score for the 1951 film, Captain Horatio Hornblower starring Gregory Peck. Then he played Farnon’s arrangement of À La Claire Fontaine. "Bob wrote that arrangement when WWII ended. He thought it would be nice to get back to peace time. He wrote it for himself. Marc Fortier calls it a ‘tone poem.’ Farnon took a wisp of a beloved phrase of music and created a masterpiece. Marc played that arrangement at a luncheon for Canadian composers and they all wept when they heard it."
In Gene’s article on Artie Shaw, [Jazzletter, Vol. 23, No. 6] he wrote: "When you are young, in any generation, major public names surround you like great trees. When you grow older, and start losing friends, one day you realize that you don’t have many left. And then there is another dark revelation: even those famous figures are going, and one day it comes to you: They’re clear-cutting the landscape of your life."
I happen to know Gene was writing that article around the time he lost three of his friends, one on top of the other, and the world lost three great film composers; Jerry Goldsmith in July, Elmer Bernstein and Dave Raksin, both in the same week in August, 2004.
If The Russia House is showing on television and I’m visiting the Lees, Gene will holler for me to come into his room and listen to the hauntingly beautiful score by Jerry Goldsmith, featuring Branford Marsalis on saxophone.
Gene is always teaching me something. He’s said to me, more than once, "You are my target audience, Harrigan. As a child of ‘the Beatle generation,’" a phrase he practically spits out it’s so distasteful to him, "you know absolutely nothing about good music." Then he’ll look at me as if he’s just sucked a lemon.
I might weakly mention how much it meant to me to listen to Joni Mitchell or Marvin Gaye when I was a kid, and whether he likes it or not I adore John Lennon with or without The Beatles, but these admissions of my early musical influences move Gene Lees not one whit.
My musical knowledge is assuredly a drop in Gene Lees’ musical bucket and my comprehension is unschooled. Gene knows what he’s listening to; he can read the score, analyze whether or not the music is exquisite, place it in historical context, understand the harmony, recognize the quality of the playing and compare it to the best or worst musicians who ever played which instrument.
My lack of good musical knowledge is redeemed in Gene’s eyes by the kindness of two members of my family who took the time to educate me. My older brother, Tom, has been passionate about jazz since he was a child and he took me to listen to the music every chance he could.
We were underage children when we went to Shelly’s Manhole in Los Angeles to hear Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock. I asked Gene why Mr. Davis kept leaving the stage every so often and then returning after half an hour or so. Was he doing drugs off stage? Gene enlightened me; "He left the stage because he didn’t want to attract attention away from the soloists. Miles knew the audience would keep staring at him even if he wasn’t playing, which they did, because he was so magnetic. He also didn’t want to look stupid with his horn hanging down. Miles would sometimes just go over to the bar and have a brandy. He did that with me. Sometimes we’d just sit at the bar together, talking and drinking brandies. One night Miles walked up behind me and pulled my curly hair. He said ‘you ain’t no ofay’ which is pig latin for foe’ meaning white. The word ‘honkey’ has replaced ‘ofay.’ I liked Miles. And I liked him a lot. Miles was funny and sardonic and dry and sarcastic. He could be an absolute delight."
My second redemptive musical heritage is that my father taught me the songs of Lorenz Hart, Kurt Weill and other giants of the theatre from babyhood, and that early training instilled in me a lifelong love of great lyrics and beautiful melodies. Gene began teaching my father, Joshua Logan, about jazz when they worked together on a musical play and Josh taught Gene about musicals. Josh thought Gene was one of the greatest lyricists there’s ever been. In a recent article for the Jazzletter, Gene referred to my father as, "my late friend and great mentor."
(Josh received a Pulitzer Prize for South Pacific, which he cowrote with Oscar Hammerstein, II. He directed, wrote and/or produced thirty-three Broadway productions; sixteen musicals, seventeen dramatic plays. Half of Josh's work in the theatre was produced before The American Theatre Wing's Tony award was created in 1947, including Annie Get Your Gun (1946). The Broadway plays Josh either wrote, produced and/or directed after 1947 were nominated for forty Tonys and collected twenty-eight trophies. He personally received eleven nominations and took home nine. In The New York Times Book of Broadway, edited by Ben Brantley, two of his plays are listed in the chapter The Unforgettable Productions of the Century. He wrote/produced and/or directed ten films which received a total of thirty-six Academy Award nominations and eleven wins; Picnic, Bus Stop, Sayonara, South Pacific, Mister Roberts, Fanny and Camelot. Six of his films are included in The New York Times Guide to the Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made.)
The musical Gene and Josh worked on in 1973 was called Jonathan Wilde; it was based on the novel by Henry Fielding who also wrote Tom Jones. The play was produced by Roger L. Stevens and two inexperienced authors were attached to the libretto. Wilde was never presented onstage not because the songs by Gene and Lalo Schiffrin weren’t great, and not because they hadn’t raised all the money; in a single backer’s audition at Josh’s apartment in New York City they raised over eight million dollars which, in 1973 dollars, was a gigantic sum. So they had the script, the songs and the money but it still couldn’t be produced because the original authors wouldn’t give up their claim to the public domain story of Jonathan Wilde so Gene and Josh could go ahead with their own production.
Over the course of the two years they worked together their friendship grew, which is no surprise, as they are mirror images of each other. We haven’t yet found a single instance where they disagree. On anything. Just the other day I told Gene that my father was bored silly when it came to sports and Gene clutched his stomach in a hearty guffaw. "Me too, me too. The minute anyone says let’s turn on the ball game I’m out of there." Then he shook his head in amazement.
"My God, Harrigan, is there anything Josh and I are not alike in?"
"No," I replied. They are so alike I call Gene, "Josh Jr."
By a wonderful circuitous route of happenstance, Gene telephoned me out of the blue in September 2003. He wanted me to know he’d known my father and had some great stories to tell about him. Gene does things like that. Easily. He is a man of action. In his world there is no time like the present. No second thoughts--do.
I adored Gene Lees the moment I spoke with him on the telephone. Here was my Pop all over again. Gene has the same wit, warmth, charm, hilarity and mental radiance and is as chock full of stories as Josh was. When my father died in 1988 I thought all the light in the world dimmed. The giant soul that was Josh was gone and everyone in the world seemed small by comparison--until I met Gene.
On a recent evening, Gene looked at me across his dining table and made the following pronouncement: "While you were away at school, I knew your father well. For more than a year I worked closely with him. Saw him practically every day. And in the years afterwards we talked on the phone every now and then or exchanged letters. As far as I’m concerned, that makes you family."
He repeated "that makes you," and then he paused and fixed me with a laser beam stare, "fa-mi-ly."
I was touched to hear these words from someone I care for so dearly. As an adopted child I know about making family with people whose blood doesn’t course through my veins. It's simple. People are family if they are in your heart, if life is unimaginable without them, if you’re a better person for knowing them, if you can share your secrets and weather disasters together and still know you are loved. Gene and Janet Lees felt like family to me from our very first phone call. We chattered together like clucking hens, overlapping sentences, interrupting each other’s stories, telling tales about those departed and those still here, laughing heartily every few minutes. A few months later, Janet left a message on my machine, "have Christmas dinner with us."
Gene and Janet Lees reside in the small Southern California town that Frank Capra chose as his setting for Shangri La in his 1937 film, Lost Horizon. Ojai is populated with artists, musicians, writers, spiritual seekers and health spas and the Lees have lived in their graceful home for twenty years. Just down the road is Gene’s dear friend, Roger Kellaway; "the greatest jazz pianist I’ve ever heard and certainly the finest musician with whom I’ve ever written songs."
I was very nervous to meet the Lees, needlessly, as it turned out. I’d parked my car in their circular driveway which is surrounded by oak and eucalyptus trees, walked the gravel path past night blooming jasmine and cautiously stepped into their gracious living room proffering a holiday Poinsettia. I was warmly and winningly embraced from the first "how do you do."
I’d sat in front of a ceiling high Christmas tree that Janet had decorated with glittering ornaments, twinkling lights, mauve satin bows and a host of porcelain angels, basking in the warmth of scintillating, hilarious conversation, feeling right at home. Their behavior was what I’d come to know as parental: a couple in their seventies who’d lived exciting lives, were chock full of insights and anecdotes about extraordinary artists they’d known and worked with, possessed of passionate opinions on everything and ecstatic appreciation of anything that is the very best. Gene has lately decided that Laurence Olivier is better than he thought and taken to quoting Shakespeare at length.
"When you talk about writing, Harrigan," Gene said, "you never even mention Shakespeare. He’s out of the equation. There’s Shakespeare and then there’s everybody else."
Just the other evening Gene told me Shakespeare was his God. He doesn’t care about the plots and stories so much as the language. "I can open up to any page and be gone for half an hour," he said. His favorite play is Hamlet.
"Words have always been crucial to you," I say.
"No, " he said, "not really. Words don’t hold that great an interest for me."
"Yes they do," I insist. "You’re a stickler for exact usage."
"Well, yes, that’s true. Exact usage is essential. I keep The American Heritage dictionary beside me at all times."
"And you’re studying Latin now and learning the roots of words," I keep going.
"Well, of course, that fascinates me," he agreed. "I would also like to study Greek" he said, "because it’s the true root language," which I didn’t know.
"So it’s clear that words are essential to you," I finish, while he pours himself a glass of wine.
For all of his accomplishments, Gene Lees is unimpressed about what he can do and what he has done. He doesn’t think whatever he does is particularly remarkable. No one buys it, of course. Thornton Wilder addressed unassumingness in brilliance in his novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey. In describing his character, the Marquesa de Montemayor, who wrote masses of letters to an estranged daughter, Wilder wrote, "The Marquesa would have been astonished to learn that her letters were very good, for such authors live always in the noble weather of their own minds and those productions which seem remarkable to us are little better than a day’s routine to them."
In other words, great people don’t know they’re great because being great is natural to them. That’s Gene. Great, and doesn’t know it.
Early years in Canada
Eugene Frederick John Lees was born in Hamilton, Ontario on February 8, 1928. Gene was born under the sign of Aquarius which reminds me of the song Age of Aquarius from the 1968 musical Hair, a play that both Gene and Johnny Mercer absolutely hated. Gene thought it was "musically cretinous." They’d gone to see it together and after a few bars of the opening song, Aquarius, Mercer turned to Gene and said, "let’s go" and they left.
Gene, his three siblings and all his cousins are first generation Canadians; his parents and grandparents were born in England. His paternal grandfather, Jack Lees, was a coal miner born in Taunton-under-lynne, Lancashire. He married Elizabeth Haslam, also from Lancashire.
Gene’s grandparents and their four children emigrated to Canada in 1919 because of the collapse of the coal industry in Britain; one of the children was Gene’s father, Harold.
Harold Lees, no middle name, was born in 1901 and "went to work at age thirteen in a cotton mill in Lancashire. He went into a coal mine when he was fourteen or fifteen. He was a talented painter (like Gene), studied music (like Gene), and played the violin. He practiced his fingering on his shovel when he was working in the mines." Gene has never been in a coal mine in his life but he has "a brain full of images of what it was like" from talking with his father.
Gene’s maternal grandfather was Fred Flatman, a gifted ironworker, who was born in London and married there. His wife was Lillian Gillard, originally from Bristol. They emigrated to Canada around 1905 or thereabouts. Gene’s mother, Dorothy Flatman, was born in England, as were all her siblings. Gene has a notion the Flatmans’ emigration had something to do with Fred’s radical politics. "It was my grandfather’s politics that got him into trouble. He was very left wing."
The Flatmans settled in Hamilton, Ontario. When I asked Gene if Hamilton was beautiful he replied, "no, not particularly. It is a cotton mill and steel town. An industrial town that sits on Lake Ontario." Toronto, Hamilton, Buffalo and Rochester are located within a hundred-mile radius.
Fred Flatman was one of the great decorative iron workers and made the georgous wrought iron gates that hang at the Oakes Garden Theatre in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and the gates in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton. He was active politically and was one of the organizers the Westinghouse strike of WWI. He was a member of the Independent Labour Party which grew in power during the war years.
Fred Flatman was a great orator (like Gene.) He founded a newspaper (like Gene.) He adored Gene and Gene adored him. Some of the cousins hated Mr. Flatman because he had a violent temper (as Gene has sometimes.) Gene can’t ever remember his grandfather having a meal without a book. He was partially deaf and used to turn off his hearing aide (like Gene tunes out whenever he feels like it.) He remembers his grandfather once put a bowl of eggs on Gene’s high chair and allowed the baby to throw them all on the floor.
During the 1920s, Harold Lees played violin in a theatre pit band. "In those days many of the theatres had full orchestras. The idea that silent films were only accompanied by piano is incorrect. In fact the picture arrived with orchestra parts. Hugo Friedhofer taught me this."
Hugo Friedhofer, born in 1901, was a renowned film composer with more than two hundred and fifty film scores to his credit (The Best Years of Our Lives, The Bishop’s Wife, The Sun Also Rises, etc.) He and Gene became friends in 1959 when Gene was the editor of Down Beat. Two of Gene’s favorite Friedhofer scores are Boy on a Dolphin, the 1957 film that made Sophia Loren an international movie star, and One-Eyed Jacks, the 1961 film starring and directed by Marlon Brando.
One-Eyed Jacks is a Western that, to Gene, is still frustratingly underrated, an opinion shared by Francis Ford Coppola. Mr. Friedhofer once told Gene, "I have known two men of genius in this town--Orson Welles and Marlon Brando--and Hollywood, not knowing what to do with genius, destroys it."
Harold Lees, violinist, met Harry Flatman, trombonist, in one of the orchestras for silent films and introduced Gene’s parents. Harold Lees and Dorothy Flatman met and married in 1927 and rented a house in Hamilton. Gene was born at home but it was a breach birth and he was badly damaged. They tried to crush his skull in order to deliver him and when they’d done that they threw him on the bed convinced that he wouldn’t live. His grandmother, Lillian Flatman, insisted, "he will live." She would daily massage Gene’s head with olive oil and squeeze it like sculpture until it got back into normal shape. Lillian was Gene’s guardian angel. She literally saved his life at birth and was one of the lights of his childhood. He remembers "she always had a full refrigerator and all kinds of canned food in the basement. Her house was replete with food" which was a relief compared to the continuous lack in the Lees household.
Gene is the eldest of four: Patricia, four years younger, passed away in 1990. When she was in her forties, Patricia Lees finished and graduated from high school, then took some college courses. She become a writer and did some editing and reporting for one of the local newspapers in Fergus, Ontario.
Dr. Victoria Lees, sixteen years younger than Gene, is the former Secretary General of Montréal’s McGill University. Dr. Lees is an expert in medieval English literature and is often her brother’s research assistant.
The youngest child by eighteen years, David Lees, is an award-winning science writer in Canada. All three siblings became writers under Gene’s influence. Gene smiles when he thinks of them; "the family is witty," he admits.
Gene recalls that "we were all treated very badly [as children] regarding never having enough money for books and schooling. I had to work in the paper mills during the summer and bring my pay home to the family, which I resented, because I still didn’t have enough to get by on. And there was no need for stinting. There was actually enough to go round, but it never did. My parents were not good to us; yes, we had vitamins and the bare necessities, but as far as any emotional nurturing, forget it. My mother gave none of us any confidence and I have never fully recovered from that. Everything I have ever done has been against a wind of self-doubt blowing in my face."
His first baby utterance was the complete sentence, "leave me alone" and he has not swerved from that desire in seventy-eight years. Regardless of the fact that he is a marvelous story teller and capable of generating hilarity in any social gathering (if he feels like it,) "leave me alone" is his core desire because he is always creating something in his giant mind - a book, a song, an article - and that constant creative activity requires solitude. He needs to be alone to "hear himself think."
I often see Gene sitting peacefully in his chair at his dining table which is his favorite perch. He gazes sometimes for hours, through a wall of windows onto a view he fashioned with his own hands; the fence on the right side of the swimming pool, the bougainvillea around it which are now thirty feet tall and hang in graceful arches of purple, pink and white, the palm tree at the foot of the pool and the lavender bushes beside it, and Janet put in a dozen pink and white rose bushes on the left side to complete the rectangle. Gene will sit serenely in his chair, thinking, reading and socializing, but mostly gazing wordlessly into the beyond forming phrases in his mind that are eventually typed into his computer.
Although Gene was blessed with a giant intellect it separated him from the other children; he told me "being brilliant was humiliating." For all his intelligence he "was a lousy student. Terrible. My parents were so disturbed by my poor showing in school they took me to a psychiatrist when I was twelve. I was given an IQ test and the doctor said, ‘the trouble with this boy is he’s bored.’
"Radio was a huge influence on me. Stamford, Ontario was only five miles from the American border and I’d listen to WBEN, Buffalo, WKBW, WHAM in Rochester, all the American network on radio. Most of what you listened to was live. I remember Jack Benny, Fred Allen, and especially Duffy’s Tavern which was written by Larry Gelbart. Duffy’s was based on McSorley’s Saloon. Forty years later, when I met Larry Gelbart, I blew his mind by reciting whole segments of that show for him. He couldn’t believe I used to listen to it and actually remembered it.
"The Metropolitan Opera broadcast every Saturday afternoon. My grandmother would never miss that. The Service Gasoline Company and Firestone Tires subsidized orchestras. Artie Shaw was on staff for CBS. The Bell Telephone Hour had Donald Voorhes conducting their orchestra. All the live comedy shows always had an orchestra. Fibber McGee and Molly had an orchestra on the show. The Billy Mills orchestra would play theme music and spots in between. I could pick out the guitarist. I was particularly struck by the rhythm section which turned out to be Perry Botkin."
"Johnny Mercer’s Music Shop had to perform twice; once for the East coast and once for the West. Jo Stafford told me that after the first show they’d all go out to dinner and have a few drinks so by the time they did the second show they were a whole lot looser.
"I went to the movies as much as I could. You could get into the movies for a nickel. I went every week, regularly. The Royal Theatre in Hamilton.
"I wanted to be a painter when I grew up. I was naturally good at it and it is what I really focused on. I won a scholarship to the Ontario College of Art. I dropped out of High School at seventeen to go."
When Gene went to The Ontario College of Art in September, 1945, "it was full of returning service men. One guy, a navy man, was a brilliant painter. He taught me what under painting was and he taught me about Rembrandt. And I remember there was an old beat up piano in the school and he would play Bach. It was the first time I ever heard Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring. When I listened to Teddy Wilson’s piano, I knew he’d played a lot of Bach."
"When you’re discussing music, Harrigan, there are two people you don’t ever mention because they are Divine. They are not even human: Bach and Mozart. There’s them, and then there’s everybody else.
"They were playing Andy Russell’s Besame Mucho a lot on the radio. He was a great singer on Capitol Records. Some of those people who were far away distant stars of mine eventually became friends in later years. Especially Peggy Lee. I adored Peg."
Gene told me one of the remarkable things about Peggy Lee was how still she stood on the stage. "She was completely motionless. Maybe she’d give a flick of the eye brow or the slight gesture with a finger. The point was that you heard the song. She got out of the way of the song. She let the song happen. I once asked her ‘where do you get the courage to do nothing? And she replied, ‘there is power in stillness.’"
Becoming a writer
"I was in Art School for only a year and a half. What happened is I found myself skipping classes and haunting the Public Library. I read Fitzgerald (I don’t think he wrote a memorable phrase in his life.) I also read Robert E. Sherwood, Eugene O'Neill, the complete works, Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream, a novel I love and John Dos Pasos, another huge influence. The best novelist I’ve ever read is John Steinbeck. Steinbeck is the guy who taught me how to show. Don’t tell, show. Show the external behavior of people and let the reader figure out what it means. I also read Morley Callahan who wrote Now That April’s Here which was a collection of short stories I was enraptured by. He is the best short story writer of our time." Mr. Callahan is also an angel in the life story of Gene Lees.
"I happened to be reading one of his stories that referenced ‘Younge Street’ which is in Toronto. It also referenced ‘Windsor’ making it the city of Ontario, across the river from Detroit. I didn’t think Canadians could achieve anything, that we were inferior to England and the United States. What I did not know was that key Canadians practically created the U.S. movie industry: Max Sennett, Mary Pickford, the Warner brothers from Ontario, and Louis B. Mayer, who always considered himself a Canadian even though he was born in Russia...
"Anyway, I was absolutely enthralled by Callahan’s short stories. I did some research on Morley Callahan and found out he was Canadian which absolutely blew my mind. It occurred to me that if he were Canadian then he might live in Toronto. I picked up a phone book and saw ‘Callahan, Morley, Walmer road.’ I was sharing a room with Harry Harley, who later became a prominent cartoonist, and I got to talking to Harry about this. Harry suggested, ‘why don’t you go and meet him.’ I said, ‘oh, I couldn’t do that.’ But one day, with Harry in tow, I walked up to the door and knocked on it and a man answered the door. I asked ‘sir, are you Morley Callahan?’ ‘Yes, I am,’ he replied. ‘Sir, I think I want to be a writer.’ ‘Well, I’d invite you in but my son has the mumps. There’s a restaurant called the Varsity, and if you go down there and wait for me, I’ll join you in twenty minutes’
"He talked with us for three or four hours. The one thing I remember he told me is, ‘the only thing you can do about writing is to keep doing it until you get it right.’
"The worst advice given to writers is ‘write about what you know about.’ That’s bull----. Learn what you want to write about.
"That meeting with Morley was the turning point in my life. The fact that this man of towering stature took the time to talk to me, changed my life.
"The year was 1947. I went home at Christmas and my mother actually had insight into me. She said, ‘you don’t want to go back to school, do you?’ I said no, so she said ‘then don’t.’"
"My mother was stupefyingly well read (like Gene). She could quote Wordsworth by the yard, also Walt Whitman and Robert Frost."
Inspired by Callahan, Gene wrote his first novel. "The authority on William Blake is Northrop Frye. He’d published the book Fearful Symmetry (1947)which was an analysis of all of Blake’s writing. My friend, Bill Mather was studying with Frye and I’d written a novel I would sell my soul to get a copy of, incidentally. Bill encouraged me to show it to Frye. I went up to Frye’s office. I was tremulous at meeting the great man. I sat down and I gave him the manuscript and he said, ‘yes, I’ll read it.’
"And he did and he taught me another great lesson. ‘Some of this is very good,’ he said. ‘Some of it is ordinary. If it were entirely ordinary, you could sell it. But unfortunately, what is good shows up what is ordinary.’
"From that moment I never let up on my writing. From 1948 I’ve tried to keep it all at a high level. Don’t ever get lazy.
"My mother knew Lady Hendrie of the Hendrie truck company because my grandfather had built the gates in front of their mansion. She called Mr. Hendrie who arranged for me to have an interview at the Hamilton Spectator with the city editor, Frank Keene. There is no law that says the city editor has to be Irish, but it helps.
"I went down there wanting to be a copy boy. He interviewed me for a while. He said, ‘OK, come in Monday at 9 o’clock.’ So I went in and discovered I was assigned to be a reporter. My assignment was sitting on my desk: it was a photograph with information attached as to where it came from, with the caption 2 col. cutlines. I had no idea what that meant. I was sitting next to a guy out of the Air Force named Ray Blair. I said ‘Ray, what does this mean?’ He said ‘Caption for this picture. You write in capital letters two or three words marked bold face about the subject.’ That was the only lesson in journalism I ever had. I was a reporter from then on.
"Somewhere in my early newspaper days I trained myself not to arrive at a conclusion because I wanted to but to arrive at a conclusion I disliked. If I let it get too emotional, I lose control of the material. It’s the same with writing lyrics. Your way into a lyric is not to let any emotion into it.
"There are two major serious errors a writer can make: to assume ignorance on the part of the reader and to assume knowledge on the part of the reader. The trick is to teach the reader without letting them, him, or her, know it. When I was a young reporter and I would be sent to cover a story I didn’t understand, I had no problem telling people, ‘I don’t understand anything.’ The person who doesn’t know often does better work than someone who does. The person who does know takes knowledge for granted. The one who doesn’t has to research it.
"In 1955 I was at the Montréal Star. The editor was George V. Ferguson, who had once been a Canadian delegate to the United Nations. He was a very distinguished and fine man. I went in to see him and told him I wanted to leave Montreal.
"In those years, artistically, Canada was very restricting. For instance, you couldn’t make a big orchestral recording in Canada like Farnon did in England. The publishing industry was very small. There was no movie industry. The theatre, back then, came in from England or the States. I wanted greener pastures. Nowadays it’s different: Norman Jewison still lives in Canada and Donald Sutherland does. But Canadian artists generally come to America. (Mary Pickford, Colleen Dewhurst, Raymond Burr, William Shatner, Peter Jennings, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Dan Aykroyd, Michael J. Fox, Céline Dion, Jim Carrey, Mike Meyers, Shania Twain, etc.)
"Ferguson said, ‘where do you want to go?’ I said, ‘England or the States.’ He advised ‘go to the states. They pay better.’ I asked him if he would write me a letter of recommendation and he did better than that. He wrote applications to all kinds of American newspapers and I got five offers. Two were from the Washington Post and the Louisville Times. I took Louisville because they wanted a music editor and I knew music.
"I’d never been south of New York City. I was shocked by the fact of segregation and on the other hand I was astonished by the warmth and kindness and generosity of Americans. One of the first stories I was sent on was to do color stories at the Kentucky Derby. I was very good at reporting atmospheric stories. So I’m sitting in the press box next to a gentlemen who looks kind of familiar. After a little while I said, ‘how do you do sir, my name’s Gene Lees.’ He said, ‘how do you do, my name’s Bill Faulkner.’" It was an auspicious start to life in the United States.
Gene originally went to Louisville to be the music editor. "I was part-time music and part-time general assignment. Then it became full-time drama, and then I was handed the entire arts section of the paper. I covered ballet, the symphony, opera (which I don’t particularly care for but I had to be fair about it.) I like Puccini, Bizet and Mozart; all the connoisseurs will cut my head off but I don’t like Verdi and I don’t like Wagner."
Gene once sent me into paroxysms of laughter when he quoted Mark Twin’s quip, "Wagner’s music isn’t as bad as it sounds." And "you know," Gene said at the time, "it isn’t as bad as it sounds" making me laugh even harder.
"All the people I was covering, major pianists, conductors, movie actresses, Alan Ladd, James Stewart, Larry Parks, I met a lot of them. I was able to discuss movies with them. Not reading it out of a book but discussing it with them. One of the first things I asked Josh about was the scene where Brando discovers the bodies in Sayonara. And how the music scene in Picnic was done. I’d ask him all kinds of things like that. How did that happen, and this. You can’t get it from books.
"I met Nat King Cole for the first and only time in Louisville. I spent the whole day with him. We met in his hotel room and had lunch. He was very gracious. Always was--to everybody--famous for it. It was only later that I realized we’d never have been allowed in the hotel restaurant and he knew it and wasn’t going to make an issue of it."
Gene said to me, "you probably only think of Nat Cole as a singer, Harrigan, but he was also a great jazz pianist. He influenced every piano player who came after him--Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Roger Kellaway. He had an exquisite touch and fabulously good time. I’ve said this many times: if I could be reincarnated I would come back as Nat Cole, the pianist."
Eventually I left the Louisville Times because I got into a row with the managing editor.
"I had lunch with a friend who was a press agent from Disney. He told me Down Beat had two openings: editor and New York editor which was was Nat Hentoff’s job and he was leaving. I wanted Nat’s job and to move to New York. The PR man picked up the phone and called Down Beat and then handed the phone to me. ‘Can you come up here this weekend and see us?’ they asked. I flew up to Chicago on a Saturday and a week later I was the editor for Down Beat. I knew a lot about jazz."
jazz & Jobim
"I’d studied music as a kid. Various instruments. I hated practicing, however, and so do a lot of musicians. Roger Kellaway hates practicing. Bill Evans hated practicing. I’ve know few major jazz pianists who like to practice except Oscar Peterson. He actually likes practicing."
"I grew up surrounded by Beethoven and by jazz. I was drenched in drums and a little later, Stravinsky. I started listening to jazz on the radio, although at the time, we didn’t know it was jazz."
At the risk of causing a collective sigh heard round the world, I asked Gene what exactly is jazz?
"Jazz is a particular form of music that originated in the United States which puts down a steady and specific pulse over which the rest of the music occurs. The rest of the music is syncopated. It’s off the center of the beat, unlike classical music. Duke Ellington’s song, It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing is literally true. To me, the beat is essential in jazz. Over that and on top of all of that, it has the wonderful dimension of improvised solos. The thrill is the unpredictability of it. I know people who compare jazz to football, meaning that it’s athletic."
"What is written down?" I ask.
"Sometimes nothing at all. It’s like this. Let’s say five guys get together on a bandstand who’ve never met. One of ‘em says, how about I’ve Got You Under My Skin in D flat? They all know the tunes, they all know the keys. Every jazz musician knows hundreds of tunes and the harmony. It is a myth that they can’t read music. I’ve only known two jazz musicians personally who couldn’t read music: Errol Garner (Misty) and Wes Montgomery. And Bix Beiderbecke, who died when I was three, was a very poor reader. It didn’t hurt them one bit. It’s a myth, coming out of classical music, that the music is all about reading. That’s not true. Music is about sound. Unless somebody’s playing it or listening to it, Beethoven’s Fifth doesn’t exist. The written symphony is only a diagram.
"In May, ‘59 I moved to Chicago, which is my favorite city in the United States. The architecture, the vitality. Carl Sandburg called it the ‘City of Big Shoulders’ because it’s strong. A functioning city. Beautiful neighborhoods, parks, museums. A working town. Not some phony Hollywood town full of movie executives who are all vapid and killers. Down Beat was in the loop and the clubs were in the deep South side, in the Negro neighborhood. What we would now call the ‘black’ neighborhoods."
Gene explained that "the correct word in 1960 was ‘Negro.’ I object to the term ‘African American’ because it excludes Oscar Peterson, Ray Downs and other musicians from other countries."
"When I was in Chicago I lived mostly in the black neighborhoods, as did Dizzy, Oscar, Benny Golson and Art Farmer. Chicago had a substantial jazz movement of its own. I knew them all personally as friends: Johnny Pate, Lurlean Hunger (singer), Eddie Harris, Johnny Griffin. They later became famous but there was a whole Chicago cadre of fine musicians. I’d go to sit at the bar and just listen. Sometimes I’d write reviews and do interviews. I’d listen and hang out. That’s where my books come from. And the Jazzletter. All in the space of three years. Within six months I knew them all--Buddy Rich, Jerry Mulligan--and in three years I knew them all well. My whole life flows out of Chicago. There are still a lot of musicians in Chicago who think of me as a Chicago boy. It was a formative period of my life. Chicago and Paris."
"I left Down Beat because they wanted to fire our Art Director, Bob Billings, and I wouldn’t do it. I wrote my resignation in the form of a song called It’s National F___ Your Buddy Week.
"At the end of 1961 I went on a State Department tour of South America with the Paul Winter Sextet. I wanted to go because I’d heard Joâo Gilberto and knew some of the songs and I wanted to meet Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. When we arrived in Rio de Janeiro I got their number and called up. I went to a rehearsal at Jobim’s house and he and I got drunk, and we got drunk many times after that.
"I had been experimenting with lyrics, but not professionally. I told Jobim that his songs could be done in English and I showed him what could be done. He immediately gave the songs I’d written in English to publishers in New York. I wrote Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars [Corcovado] on a bus going to Belo Horizonte [northwest of Rio de Janeiro] and mailed it back to him in Rio. It was my first professional lyric.
"The bossa nova was an aberration. The fact that it was a hit in the 1960s is proof that in the middle of all that crap that if they were exposed to it, people would embrace what is good."
"When I got back to the States from South America I lived in New York. It was a rough, grim and desperate time of my life.
"I had no money and no one would hire me. I was living at the YMCA. It was a time of humiliation and being broke. But I got an agent and he sold my novel, And Sleep Until Noon, [about an expatriate singer from the States in Paris, begun when Gene was in France in 1958], which I hate, by the way. Then the first recordings of my songs started to happen. I got a substantial advance from BMI. My song with Bill Evans, Waltz For Debby, became a hit, and my songs with Jobim were being widely recorded (Song of the Jet, Dreamer.) Another adaptation of a Jobim song, Someone to Light Up My Life, became a standard."
In the winter of 1968, just before Christmas, Gene met his wife, Janet. Gene was living on West 86th Street between Central Park West and Columbus. Janet was staying in a friend’s apartment on Central Park South. She had written a musical play, Morning After Carnival, which involved Brazilian music and she needed a lyricist in the first act. A friend of Janet’s who’d read the play, raved about it to a vice president at BMI. The vice president said, "there is only one lyricist I would recommend: Gene Lees."
Gene called Janet after he’d been contacted by BMI. Janet was going out that night and told her date they just had to drop off her script to "this writer," and then they’d go on to dinner. When they arrived at Gene’s apartment building on West 86th street, they happened to all meet in the lobby. Gene told me that when he first laid eyes on Janet he "nearly fainted because she was so beautiful. I remember seeing her in the doorway of my building and she was so georgous I actually became weak in the knees. I was afraid I was going to pass out."
Janet is descended from the Hazelius family of Sweden, who built the Nordic Museum and the first open-air museum, Skansen, in Stockholm. Her mother was a member of the Ballets Russe de Monte Carlo. In the 1920s she went to Hollywood to visit her Aunt Rose Hazelius and soon worked as a dancer in a number of movies. Janet’s father, Lawrence Donald Suttle, was an engineer who helped design the B-29 bomber. After WWII he worked for Ford and Chrysler and then formed his own company where he designed and developed the first turbo steam engine.
Janet majored in theatre at Wayne State University and she and her friends would often go out to hear jazz. Janet remembers that "jazz fans were highly educated, intelligent people" and her crowd was always well dressed as were the musicians, "who wore jackets and looked very Ivy League, very Brooks Brothers, which was the look in the late 1940s and ‘50s. Everything was pretty much segregated at that time except there were what they called, the ‘black and tan clubs’ where all colors could mix." They heard Lockjaw Davis, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Elvin Jones and many others. Charlie Parker used to call her "Miss 101" because she often had her text books with her.
One evening as Janet was leaving a club after the first set was done, she heard a voice, "which could only have belonged to Miles Davis because he had a very distinct voice. ‘Where you going all by yourself?’ he asked.’"
"I’m going to my car. I’ve got an exam tomorrow," Janet replied.
"I’ll walk you to your car." Mr. Davis said and he accompanied her. When she was safely sitting in the driver’s seat, he told her, "I will watch you ‘til you turn onto the freeway and then I’ll know you’re OK."
Gene and Janet Lees have been married since 1971.
As far as Gene is concerned, the definitive version of Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars was recorded by Frank Sinatra: Francis Albert Sinatra & Antonio Carlos Jobim, Reprise Records, 1967, Arranged and conducted by Claus Ogerman. Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars is cut #4.
Gene loves and admires many singers who have influenced his own singing but "when it comes to American popular song in the English speaking language the ones who can deliver a song like none other are Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra.
"He was the best," Gene said. "No one came close to his artistry. The other day Placido Domingo was asked who he felt the greatest artist was in any medium and Domingo replied, ‘Frank Sinatra.’
"Technically," Gene began, "he was superb. His sound; he had a great natural instrument which he constantly trained by swimming underwater to expand his lungs. His voice production; the way he made the sound with his diaphragm, ribcage, and throat. He had a range of two octaves and he was terribly in tune with the musical surroundings and the instruments."
"All our music is played on the tempered scale which is an adjusted scale that is naturally out of tune. But if you get rid of the piano and you have only strings they don’t play the tempered scale, they play the untempered scale. Sinatra sang in relationship to the chord and the sound of the orchestra and whichever scale they were in. The problem in even discussing this technically makes him sound like a cold singer but he wasn’t. There was a dramatic inwardness like some of the very best actors; Clift, Brando, James Dean. He was a Stanislavskian singer. So was Peggy Lee. They sang like truly great acting. Sinatra was an actor of the song. An actor cannot control the muscles of his face by conscious effort. If you want sadness to register you have to feel it and then it will show on your face. Sinatra felt the music like none other. Nobody could surpass it, nobody could get into the emotion of it like Sinatra.
"He found an emotion in my lyric This Happy Madness I didn’t even know was there. He sings it at first like a self-mocking adult ‘I feel that I’ve gone back to childhood and I’m skipping through the wildwood so excited—’ but then he goes into this curious puzzlement, this vulnerable whisper ‘I don’t know what to do.’ It’s breathtaking. Sinatra does difficult songs and tosses them off like there’s nothing to it.
"Miles Davis said ‘it takes a long time to sound like yourself.’ When Frank was with Harry James (c 1939) his version of All or Nothing At All (Cole Porter) sounds mechanical and a little piss-elegant like he’s trying to be British. But as he progresses, when he’s with Tommy Dorsey he’s finding himself; The Song Is You (Jerome Kern) and The Lamplighters Serenade (Hoagy Carmichael, Paul Francis Webster), by then he is sounding like himself but not as much as he is going to sound. His voice really sounds like him on the Columbia recordings after he left Dorsey. There he is inimitable. (1943-1952.) Once he got the mechanics, then he forgot about it. Sinatra had so internalized his lessons. He has no peer."
"I love a lot of singers, actually. But Sinatra is like Shakespeare; there’s him and then there’s everybody else.
"The night before I was going to sit in on the session for Quiet Nights I got a call from Claus Ogerman to come to his hotel room and teach him Change Partners, which I knew by heart (Irving Berlin,1938). Neither Claus nor Jobim knew it and Frank wanted to record it. Claus was staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel in a room that had a piano. I sang that song all night long so he could write the arrangement around me because I sing in the same key as Frank. When we went into the studio the next day they recorded it. It was common then to record three songs a day which is why it only took three days to record the whole album. Nowadays," Gene couldn’t resist adding, "rock ‘n’ roll bands can’t get a decent sound in five hours, much less record three songs."
I had the privilege to know Mr. Sinatra from the time I was a child. He was a friend of my parents and would often come to dinner. I knew him to be a gracious, funny, thoughtful, charming and generous man. He was sweet enough to always say hello to me which, as the child, was very special. When I became a young woman he’d say, "please call me Frank," but I could never do that. Aside from the fact that he was so much older, he was a little bit dazzling even if he was just being himself and I couldn’t bring myself to call that radiant being "Frank," or even "Francis" which is how he sometimes signed his notes.
I remember an important conversation I had with him that bears on the recording session for Quiet Nights. Mr. Sinatra told me that when he was "a kid" he listened to Arturo Toscanini on the radio and dreamed of being a great conductor. He also loved classical music and dreamed of being a great composer. "But," he said, "I knew I’d never be able to write as well as the great composers and I just couldn’t settle for writing anything that wasn’t great. And I didn’t want to split my concentration and just become mediocre in all three areas. I wanted to be great and I knew I could sing, so I decided to concentrate on that." Later he said, "what I love most about singing is the lyrics. That is the most important part of the song to me."
When he was sitting in the sound booth in the recording studio in 1967, Gene could tell the minute Mr. Sinatra walked in. Gene said "I could feel him enter the room."
Mr. Sinatra always had an acute awareness of everything going on around him; who was there and where they were sitting, and he knew Gene was in the control booth because they’d chatted during the course of the session. By knowing the lyricist was in the studio, Mr. Sinatra would have wanted to deliver the song as at no other time and his recording of Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars has a specialness I can feel in my bones; I believe the reason is because Gene was there.
Gene said, "I’d quit smoking at that time but I got so excited about the way he was recording it, I started smoking again." Mr. Sinatra was smoking during the session and you can hear the smoke in his voice. It cracks a little bit on "by quiet streams" and on a "my love."
Mr. Sinatra recorded four songs Gene wrote with Jobim and for Gene, they are definitive; the other three are Someone to Light Up My Life, Desafinado, and This Happy Madness.
Excellence to earnings
Why write about Gene Lees? Why even bother to think about him? Because Gene is the embodiment of greatness and we find ourselves, temporarily, because the pendulum always swings, in an artistically mediocre time. I asked Gene where was the turning point? What happened that we lowered our standards in music, books, theatre, ballet, radio, television, opera and on. Gene said "it happened in the music business in the 1960s. Money became the goal. Record companies switched from excellence to earnings."
When Columbia Records was headed by Goddard Lieberson in the early 1960s, it was a company that offered recordings in all areas of music: popular, country, classical, jazz, theatre and opera. Gene told me "the violinist Joseph Szigeti, said to Tony Bennett, ‘I can record for Columbia records because you record for Columbia.’ Meaning Tony was bringing in enough of a profit for the company that they could also record an artist that didn’t sell as much but was important artistically and essential for the culture. They used to review movies on their merit but now they tell you what the box office returns are instead: we slid from excellence to earnings."
This is the reason to reflect on Gene’s life. He is a standard-bearer; one who exemplifies what is worthwhile, necessary and great about the arts. When it comes to passionately caring about a high level of artistic excellence there’s Gene Lees, and then there’s everybody else.
When we lose our way, as individual artists or as a civilization, we need to be reminded that there exists a high standard, a North Star of art from which to navigate. It is a comfort to know that in a future dark age, the writings and songs of Gene Lees will ever be twinkling from stores and libraries; we can read passages from his books and become inspired to excel, or listen to Mr. Sinatra sing Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars and be restored to the high road again.
I hear Gene’s mantra in my mind, loud and clear; "Keep it all at a high level." This is his gift to the world.
©2006 Harrigan Logan, all rights reserved
BRITISH CHILDREN’S AUTHORS AND LIGHT MUSIC
by Philip L. Scowcroft
For JIM, I have previously traced the connections between light music and Beatrix Potter , Lewis Carroll and J.M.Barrie’s "Peter Pan". But there are many more British authors for young people who have inspired music, usually of the lighter sort and this article is an attempt at a "sweeping up exercise" in that direction.
Several of our authors flourished in the 19th Century. A particularly notable one was R.L.Stevenson, author of those rousing boys’ adventure stories Treasure Island and Kidnapped. Both have been adapted for the stage and screen. The former’s stage versions were in 1973 at the Mermaid Theatre with music by Cyril Ornadel and 1984 at the Birmingham Rep. (music by Denis King), its screen adaptations appeared in 1934,1950,1971,1990 and 1991, by far the most distinguished musically being 1950 – Clifton Parker’s attractive score has been recorded recently. Kidnapped’s stage version (1972) was a folk opera setting with music by the group Steeleye Span ; it had three large screen adaptations, two of them British, in 1959 and 1971, with music by Cedric Thorpe Davie and Roy Budd respectively.
Stevenson’s Child’s Garden of Verse was set by, among others, Frederick Nicholls and Sir Malcolm Williamson; his From a Railway Cottage ("faster than fairies, faster than witches….") has been put to music many times, twice by cathedral organists (Henry Ley and Francis Jackson), and at least twice by composers celebrated for their music for children (Alec Rowley and Carol Barratt)
Charles Kingsley’s The Water Babies was another children’s book to be adapted for stage and screen, the former’s versions including ones by Frederick Rosse (1902) and John Taylor (1973), the large screen Water Babies (1978) had music by Phil Coulter, better known for his song Congratulations.
W.M. Thackeray was one of the earliest British writers specifically for children and his The Rose and the Ring was at least four times the subject of a Christmas season stage musical, in 1890 (music by Walter Slaughter), 1923 ( Robert Cox), 1928 (Christabel Marillier; Malcolm Sargent conducted) and 1964 (John Dalby). Edward Lear’s nonsense poetry, long popular with children, has been set to music many times, especially The Owl and the Pussy Cat. One setting, by the American born Reginald de Koven, was for years a party piece for the Thurnscoe Harmonic Male Voice Choir (South Yorks) and other choral settings of it were made by those giants of light music Haydn Wood and Montague Phillips, and by more serious composers, not least of them Igor Stravinsky! Lear made the musical stage in 1968 with The Owl and the Pussy Cat Went to See… (music by David Wood and Sheila Ruskin) which had enormous success in various productions both provincially and in London.
Rudyard Kipling’s work was by no means entirely for children, but The Jungle Book and Just So Stories undoubtedly are. The latter inspired six songs by Edward German and more recently a children’s operetta and a radio musical. "The Jungle Book"has had a wider influence. Best known of its film adaptations was the 1967 Disney version with a score by the brothers Richard and Robert Sherman though others set some of the songs. Miklos Rossa supplied music in 1942, Basil Poledouris in 1994 and John Scott in 1997. Percy Grainger set much of The Jungle Book as songs and found it rewarding and there were instrumental spin-offs from Cyril Scott and the Frenchman Charles Koechlin. Much of Kipling’s poetry, like the Barrack Room Ballads, was not for children but Elgar set his Big Steamers for unison voices, presumably child ones.
In my article on Beatrix Potter (JIM 167) I stressed the charm of music inspired by her work. The same is at least as true of the music which grew out of the work of Kenneth Grahame and A.A.Milne. The two indeed were associated in the musical play "Toad of Toad Hall", Milne’s adaptation of Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows which opened at London’s Lyric Theatre in December 1930 and was subsequently revived seasonally, even into the 1980’s, and also on T.V. The music was by Harold Fraser-Simson whose slender but nevertheless real, talent was ideally suited to music for children. He set some of the poems in the Alice books and many more of Milne’s children’s poetry,about sixty songs in all – Hums of Pooh, When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six. Others, like Henry Walford Davies, tried their hands at Milne but never approached the charm of Fraser-Simson. Later versions of Pooh had music by the Sherman brothers, already noted and Julian Slade; latterday music includes that by John Gould for Pooh audiobooks and the Grade 1 Associated Board piano piece Eeyore’s March by Timothy Jackson.
Many have had a go at stage versions of The Wind in the Willows. Apart from Toad of Toad Hall these have mostly come since 1980, by Michael Howlett, David Raksin, Derek Taverner, Denis King, John Rutter, Piers Chater Robinson, Jeremy Sams, Pam Hilton and Peter Lawson (there may be others). Individual songs have been set down the years, like Michael Head’s Carol of the Field Mice and also Duck’s Ditty, set many times but most notably by Barbara Reynolds, wife of Alfred, Colin Hand and Norman Gilbert. There was a Wind in the Willows Recorder Book by Philip Stott and a "tone poem" by Laurie Johnson.
When I think back to my childhood reading, I remember in no particular order, W.E.Johns’ Biggles, Arthur Ransome, Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda, Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, Worzel Gummidge, Barbara Euphan Todd’s scarecrow and Enid Blyton. All have had music associated with their work. Biggles was adapted for the large screen in 1986, (one critic said that if one was in an undemanding mood it was daft enough to be enjoyable) its music was by "Stanislas" which Alan Bunting’s Dictionary of Musical Pseudonyms helpfully identifies as Stanislas Syrewicz.
Arthur Ransome’s film version of Swallows and Amazons (1974), his most famous story, had a score by Wilfred Josephs, one of many by him; however I associate Waldteufel’s Skaters Waltz with this as it introduced a radio adaptation in the 1940’s. The Prisoner of Zenda was twice filmed in America in 1952 and 1979 with two Hollywood greats supplying the music, Alfred Newman and Henry Mancini.
For Black Beauty’s translation to the large screen, Dimitri Tiomkin obliged in 1946, Lionel Bart and John Cameron in 1971, but the tune most associated with it is Denis King’s delicious Galloping Home, from a TV adaptation in 1972. King it was also who provided the music for Worzel Gummidge’s stage appearance at the Birmingham Rep in 1980.
Enid Blyton’s most famous character made a stage musical appearance too, with "Noddy in Toyland"at the Stoll in 1954, Philip Green composing the music and for TV’s Noddy Miles McNaught wrote music; among those who set her songs were Cecil Sharman (Miss Nan Nockabout) and in 1965 for very young children, her nephew Carey Blyton.
I read only a few of Richmal Crompton’s books about Just William but these generally seem to have had some notable musical connections. In my mind’s ear I can still hear the catchy tune –by Leighton Lucas- which introduced radio adaptations of the 1940’s.Three large screen versions appeared either side of the last war and two, Just William’s Luck (1947) and William Comes To Town (also known as William At The Circus) (1948) had scores by none other than Bob Farnon. For William’s more recent TV appearances, Nigel Hess composed some wonderful music redolent of the popular idiom of the 1930’s.
I did not read Edith Nesbit’s The Railway Children until I was an adult, no doubt on account of the film version of 1970 which had that wonderful score by Johnny Douglas, still much enjoyed; Simon Lacey did well with music for the TV remake of 2000, considering what an act he had to follow. Back in the seventies, the Welshman, Alun Hoddinott composed a ballet version and Peter Durrent a stage musical in 1981. John Halford and Eric Thiman are among those who set Nesbit’s children’s poems.
Over the last half-century or so there have been many children’s classics most of them enhanced by music. Howard Shore’s for the three Lord of the Rings movies for example, and Ian Fleming’s story Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, first as a film with music by the Sherman brothers, now a stage musical. C.S.Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was turned into a musical in 1984 and put on for the Christmas season in Newcastle conducted by Brendan Healy who wrote the songs.
And finally we come to Harry Potter; seven books, four of them filmed so far as I write. The great John Williams has been the composer for most of the series up to now though Patrick Doyle is credited with music for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Williams seems to have signed off Potter.Unsurprisingly, Harry Potter music is popular in concert versions for orchestras and concert bands. Indeed many of the musical pieces I have mentioned in this article and my earlier ones, could add up to a satisfying and varied concert programme or programmes whether live or on CD.
This article first appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ June 2006.
A name from the past remembered by
Although not too well-known to the general public, the name and reputation of Matty Malneck are a legend in the music business in America which he graced for something like sixty years as musician, composer, arranger and conductor.
Born in Newark, New Jersey on 10 December 1904, he went into music at the age of sixteen, when he began taking violin lessons from his school music teacher Wilberforce J. Whiteman, whose son Paul was to play an important role in the young Matty's future career. He was soon playing with small local bands until he was 22, when he met up again with Paul Whiteman who asked him to join the mammoth (for those days) Whiteman Concert Orchestra on violin and viola.
His first recording session with the band was an (unreleased) version of Ferde Grofe's Mississippi Suite on 27 March 1926, and an early live appearance with Whiteman was at the Royal Albert Hall in London two weeks later, which HMV recorded but never issued. Malneck left the band for a few months in 1928 to do a number of sessions with that ubiquitous self-publicist and musical faker Irving Mills & His Hotsy-Totsy Gang, and other Mills groups like Goody & His Good-Timers and TheWhoopee Makers.
He returned to Whiteman as a major influence in composing and arranging, his fiddle playing was a by no means negligible part of the band’s string section and he was a jazz performer in recordings by Whiteman splinter groups led by sidemen such as Frankie Trumbauer, which found Matty Malneck partnering Hoagy Carmichael, Bix Beiderbecke, Jimmy Dorsey, Lennie Hayton, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang & co.
On a return visit to London in November 1932 he guested on violin with Carroll Gibbons & His Boy Friends in a new version of On The Air/Till Tomorrow. His first experience as a leader was on a 1931 session for singer Mildred Bailey when he led a sextet to accompany her, repeating his function as leader a few months later when he conducted more or less the full Whiteman orchestra for a batch of singles including her famous version of Rockin’ Chair.
Deciding it was time he earned all the fruits of his labours Matty Malneek formed his own band in 1935 with dates booked in hotels, restaurants, theatres and clubs, but he was still busy doing recordings with Bing Crosby with whom had worked back in the Paul Whiteman days. If fact it was he who had put Bing together with Al Rinker and newcomer Harry Barris to form Whiteman’s Rhythm Boys.
The Malneck orchestra worked steadily featuring his bespectacled piano-accordionist Milton Delugg, until it got around to recording for Columbia in 1940 with Helen Ward as vocalist. But it wasn't a successful venture, as of the nine sides the band made the company issued only four in the USA and none at all in this country.
Matty appeared with his band in films like "St. Louis Blues" (1938) for which he and Frank Loesser wrote I Go For That, and in 1939 they wrote Fidgety Joe for "Man About Town", but Matty didn't contribute any songs to "Scatterbrain" (1940) and 1944' s "Trocadero" in which the band was featured.
Other film songs written by Mattv Malneck were for "Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round" (1932), If I Had A Million Dollars written in collaboration with Johnny Mercer, as was Central Park which they did for "Let's Make Music" (1941) and the complete score for "To Beat The Band" which included Eeny Meeny Miney Mo and If You Were Mine. He worked again with Frank Loesser on "Hawaiian N/ghts" in 1939, once more doing the entire score including Hey Good-Looking and I Found My Love.
Most of Matty's songs became standards, as did many not written for films, like Goody Goody, Pardon My Southern Accent , I'm Thru’ With Love, Deep Harlem and Snug As A Bug In A Rug. He also did such instrumentals as Little Buttercup and Park Avenue Fantasy co-written with his Whiteman cohort Frank Signorelli. The latter was premiered by Paul Whiteman in his 'Experiments In Modern Music’ at the Metropolitan Opera House in December 1933, and was later lyricised by Mitchell Parish as Stairway To The Stars while the Buttercup opus was transformed by Gus Kahn into I’ll Never Be The Same. One work that has not been heard since was Matty's collaboration with Harry Barris on Metropolis, an ambitious fantasy for piano and orchestra.
Clearly Matty Malneck was no ordinary musician/writer, and the only facet of his talent that might have limited his appeal to RFS members is that he does not appear to have entered the light orchestral field to any great extent. In fact, going back over the years he apparently made no records, LPs or CDs under his own name. His post-war activities decreased somewhat, although he carried on working. He did well with Bebop Spoken Here reuniting with his pre-war accordionist Milton Delugg, teamed up with harpist Robert Maxwell for Shangri-La, and resumed his old partnership with the great Johnny Mercer in two songs from the Audrey Hepburn-Gary Cooper movie "Love In The Afternoon".
His long association with dance music and jazz in the thirties made Malneck an obvious choice as MD of the 1959 United Artists film "Some Like It Hot", set around that era. His contribution was to supervise and conduct the band sequences by "Sweet Sue & Her Society Syncopators"... also to ensure that the score included his own I'm Thru’ With Love as a feature for Marilyn Monroe and Stairway To The Stars as romantic background music for her and Tony Curtis.
It's virtually inconceivable that such a man would not have continued making his mark musically, yet as far as I have been able to ascertain this might well have been his last assignment of any stature and importance before his death in March 1981 at the age of 77. A name from the past, perhaps, but what a name and what a past!
Editor: Matty Malneck’s date of birth is given as 9 December 1903 in some reference works; his date of death also appears as 25 February 1981.
This article first appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ June 2006.