Forrest Patten sets the scene for his interview with one of the most highly respected, and talented, American composers and arrangers
In the world of music, Neal Hefti has done it all. As a composer, arranger and conductor, he has contributed to some of the most memorable musical icons of the twentieth century. Had Neal only composed "Girl Talk" (from the film Harlow), the "Batman Theme" (from the campy 60’s action TV series starring Adam West), or the sauntering theme from the film and television versions of The Odd Couple, his place in musical history would have been solidified then and there. But there was so much more. There were all of those great Basie charts and originals. There were the Sinatra arrangements. And who can ever forget the musical accompaniment to Jack Lemmon’s surprise when Virna Lisi popped out of a cake in the movie How To Murder Your Wife? It’s one thing to come up with great melodies; it’s another to create great arrangements. Neal Hefti is a master of both.
In June, 2005, ASCAP (the American Society Of Composers, Authors and Publishers) inducted Neal as an honorary member of the ASCAP Jazz Wall Of Fame.
Today, Neal enjoys tending to his musical garden: the care and feeding of over 500 copyrights. On September 7, 2004, Neal joined us for a very special interview in Studio City, California as a part of Frank Comstock’s Summit. In his own words (and exclusively for Journal Into Melody), here is Neal’s story.
FORREST PATTEN: Neal, musically speaking, how did it all begin?
NEAL HEFTI: I received a trumpet for Christmas when I was about 10 years old. My parents’ thought was to have all the boys learn a band instrument. During those days, the high schools were connected with the R.O.T.C. (Reserve Officers' Training Corps) who gave us uniforms. That meant that our cash-strapped family would not have to buy clothes for the boys. Also, if we were drafted into the service, we would be in the band and not the infantry. My mother thought that it might help protect her boys. My two older brothers played the sax and clarinet. I fell in love with the trumpet.
I learned the instrument ranges and transpositions at age 12, when I started trumpet lessons at the local music store. It had a Conn instrument chart posted on the wall, showing all the instruments they made and the various ranges of each, starting with the piccolo and going all the way down to the tuba.
In high school, I played in the orchestra, the concert band, the marching band, and what they called, "the swing band." I started arranging music for the territorial dance bands of that day for the biggest Midwestern booking agency, Howard White. I was arranging for three or four bands. I didn’t know quite how to do it, but I learned with the help of my older brother, John.
FP: Who were your inspirations in the beginning?
NH: My inspirations really centered on the orchestras of that time. Duke Ellington, Jimmy Lunceford, Count Basie, Charlie Barnet, Glen Gray, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Artie Shaw. There were also two British bands, Ambrose and Ray Noble. Ray Noble played a week in Omaha, at the Orpheum Theater. After attending the show, I said to myself that if I ever became an orchestra leader, that's the kind of orchestra, I would want. Besides Duke Ellington, arrangers included Billy May, Billy Moore, Sy Oliver and Axel Stordahl.
When I was growing up, my favorite bands, besides the organized ones that would tour, were the ones I heard on the radio, like The Jack Benny Show and The Bing Crosby Show. I thought that conductors like John Scott Trotter were fabulous, fine musicians. Later I had the privilege to tell them how much I enjoyed their music.
FP: Neal, tell us about those early recordings for the Vik, Coral and Epic labels. That all really started in the 1940's didn't it?
NH: No, it started in the 50’s. During the forties, there were two recording strikes by the American Federation of Musicians. I recorded during that period mostly with Woody Herman, when he was with Columbia. While I was with Woody Herman, I married Woody's singer, Frances Wayne. Frances and I then concentrated on our own career away from the band. We settled in New York and soon had two children. I became a studio conductor. Whatever the studio wanted me to do, I learned how. I loved conducting, and I loved the music. So as a studio conductor/ arranger, I went directly into the recording world. I worked primarily at Decca/Coral, RCA/Vik and Columbia/ Epic. I did big band, vocal "doo-wahs," pop artists and catalog music.
FP: How much composing were you able to do at that time?
NH: A lot. When I began writing, I started with my own original instrumentals. Woody Herman recorded about five or six of them. Later I must have written about 20 pieces for Harry James.
FP: Let’s talk about your years with Count Basie.
NH: He was one of the artists I wrote for. At the time, he had a six piece band - three rhythm and three horns. I was working on some music for Columbia/ Epic at the time and I was approached by George Avakian to do four sides for Basie. I wrote two standards that Basie chose, plus two originals. Then Basie went with Norman Granz/ Verve Records, and re-organized his big band. I was asked to do four to five originals a year for him. Norman was mainly responsible for promoting and recording the new Count Basie big band. He also managed Ella Fitzgerald at that time.
It was late 1957 that I did The Atomic Basie album. Up to that time, I think he recorded maybe 25 of my originals. I also recorded a lot of my tunes with my own band, as well as with Frances. There were about seven bandleaders that the record companies tried to promote at the time. I was one of them, along with The Elgart Brothers, Ralph Flanagan, Richard Maltby, Ralph Marterie, Billy May and Sauter-Finnigan. The idea in building these studio bands was to promote the idea of bringing the big bands back. In my estimation, the big band era was over after WWII.
FP: Neal, when you were working for multiple labels at one time, did you ever have to write under a pseudonym for contractual reasons?
NH: I did one time. I was conducting for a Patti Andrews recording. I was on Coral and she was on the parent company, Decca, so they came up with the name "Paul Nielsen." Paul is actually my middle name. After that, they didn't care if my name bounced from one in-house label to the other.
FP: From your vast repertoire, do you have a favorite personal recording?
NH: We always remember our very first. The first was the best for me. It was called Coral Reef. It was a minor hit or what they called a turntable hit. A lot of disc jockeys used it as a theme song to open their shows.
FP: Let's talk about your music for The Odd Couple.
NH: We moved to California in the mid-sixties to compose film music. Most of the films that I did were at Paramount. They gave me a couple of Neil Simon films to work on. The first was Barefoot in the Park. It was a huge success and broke records. The next one they gave me was The Odd Couple, which broke the previous record. For The Odd Couple, I wrote this sort of forlorn piece for the movie. Every time it was heard, Jack Lemmon was trying to "end it all," because of his divorce. (The soundtrack album received two Grammy nominations.)
FP: It certainly is a well known theme. It started in film, then TV, and more recently, it's been used as a background for various commercial spots. How did you ever come up with that melody?
NH: You have to work on melodies. I don't have to work that hard on the orchestration. But melodies are something else. Sometimes I'd compose music in bed and Frances would tell me to stop playing piano on her back. I guess I write most of the tunes while lying down. And I don't really feel that I've finished it until I personally like it and can hum it to myself. In most cases, I know what harmonies I'm going to use. I'll then go to the piano and try to improve on the chords and so forth. But the more you write, the more naturally you can hear the harmonies. The melodies, though, take a lot of time.
FP: Over the years, I've heard "the Neal Hefti format" to a number of pieces, especially those that were written during the Basie years. It usually starts with a musical phrase, then goes into a percussive break and returns to the melody again. I've heard this style imitated by a number of composers.
NH: Basie told me himself that when he had people writing for his band, he'd tell them to "write like Neal."
FP: The Hefti standard, Girl Talk, from the film Harlow. Tell us about that one.
NH: That was the name of the scene in the film. Harlow was making the transition from "silents" to "talkies" and was barnstorming around the country taking questions from the press. I wrote the piece simply for that scene. When we did the soundtrack album, the disc jockeys started playing Girl Talk, more than the main theme. (My instrumental from the soundtrack album also received two Grammy nominations)
FP: And, of course, there was the theme music from the TV series, Batman.
NH: That one came very hard to me. It took me a couple of months to write. I had seen some footage and I knew how outrageous it had to be. So I needed to write a piece of music that was equally so. Well, when I first took the theme in to demonstrate it for Lionel Newman and the series producer at Twentieth Century Fox, I had to sing it and play it on the piano. Well, I'm no singer, and I'm no pianist. But I had Lionel and the producer, Bill Dozier, listening to me. My first thought was that they were going to throw me out, very quickly, but as I was going through it, I heard them both reacting with statements like, "Oh, that's kicky. That will be good in the car chase." My father, (a salesman) once told me, "If they say okay, get out of there before they change their mind." When I saw Bill smiling, then I knew we had it.
FP: RCA Victor released the TV soundtrack music from Batman. Not too long after, they released a follow-up album called Hefti in Gotham City. The lead track from that album is one of my favorite, Neal Hefti compositions titled, Gotham City Municipal Swing Band. For many years, that piece was used as a theme for a popular San Francisco, Saturday night TV movie program, called Creature Features.
NH: I sort of like that tune. I'm happy with my Batman collection. As I said, the theme was hard to come by. Originally, RCA released a single with Batman Theme on one side and Batman Chase on the other. They called and said, "Neal, this record is doing really well, (it won a Grammy that year) we've got to come out with an album right away." So over a weekend, I had to come up with ten more tunes. They already had an album cover and liner notes in progress. They had the musicians and the studio booked. Because I had already written the first one (agonizing over it for months), writing the ten follow-up tunes, turned out to be easier. The first album did very well on the charts. So RCA said we had to come up with a sequel. For Hefti in Gotham City, I had to write twelve more pieces. That included our mutual favorite, Gotham City Municipal Swing Band.
FP: Neal, you've accompanied a number of singers over the years. Do you have a favorite?
NH: Frances. When we got married and left Woody Herman's band, I wish I could have written for just the two of us. We couldn't seem to connect however, either together or alone. I tell people that our number one, major cardinal unforgivable sin, was that neither one of us ever made a million selling record. That would have changed everything.
FP: Any comments about Frank Sinatra?
NH: He was the last singer that I wrote for. After that I wrote for movies. When I was with Frank Sinatra’s company, Reprise, I was their first producer. Truthfully, I had never really been a producer, and they knew that. I told them that I would stay in that position until they found somebody. It took about two years until Sonny Burke joined - he was exactly what they needed. I really liked working for Reprise and Frank. He was such a good singer and there were never any problems. Besides myself, he had also recorded with Axel Stordahl, Nelson Riddle, Gordon Jenkins, Billy May, Johnny Mandel, Sy Oliver, Don Costa, Quincy Jones, Pat Williams and Robert Farnon. If Sinatra chose you to conduct, you'd consider it quite an honor. It was just beautiful working with him.
FP: You've mentioned quite a few important conductors and arrangers here. Does anyone stand out in your opinion?
NH: I did an interview with Peter Levinson, for a book he was writing in which I told him that I felt that Nelson Riddle should be considered, "conductor emeritus" for Frank Sinatra. I included myself in there, too. Nelson, however, was a part of what I called, "The Trinity." That included him, Capitol Records, and From Here to Eternity. They all happened in about the same year. Those three things in succession launched Frank into orbit. And nothing would shoot him down from that point on.
FP: In looking at today's artists, whom do you favor?
NH: Of the newcomers, I like Chris Botti, Natalie Cole, Laura Fygi, Norah Jones, Keb’Mo, Diana Krall, KD Lang, Rod Stewart, Sting and Steve Tyrell.
FP: What about today’s film composers?
NH: Johnny Williams. I think he's as good as they come.
FP: So Neal, what are you up to today?
NH: Taking care of my catalog. I started doing this about 18 years ago. Frances passed and I raised the children and put them through school. With all of that going on, I decided to concentrate on family and take care of my copyrights starting back when I recorded with Woody Herman and going all the way through The Odd Couple and beyond.
FP: If students or other musicians would like to study your scores, do you have plans to make them available?
NH: Most scores of mine are at Paramount, in their music library. I don’t know what their studio policy is for students studying their scores, scripts and so forth.
FP: Neal, do you have a personal message that you'd like to convey to Robert Farnon?
NH: Robert Farnon, you have an impeccable reputation here in the States. I first heard of you from a friend of mine in New York. Marion Evans. He had your albums and would tell me, "That’s the man!" I think as a fellow composer, arranger, conductor and trumpeter, we share the same passionate search; to create, tell a story and communicate emotion with our music. It’s our small contribution to the world.
FP: Neal, what a career. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
Author’s Note: I’d like to personally thank Neal Hefti and his assistant, Dawn Thomas, for their editorial assistance in preparation of this interview. I’d also like to thank Frank Comstock for his part in arranging "Frank’s Summit." Additionally, I’d like to express my thanks and appreciation to my wife Nancy who assisted me in all aspects in this series of interviews.
Copyright Neal Hefti and Forrest Patten 2006: published in ‘Journal Into Melody’ March 2006
The Genius Who Wrote both Words and Music
by Murray Ginsberg
During his illustrious career Bob Farnon recorded so many great songs by most of the finest composers, that to list them all here would be an impossible task. However, some of Cole Porter's creations on which the Guv'nor wove his magic were Begin the Beguine (Geraldo's Orch.); Just One Of Those Things; Do I Love You?; Easy To Love (withEileen Farrell); I Am Loved (with Vera Lynn); / Get A Kick Out Of You; I Love Paris; In The Still Of The Night (Singers Unlimited), and I've Got You Under My Skin
A remarkable composer who produced hundreds of smash hits during a career that lasted for more than 50 years, Cole Porter was born in Peru, Indiana, June 9, 1891, and died in Santa Monica, California, October 15, 1964. Perhaps the greatest songwriter of the century, he was the only one apart from Irving Berlin, who wrote both music and lyrics. Someone said Cole Porter was a Rodgers and Hart in one.
The genius of Porter rests not only in the brilliance of his writing the music and lyrics himself, but of the intricate interpretation of his lyrics. To try to distinguish the intent of his lyrics is to try to comprehend Porter the man. At least half a dozen biographers wrote glowing accounts of Porter's talents. "He was a master of subtle expression without sentimentality," one wrote. "A kinetic dash without vulgarity, and a natural blend of word poetry with the finest harmonious melodies," wrote another. Critic Dale Harris wrote, "Porter's songs offer sophisticated views of love; they express erotic feeling rather than tenderness or exhilaration; in them order is firmly controlled."
Coming from a wealthy background he took piano and violin lessons at an early age, and was educated at Yale University 1911-12, where he earned a B.A. He then took academic courses at Harvard Law School and later at the Harvard School of Music. While at Yale he wrote football songs and also composed music for college functions.
His grandfather, J.O.Cole, who was the source of the money, tried to stop him from being a composer and did not accept it even when he was obviously a success.
Because of his wealth Porter moved in American upper class society and in 1919 married "the most beautiful woman in Britain" and both spent the '20s in Paris. In the early '30s they moved back to New York but Porter never got Paris out of his blood.
Even though he was married, it was known to friends that he was a homosexual and that his marriage was one of convenience. His wife Linda's first marriage was a physically abusive one and sex to her became abhorrent, yet she fell in love with him. Porter, though he was sexually conflicted in the beginning, became more and more overt in his homosexuality as time went on. Yet he loved and adored his Linda, and they were devoted to each other.
I remember seeing a television documentary of Cole Porter on Canada's Bravo Channel in 1980 which left nothing to the viewer's imagination. In addition to presenting his many Broadway successes and the dozens of wonderful songs he had created for Hollywood films, a portion of the one-hour documentary showed scenes of more than twenty beautiful young men in bathing trunks lolling around his swimming-pool. I recognized some familiar faces from various movies I had seen earlier.
The documentary also showed Porter after his legs had been shattered in 1937 when a horse fell on him. The immensely sophisticated world traveller was a semi-invalid for the rest of his life and suffered countless operations to save the legs.
His first production in New York was See America First (1916). There followed a cascade of musical comedies which placed him in the front rank of American musical theatre.
The musical Paris, which opened in New York in 1928, produced his first big hit...
Let's Do It
"Birds do it, bees do it
Even educated fleas do it
Let's do it, let 's fall in love."
Is it sex or is it love he's referring to? Or is it both?
In December 1929 in his musical Wake Up and Dream he wrote a song that went on to become a standard ... the poignant What Is This Thing Called Love
"What is this thing called love?
This funny thing called Love?
Just who can solve its mystery?
Why should it make a fool of me?"
Porter said the song wrote itself and he wrote it all in a few hours The song was not a frivolous play on words that Porter was so adept at. . ..this was something more. The enigma of Porter is there in the lyrics.
The list of Porter's 1930s musicals is enormous:
Gay Divorce (1932); Nymph Errant (1933), Anything Goes (1934); Jubilee (1935); Born To Dance (a film) and Red Hot and Blue (both 1936).
In The New Yorkers he had a white prostitute sing Love For Sale and the critics blasted him, calling it smut. In order to placate them he changed the venue to the Cotton Club in Harlem. This seemed to calm them. Yet the lyrics could not be broadcast on radio. Porter was bewildered. "You can write a novel about a harlot, paint a picture of a harlot, but you can't write a song about a harlot."
"Love for sale,
Appetizing young love for sale,
Love that's fresh and still unspoiled,
Love that's only slightly soiled,
Love for sale."
In the Broadway production of Gay Divorce he wrote Night and Day. Ring Lardner praised Porter for this achievement:
"Night and Day under the hide of me
There's an Oh, such a hungry yearning
burning inside of me "
Yet later on, Lardner complained about the suggestiveness of songs on the radio that he felt were largely under the influence of Cole Porter.
"Night and Day", a motion picture musical biography of Cole Porter, starring Gary Grant, was produced by Warner Brothers in 1946.
There were so many brilliant songs he wrote that have been performed continuously by the greatest artists of our time: Begin the Beguine; You do Something to Me, Just One of Those Things, So in Love, I Love Paris, C'est Magnifique, It's All Right With Me, It's De-lovely; Night and Day; My Heart Belongs to Daddy; Don't Fence Me In; and Wunderbar
After Porter's wife died in 1954, and his right leg was amputated in 1958, he became reclusive.
Cole Porter can be understood through his music: Haunting, full of passion, longing, but always mischievous, sexy and provocative.
His songs will live forever.
Copyright Murray Ginsberg 2006: from ‘Journal Into Melody’ March 2006
by Murray Ginsberg
Robert Farnon arranged and recorded the music of many of the great composers. Had those who had passed away remained alive to hear his arrangements, I'm sure each one, including the late great George Gershwin would have contacted The Guv'nor to lavish high praise for his stunning orchestrations of such gems as Porgy and Bess suite, Love Walked In, S’Wonderful and others.
The following passage is borrowed from a foreword by Richard Rodgers on the first page of a book titled The Gershwins by Robert Kimball and Alfred Simon (Atheneum, New York 1973):
"Composers, by tradition, are not a generous lot. Essentially, we are a breed of men and women concerned with the arrangement of the same seven notes. We tend to be somewhat taciturn when it comes to assaying each other's work, and will often go to extremes to avoid having to pay them public compliment.
So it ought to be with some misgivings that I attempt to set down my thoughts on George Gershwin and his music. In this case, however, I am delighted to break with tradition and pay my unreserved respects to a fellow composer.
George had an endearing appreciation of himself in his own work that was quite contagious. When he had a new song he could hardly wait to marshal his friends for a first-time-anywhere recital. On this occasion we were weekend guests at the home of a friend. All was quiet and relaxed, when suddenly George announced (to no one's surprise) that he had ‘a new composition’. Without further introduction he sat down and played his just completed symphonic poem, ‘An American in Paris’. I thought it was superb, and I raved about it. But a little later, as we were all on our way to the beach for a swim, George caught up with me and remarked with some puzzlement, "I never knew you were like that."
I was surprised and asked him what in the world he meant. Hastily, he clarified, "I didn't know you could like anyone else's stuff!"
Gershwin's ‘stuff' was marvellous, and I was crazy about it. I can hardly remember a time when I didn't know about him. He loved to play the piano. He played marvellously. Performing was like a shot of adrenalin to George; he loved to be the life of the party. The best way to sum up George Gershwin's work is simply:
The Gershwin brothers were born within two years of each other - Ira on December 6, 1896, and George on September 26, 1898. Their parents, Rose and Morris Gershwin, each of whom had emigrated from Russia before their marriage in 1895, produced two more children, a son Arthur and a daughter Frances.
Morris Gershwin, according to George, was "a very easy-going, humorous philosopher who took things as they came. He was at the time of his marriage, a foreman in a factory that made women's shoes. But in the next 20 years he moved his family no less than 28 times as his occupations shifted - part owner of a Turkish bath on the Bowery, part owner of a restaurant on Third Avenue, owner of a cigar store, and other pursuits."
Rose Gershwin, on the other hand, was, in George's words, "nervous, ambitious and purposeful." She wanted her children to be educated, feeling that with an education they could at least become teachers. She opposed George's desire to become a musician, thinking of such a career in terms of a $25-a-week piano player. But she did nothing to stand in George's way when he left school to take his first job as a pianist.
George and Ira were as dissimilar as two brothers could be. Almost everything that one was, the other wasn't. And yet, the various pluses and minuses of these two very distinct and individually creative men were so complementary, fitting together as snugly as the parts of a cleanly cut jigsaw puzzle, that, together, they formed a remarkably complete whole.
In everything they did they were opposites. George was open, exuberant, loving the spotlight, an irrepressible performer. Ira was shy, slow-moving, inhibited.
And yet they functioned together with the smoothness of a beautifully tooled piece of machinery.
The dynamism of George's personality was inescapable. Whenever he entered a room, he captured it instantly. He had an irresistible, infectious vitality, an overwhelming personal magnetism beyond that of most of the greatest movie stars.
George loved to play the piano. Whenever a piano was available, George would sit down and play. Part of his joy in going to parties was because of the opportunities they afforded him to play. And what he played was usually whatever songs he had written for many of his own shows.
Nor was his performing limited to the piano. He was a great storyteller and had a natural gift for dancing. If parties gave Gershwin an additional platform for his considerable talents, they were also the perfect showcase for a personality that helped give New York in the '20s so much of the character New Yorkers have come to associate with those years. New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia claimed that because of George Gershwin's reputation and his amazing musical output, New Yorkers were walking taller, smiling more, and seemed generally happier. Every citizen was proud to be a New Yorker.
Yet for all the love of self-acclaim that this seeking out of the spotlight might suggest, George was generous in his enthusiasm for other composers, helping to launch the careers of Harold Arlen, Arthur Schwartz, Vernon Duke, Kay Swift, and others.
On a different level he used a weekly radio show in 1934 and 1935 called ‘Music By Gershwin’, to promote the songs of his leading contemporaries - Richard Rodgers, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, Irving Berlin, all of whom were close friends. According to several biographers, there was a surprising absence of professional jealousy amongst them.
George Gershwin's musical output was remarkable. During his career George wrote the music for at least 25 Broadway shows, the first of which in 1919 was "La La Lucille" when George was only 20. Others were "Lady Be Good", "I Got Rhythm", "Strike Up The Band", "Funny Face", and a folk opera called "Porgy and Bess", to name a few, as well as a piano concerto for symphony orchestra called "Rhapsody In Blue".
When "Rhapsody in Blue" - the title supplied by brother Ira - was first performed in February 1924, in Aeolian Hall, with Paul Whiteman conducting, the concert was slammed by the critics as rubbish. They felt the work contained too much jazz and blue notes, which classical music must never include.
However, "Rhapsody in Blue" and his other works were not only acclaimed in America, but in Europe as well where Gershwin was hailed a genius.
He was also involved in more than a dozen Hollywood films. And the large number of songs from these shows and films will live forever in the annals of American entertainment.
Gershwin did have a problem with one song however: The Man I Love.
The Man I Love was introduced by Adele Astaire November 25, 1924, in Philadelphia in a show called "Lady be Good!" The show was noteworthy for two reasons: outstanding performances by Fred and Adele Astaire and a superb score by George and Ira Gershwin.
But after a few "Lady Be Good!" performances, Gershwin wrote to a friend: "Imagine my discomfort when the tune received a lukewarm reception that we felt obliged to take it from the play.
"But my spirits rose again shortly after this when Lady Mountbatten asked me for a copy of the song to take back to England. Soon, Mountbatten's favourite band, the Berkley Square Orchestra, was playing The Man I Love. Of course, they had no orchestral arrangement, so they ‘faked’ an arrangement - that is, they played the song by ear. It wasn't long before all the dance bands in London had taken up The Man I Love - also in faked or ear arrangements. Paradoxically enough, I now had a London song hit on my hands without being able to sell a single copy."
"However, its out-of-the-theatre popularity continued to grow, and after considerable success in London and Paris, The Man I Love was sung by an artist who has almost been directly responsible for its American success. I refer to that remarkable personality, Helen Morgan."
In 1928 George Gershwin travelled to London, Paris, Berlin and Vienna. While in Paris he visited Maurice Ravel, composer of the Bolero, and other celebrated works. Both musicians hugged each other on meeting, as though they were lifelong friends. There was no doubt each had become a mutual admiration society for the other. When Gershwin expressed his desire to study with Ravel, the Parisian replied, "But I was coming to America to study with you."
George Gershwin was so busy making music that one wonders whether he was ever interested in women. At first George claimed he was not attracted by the women he met in Hollywood, but soon found companionship with Elizabeth Allan and Simone Simone and became very much interested in Paulette Goddard, whom he met at a party Edward G. Robinson gave in honour of Igor Stravinsky in March 1937.
But he admitted to Ira's wife Lenore that marriage would add responsibilities as a husband and father that would detract from much needed time for composing, so he never married. Rest assured however, that he had women constantly throwing themselves at his feet.
In June 1937 George Gershwin, who was visiting friends in Los Angeles, began complaining about headaches. He went to a doctor who suggested he should have an x-ray taken. When he did the doctor told him he couldn't find anything conclusive, but on July 9 George collapsed into a coma. Friends contacted Dr. Dandy, an eminent brain surgeon in Chesapeake Bay who agreed to fly to California to perform the operation.
When it was too late to get him there in time for the operation, they opened up a direct line between Newark and the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital on the Coast so Dandy could follow the course of the surgery and offer advice to the California doctor who wielded the scalpel if needed.
Without regaining consciousness Gershwin died on the operating table on July 11, 1937. He was 38.
He was buried on a rainy July 15 after a simple funeral service, attended by 3500 persons at New York's Temple Emanu-El. Outside the synagogue a crowd of more than 1000 gathered in the rain behind police barricades along both sides of Fifth Avenue. Hundreds had been turned away at the entrance, and policemen were forced to hold back the crowd.
Earlier, Mayor LaGuardia had ordered a two-minute silence to be observed throughout New York City at the precise moment the casket was placed inside the hearse.
I remember it well. I was 14 years old at the time and remember radio stations across America and Canada, reporting on the solemn occasion. And later we saw it in the cinemas when they showed the news before the feature movie started.
Every person on the street, every taxi cab, car and bus stopped, as did the underground trains. For two minutes the city was frozen in time.
George Gershwin was deemed so important that the homage paid to him was the same shown only to wartime heroes.
Enrique Renard remembers the Englishman who became one of the ‘Greats’ of American Light Music
A BUNCH OF HOLIDAYS – THE DAVID ROSE STORY
It was in 1942, the year the USA had just entered World War II, that a totally unknown young jazz pianist brought to RCA producers a few light pieces he had composed. He played them in the piano, but explained that his intention was to orchestrate and record them with a full ensemble, including strings.
The A & R people at RCA must have been impressed with what they heard, because a session was arranged to record Holiday for Strings, Dance of the Spanish Onion, Our Waltz and One Love. As everyone knows, recording techniques of those days were very far from what we hear today, or even from what we heard in the fifties, where the studios’ technological jump was enormous. However, and whoever that recording engineer was at RCA, he came with the idea of adding echo effect to the sound by slightly retarding the signal. The result was a novelty sound that added life to the dull sound recordings of the period under the primitive technology available. Nothing of the sort had ever been heard before in popular light music, not even in classical recordings. Everyone was impressed, and David Rose’s illustrious musical career was launched then and there.
Columbia Records, always a pioneer in sound achievement under men like Goddard Lieberson during the 40s, had a remarkable recording studio called Liederkranz Hall on 115th E. 58th St. in Manhattan, NY, famed by its excellent acoustics. By the late 30s and early 40s Andre Kostelanetz used to record in that studio using musicians from the NY Philharmonic playing arrangements from popular tunes as part of the Kostelanetz effort to acquaint the average American public with symphonic orchestral sounds. His material was pop, but his arrangements were symphonic in that he used an 80 piece orchestra with a huge string section. He openly achieved his purpose… in the east coast, that is. In the west coast the first one to attract attention in that direction was David Rose.
At the time, swing was in full blast in the USA spearheaded by Benny Goodman and his Swing Band, but the times, with all that nostalgic effect on wives and fiancées with their men overseas fighting a tough war, popularized sentimental music. Hence the enormous success of the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and that of a young skinny singer called Frank Sinatra. The romantic, sentimental quality of David Rose’s tunes and string arrangements, evident even in his faster pieces like My Dog has Fleas (1944), fit perfectly the mood of the times. But it was Holiday for Strings, a million seller, that brought him into public consciousness. Given which, he wrote several other "Holidays": Holiday for Flutes, Holiday for Trombones, Autumn Holiday, Blue Holiday, etc. (An aunt of mine who was a pianist, remarked after hearing Holiday for Strings: "It’s called ‘holiday’ for strings but the only thing you hear in it is strings!). Tune titles aside, the thing is Rose can and should be credited with having started Light Music in the western USA.
David Rose was in fact British, born in London, June 15th, 1910. He was only 4 when his family migrated to the USA and settled in Chicago. By age 16 he was receiving musical training at the Chicago Conservatory of Music and starting to play piano professionally. His first contract was with the Ted Fio Rito Orchestra, but someone at NBC Radio caught his sound and in 1936 he was hired as a pianist-arranger by the network. By 1938 he was hired by the Mutual Broadcasting Service, in Hollywood, where he set up an orchestra for that network. There he met singer/comedian Martha Raye and married her. He provided the arrangement for her only hit, a song with a telling title: Melancholy Mood. He divorced Raye in 1941.
The US musical scene suffered a crippling blow through a strike by the Musicians Union that lasted more than two years. But through that time, Holiday for Strings, recorded shortly before the strike, became a huge hit. The 78 carried Poinciana onthe other side with a slow, sensual arrangement that contributed to the success of the single. He then did for RCA a set of Cole Porter tunes masterfully arranged and featuring the same echo chamber sound that so distinguished his output. Those 78s were transposed into 45 rpms in a box set issued in the early 50’s, when 45s became popular, and later into LP. Both sets are almost impossible to find. He recorded Holiday for Strings, his signature song that sold millions worldwide, about six times, including an extended concert version he did in 1955 for a long forgotten MGM movie called "Unfinished Dance" but released onan LP called "David Rose plays David Rose", MGM E-3748, long out of print.
But it was not only the sound per se that made his music sound "different". It was the way he arranged. Steeped in jazz since his early youth, he phrased the strings using jazz chords and tempos, enlarging and sometimes bending phrases and scoring the strings in several voices so as to achieve a sort of uniform sound particularly pleasant to hear and very apt in establishing a romantic atmosphere. Many of my generation of those days felt a debt of gratitude towards David Rose and his music. Our seductive efforts were amply rewarded when we placed a Rose 78 rpm record on the turntable. The problem was one had to get up too often to change the record, thus spoiling things to some extent…
In 1941 Rose married Judy Garland, of all people! That an extraordinary ballad singer and the best ballad arranger in the business would never record together during the three years their marriage lasted is something difficult to explain. There were probably contractual situations that made it impossible, but they would have been a perfect match. Garland’s heartfelt style coupled with the Rose strings would have been something difficult to forget. But that perfect matching did not extend to their marriage. They were divorced in 1945.
Meanwhile, Rose’s career and fame continued to climb. He was busily arranging for movies and he had his own radio show California Melodies. For that one he wrote one of his well known tunes of that same name. The original, seductive way in which he arranged old songs making them sound new and different, attracted MGM executives, and he was offered a contract to write music for movies and record for the label. At MGM, however, the main preoccupation was with movies, and Rose ended up scoring over 36 of these! Aware of his talent and his commercial appeal, MGM gave him the opportunity to arrange and record several LPs from American standards by Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, Moose Charlap and others, plus his own compositions including re-recordings of the tunes he had done for RCA, all in a mood, seductive but vital style that sold very well. Above all, Rose and his engineers invariably aimed for the best in sound and his talent, added to the lilting sound of his arrangements, brought him a measure of popularity, especially amongst advertisers and broadcasters. Whenever they wanted something catchy for the public’s ear, they would use excerpts of David Rose tunes. A survey done around 1963 showed that at every minute of every day at least one radio station in the USA was playing a David Rose selection! And his music was being used as theme songs for 22 different TV shows!
But despite all his musical talent and his success, few people would imagine that his first love was not music. It was trains, all sorts of trains! More than everything he wanted to be a railroad engineer! He owned what was probably one of the largest collections of miniature trains in the world, and he had a scale railroad track surrounding his estate in Sherman Oaks, California, with a train on it, of course.
With his career well launched and his talent in huge demand from television shows as successful as The Red Skelton Show, Bonanza, the High Chaparral, The Bob Hope Show, The Jack Benny Show, etc., plus several movies and new LPs, he found time to marry once more, this time to Conover model and actress Betty Bigelow, with whom he had two daughters, Melanie and Angie.
By the mid fifties, MGM engineers Phil Ramone and Don Frey engineered Rose’s tour-de-force album in keeping with his permanent fascination with state-of-the-art recording technology: 21 Channel Sound. This was one of the first recording efforts done on a multi channel basis, and the results were spectacular by any means. Especially a Duke Ellington piece called In a Sentimental Mood, and another by Bishop & Jenkins, Blue Prelude, represent two of the most extraordinary arrangements of tunes ever recorded in Light Music. For the occasion Rose used an orchestra comprised of 58 musicians (30 strings: 20 violins, 5 violas and 5 celli, plus percussion, reeds and brass), and the post mix phase (a novelty those days) was a painstaking process by him and his engineers. An electronic gimmick was also used which, in my view at least, detracts from the brilliance of the record: the music sweeps from one speaker to another, left to right and right to left. I feel there was no need for this in an album where stereo separation was splendidly achieved. Still, later on Ray Martin did likewise with a couple of LPs recorded for RCA in the early sixties in the USA.
Then, when it was expected his popularity would wane under the growing impact of rock-n’-roll, MGM paired him with another talent: Andre Previn, then in his 30s. They recorded a set of tunes for an LP titled Like Young. It was so successful they were asked to do an encore: Like Blue. Previn was an excellent jazz pianist and arranger, and Rose used only a string orchestra for the sessions. Both albums stand as a shining example of light music with a jazz feeling. Shortly after, something more unexpected came up. The writer has never found anyone who can explain why Rose, a master of mood music, wrote The Stripper, a hoochi-coochi strip-tease song if there ever was one! But the fact is that the thing shot up to the top of the charts in the USA and even today there are people who know and remember Rose only for that song! Public taste is sometimes suspect. But we all know that. The success was of such magnitude, Rose recorded The Stripper a whole LP album of standards arranged in that style, and then a second one, More Music of The Stripper, to satisfy the demand!Well, one must admit the man had versatility.He probably wrote the song as a lark, without imagining it would become a hit.
It is a fact that great musicians, especially great arrangers, will be imitated. Well… let’s say that some will be "influenced" by them. It is not merely a question of imitating that which sells well, but also of being inspired by originality borne in genuine talent and taste. Humoresque, a song written by Anton Dvorak, the great classical composer, was classified by my ears as one of the most trite and boring things they ever heard. And when I saw the song included in an RCA LP LPT 1011 (the first compilation of 78s by Rose by the label transposed into 33⅓ rpm.) I couldn’t believe my eyes! There was nothing anyone could do for that regrettable song! I surmised. Boy, was I wrong! Rose picked up the slow, narcotic main theme, changed it into a fast tempo played by pizzicato strings, orchestrating the central motive in the manner of that of his Dance of the Spanish Onion, adding a romantic twist to it, and a dull song picked up life and beauty. That requires imagination, an outstanding feature in David Rose’s musical talent. It was inevitable that he would be copied. And he was.
By the early 50s when he had scored well with some mood albums, he started to receive phone calls where all he heard was his own recordings being played by the caller. This went on for quite a while and he said it drove him nuts. He just couldn’t figure out who would do such a weird thing. Suddenly, in one of the calls a familiar voice came in. "This is Jackie Gleason, Dave… How are ya!... I just figured I told you we’ve been listening to your records. They sound wonderful…"
Gleason was known more as a comedian than a musician. He had never studied theory, to begin with, and couldn’t read music. He was a good bass player though (he can be spotted as the bass player in the Glenn Miller Orchestra Wives movie -1942). The fact is he was a natural musician and also a shrewd businessman, as we shall see. Fascinated with the Rose mood sound, he decided to do something similar. He tried to sell the idea to Mitch Miller, A&R man for Columbia those days. Miller laughed at it. "Strings and a trumpet? Are you crazy? I have shelves full of Harry James stock I cannot sell! Take a walk!" Gleason did, and that was a major faux pas by Miller, similar to the one he took with Sinatra before. Gleason went into hock, got together with arrangers George Williams and Dick Jones and made them listen to David Rose. "I want it to sound like that…" he explained to them, "and I got Bobby Hackett to do the trumpet part". The thing was Hackett played cornet, that smaller kind of trumpet with the conic tubing that mellows the sound and makes it languid and intimate. In short, ideal for Gleason’s concept. Gleason went ahead and recorded a few tunes. Upon hearing them, the Capitol A&R people got interested and released the album Music for Lovers Only. It was a smash hit, worldwide. It sold millions but it was a bad imitation of David Rose.
The thing was, however, that Rose included variety in his arrangements and a wide selection of different material. Tempos, colorings, fast and slow percussion and tone alternated brilliantly in his records. But Gleason understood that for wide appeal he had to play the melody straight. Average people simply did not understand nor musically relate to anything else. Add a romantic tone to it, and you got it made, he figured. He recorded over thirty "for lovers" albums, made millions, and he did change orchestration, sometimes even omitting strings (his best work, I think), but always playing the melody, and he got to be better known than Rose himself, who unwittingly gave him the idea.
The 60s were the last successful decade for David Rose. By then he recorded again many of his first hit compositions, using now the better technology available. By 1970 he recorded a couple of albums in London for Polydor, Portrait and The Very Thought of You, the latter including one of the best instrumental versions of the Ray Noble standard that I have ever heard. There is no indication of any other recordings after those.
I met David Rose at Epcot Center, in Disneyworld, Orlando, Florida, in 1985. He had been invited to do a few concerts with the local orchestra, a relatively small group (no more than 12 or so strings) that could not fully show his brilliance as an arranger. I found him to be a person who did not take himself seriously, humorous and funny. The only sad note came when he was asked why he wasn’t recording any more. There was a tone of sadness and frustration in his answer: "I don’t play rock n’ roll", he said. He was 75 at that moment, but one could sense he was still young inwardly. He was physically short, but a giant in talent. And his influence in all light music arrangers, including British composer/ arrangers such as Melachrino, Ray Martin, Stanley Black (the mood albums), William Hill-Bowen, Malcolm Lockyer, etc., was undeniable.
The distinctive Rose sound reached a lot of people, but it was difficult for me to determine clearly my predilection for it above all other light music composers. Added to his taste and brilliance there was another factor I could never pinpoint, but that attracted me. Then, by 1973, while I was living in San Juan, Puerto Rico, for a while, I was playing one of his records and a neighbor heard and came to knock at my door. He introduced himself: "My name is Tom Schaeffer, and I am a professor at the local university here, and would you mind telling me what is it that you are playing? It sounds great". I said, "That’s David Rose, and if you wish to come in and listen please feel free. He did, and as we listened, he turned to me and asked me if I had a song called June in January arranged by Rose. I said I did and I played it for him. And when the strings were picking up the main theme with the typical full sound Rose got from them, Tom turned to me and said: "You know, Enrique, the thing with David Rose is that his was always such a happy sound! I smiled in full agreement and thanked him for identifying the main reason why I liked David Rose above almost all others: his music made me happy! It conveyed a bubbly feeling of happiness! And $3 for an LP was an insignificant price to pay for it. I didn’t pay only for the beauty of his compositions and arrangements. Unwittingly, I was also paying for happiness.
Davis Rose died in Burbank, California, on 23 August, 1990, leaving behind not only the David Rose Foundation he set up in the 1960s, but a splendid collection of recorded music. His talented output was honored with six gold records and 22 Grammys. Not bad for a British-born kid who would have preferred to be a railroad engineer. Happily, he went the way of music to our benefit and listening pleasure.
This article appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ December 2005.
Whether you realize it or not, you’ve heard the guitar of Bob Bain. In all reality, you couldn’t miss it. Starting in the 1950’s and through the 80’s (not counting today’s re-runs or syndicated programming), if you watched television shows like Peter Gunn, Bonanza, Mission Impossible, The Munsters and M.A.S.H., it was Bob Bain’s guitar that you heard on the themes. For 22 years, Bob was a fixture along with Doc Severinsen and The Tonight Show Band during the Johnny Carson era on NBC. But you’ve also heard his work in movies like Thoroughly Modern Millie and on recordings with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and Nat King Cole. Bob has also recorded several albums of his own on Capitol Records, recorded with the group Guitars Unlimited, and produced a couple of releases by jazz pianist Junior Mance.
Having started out as a bass player in a trio fronted by guitarist Joe Wolverton, Bob made his way out to Los Angeles and settled into the club circuit. It was there that he met one of his heroes and mentors, Les Paul. In 1942, Bob joined Freddy Slack’s band, and through fellow guitarist Jack Marshall, was introduced to Phil Moore. He subsequently joined Phil Moore’s Four and One More. Moore’s group was introducing the new bebop sound and was one of the first interracial bands to play in the L.A. area. In 1945, Bob joined Tommy Dorsey (where he played along side Buddy Rich) and, two years later, became a part of Bob Crosby’s big band. In addition, he had formed his own band, The San Fernando Playboys. They actually recorded in Les Paul’s own home studio. Bob later played and recorded with Harry James and was also a part of André Previn’s trio.
The following interview took place during the afternoon of September 8, 2004 in Studio City, California and was organized by Frank Comstock as a part of "Frank’s Summit."
FORREST PATTEN interviews
BOB BAIN – one of the Great Guitar Players
FORREST PATTEN: Bob Bain, guitarist extraordinaire, thank you for joining us today on behalf of the Robert Farnon Society. You have been on so many recordings that we’ve enjoyed over the years, but many of our non-U.S. subscribers might not be aware of your tenure with the Tonight Show Band when Johnny Carson hosted on NBC. Tell us about some of the memorable things that went on behind the scenes.
BOB BAIN: Whenever Johnny did his nightly monologue, they had cue cards for him, naturally. He would always rehearse with them. Johnny would use Doc (Severinsen) as a kind of buffer if the audience didn’t laugh at one of his lines. He would always turn to the band and expect something to come out of them. It was like when they used to do this segment called Stump The Band. This is where an audience member would come up with a song title and the band would have to try and play it. Doc was good at that and every once and a while the band would really get into it, too. I remember one night during the monologue, Johnny was talking and mentioned that he had heard one of his favorite records by Alvino Rey. I was playing a Telecaster guitar with a pitch bend that night. I hit a C chord and, with the pitch bend, brought the tone way down and then brought it back up again. It broke the place up. Things like that would just happen. I remember a time when Beverly Sills came on the show. She had just had surgery. She had just done a concert in Houston and had flown in for the show. She was extremely tired and didn’t feel like rehearsing (and wanted to lie down). They wanted her to sing a number on the show. She said that if she did sing, she would do it with a guitar player. That was all she said. Well, then the show goes on. She comes out and is talking to Johnny. Johnny says "I know that you’re not feeling well, but could you do just a few bars for us?" She agreed and looked over at me and said "Estrellita?" I said "In F?" and she nodded. We then did a chorus and a half. She was so easy to accompany. If we had rehearsed it, it wouldn’t have come off any better. The band was always a lot of fun. We had a great brass section. The lead trumpet was John Audino. Conte Condoli was the jazz trumpet. Jimmy Zito sat on the other side. The fourth trumpet was either Snooky Young or Maurie Harris. Just having those four guys in the band was enough to make you laugh. They never stopped talking! Sometimes Pete Candoli would sub for Audino and you’d think that Pete and Conte hadn’t seen each other in ten years! They were just so funny. You had Pete Christlieb and Ernie Watts on tenor sax and, of course Tommy Newsom on lead alto. You had Ed Shaughnessy on the drums and Ross Tompkins on piano. It was a great band. I really enjoyed doing the show. You came in at 3:15 in the afternoon and got to go home at 6:30 that evening. So that was a pretty good job.
FP: You’ve played on and recorded the themes for so many memorable television shows. Tell us about Bonanza.
BB: I got a call from Dave (David) Rose and he told me that he had to record a theme that had been composed by the team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. He said that it was a Western and asked me what I thought. I asked him what he wanted and he replied that he’d like something with guitars. I told him that I thought he should use maybe four or five guitars and put them in unison with whatever he wanted to do. We’d just try and fake it when we got there. He said "Great." He wrote his usual arrangement for strings and other parts of the orchestra. There were five guitars. Laurindo (Almeida) was there; Tommy Tedesco, Al Hendrickson, Dennis Budimir and myself. He had just a lead sheet for us. We played it in octaves. He had a nice orchestration behind us, but simple. So we recorded that as the theme song for Bonanza. Then David scored the rest of the show without guitars because he didn’t use guitars as a rule. When the show started to become a hit, I remember having dinner with Dave one night and he said, "Can you imagine that they asked me to write the theme for that show and I turned them down because I told them that I was too busy!" He was doing the Red Skelton Show at the time. But that’s the story of Bonanza.
FP: How about the opening theme to the TV series M.A.S.H.
BB: That’s a long story. Johnny Mandel is really the one who was responsible for that. He scored the original motion picture. When it came time for the TV version, Twentieth Century Fox picked it up. Johnny wrote the theme, orchestrated it, and supplied cues for the first couple of episodes. After that, he gave it to somebody else. But he did write the guitar part that appears at the opening. It was actually written for two guitars in the key of B-minor. One guitar played B and F# and the other guitar played the thirds. As the show became popular, the union law said that you had to re-record the theme every year. So we’d come back in the next year and Lionel (Newman) would say "Let’s add a few more guitars." So now we did the theme with four guitars. And the next year, there would be six guitars! Since there were only two parts originally, you had guys that were adlibbing and strumming along or whatever. As it turned out, the original recording (with two guitars) continued to be used for the entire run of the series. Even though you would come in and do another annual session, the producers could use the original track as long as the guys were paid their union fees. If you ever listen to the theme on M.A.S.H. closely, you’ll notice that there are different versions that they use throughout the series. The editor for that week’s show could choose the particular rendition he wanted to use for that specific show or season. But Johnny Mandel really deserves the credit. After all, who would ever think of starting a TV show with just two guitars playing? Most people would say that it just didn’t have enough sound. But it worked.
FP: And, of course, another television favorite: The Munsters.
BB: Uan Rasey reminded me how much fun we had on that show. The leader was Jack Marshall, a good friend of ours. It was a small band, comparatively speaking for television. There were three trumpets, two trombones, tuba, guitar, bass, drums, piano and two or three woodwinds. There might have been some extra percussion, also. Jack wrote the theme that sounded a little bit like "spooky" music we always thought. He put the electric guitar as the lead because electric guitar was very popular then. Les Paul was very popular at that time, too. The producers wanted that sound. He would write these cues that were so short sometimes. Jack would give you a downbeat and almost have to cut you off immediately because it might have been a six-second or less bit. But the fun thing about it was that the people who were filming The Munsters on one stage (which was only about a block away) would come over when they heard there was going to be a scoring session. Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster would come by in full "Frankenstein" make-up and Al Lewis (who played Grandpa) was always there. He loved it and just liked to sit around and listen to the music. Yvonne De Carlo (Lily Munster) didn’t show up too much. The male characters did, even Butch Patrick who played their little boy, Eddie. Jack Marshall was so funny. It was like one big three-hour laugh session. When you had the likes of trombonist Frank Rosolino along with trumpeters Uan Rasey and Jack Sheldon, and Shelly Manne on drums, it was great. The music was funny to begin with, and then to see all of the shenanigans that went on in the show (like smoke coming out of Herman’s ears) was a lot of fun. It didn’t pay a lot, but you did it because it was with Jack Marshall and there was always a lot of laughs. That was forty years ago. The thing that amazes me today is that young guitar players will come up to me when they hear I did The Munsters. They could care less about the rest of the stuff! They say, "Hey, are you the guy that played on The Munsters?" To them, that’s more important than playing for Sinatra or anybody else.
FP: Let’s segue here and talk about your many years playing for a man named Henry Mancini. Didn’t it all start with a TV program called Peter Gunn?
BB: Yes, I played the guitar part on Peter Gunn. I first met Hank Mancini when he was an orchestrator at Universal Pictures. He had originally come out to the West Coast with the Tex Beneke Band when he got a job on staff at Universal with a weekly salary. He orchestrated The Glenn Miller Story. That sort of opened the door for him. Then they gave him another picture called Rock Pretty Baby with John Saxon. It was a typical beach rock and roll picture. And then Dominic Frontiere and I did an album with him featuring accordion and guitar for Liberty Records. The next thing you knew, he had Peter Gunn come up. He was a friend of Blake Edwards who told him to write a theme and "we’ll see what happens." It was a pilot show that caught on and that was the beginning. Then Hank did everything that Blake ever produced including Breakfast At Tiffany’s with "Moon River." So I got to know Hank and his family very well. We became very close friends. I worked with him on just about everything he did for about the next twenty or thirty years. The reason that I stopped working with him more recently was because he was doing a lot of concerts on the road. Because I was doing The Tonight Show, I couldn’t get out of Burbank! The wonderful thing about working with Hank is that he did so many great pictures with so many great melodies. There was Days Of Wine And Roses and Soldier In The Rain. The song "Dreamsville" (from the original Peter Gunn soundtrack album) was originally just "thrown in" to fill up the record. Later on, Sammy Cahn wrote a lyric for it. I think it’s one of the most beautiful tunes that Hank ever wrote. Over the years, I can say that as many pictures as Hank did, the one that ended up being the most popular was The Pink Panther series. In the original picture, it started out with guitar and vibes doing fifths. The vibe player was Emil Richards and I did the guitar part. Compared to the "George Shearing" style, this was more of a low-end sound. Plas Johnson played the tenor sax melody. To honor what would have been Hank’s 80th birthday, they re-recorded The Pink Panther using a big orchestra and Plas, once again, played the main melody. I didn’t get to do that album because, I believe, they wanted all "younger" players for that session.
FP: A lot of people might not realize that when watching a movie and seeing their favorite star sing while strumming along on guitar, that you are actually the one providing the guitar track. I seem to remember the late Natalie Wood (with guitar) singing a beautiful ballad called "The Sweetheart Tree" in the Blake Edward’s comedy The Great Race. How did that work?
BB: That was, of course, pre-recorded with Natalie. In Breakfast At Tiffany’s there was kind of an interesting thing. You had a big orchestra scoring the picture at Paramount and then, when the date was over the contractor (Phil Coggin) came over and said "Bobby, you stay." The whole orchestra left and I’m sitting around. Hank said "Why don’t you go over to Nick’s. We won’t need you for another half hour. All you’ll need is your gut string (guitar)." I figured that they wanted me to play a little background music or something. When I came back, Audrey Hepburn was in the studio. The studio had been darkened and the only people there were the engineer in the booth, the producer (Blake Edwards), Hank, and an assistant in the booth to run the tape machine. They had told everybody else to essentially get lost. Audrey did not want to sing with a big orchestra. She wanted to record "Moon River" with just guitar and voice. She was so nice and very easy to accompany. She was really a good singer, too. She sang for My Fair Lady and was pretty good. There are some outtakes of her singing all of those tunes. She made one take and we went in the booth to listen to it. Hank asked her if she thought she could do it one more time and she agreed. We did a second take and that was it. Then Hank took that track (with just guitar and voice) and overdubbed strings. In the picture, the first sixteen bars has Audrey in a window or a doorway singing "Moon River" with just guitar and then the orchestra sneaks in. It ended up with this really nice orchestration.
FP: I’ve always wondered whether or not Henry Mancini did the majority of his own orchestrations, or did he have some ghost arrangers?
BB: No, Hank orchestrated almost everything. He was very particular about that. The only time I ever knew Hank to give some stuff out was much later when he asked Jack Hayes to help arrange some of his concert pieces. But in the beginning, Hank did everything himself.
FP: Bob, out of all of the film and television composers that you’ve worked with over the years, do you have a favorite?
BB: I’d have to say Billy May. He was a great kick to work with. The music was good and he was funny. I’ve also enjoyed working with Nelson Riddle and Frank Comstock. One of my heroes was Victor Young. I didn’t know Victor at all, but I certainly knew his music. It’s hard to believe that he wrote "Sweet Sue." I was working with Andre Previn when he had a trio. We had a guest shot on The Carnation Hour. Victor conducted the orchestra on the show and the singer was Buddy Clark. We did some Nat King Cole trio-type stuff worked out in thirds for guitar and piano. It was hard because Andre liked to play fast tempos. We played the guest spot. When it was over, I packed up my guitar and was getting ready to leave. Victor’s brother-in-law, Henry Hill (who served as orchestra contractor on the show), came over to me and asked if I’d be interested in working for Victor. I said sure. He told me that Victor had a call at Paramount the following week and would like me to do it. That was my first job with him, and we continued to work together for years after that. Phil Sobel, Henry Hill and I (along with Victor) would go over to Victor’s house after a date and would play Casino. His wife would serve us tea. She didn’t speak English.
FP: One of my all-time favorite Victor Young scores was his last to Around The World In 80 Days. Were you involved with that?
BB: I worked on that quite a bit. There was a lot of recording on that because there was so much music in the picture to start with. It was almost wall-to-wall music. There were a lot of scenes in the Orient (or wherever they were) and Victor said to me "I don’t want to bother getting any authentic samisen players in here. Can you make your banjo sound like a samisen?" We all knew how to do that by putting a mute on the bridge of the instrument and muffling it. It had sort of a "twangy" sound to it and you could bend the strings a bit. There’s a lot of music in that picture that sounds like it was done with a Japanese instrument, but it’s actually a banjo that’s being muffled! But, of course, there was a lot of guitar music in there, as well. He hired several authentic Flamenco guitar players for the Spanish scenes. I didn’t do that. But I did a lot of work on that picture.
FP: Do you remember who the arrangers were on that film?
BB: Sure. Leo Shuken and Jack Hayes were involved, and even Leo Arnaud did some things. There was so much music to be scored. Victor was so busy conducting. We recorded it all at Todd-AO. It took six weeks, at least.
FP: Bob, you’ve worked with so many of the great vocalists in the business including Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and Nat King Cole. Tell us what it was like working with such musical legends.
BB: You get a call from a music contractor. They’d tell you that there was a date with Nelson Riddle at 8:00 at Capitol. When you walked in, it could be Peggy or Frank or Keely Smith. It could be anybody. Sometimes they would tell you in advance. For example, on the Sinatra album Songs For Swinging Lovers, they tried to keep the band the same so they’d tell you that you have three sessions in a row and they’d like you to do all of them. Every once in a while I’d show up for a session at Capitol and it would be with Nat. His regular guitar player might be playing with the trio in Chicago. Capitol would fly Nat out to do a couple of recording dates, but they wouldn’t bring the trio with him. So they’d add a guitar and another bass player.
FP: Tell us about the famous guitar opening to Nat Cole’s hit Mona Lisa.
BB: Over the years, there’s been a lot of speculation about how that happened. The truth is that Nelson Riddle and I were pretty good friends. This was a long time ago when his kids were pretty small. I was over at his house and I always brought my guitar along because his daughter, Cecily, liked to sing and I’d provide the accompaniment. He told me that he was writing the arrangement on this tune and asked me what I thought. I looked at it and he asked "How does that lay for guitar?" Well, the original lead sheet (which was composed by Livingston an Evans) had that beautiful melody line and I said "That lays perfectly in thirds for the guitar." He then asked to hear it and I played it for him. It was almost as if a guitar player had written it out originally. He said, "Great," but nothing else. The next thing that I knew was that it became a hit record. Nelson had written the arrangement and Irving Ashby played the guitar part because he was the guitar player in Nat’s trio. Later on, Irving and I talked about it. He said, "When I first looked at the score, I thought that this Nelson Riddle really knows how to write for guitar. But then, I looked at the original lead sheet and realized that it was written that way to begin with." But Irving did play the opening guitar solo on Mona Lisa. He was a great guitarist and joined Nat after Oscar Moore left the trio to go with his brother’s group, The Spirits Of Rhythm, if I recall. And then John Collins took Irving’s place and that lasted to the end of the trio.
FP: Do you have a favorite singer that you’ve worked with?
BB: I’d have to say Nat Cole for a male singer. His phrasing and sound were wonderful. He was a great guy to work with in the studio. Nat would never play piano after he became a stand-up singer. He always wanted keyboard artist Buddy Cole to be there on the recording dates with him because he admired Buddy’s playing so much. Nat really knew how to read music. Ever so often if he wasn’t sure how a tune should go, he’d walk over to the piano and sit down next to Buddy and ask him to play the part in question in single notes. He also had a small rhythm section around him. He’d listen and say, "OK. I’ve got it," and would walk back to the recording mic. He was such a beautiful and wonderful guy and was such a swinging piano player with his trio. In fact, I think he was one of the best jazz pianists I’ve ever heard. Capitol A&R man Dave Cavanagh was quoted as saying, "There are three different sexes. Men, women and girl singers." My favorite "girl singer" or female vocalist would have to be Peggy Lee. We did the album Guitars A La Lee together. I especially enjoyed Billy May’s arrangement of "Call Me" on that record. Peggy put so much expression into the lyric and picked such great material. She also appreciated all the players at the session. In fact, her first husband, Dave Barbour, was a fine guitar player himself. I also loved the way that Linda Ronstadt sang on the first album that Nelson Riddle did with her doing all of those standards. I’ve worked with so many great girl singers. As I think about it, I guess I’d have to say it would be a tie between Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney. Rosie was a complete gas to work with and was so sharp. She could pick up a tune so fast and had a great ear. I actually did her television series, The Rosemary Clooney Show. And it goes without saying, Doris Day also ranks right up there with my two favorites. I think one of the nicest records I ever heard was a Doris Day’s version of "Remind Me" with just piano accompaniment. Betty Bennett also did a beautiful rendition with Andre Previn and his orchestra.
FP: You did an album with violinist Herman Clebanoff on Mercury Records. It was done with a full orchestra and contained a number of standards and Latin pieces done in a true "bossa nova" style. How did that association come about?
BB: There was a fellow named Wayne Robinson who was a great arranger and did a lot for Wayne King and also did a number of string arrangements for Herman Clebanoff (who was a violinist from Chicago). Robinson wanted to do a Latin album featuring the Clebanoff Strings and it was also going to have a lot of guitar in it. The pianist Caesar Giovannini was also a part of it. Their idea was to feature the Latin/bossa guitar sound (that was so popular at the time) with a full string orchestra. That was back in the mid 1960’s.
FP: I’m going to mention a few of your contemporaries in the guitar world and ask you comment on each. Let’s start with Charlie Byrd.
BB: A great player and innovator. He was really responsible for getting Stan Getz to go down to Brazil and record with Joao and Astrud Gilberto. He had that marvelous rough technique that I loved. He played everything with his fingers using a gut string guitar. It was hard to believe that Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd (playing the rhythm) could create this great swinging sound. But they did, and Charlie was just an amazing player. I really think that he was responsible for making the Bossa Nova popular and bringing Antonio Carlos Jobim’s music to the U.S.
FP: Laurindo Almeida.
BB: A very close friend. I met him while doing a television show. There were just two guitars. I got to know his family, as well. They lived out here in the San Fernando Valley. He taught me so much. Even though Charlie Byrd was responsible for bringing the Bossa Nova to the public eye, Laurindo (who was originally from Brazil) was playing the Bossa Nova long before it became so popular here in the states. The first job he got here was with Stan Kenton’s band; but he really didn’t have the chance to play a lot there. When I met him, he showed me the basic Bossa Nova beat. He was a marvelous technician.
FP: Chet Atkins.
BB: I didn’t know Chet that well, but he was quite a gentleman. He would play as a soloist every once in a while on The Tonight Show. He and I would talk and then I’d get a letter from him saying "it was so nice seeing you again." He was one of the original "finger pickers" that really got his own style going. It’s a distinct Chet Atkins style. He was also a student of classical guitar. He could play almost all of the things that Segovia had transcribed. He was quite serious about that. He made his money and became a legend in Nashville as a producer because he had such a great ear for talent.
FP: Tony Mottola.
BB: Tony, a lovely man. He was on the east coast. I didn’t work a lot with him. I did meet him a few times, though. One time he came out to California to work with Frank Sinatra as an opening act. They were doing a TV show and he called me and said "I left my L-5 in New York. Can I borrow yours?" I was doing The Tonight Show at NBC and he was in the studio right next to us. I brought my L-5 down and I’ll never forget what happened. Tony picked it up and played it and then said "Change the strings the next time you play this."
FP: That brings up an interesting point. When you’re called in to a recording session, do you naturally bring a variety of guitars with you?
BB: You have to. In the olden days (when one would be working everyday), the trunk of your car would be filled with a banjo, an electric guitar, a rhythm guitar (like the L-5), an acoustic guitar, and a twelve-string. You might also have thrown in a mandolin, but you would have hardly used it! I remember walking in the studio for a Doris Day date and looking at the chart. It called for a mandolin. Al Hendrickson and I were together for that session which was the recording of Doris’ "Que Sera Sera." As you recall, that had a lot of mandolin in it! Later on, the studios began to pay cartage like they did for drummers and harpists. So you had a big trunk made that could hold a dozen instruments in it, an extra amp, and all kinds of pedals and other special effects.
FP: Can you single out a particular guitarist that you would consider as being your personal hero or inspiration?
BB: No doubt about it. It was Django Reinhardt. I listened to his records when I was a kid and I couldn’t believe how meticulously he played and with such great ideas. This was back in 1934-35. He played out of the Hot Club in France. Another great influence on me was Les Paul. I know Les and feel that he hasn’t gotten the credit he deserves for what he has done for guitar players. Electronically, he’s a genius with his innovations with multi-track tape machines. There’s an interesting story. Les was doing a show with Bing Crosby, a fifteen-minute radio show. It was a daily show with the Les Paul Trio. Bing owned a great deal of Ampex stock. Les asked him why Ampex couldn’t come up with a two-track machine so that when he overdubbed, he could put two tracks on one tape (instead of going from one machine to another). Bing took the idea to Ampex and, by gosh, they came out with a two-track machine! And then Les said, "If you can do it with two tracks, why not four?" It took off from there. And, of course, Charlie Christian is an influence on anybody who plays electric guitar. You can’t help but be amazed by all of his ideas and the sound that he had.
FP: One last item, Bob. Do you have a word or two that you’d like to say to our friend Robert Farnon?
BB: Yes, I certainly do. I have never met you, Mr. Farnon, but I have played your arrangements while working with Pia Zadora for six nights in the theater. They played nothing but your arrangements. I enjoyed them so much. I have many of your albums. In fact, the first one I got was From The Emerald Isle. I still have it and it’s one of my favorites.
FP: Bob, thank you for talking with us and for really giving several generations so many fine performances through your work on recordings, television, films and concerts.
BB: It’s been a pleasure.
This article appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ December 2005
Readers will recall that Robert Farnon has dedicated his final work – the Bassoon Concerto "Romancing the Phoenix" - to Daniel Smith, the eminent American virtuoso on the instrument. Recently Daniel gave this exclusive interview to ‘Journal Into Melody’, in which he talked about his career and meeting Robert Farnon.
interviewed by David Ades
DAVID: Daniel, let's start with how your career in music began.
DANIEL: I grew up in a family where there was not any musical background. The reason for my taking up music makes for a rather funny story. I grew up in the Bronx, and when I was sixteen years old, happened to see a show on TV which reunited the original Benny Goodman trio in a New Year's eve special. Seeing Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa and Teddy Wilson was a magical moment which changed my life forever. I knew absolutely nothing about music or instruments and watching them perform left me staring at the screen with these amazing sounds coming from them, and especially Benny Goodman.
Shortly after seeing this show, I l went to a music studio where my cousin was studying drums and told the owner that I wanted to take trumpet lessons. He asked me why I wanted to play the trumpet and I told him that I had seen someone on TV play the trumpet and that I really liked the sound of it. 'What was this person's name' he asked me? 'Benny Goodman' I said. ' And what did his trumpet look like' he further inquired? I said it was long and black. He then of course told me that it was a clarinet. That's how naive I was! So it was actually Benny Goodman who inspired me to want to be a musician.
Prior to this I was studying to be an artist and went to a special Arts High School in Manhattan as well as the Arts Student's League. I had always had this artistic bent in me since I was a small child. No one in my immediate family or any of my relatives had such a trait, so I guess it just came sort of out of nowhere. As the saying goes, 'I did not choose it, it chose me'.
My first lessons were on the clarinet with a somewhat inept teacher. I then switched to Bill Sheiner, whose teaching fame was that he taught Stan Getz and other famous artists. I then took up the saxophone with him after the clarinet and also added on flute. Eventually I entered the Manhattan School of Music as a clarinet major and midway through, switched to being a flute major and eventually got my degree from them on flute.
DAVID: Where does the bassoon come in?
DANIEL: These were the later years of the Vietnam War and of course I had to do whatever I could to avoid getting caught up in this- or else run to Canada. Being now of draft age, I chose the best way out by signing up to perform with the West Point Band to fulfil my draft obligation. I auditioned for them on flute and was appointed solo piccolo and flute in what is called 'Special Services' and with the rank of SP5 for a three year tour of duty. Meanwhile, my wife had given birth to my daughter while I was in the service and I was nervous about making a living after I returned to civilian life. I thought it would be prudent to learn a double reed instrument to compliment my already proven skills on saxophone, clarinet and flute. This so I could then have the ability to be a 'doubler' and be able to perform in Broadway show bands and studio work. So this is how I got involved with the bassoon and at this point, had nothing to do with the idea of being a bassoon soloist, just to help make a living.
DAVID: So you were always employed as a musician one way or the other?
DANIEL: More or less. My parents had hopes of my being an accountant or a dentist like a cousin of mine. My father especially fought tooth and nail that I should not be a musician and I had absolutely no support or understanding from them. It was very traumatic and a very difficult period in my life, but obviously there was something within me that held firm and somehow held onto my desire to be a musician. I always envied anyone who came from a family where there was understanding and support. Recently, before his death, Robert Farnon told me of the joy he had coming from such a family where music was an important part of everyone's life.
DAVID: It made you all the more determined to become a musician.
DANIEL: Yes, you are correct. My father had worked in the Post Office and I watched the sort of life he had, and by the time of his retirement, he was a very closed person full of fears about life. His advice to me was to never take risks. So I knew instinctively that this was not for me, a safe and secure life where no risks were involved. Music became my calling, and as I said before, I did not chose it, it chose me.
My later background in music is so different from that of a conservatory trained classical bassoonist, although I did study eventually with some of the best players and teachers, including the principal players from the NY Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Boston Symphony and even from Toscannini's NBC symphony. In later years I performed in the bassoon sections as an extra or substitute with the NY Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, and several other leading ensembles with some of these very same teachers. However, along the way, I also did many things in music that a strictly classically trained bassoonist would never experience and certainly not which you would associate with someone known as a solo classical or jazz bassoonist. For instance, I played saxophone and flute with Latin bands in New York at clubs where we would be in very dangerous neighbourhoods. These 'gigs' would go to two or three in the morning and I witnessed riots, knife fights, beatings, attempts on my own life, etc... nasty stuff but part and parcel of my musical experiences.
DAVID: There are not many bassoon players around; is this why you took up the instrument as you knew there would be plenty of work?
DANIEL: Yes, exactly and we sort of covered this earlier. But this had nothing to do with my eventually becoming a soloist on the instrument. At first, it was purely pragmatic, to make a living so I could support my family. As the years went by, and for various reasons, it evolved into a strong desire to become a soloist and also to plunge into areas of music where the bassoon had never gone before- crossover, ragtime, popular music, and of course jazz. And along the way to record a lot of musical gems written for the instrument, especially the complete 37 bassoon concertos of Antonio Vivaldi.
DAVID: Tell us of your time on Broadway.
DANIEL: I can answer this in a 'broad way' in fact. I was at one point doing so many different things in music and on so many different instruments, that I would almost say I was going through multiple musical lives. I played in Broadway show bands, off-Broadway show bands, Latin bands, resort show bands (where I played lead alto for big headliners such as Vic Damone, Steve Lawrence, Billy Eckstine, Billy Daniels, Buddy Greco, Carmen Macrae, etc.) ...I was a very good sax player on all the saxes as well as the other woodwinds. I played with such bands as Billy May, Les Elgart, and even one summer with Guy Lombardo where I had to execute that outrageous wide vibrato to fit in with his sax section. Then a Latin band phase where I played with or opposite on the bandstand with the likes of Tito Rodriguez, Tito Puente, Xavier Cugat, Machito and others. A lot of this sort of stuff was overlapping such as where I would perform as principal flute with an orchestra north of New York city, jump into my car, and drive to Manhattan where I would dash into a night club to perform that same night with a Latin band on saxophone.
As my bassoon playing started to improve, I kept on taking lessons with those teachers I referred to earlier and was granted a scholarship to Tanglewood. I also spent four seasons on scholarship with the National Orchestral Association under Leon Barzin. And then started to perform on bassoon and contra-bassoon with a lot of orchestras and ensembles. So as you can see, I wound up for a variety of reasons doing a lot of different things in music, including and excluding the bassoon.
DAVID: So most of your work was in New York in the early days?
DANIEL: Yes, I did not go to California or Hollywood, just around New York. Somewhere along the way, I was starting to get this desire to become a solo bassoonist and started to perform concertos with various orchestras. I also had the good fortune of performing for ten years as principal bassoonist and as soloist many times during summers in Rome, Italy with the Rome Festival Orchestra. And then I started to plunge in with making my early recordings- mostly concertos with string ensembles on a variety of labels. My biggest break then came when on a trip to London with my wife; we were at a friend's home in Richmond where the subject of my recordings and musical career came up. This couple were close friends with Jose Luis Garcia, leader of the English Chamber Orchestra, and they asked me if I would like to record with them. I thought I was dreaming but she was obviously serious. She picked up the phone and rang Garcia. We spoke for a while and he instructed me to send him some of those recordings I had already made so the powers that be at the ECO could hear them and judge if I was up to recording with them. They liked what they heard and before I knew it, I was sitting in a chair at Rosslyn Hill Chapel in Hampstead with the ECO and recording an album of mixed bassoon concertos. I also at that time made an album of English Music for Bassoon and Piano with Roger Vignoles, so my foot was now in the door with recording in this country.
At the suggestion of the producer of these two albums, Brian Culverhouse, I took the masters to ASV which had recently started up thanks to the leadership of Jack Boyce. I got to know Jack very well and he was keen on my doing further albums for ASV. When I mentioned to him that Antonio Vivaldi had written 37 concertos for bassoon and nobody had ever recorded them all, he said to me 'why don't you do them for us?' I thought he was kidding but he was quite serious about this. It was a huge undertaking, and over a period of six years, half accompanied by the English Chamber Orchestra and the other half with the Zagreb Soloists, we eventually completed the entire series which went on to win several awards, including the MRA award as 'Best Concerto of the Year', The Penguin Guide *** rating, and four times on Fanfare magazine's 'Want List'. Along the way there were other albums including crossover music with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, music for bassoon and string quartet, others involving ragtime and so forth.
DAVID: How did you become aware of Robert Farnon?
DANIEL: In November of 2004, the phone rang at my flat in London. It was someone by the name of David O'Rourke who was phoning me from New Jersey. David indicated he was glad to have finally located me and asked if I knew who Robert Farnon was. I said I had heard of Robert Farnon and asked why he was phoning me. David told me that there was a network of people trying to hunt me down on both sides of the ocean. Apparently, Robert Farnon wanted to write a concerto for bassoon which involved jazz improvising and my name kept coming up as other bassoonists were approached about this project. He had fallen in love with the sound of the instrument and now knew I could perform both the virtuostic concerto parts as well as improvise where needed in the piece. But he only knew of my first name ...'Daniel' and could not locate me. Eventually through a broad network of people, they found me via my UK manager.
David O'Rourke and I had a wonderful conversation about this project and left me with Robert Farnon's Guernsey phone number. He said that I should phone him and that Robert Farnon would likely be contacting me shortly as well. Within ten minutes the phone rang again and this time it was the voice of Robert Farnon that I now heard. I will never forget his deep booming and friendly voice with his cheerful introduction...' Hello Danny', how are you?' There was an immediate connection between us and as I later found out, many others had experienced the same sort of thing over the years.
Robert and I had a long conversation that day and went over the concept of the bassoon concerto. In the next weeks, we had many further conversations on the phone and I then flew to Guernsey a few weeks later in December to visit with him and go over the piece, this after having earlier sent him samples of my recordings to listen to. He was full of praise for my playing and was very open about any ideas I might have for the concerto. On his music stand was the first page of the bassoon concerto score.... that was all he had at this point. I asked him how long before the full concerto would be finished and he said that he would have the whole piece ready no later than the beginning March of 2005, just two months later! I arranged with him to fax me the bassoon parts in New York where my wife and I would be from December through February of 2005. Within a very short time, the faxes started to arrive courtesy of his copyist and by mid February, I had the entire solo bassoon part in my hands. I could not believe the speed at which this all happened. I practised and learned the solo part in New York and in February returned to the UK and then flew to Guernsey to actually play it for Robert Farnon. At this point, he was recuperating from a leg operation and receiving therapy at a nursing home in Guernsey. We spent a wonderful day together going over the concerto and sharing lots of laughs and stories. He was so excited about this music and said it was the best thing he ever wrote and that it's premieres would be huge successes. His wish was to be able to conduct it himself, to have the UK premiere at the Proms, to have Andre Previn involved in Oslo, Canadian orchestras involved, and much more. He wanted to devote his energies to having all this accomplished as soon as his Third Symphony was premiered in Edinburgh later that month. And as we all sadly now know, he was not to be alive much longer after that day.
DAVID: Could you describe the work to us?
DANIEL: I will try to some degree. I actually never saw the score until that second trip to Guernsey in February, about a month before he passed on. I had at that time with me the solo bassoon part, but did not understand where everything fitted in or how the piece was constructed. When he showed me the completed score, I knew almost instantly that I was looking at something very special and unusual. Robert told me that all his life he wanted to compose something that had no restraints on it and which would include everything he could muster up from a lifetime of composing and arranging. As with his Third Symphony, his last two pieces including the bassoon concerto were not bound by any commissions, deadlines, financial obligations, or anything else, just to fully express himself as a composer. And as I mentioned before, he told me it was the best piece of music he ever wrote and was very excited about seeing it brought to life.
In the actual score, you can see passages where the bassoon plays the role of a lead saxophone with three bassoons underneath in the scoring, just as in a saxophone section. There is also a lot of percussion used and in many sections, the winds of the symphony act as a sort of wind band within the full orchestra- Farnon described this as ' a big band within a full symphony orchestra'. Naturally there are gorgeous moments in the second and lyrical movement as per what everyone knows of the music of Robert Farnon. And then as we arrive at the third and final movement of the concerto, Robert made full use of some of my suggestions where he pulls out all stops. At one point, the full symphony orchestra and 'big band' fade back and the bassoon opens up with a rhythm section of piano, bass and drums in an up tempo blues (which Farnon composed himself) allowing for unlimited choruses to be played and at the moment of choosing of the soloist, the conductor then brings in the orchestra, starting with percussion first and then adding on instruments. And then after a few more spots which also have improvisation involved, a really startling ending which simply flies all over the place and ends on a bang. It is hard to describe and hopefully we will see all this incredible music brought to life in the near future when everyone can hear what Robert Farnon achieved in his final work.
DAVID: Robert called it 'Romancing the Phoenix'. Do you know why?
DANIEL: Sort of. I asked him but don't remember his exact words. Robert apparently had the concept of the phoenix as an elusive legendary bird that rises up again and again in unexpected ways. I suggested 'Flight of the Phoenix' which he liked even better but after checking this name out on the Internet, he discovered that this title was the same as a recent movie and so he went back to his original title idea. The concerto, without any doubt, is a one of a kind piece, and I am sure that when it is heard, it will have quite an impact in the musical world.
DAVID: So is it with a jazz band and also a symphony orchestra? Roughly how many instruments are involved?
DANIEL: It is with a full symphony orchestra, and once again as Robert Farnon described it, ' a big band within a full symphony orchestra'. When I finally saw the score, I was a bit confused as I thought he meant a big band including a saxophone section, but apparently what he had in mind was a big wind band using the resources of the wind players of the symphony being involved in passages that stand out from the full symphony in various passages.
DAVID: Isn't it costly to stage with so many musicians?
DANIEL: Not really because it involves a symphony orchestra which already has the wind players within it. The only instruments to be added would be a piano, bass and drums for the jazz rhythm section.
DAVID: Have you any idea where the premiere might take place?
DANIEL: At this point we are following up on various possibilities. As already said, Robert's wish was to see it premiered at the Proms and wanted to work towards this goal and other premieres, not knowing of course that his recent illness would become worse. He was so upbeat and so excited about this music and looking to hearing it performed. In any event, I am sure that in the coming months we will know a lot more about premieres. Unfortunately, we will never know what doors he would have opened but there are other people now working on this. I am sure there will be a big demand to have it premiered in various venues and countries.
DAVID: You have the honour of having his very last work.
DANIEL: Yes, he was very generous about it for many reasons, not only that he wrote it for me but that he arranged for it to be printed by Warner/Chappell and with a dedication to ' The American virtuoso Daniel Smith'. He also had the opportunity for one movement to be premiered with the BBC Concert Orchestra but turned it down because they would use their own bassoonist (he would have had to write out any improvised solos of course) and he would not allow this to happen until I did the actual premiere. Which was very kind of him.
When I last met him at the nursing home in Guernsey, and also prior in some phone conversations, Robert had asked me if I could bend notes on the bassoon like the clarinet does at the beginning of Rhapsody in Blue. I said I was not sure but would play for him when we next met and show him what I can do. So when we did meet, I told him I had an idea about this query. I played Duke Ellington's ' In A Sentimental Mood' . Several measures into the piece, the melody swoops down to an Ab, which I seriously bent as per Johnny Hodges would have done. 'That's it!' he exclaimed with a big smile on his face. I think he wanted to go back to the piece and incorporate this effect in the music but of course we will never know what he had in mind.
DAVID: Will other bassoon players be able to play this piece do you think, or is it a bit too technical?
DANIEL: Probably not. A highly skilled virtuoso bassoon player could execute the melodic material but would not be able to improvise in those places which require this unusual skill. And for the handful of jazz players on the instrument, I would have serious doubts they could execute the written parts which are quite difficult.
I would like also to bring up the subject of unusual and different music which can be performed on the bassoon and also jazz. Ragtime if executed with the right feeling can sound very natural on the instrument, as does a large amount of 'crossover' material including transcriptions of music normally performed on other instruments as well as orchestral pieces. As for playing jazz on the bassoon.....several years ago, Steve Grey composed a work for me entitled 'Jazz Suite' which I had the honour of performing with the Welsh Chamber Orchestra. The piece contained improvisational spots and which forced me to plunge in and get serious about playing real jazz on the instrument. I was already a virtuoso so to speak but all of my technical skills were of no help whatsoever in learning how to play jazz in a serious way. I had to methodically learn to play extended chords and scales from top to bottom on the instrument and in all keys. This included many scales and chords which do not appear in classical music. And then to place all ideas exactly where the underlying chords are heard and of course to 'hear' musical ideas many measures before you execute them. This took me about four years to accomplish and along the way my arms became very sore and stiff from the effort. But then suddenly the ideas flowed and the soreness stopped... everything just flowed! All the musical ideas made sense and I can now perform a full two hour jazz concert without using any music and with a repertoire of nearly one hundred jazz pieces to pick from including bebop, swing, Latin, blues, ballads, etc.
Finally, the bassoon must be amplified when performing jazz, otherwise it would not be heard above a rhythm section, let along a full symphony orchestra. I have a special microphone attached to my crook/bocal which makes this possible. When Robert Farnon found this out, he was much relieved knowing that his music would be clearly heard above the orchestra in his bassoon concerto. And as for developing a jazz style on the instrument, there are no real role models from the past to learn from such as Armstrong, Gillespie or Davis on trumpet or Parker, Getz or Rollins on saxophone. It is all pioneering stuff and I am very pleased to be involved in such ground breaking efforts and of course with the bassoon concerto of Robert Farnon as a fitting memorial to his memory and talent.
Daniel Smith was speaking to David Ades on Tuesday 24 May, 2005. The Editor thanks Adam Endacott for transcribing the recorded interview for 'Journal Into Melody'.
Daniel Smith through his management would be most pleased to hear from any conductors, festivals or venues interested in being involved in performances of the Robert Farnon bassoon concerto. Contact information concerning his USA and UK managers can be made via his website at www.danielsmithbassoon.com
This interview appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ September 2005.
ADAM SAUNDERS – A YOUNG COMPOSER OF NOTE
talking to PETER EDWARDS
Adam Saunders first came to the attention of RFS members several years ago, when he composed his Comedy Overture which was featured on "Friday Night is Music Night". It was also performed by the BBC Concert Orchestra specially for "Legends of Light Music". Adam now has a flourishing career as a Light Music composer, and he recently spoke to Peter Edwards about his work.
First of all, here are some basic facts about his musical background. Adam was born in Derby and studied at the Royal Academy of Music and London University, winning several prizes for composition. Since leaving he has established a career composing music for the concert hall and for worldwide television, film and other media. In addition to a period as composer-in-association with the East of England Orchestra, Adam has had his works performed and recorded by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, BBC Concert Orchestra, City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir, Royal Ballet Sinfonia, Academy of Ancient Music, London Mozart Players, Odense Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra of the Renaissance and the Brighton Festival Chorus amongst others. As well as his work as a composer, arranger and conductor, Adam also regularly performs as a jazz pianist with his own trio and quartet. His concert works include the afore-mentioned Comedy Overture and The Magic Kingdom. Adam is an Associate of the Royal Academy of Music.
Peter Edwards began by asking Adam: which composers or arrangers do you admire the most, and why?
Adam Saunders: I have wide-ranging musical tastes and admire composers and arrangers from a wide variety of musical backgrounds. For example, my favourite classical composers include Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Debussy and Ravel who wrote the most colourful and amazingly vibrant works for orchestra. Favourite film composers include the usual suspects – John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Alan Silvestri and, of course, from Hollywood’s golden era, Korngold, Newman and Hermann.
However, I also grew up listening to BBC Radio 2 nearly every day and in particular the BBC Radio Orchestra broadcasts (especially the great Tuesday evening Radio Orchestra Show and String Sound on a Saturday night – I must have been a very unusual teenager!). There were also great concerts on a Saturday night with either the Radio Orchestra or the Concert Orchestra. My favourite arrangers and conductors were John Fox (also a fantastic composer and now one of my best friends), Neil Richardson, John Gregory, Roland Shaw, Robert Farnon, Ronnie Aldrich and Stanley Black. I think I learned a huge amount about the sound of the orchestra and the basics of scoring by listening intently to these wonderful broadcasts, which sadly now have disappeared from the air waves.
Peter: What are your favourite films or television programmes? How does this influence your work?
Adam: Again, my tastes are varied. I’m a huge fan of silent movies – in fact, as a child I had an 8mm cine projector and used to put on film shows of Charlie Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy etc. for local OAP’s clubs and the like where I accompanied the films by improvising on the piano to match the action on-screen, just like in the days of silent cinema. I’m sure this started the ball rolling with my decision to become a composer for film and TV.
I also greatly enjoy fantasy and science fiction films – anything from Star Wars to Indiana Jones, Alien, etc. and it’s no coincidence that these are my favourite kind of film scores to listen to in their own right. I think that if you have exciting visuals and lots of action and magic on screen, the music you write to accompany these scenes is going to be the most imaginative you can compose. I remember hearing an interview with Ron Goodwin saying how much he enjoyed scoring action films for this very reason, and that the worst kind of films to score are where they consist mainly just of people talking in a room!
The wonderful scores from Hollywood’s greatest composers can’t fail to have influenced my development as a composer (especially when writing library music), just as the current top Hollywood writers were influenced by the best of their predecessors. Everyone grows up listening to something - the important thing is to absorb these influences and go on to develop your own style.
Peter: What are the main differences between writing library music and writing concert music?
Adam: With library projects, you’re writing a CD of music to fit a particular purpose. Examples of this could be fantasy music, historical/ period dramas, news and current affairs, comedy/ cartoons, music for sports programmes etc. The CDs are distributed to production houses around the world for television, film and radio producers to use in the soundtracks to their productions. Obviously, listening to a library CD from beginning to end might not be a great experience for a lot of people, no matter how good the music is. Listening to 70 minutes of non-stop horror or slapstick music – including all the 60 and 30 second versions and short "stings" that are required by the publishers doesn’t include a lot of variety for a casual listener! However, these recordings have become essential in the world of TV, radio, film and advertising. Also, writing library music is a fantastic way for a composer to make a very good living from writing music – although it’s to be recommended to write other music as well.
Of course, when writing concert music you don’t have the same constraints on what you write. In the case of a commission you probably have a brief to write a particular type of work (an overture, a work for chorus and orchestra, a piece for strings etc) but then it’s up to you to decide what you want to write. You can be true to yourself as a writer and write in your "own voice" rather than having to write in a particular style or mood. In the case of writing for a classical recording, where you may be compiling a CD of your works, it is important to have a balanced programme with plenty of variety to keep the listener interested.
Peter: Why do you think there is so little encouragement for composers who write tuneful music for music's sake?
Adam: We live in a different world now to the days of, for example, the BBC Light Music Festivals etc. and gone are the days of the BBC commissions to light music composers to create new works for the many broadcasts that existed of this kind of music. However, the picture in the classical world isn’t as bleak as it was a few decades ago when anything "tuneful" would be looked down on by the ivory-tower "squeaky gate" brigade. Indeed, the "avant garde" movement of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s is now almost a cliché in itself and there’s nothing new anyone could write to "shock" or alienate audiences that hasn’t been done before many times. Modern "classical" music is much more audience-friendly with many composers writing music people enjoy hearing, without being old fashioned. There’s a lot more freedom than there used to be for composers. After graduating from the Royal Academy, I soon became Composer-in-Association with the East of England Orchestra for several years. A post like this would have definitely gone to another kind of composer a few decades ago.
Peter: How do you see the world of light music progressing in years to come?
Adam: Well, there’s always going to be a place for orchestral music that’s enjoyable to listen to, whether on CD or in the concert Hall, and although quite limited in their playlists, Classic FM and the like have done a lot for the popular classical market. However, it seems that, as far the tastes of the general public are concerned, those that do listen to orchestral music tend to look upon writers like Howard Shore and John Williams as the new popular composers of our time with film soundtrack albums dominating the "classical" record charts.
Although this isn’t written as "music for music’s sake", there’s no doubting that writers like this are immensely talented and it’s good exposure for new orchestral music, no matter what it’s written for. Indeed, I think it’s great if young people start to listen to orchestral music of any kind, and I’m sure that those who start off by listening to soundtracks may well start to experiment and listen to other kinds of music. It’s also great that orchestral music isn’t seen as something that was only written in the past. Film composers especially now have a bigger public image than they have had for a long time.
Producer Philip Lane has been a fantastic force in bringing new recordings of light music to the fore, and with his policy of mixing older repertoire with new and unfamiliar works he’s created a new life for light music in the recording studio, and with the subsequent broadcasts of these discs, a gradual increasing in public awareness. Brian Kay’s Light Programme on Radio 3 is wonderful, but there really should be more than one hour a week allocated to light music. It’s almost bizarre that what was once the most popular and commercial music on the airwaves (and actually not that long ago), is now seen by the BBC as a "peculiar" minority interest.
The pioneering series of recordings produced by Ernest Tomlinson for Marco Polo must also be recognised as hugely important in the re-awakening of this market, and with wonderful people like Gavin Sutherland and the players of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, we are now in a situation that would never have been imagined a few years ago, where we have an abundance of new digital recordings of light music. Surely it would be a great idea for the BBC to give somebody like Gavin an hour-long weekly programme on Radio 3, maybe with the BBC Concert Orchestra, where he could broadcast light music from all eras. If we can have regular broadcasts of early music or mainstream "serious" contemporary music (both minority interests), it’s time to do the same for light music.
ADAM SAUNDERS DISCOGRAPHY
ASV: British Light Overtures 3 CDWHL 2140
Dutton Epoch: British Light Music Premieres Vol.1 CDLX 7147
Chappell: Fantasy and Adventure CHAP 272
Chappell: Elizabethan and Baroque Drama CHAP 292
Chappell: Light and Shade CHAP 303
Chappell: Pure Piano CHAP 309
Bruton: Cinematic Trailers BRJ 54
Bruton: Movie Mania 2 BIGS 010
Bruton: Political Path BR 429
Bruton: Living and Breathing BR 426
Bruton: Game Zone BR 435
Bruton: Widescreen Drama BR441
Amphonic: Soprano Sax AVF 130
Amphonic: Neo-Classical AVF 139
Amphonic: Klub Kulture AVF 143
Amphonic: Beat Nation AVF 145
Amphonic: Film Styles II AVF 146
Amphonic: Christmas AVF 147
Amphonic: Adrenalin Zone AVF 149
Amphonic: Symphonica Electronica AVF 151
Amphonic: Contemporary Jingles AVF 155
Amphonic: Classical Fusion AVF 158
Amphonic: Retro Remix AVF 163
Amphonic: Broadcast Themes AVF 168
Amphonic: Comic Capers AVF 170
Focus: Byte-Sized FCD 171
Focus: Fast and Furious FCD 178
Focus: Sound Design and Music Beds 1 FCD 181
Focus: Sound Design and Music Beds 2 FCD 182
Focus: Lifestyle and Reality TV FCD 199
Focus: Promos and Commercials FCD 202
Extreme: Passport to Cuba XPS005
Silva Screen: The Fantasy AlbumFILMXCD360
Primetime: John Williams 40 years of Film Music TVPMCD810
RPO Records: Filmharmonic RPO 015CD
Chappell: Pop Hits CHAP AV150
Chappell: Ambient Grooves and Dub 2 CHAP AV157
Chappell: French Electronic Beats CHAP AV169
Albums of Adam Saunders compositions to be released shortly:
Bruton: Epic Choir and Orchestra
Focus: Lounge Jaz
Editor: this article (reprinted from our September 2005 magazine) is based on a feature which recently appeared in the Newsletter of The Light Music Society. We are grateful to Adam Saunders, Peter Edwards and the LMS for kindly allowing us to adapt it for ‘Journal Into Melody’.
Robert Farnon’s Inspired Contributions to Big Bands and Jazz
recalled by PAUL CLATWORTHY
Robert Farnon was a genius in the world of music, and his career would have prospered in any field of music he chose. All members of this Society know every facet of his illustrious work in the category of light and classical music but his jazz output mostly took a back seat.
Jazz always has been a minority realm: every devotee has their own definition of what comprises jazz. Some argue that whoever is playing should improvise each session and written jazz has no place! Others take the view that arranging jazz is just as credible because the writer is improvising as he writes. Further arguments start between the Traditionalists, Mainstreams and Modernists, each saying theirs is the only true genre.
Bob grew up with fellow countrymen Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Peterson. Dizzy is quoted as saying if Bob had kept on playing trumpet he would have been a serious rival. Bob kept his jazz for special occasions, sometimes inserting Big Band tracks into his orchestral albums, film soundtracks or when backing singers. Bob won many awards but the one he was proudest of was the ‘Grammy’ earned for his arrangement of Lament on J.J. Johnson's "Tangence" album.
There was always a long list of Jazzmen lining up for Bob's input but for various reasons not many of them reached fruition. I sent a sample of Herbie Hancock’s compositions to Bob when Herbie approached Bob about working together. I suspect Herbie was familiar with Bob's work (especially "Porgy and Bess") because he later recorded "Gershwin’s World" - more than likely a project he wanted Bob involved in. Bob thanked me for the suggestions but said their two managements could not agree terms. If it had got off the ground I am sure another ‘Grammy’ would have resulted.
Vic Lewis promoted a concert starring Dizzy Gillespie, and requested Bob as conductor. Only one of Bob's arrangements was used - Con Alma; unfortunately it never made it to CD. I was slightly consoled when Johnny Dankworth used Bob's chart for Dizzy's CD "The Symphony Sessions" using the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra. Another track on the CD was Lorraine - Dizzy's composition dedicated to his wife. Bob also had Lorraine in mind when he wrote Portrait of Lorraine. It had its first outing in the Chappell Recorded Music Library but in 1975 Bob conducted the German NDR Big Band expanding the piece into a Jazz vehicle. Two other titles Bob used on the session were Almost a lullaby and Lamasery Chant, the latter pulled from Bob's "Road to Hong Kong" score.
Bob wrote The Pleasure of Your Company for Oscar Peterson and it was performed on British TV in 1969. The writing was perhaps the most liberated that Bob ever put to paper, a constantly inventive study in rhythm, obviously enjoyed by Oscar at his peak.
Tony Coe's recording "Pop Makes Progress" (a Chapter One LP) arranged by Bob kicks off with a fine Big Band chart There will never be and continues with another eight popular tunes of the day. Bob's arrangements make the album because, for me, Tony's tone jars. It only works on Bob's own composition Blue Theme.
Some of Bob's best Big Band charts were written for the Tony Bennett albums "With Love" and "The Good Things in Life" (hopefully they will be out one day on CD!). Bob's one recording with Sinatra (now a collectors’ item!) mainly concentrated on his string writing. Examples of arrangements Bob might have used on a ‘swinging’ follow-up are contained on his instrumental tributes to both Bennett and Sinatra.
George Shearing and Bob arranging was another match made in heaven. "On Target" and "How Beautiful is Night" impeccably show the lighter side of Jazz.
Bob made a jazz version of one of his most popular compositions Portrait of a flirt for the BBC Radio Orchestra which probably raised the hackles of purists (Bob always liked a challenge!).
"Showcase for soloists" featured Bobby Lamb, Don Lusher, Frank Reidy, Dennis Wilson, Roy Willox, David Snell, Kenny Baker and Stan Roderick. Stan used to live near to me and I persuaded him to come to one of our meetings. He cried off of a second visit when hearing that Bob was attending. I never discovered if it was in awe of sitting next to Bob or a more personal reason! I do know Bob used Stan on most of his sessions until Stan lost his lip and enjoyed too many sherbet dabs! "Showcase" gave all the players charts they could really get their teeth in to. They were the cream of session men and revelled in the beauty of sounds created.
The first Farnon chart that impressed me with its jazz leaning was In the blue of evening from the "Presenting Robert Farnon" LP – now on a Vocalion CD. Frank Reidy was the soloist and I played it incessantly - still the bees knees!
Trombonist J.J. Johnson stated that Bob had been one of his heroes for as long as he could remember. "He orchestrates with the meticulous precision of a fine Swiss watchmaker". Many years before recording "Tangence" J.J. had heard Bob's masterful score for "Captain Horatio Hornblower". One piece in particular really blew him away - the majestic, lush, elegant tone poem Lady Babara's theme.
The CD "Tangence" explored Bob's jazz credentials perhaps more than any other recording, hatching ideas by the nanosecond, collating songs old and new. The opening track written by Benny Carter People time grabs your attention from the first notes; working Only the lonely into Dinner for one, please, James is another example of Bob's talent for surprising and delighting any listener. Sadly this inspired partnership only got together for one other CD, "The Brass Orchestra", where Bob arranged Wild is the wind for JJ.’s muted trombone; the writing is moody - almost funeral - but still offering a new way of thinking jazz orchestrally.
Bob could take compositions written by others and make them his own. Always one step ahead of his compatriots, Bob knew instinctively whether to construct backings with soaring or subdued strings, oomphy brass and woodwind voicing to suit the artist singing or soloing. Bob's comprehensive mastery whether arranging or composing will never be bettered, and I find it very hard to believe we will ever again be blessed with such a talent. The world of music will never be the same deprived of that special man, Robert Joseph Farnon.
This article appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ September 2005.
ROBERT FARNON: GENIUS AND HUMILITY
A CANADIAN PERSPECTIVE
DR. STANLEY SAUNDERS
It is difficult to think of a time when the music of Robert Farnon was not a part of my life. As an aspiring teenage violinist in Britain, I had the good fortune to mature with the opportunity to listen to Robert’s music emanating from so many sources in an environment and time that were conducive to the performance of live music.
Radio gave us his great arrangements with the big dance bands of Ted Heath, Ambrose, and Geraldo; the series "Melody Hour," which began in 1946; and Robert’s BBC programme "Journey into Melody." from 1950 The many LP albums and CDs with Robert’s musical arrangements, and his collaboration with such illuminaries as Gracie Fields, Vera Lynn, Eileen Farrell, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, George Shearing, Joe Williams, and Dizzie Gillespie are testament to his versatility and great abilities as are the fine recordings with the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra. For television, we need only mention the stirring concert march, Colditz, written in 1972 that was the theme for the BBC TV series, "Colditz,’ and the main title for "Secret Army.’ Melody Fair that was often used to introduce Robert’s television shows. Other TV series included "The Prisoner" 1967, and "The Champions" 1969. The opportunity to compose music for films was, I believe, the main factor that persuaded Robert to stay in the United Kingdom at the conclusion of World War II. A good decision when one realizes that he eventually penned the scores for over forty films including such memorable movies as "Spring in ParkLane" , "Maytime in Mayfair" , and "Captain Horatio Hornblower, R.N." .
Having been surrounded with such music in my formative years, it is only natural that Robert’s fine writings have resonated with me ever since. I readily understand why such notable composers such as André Previn, John Williams, Henry Mancini, Quincy Jones and many others have publicly acknowledged their musical indebtedness to the influences of Robert’s creative scores. During the late 1940’s through 1958, I would personally play the music of Robert Farnon as an instrumentalist in many ensembles including Her Majesty’s Armed Forced Bands; the BBC, and ITV [Wales] Orchestras. The reality that I would subsequently reside in Canada with the opportunity to conduct his music in North America and, furthermore, be favoured to regard Robert as a very dear friend, seems almost beyond belief.
The pleasure of working in Canada with many of Robert’s former musical players and colleagues such as violinists Frank Fusco, Samuel Hersenhoren, Berul Sugarman, and Albert Pratz, allowed me to share their admiration not only of Robert’s immense and versatile musical abilities but also of his personal warmth, his humour, and his friendship.
With the invaluable help of my good friend and neighbour, vibraphonist, Peter Appleyard, a plan was formulated to produce a concert that would give Robert’s musical colleagues, friends, and the Canadian general public an opportunity to pay tribute and to hear some of his masterworks. The Board of the Brantford Symphony Orchestra, Ontario, Canada, readily gave their approval, and arrangements were made by the Symphony to bring Robert to Canada to be a vital part of this well-deserved tribute to him. On Sunday, May 4, 1997, the seventy-eight piece ensemble with Jascha Milkis , concertmaster, and myself as conductor, presented our personal musical tribute to Robert at the Sanderson Centre for the Performing Arts at Brantford, Ontario. Compè re and host was Peter Appleyard, O.C.
The programme for this memorable occasion, entitled ‘The Genius of Robert Farnon,’ consisted entirely of Robert’s compositions and arrangements : Colditz March; Shenandoah; Prelude and Dance for Harmonica and Orchestra with Canadian Joseph Macerollo, accordion; How Beautiful is Night; "Manhattan Playboy," No. 3 of Three Impressions for Orchestra; À la claire Fontaine; Melody Fair; Gateway to the West; Farrago for Brass Quintet and Orchestra; Intermezzo for Harp and Strings with Julia Shaw, harp; The Very Thought of You with vocalist Carol Welsman, conducted by Skitch Henderson; and Twilight World with Peter Appleyard, vibraphone; Show Boat Selection; and Farnon Fantasy.
The concert was an unqualified success: a packed house in the 1200 seat Sanderson Performing Arts Centre; repeated standing ovations; and demands for, and receiving encores including State Occasion. Each time that Robert was brought on stage, there was an instantaneous outburst of applause from the capacity audience Among those in attendance were Robert’s son, Brian, from Calgary, Alberta; John Parry of Parry Music Inc., Florida; and Skitch Henderson, Music Director of the New York ‘Pops’ Orchestra, Carnegie Hall, New York. Regrettably, Oscar Peterson was unable to perform because of illness. Countless greetings were received—telephone calls, letters, facsimiles, telegrams—including greetings from André Previn, Oscar Peterson, George and Ellie Shearing, Marian McPartland and others. All present were invited to a reception backstage to meet Robert, special guests, national and civic dignitaries, and Orchestral and Board Members. In one of his communications to me, Robert stated: "It was one of the most memorable moments of my life. I was flabbergasted by the accolades that I received."
It is widely acknowledged that Canadian-born Robert Farnon is the greatest composer of light orchestral music in the world. Often overlooked, however, are the symphonic influences that are in evidence in such orchestral settings as À la claire Fontaine that Robert conducted and recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra; the Suite, Canadian Impressions, the Concert March, Colditz, the Suite, Captain Horatio Hornblower, R.N.; and Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra.
Robert Farnon manifested a great love for his native country, Canada. Many of the Canadian public are familiar with Robert’s trumpet playing with the Toronto-based dance bands of the 1930’s; his trumpet playing [1937 though 1943] with the well-loved radio programme, "The Happy Gang" - which began as a Summer replacement show in 1937 and ran for twenty-two years - his work as Conductor of the Canadian Percy Faith Orchestra; his 1961 CBC TV programme, "Music Makers"; the 1969 television special, "The Music of Robert Farnon"; the 1969 concert with Vera Lynn at the Maple Leaf Gardens at Toronto; and the Christmas concert with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in 1984. In addition, Robert also served as Conductor of the Canadian Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces.
It is doubtful, however, if many of the Canadian public are conversant of the tremendous influence that Canada had upon Robert’s creative writings. Prelude and Dance for Harmonica and Orchestra was written for the Canadian harmonica virtuoso, Tommy Reilly; Pleasure of Your Company was written for Oscar Peterson; Saxophone Triparti was commissioned by the British Musicians’ Union and premiered by the Canadian saxophonist, Robert Burns; Gateway to the West, and Alcan Highway were influenced by Canadian locations; Shenandoah, written in 1959 for an album associated with melodies of the American West, depicts the arrival of a sailing ship at an East Coast port prior to its long journey Westward, while Lake of the Woods reflects a remote lake in Northern Ontario; À la claire Fontaine based on a French Canadian folk song, was recorded by Decca in 1955 as a compilation of Robert’s works entitled "Canadian Impressions"; Farrago for Brass Quintet and Orchestra was commissioned by the Canadian Brass; while Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra was recorded by Canadian violinist, Steven Staryk (now available again on Vocalion CDLK4146); and Scherzando for Trumpet and Orchestra was recorded by the CBC Winnipeg Orchestra.
As a celebrated Member of Composers, Authors and Publishers Association of Canada, and the Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers of Canada, it was almost axiomatic that Robert should be honoured by the Guild of Canadian Film Composers at Toronto on October 24, 1997; and by the Society of Composers, Authors and the Music Publishers of Canada. Indeed, 1997 was an impressive eightieth year for Robert. Apart from his celebratory concerts with the Brantford Symphony Orchestra, May 4th and with the National Arts Centre Orchestra on October 30/31 and November 1st, it was during this period that he was commissioned to compose Concerto for Piano and Orchestra: Cascades to the Sea. This major work was completed in 1998 - the same title as the earlier orchestral work lost in 1944 - and has been broadcast both in Britain and the USA. It was issued as a commercial CD by the British recording company, Vocalion, in 2002. It was also in 1997 that Robert Farnon was finally awarded the Order of Canada.
From an early age Robert, although self-depreciating and modest about his more substantial compositions, innately recognized that he had the creative ability and technique to compose such major works. This is evidenced by the fact that by 1942 - at the twenty-five years of age - he had written two symphonies.
Symphony No. 1 in D flat Major, completed in 1940, was premiered by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under Sir Ernest Macmillan on January 7, 1941 as ‘Symphonic Suite.’ Symphony No. 1 was later performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. It is interesting to note that the earlier orchestral work, Cascades to the Sea - premiered on August 31, 1944 - along with the score of Symphony No. 1 were lost at sea in 1944 together with a shipment of Army Show music and equipment.
Symphony No. 2: "Ottawa in B Major," completed in 1942, was also premiered by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under Sir Ernest Macmillan in 1943 on the CBC programme, ‘Concert Hour.’ Both symphonies were also performed by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra.
Symphony No.3: "Edinburgh," completed in early 2004 is dedicated to the City of Edinburgh; it was inspired after a visit to the Edinburgh Festival by Robert. It was first performed at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland by the National Symphony Orchestra of Scotland, conducted by Iain Sutherland, on May 14, 2005. In a fitting tribute to the composer, the Orchestra included as encores Westminster Waltz and Portrait of a Flirt as Robert had died on April 23rd, exactly three weeks before this premiere.
On learning of Robert’s death, Peter Appleyard at a concert with his Quintet with the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, Ontario changed the programme to include Twilight World, In the Days of Our Love, and The Very Thought of You as a tribute to Robert. Westminster Waltz was included in "Salute to England" with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, May 29th, and "Sixtieth Anniversary of the End of World War II" with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra on June 10/11, 2005. Both programmes were conducted by Bramwell Tovey.
The Concerto for Bassoon "Romancing the Phoenix", was written for American bassoon virtuoso Daniel Smith, who will premiere the work in Europe and North America.. Using an amplified bassoon backed by a big band incorporated within a full symphony orchestra, the three-movement composition is in jazz style, and was completed early in 2005.
The commissioning of the Wind Symphony: "The Gaels" in 2004 was spearheaded by Professor Darryl Bott, Assistant Director of Bands at Rutgers University, New Jersey, USA, and Chairman of the New Jersey State Band Association on behalf of the award-winning Honours Wind Symphony at Roxbury High School, New Jersey.
In several discussions with me about instrumentation, musical clefs, notation, and so on regarding this new multi-movement work, Robert was particularly enthusiastic about the use of the Celtic drums that play an important part in the ‘Finale’ of the Wind Symphony. The knowledge that Robert played percussion in the Toronto Symphony Junior Orchestra at the age of twelve, and that he was a drummer in his brother's band for three years clearly demonstrated his passion and continued interest in percussion. The first performance of the Wind Symphony, which Robert dedicated to me, is scheduled for late Spring 2006 at the Performing Arts Centre, Newark, New Jersey. It is of interest to note also that Robert once lived at Riverside, New Jersey, some seventy miles from the Performing Arts Centre, Newark. Plans are now underway for the North American publication and recording of this work.
Robert’s musical versatility is further evidenced by his compositions for winds. His Military Band compositions, as well as works adapted specially for bands. Une Vie de Matelot - specially written for the British National Brass Band Championships in 1975 - and Suite Mountbatten - began as a tribute to Lord Louis Mountbatten by Robert’s friend, Sir Vivian Dunn — are only two examples.
Douglas Field, former CBC producer and now Manager of The Intrada Brass, Oakville, Ontario, [Musical Director, Bramwell Gregson] told me that in the last years of his life Robert had given them great assistance in locating out-of-print scores and parts of his band works in the Intrada Brass’ project to record all of Robert’s music written for brass bands. In 2003, Robert sent a new arrangement of À la claire Fontaine as a gift for the Intrada Brass as well as arranging for the Library of the Royal Marines to forward State Occasion and Colditz March. These three works will be included in the tribute CD.
For my final concert with the Brantford Symphony Orchestra, Ontario, after a tenure of twenty-seven years as Music Director and Conductor, I gave much thought to the selection of the concluding works on the programme. I selected the Suite Captain Horatio Hornblower, R.N. as a dedication and tribute to Robert for his friendship and for the important part that he and his music has played in my life; and a movement of that Suite, "Lady Barbara", as a devotion and recognition of my wife, Barbara’s unswerving support throughout that period.
For all of Robert’s eminence, he still retained his wonderful generosity of spirit, his interest in others, and his modesty and humility. Many will testify to his reticence to interviews when facing the television cameras, his astonishment when faced with plaudits and acclamations, and his propensity to divert his well-deserved accolades on to others. I remember well his telephone call to me asking "Stanley, would it be all right if I dedicated the Wind Symphony to you?" It was almost as if I were doing Robert a favour!
Barbara and I will greatly miss the interchange of many facsimiles, telephone calls, and celebratory birthday and Christmas cards with Robert. I shall miss discussing particular interpretations of his compositions and arrangements, the specific instrumentation of some of his early and more recent works; his help in obtaining scores and instrumental parts for performances, his suggestions for programme notes, contrasting Canadian and European weather and politics along with the general musical scene in North America and Europe, and deliberating on the latest news of the English Premier Soccer League. It is so difficult to accept the fact that those contacts have now gone, and no longer will we hear his vibrant, sonorous, baritone voice saying, "Is that you, Lady Barbara? Is Stanley there?"
The original postcard that he sent us - later used as the cover photograph of his CD, "Lovers Love London" with the Royal Philharmonic Strings containing even more string orchestral gems - will be an important part of our Robert Farnon personal memorabilia and treasures. I have been privileged to have been a small part of the legacy and genius of Robert Farnon. It is my fervent hope that the true genius and musical importance of his music in all of its genres will be fully recognized especially in his beloved native homeland, Canada.
This article appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ September 2005.
The warmest day of the year to date greeted the Robert Farnon Society members and friends who made a special trip to Edinburgh to attend the premiere of Robert Farnon’s Symphony No. 3 – The Edinburgh on Saturday 14 May. Some had even flown up from the south of England especially for this memorable occasion, and everyone agreed that it was a magical experience.
The following reports (by three RFS members who attended the premiere) give an idea of the ‘flavour’ of that very special event. First of all we hear from James Beyer…..
World Première of Robert Farnon’s
Symphony No 3 in F "Edinburgh"
National Symphony Orchestra of Scotland (Leader John Reid)
Conductor: Iain Sutherland
Saturday 14th May 2005 in The Usher Hall, Edinburgh
An appreciation with some personal thoughts
Saturday 14th May 2005 was a special day for my native city of Edinburgh – for at the Usher Hall that evening, the National Symphony Orchestra of Scotland (Leader John Reid) under their Conductor, Iain Sutherland would present the World Première of Robert Farnon’s 3rd Symphony – his "Edinburgh" Symphony.
For myself and fellow RFS member Brian Henderson, things began happening the previous day, when we spent a most enjoyable evening in the company of Philip Farlow and his wife, Edwina (who had travelled earlier by train from London). A bright and sunny Saturday dawned – heralding what was to turn out to be one of the warmest and sunniest days so far this year! Edinburgh city centre was thronged with people, determined to take advantage of the good weather; and as the day progressed, it proved to be memorable on a number of counts. That afternoon, I met David Ades for a chat over coffee before heading off to the Usher Hall for the evening Concert.
Early doors brought a number of RFS members together – Robert and Patricia Walton, Malcolm and Iris Frazer, Philip and Edwina Farlow and Brian Henderson. Also attending the Concert were three RFS members from Fife - Terry Viner, Stephen Gray and David Kinnison.
For those of us in the audience whose association with Robert Farnon was more than a passing acquaintance with his music, the evening was not without some feelings of emotion, poignancy and personal reflection.
Initial efforts by Bob to get his Symphony performed in Scotland, let alone Edinburgh were fraught with all sorts of difficulties and problems; and at times the prospect of a world première north of the border seemed hopeless. Latterly, telephone calls between us were frequent in an attempt to get his "Edinburgh" Symphony performed in the Capital. As an amateur musician my contacts within the professional sector are limited; and thus, no matter how keen I was to "promote" and support Bob’s project, my "input" was therefore restricted. However, thanks to Iain Sutherland and the National Symphony Orchestra of Scotland, Bob’s wish became a reality. The Concert was presented in partnership with the Royal Bank of Canada, Europe.
So – to the Concert itself.
The programme began with Sir Malcolm Arnold’s "Tam O’Shanter" Overture Op 51. An Englishman’s idea of Scottish-ness? – well, perhaps; but it was a rousing and exciting start to the evening, with a spirited performance from the NSOS.
In complete contrast, there followed a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D Major Op 35 with soloist, Alexander Sitkovetsky. At 22 years of age, this amazing young man’s talent is phenomenal. Having made his début as a soloist at the tender age of 8, he has become one of the most promising young musicians of the 21st century. Sitkovetsky has performed throughout Europe and the UK; and other engagements have taken him to the USA, Israel and Hawaii, as well as his native city of Moscow.
The interval brought excited anticipation, as we eagerly awaited the first performance of Robert Farnon’s Symphony No 3 in F – dedicated to André Previn, who once referred to Farnon as, "the greatest string writer in the world". And in this respect, the Symphony serves as vindication of Previn’s statement – not that any proof is needed.
From the opening bars of the 1st Movement (Calmato assai) with its expressively romantic theme, we knew instinctively that we were about to experience something very special. For in this 25 minute Symphony, Bob "encapsulated" his life-story in music, so to speak. It would not be an exaggeration to say that it is, in many ways, retrospective and at the same time "biographical" in character – for here, Bob, in effect, is narrating his life-story. Neatly dovetailed, is an amalgam of varying styles and moods, which reflect his astounding musical career. And to really appreciate the work, one has to know the man and his music – for here is his humour, his sensitivity, his humility and above all his supreme musicianship. And as the music unfolded, I found myself identifying with Bob and his music. He had the great gift of being able to write in a number of different styles; and we were reminded of these in this multi-faceted Symphony.
There was the tonal richness of Bob’s film music – complete with the big romantic themes; the sound of a concert orchestra from the 30s or 40s; a hint of Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett; and rhapsodic passages reminding one of such works as, "A la claire fontaine". Especially notable was the NSOS brass section, comprising four trumpets, four trombones with the addition of four horns, which provided the "Big Band" element.
At one point, the orchestra launched into a rhythmic figure in a style not unreminiscent of "Jumping Bean", and which was quickly followed by a typically Farnonesque treatment of the nursery rhyme, "Baa, Baa, Blacksheep". And there were touches of comedy. By using a "slapstick" at one point, was Bob I wonder, reminding us of the unscripted comedy of his "Happy Gang" days?
Particularly poignant was the main theme from the 2nd Movement written for the solo trumpet – highlighting Bob’s love for the instrument and recalling his time as lead trumpeter in Percy Faith’s Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Orchestra. Here also were some Gershwinesque touches and a reminder of Bob’s association with the Big Bands.
The 3rd movement included the Scottish references – heard initially by distant pipe-band drumming (I now know why Bob asked me to send him a CD of authentic pipe-drumming!) – and developed by the introduction of two folk tunes ("My love she’s but a lassie, yet" and "The Bluebells of Scotland"). First heard separately, Bob quickly combines them in skilful counterpoint. The Symphony ends with a direct quote from his arrangement of Scottish airs – the suite, "From The Highlands". After all; as Bob once said, "If you’re going to borrow (music), borrow from the best!"
The final chord brought hesitant applause at first – not out of disrespect or an unappreciative regard for the music; but due, I suspect, to a typically reticent Edinburgh audience. This was something noted especially by the foreign visitors, who are accustomed to showing their appreciation in a somewhat more enthusiastic and passionate manner.
Following a short "tribute" to Robert Farnon by Iain Sutherland, we were treated to two encores – "Westminster Waltz" and "Portrait of a Flirt".
Iain Sutherland has to be commended for his masterful interpretation of Robert Farnon’s fine score and giving us the opportunity to hear Bob’s last major work. In addition, he must be complimented on the excellent programme note for Robert Farnon’s 3rd Symphony. In writing the analysis, Mr Sutherland "guided" the reader-listener through the opus, thus serving to enhance one’s enjoyment and appreciation of what hitherto was an unknown work. (The text of Iain Sutherland’s programme note is reproduced below).
Sadly, with Bob’s recent death, it is the end of an era; but let us reflect on the rich musical legacy he has given us, which is something that we will continue to treasure and enjoy for many years to come.
After the Concert, a fellow member of The Robert Farnon Society remarked, "It has been a magical weekend". It certainly was!
James Beyer (Conductor: The Edinburgh Light Orchestra)
The following Programme Note is reproduced by kind permission of Iain Sutherland.
Symphony No. 3 in F ‘Edinburgh’
Robert Farnon CM
Dedicated to André Previn
i. Calmato assai ii. Larghetto iii. Allegro
Robert Farnon’s final opus is dedicated to the world-renowned conductor and composer, André Previn, and was inspired by a summer visit to Scotland’s capital city. Like so many Canadians, Farnon had a strong Scottish connection, his Grandmother having been an émigré. Although not a symphony in the strict classical sense of the form, as indeed, neither were Tchaikovsky’s, nor Sibelius’s, it is an extended work, in three movements, rather like three loosely linked symphonic rhapsodies. It is scored for a large orchestra with four Trumpets, and, unusually for a symphony orchestra, four Trombones. The sonority of eight brass, is, however, redolent of the ‘Big Band’ sound, and allied here to the usual four French Horns, gives the work an immediately identifiable ‘feel’. The composer does not shy away from the kind of writing and orchestrating for which he was so justifiably world famous in an effort to be more ‘symphonic’ per se, and many of his unique orchestration techniques echo throughout the score.
The first movement, Calmato assai, opens with the first of many romantic melodic themes, played by unison violins; a short series of brass and timpani interjections leads to a new theme played against a brass backdrop of subtly changing chords, with a jazz-style ‘walking’ bass. These themes continue to be explored until a bright, jig-like section bursts out, leading to a short, full brass fragment of a warmly remembered nursery rhyme, eventually leading to a new, more intense theme, introduced by the strings, then the solo cor anglais and the solo cello. The opening theme returns in the full orchestra, and a short coda beginning with a chromatic, rising and intense figure by the brass, subsiding into a calm and very soft ending, with an ambivalent F major/ F minor descending figure on the harp.
The second movement, Larghetto, begins with a short cadenza on the solo flute, recalling the jig-like central section of the first movement. The solo violin and flute then present a meditative, romantic theme; a secondary theme from the strings soon becomes the accompaniment to the return of the first melody on the oboe. A lush chorale by the full brass section is followed by the main theme played by the solo trumpet. The middle section of the movement is, to me, a nostalgic reminder of Robert Farnon’s war years as Conductor of the Canadian Band of the AEF, alongside Glenn Miller with the American Band and George Melachrino, the British. The secondary theme mentioned earlier is played by the Trombone quartet over pizzicato rhythms from solo bass and cellos. A new theme now emerges, and is presented three times in contrasting orchestrations, the middle one being of great intensity, and the third extended into ever quieter, rising triplets until abating in a short vibraphone solo, before the pizzicato bass whispers the final phrase.
The Finale, Allegro, opens with a series of irregular rhythms played by the harp and strings col legno, with the wooden back of the bow, and an accompaniment of exotic percussion instruments including finger cymbals, templeblocks, woodblocks and sandpaper blocks. A solo clarinet sings out a blues tinged fragment, later taken up by the trumpets after a jazz-style burst from the full orchestra. As the irregular rhythms fade away, a roll on the timpani and suspended cymbal opens up into a gloriously full-throated, big, broad theme for the whole orchestra, reminiscent of the great themes Robert Farnon provided for many a romantic film score. The theme then quietens, with the brass choir accompanied by triplet figures on the vibraphone, celeste and harp, until Scottish pipe-band drums are heard pianissimo; having visited most of the influences on his music on his symphonic journey, he beholds Edinburgh. Two folk melodies, ‘My love she’s but a lassie, yet’ and ‘The Bluebells of Scotland’, are ingeniously combined in a rising crescendo until the jig-style theme returns for a short, joyous coda.
Robert Walton gives his impressions on this major new work …..
To hear any work for the first time, is a thrilling experience, especially a world premiere, but when it's a symphony by your favourite composer, that has to be special. Even though you're familiar with the idiom, you never know quite what to expect. Whether you're in a concert hall or at home, it's no different. Your auditory senses are in a state of high expectation and anticipation. You become a human sponge ready to absorb a brand new creation. Such was the case with Robert Farnon's last major work, his Third Symphony, performed in the imposing Usher Hall in the historic capital and cultural centre of Scotland. The thought that the composer would never actually hear the symphony made it a very poignant occasion.
Dedicated to André Previn, the man who called Robert Farnon "the greatest living writer for strings", the symphony starts simply with unison violins playing a gorgeous tune which only Farnon could have written. (Violins playing the same note, especially in their lower register, can often produce much more emotion than in harmony). That comes later. But for now this melody is given the seal of approval by the brass and timpani. I knew it wouldn't be too long before Farnon introduced a jazz element to the proceedings. And sure enough he incorporates the device invented by Basie bassist Walter Page in the late 1920s, a walking bass. And how effective it is, especially with a new melody over beautiful chords. Then a jig (Scottish of course!) suddenly emerges from the orchestra dancing its way towards a familiar nursery rhyme played by the brass. But the strings never far away, return with a more passionate theme followed by the cor anglais and cello. If the nursery rhyme was familiar, then the opening tune repeated by the whole orchestra has already endeared itself to the listener. Now it's the turn of the brass to get worked up but not for long. They quickly calm down to the softest of endings, while the harp keeps you guessing whether the movement is going to finish in a major or minor key.
Symphonies are all about recycling and mood swings, so it's not surprising that the second movement opens with a reminder of the earlier jig featuring some solo flute fireworks slowing right down to join a violin in a new tender tune. Yet another string theme is skilfully transformed into the accompaniment of the tender tune but this time the oboe takes the solo. Now we're treated to a huge Ted Heath like brass section of 8 players (4 trumpets and, unusual for a symphony orchestra, 4 trombones) who produce the most glorious sound. This is Farnon in full flight showing it's not only strings he's master of. Then the trombones come into their own with a reworking of the earlier theme which doubled as an accompaniment, but this time the lower strings in pizzicato mode provide the accompaniment. And as if all that isn't enough, a completely new melody (Farnon's full of them) is stated three times no less in different guises, the second one erupting with immense force. The movement ends peacefully with a vibraphone solo and a pizzicato bass. Taking a leaf out of the finale of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, Farnon instructs the violins to tap the strings with the sticks of their bows (col legno) instead of using the hair. This unusual effect when mixed with the harp and percussion creates an exciting exotic sound. The clarinet plays a brief blues which is picked up later by the trumpets, but not before the whole orchestra lets itself go in an uninhibited jazzy outburst. But the orchestra has one more important function to fulfil. To play one of those thrilling climaxes Farnon is famous for, and it doesn't disappoint. It's my favourite part of the symphony. In fact I was so overwhelmed I hardly noticed the two Scottish tunes at the end but did detect the orchestration was strangely familiar. Clearly a little bit of recycling From the Highlands!A major part of the success of the work was due to the brilliant conducting of lain Sutherland who with the National Symphony Orchestra of Scotland gave such a polished performance it sounded like it had been in the repertoire for years. If André Previn had been present I'm sure his original assessment of Farnon would have remained unchanged. Robert Walton
Phil Farlow completes our trio of reminiscences….
On the weekend of Saturday the 14th May the sun shone brightly and warmly on the City of Edinburgh for what must have been one of the most memorable and poignant events in the Robert Farnon calendar.
The main event for us was the National Symphony Orchestra of Scotland conducted by Iain Sutherland with the World Premiere Performance of Bob’s Symphony No. 3 in F, the ‘Edinburgh’ which was to be performed at the Usher Hall.
My wife Edwina and I had travelled up from London by train on the Friday and that evening the weekend started in great style when we met up for a very memorable Italian meal with James Beyer and Brian Robinson who later on also kindly hosted a mini tour of Edinburgh by night.
During the Saturday we walked through the Gardens, up to Edinburgh Castle and down the Royal Mile taking in quite a few metres of tartan on the way, and also viewed the apparently controversial architectural lines of the new Parliament Building.
On the Saturday evening we arrived at Usher Hall in good time to greet several Robert Farnon Society members including Robert and Patricia Walton, Malcolm and Iris Frazer as well as David Ades and his brother- and sister-in-laws Andrew and Joan Stevenson. There was definitely that buzz in the air that goes with events like this one, and as we all chatted away the time soon drew near to take our seats.
The World Premiere of Bob’s ‘Edinburgh’ Symphony was to be performed after the interval – and whatever had been chosen before, I don’t think I was the only person there to want to ‘wind on’ in my excitement to hear this new work.
Then the interval came – another chat with our friends and another look around to see who was there – and we were back in our seats for – well ‘the great moment’ we’d waited for.
Baited breath time as traditionally on came the orchestra’s leader John Reid closely followed by conductor Iain Sutherland – and then that wonderful hush that occurs just before the first notes are ushered.
There are three movements in the ‘Edinburgh’ Symphony, and as they slowly unwound to our ears for the first time ever in public, the very strong first impression that I got was that Bob has given us here glimpses of his lifetime’s music. Here encapsulated in this Symphony are all the Farnon trademarks that we have all come to know and love: the humour of ‘Happy Gang’, the eight brass big band sound, all the beautiful tone colours of the strings – it was all there. And the many and different ways Bob applies it for each requirement as well – the sounds of the AEF band, the ‘Portrait of a Flirt’ sound, the film sound, the jazz style, the blues style, the romantic style, the way he scored for singers – and more. The Scottish connections came as a delight with interpolations of jig rhythms, pipe band drums and folk melodies and in the third movement Bob brings us his own touch of ‘exotica’ where added to harp and strings are finger cymbals, templeblocks, woodblocks and sandpaper blocks. Wow !!
I personally think that the ‘Edinburgh’ Symphony is a really joyous illustration and not least celebration of Robert Farnon’s life in music, and that it couldn’t have been marked better than in this Premiere performance by the National Symphony Orchestra of Scotland conducted by Iain Sutherland.
In the light of Bob’s recent passing, and to complete the evening’s entertainment, we had the further joy of hearing the orchestra playing ‘Westminster Waltz’ and ‘Portrait of a Flirt’ which certainly finished icing the cake to perfection.
This article appeared in ‘Journal Into Melody’ September 2005