David Ades reports on two memorable Vocalion sessions
Studio 2 at EMI’s Abbey Road studios in North London is probably the most famous recording studio in the world, thanks to its association with The Beatles. But it was producing hit records long before that, and it also gave its name to the much respected Studio Two Stereo series on EMI’s Columbia label which was launched in the mid-1960s.
Although smaller than the famous Studio 1, it is nevertheless very suitable for concert orchestras, including the 50 musicians (many from the leading London symphony orchestras) assembled on Tuesday 13 May for the first of the Angela Morley recordings.
During the morning session (11.00am – 2.00pm) John Wilson conducted some of Angela’s scores for the films "The Slipper and the Rose", "Watership Down" (with John Harle taking the saxophone solo in Kehaar’s Theme) and "Captain Nemo and the Underwater City".
Angela herself had travelled over from her home in Scottsdale, Arizona, to supervise and assist as necessary, and it was clear that John greatly appreciated her involvement and great enthusiasm for the project. Sometimes she would be standing at John’s left hand while he rehearsed his fine orchestra (led by Andrew Haveron), and on other occasions she would be sitting alongside Michael Dutton in the control room listening intently to the magic sounds being captured on tape (large reels, 2 inches wide, costing £2 per minute!). Also on hand was Michael Ponder, keeping a watchful eye on the scores, and making copious notes to assist with the mixing and editing, which would be undertaken over the following weekend.
The afternoon session from 3.00–6.00pm (with the same symphony size orchestra) began with Angela’s superb "A Canadian in Mayfair", which she composed as a tribute to Robert Farnon, virtually launching her international career as one of the finest light music and film composers of the last century. The original manuscript had been lost (probably in that disastrous fire in 1964 at Chappell’s Bond Street premises), so Angela had painstakingly reconstructed her score by listening to the original recording. Like all great artists, when offered the opportunity to revisit earlier work, she could not resist the temptation to make some subtle changes here and there, which will provide added interest for her many admirers. They will be reassured to know that she has retained all the vibrancy and sheer ebullience of this light music classic.
The film music from "When Eight Bells Toll" was followed by another work for the Chappell library – "Snow Ride". This is the first time it has been recorded commercially, and it is a bight, bouncy number that perfectly captures the festive season. Through the Woods from "Watership Down" was soon ‘in the can’, to be followed by more film music – from "The Looking Glass War". This dates from 1969, which was a busy period when Angela decided to concentrate more on writing for the big screen, and film producers were more than happy to employ her talents.
After she settled in California, the local TV studios soon realised that they had a major film composer in their midst. Unfortunately television music seems to have a very short shelf life, and it can often pass unrecognised. Happily this new CD allows us to hear excerpts from several of Angela’s television scores, and White Wing (from "Hotel") is an indication of how much good music may be slipping away.
This very productive session continued with "Rotten Row", which very nearly didn’t get recorded. It was around 5.00pm when John Wilson suddenly realised that the scores weren’t where they should have been. This Chappell composition (probably Angela’s best-known work) is happily still available on hire, and the company responsible had sent it by special delivery the previous day. Unfortunately, the Post Office had failed to deliver to the Abbey Road studios on time, so frantic telephone calls were made to try and retrieve the situation. It would have been a tragedy if this charming work had been omitted from the CD, but it had to be recorded that afternoon, because the smaller orchestra on the following day would not comprise of the right mix of musicians. To cut a long story short, the manuscript was faxed to the Abbey Road studios in 30 parts, which were then hastily photocopied by the writer of this article, and eventually distributed to the waiting musicians. There was little time for rehearsal, but London musicians are renowned for their sight-reading, and "Rotten Row" posed no problems. In fact John Wilson took it at a gallop, rather than the usual gentle canter, so listeners will find it interesting to compare with other recorded versions. Angela appeared a little shocked at first, but she soon seemed to approve of the new interpretation! Somewhat amazingly, there was still a little time left, during which "My Autumn Love" was successfully recorded.
The final three-hour session began at 10.00 the following morning, with a smaller orchestra – mainly strings and woodwinds. The first two numbers had television origins: firstly "Madame X", then (from that memorable series "Dynasty") Angela’s haunting Blues for Alexis vividly conjuring up mental images of Joan Collins. Missing parts again posed problems, so the tea break was taken at this point, allowing Angela to write some extra phrases for cor anglais and clarinet in the next number, Venturing Forth from "Watership Down". This left just one final number – the delicious "A Tender Mood" which many radio listeners will recall from the 1980s when Angela was often invited as guest conductor of the sorely-missed BBC Radio Orchestra.
The following afternoon Angela and John supervised some overdubbing on two numbers. Guitar and bass clarinet were added to "The Looking Glass War" and guitar was dubbed into "My Autumn Love". Then Tony Fisher arrived with his flugelhorn to add solos to both numbers, thus completing the magical sessions for this new CD.
Angela Morley seemed very happy with the way in which everything had gone, and she was clearly looking forward to mixing the results at the weekend. Her enthusiasm is an example to us all, and her energy is phenomenal; after the sessions she was planning extensive tours of England and Europe, before eventually returning home to the USA around seven weeks later at the beginning of July. Her only acknowledgement of the passing years was her confessed revulsion at the thought that she will celebrate her 80th birthday on 10 March in 2004. It will simply be yet another milestone that she will take in her stride, and we look forward to her future visits to record more of her wonderful music for posterity.
Paul Weston charts
As soon as John Wilson had packed away the final Angela Morley scores at 1.00pm on Wednesday 14 May, he had to turn his attention to the afternoon’s session, recreating some of the marvellous scores penned by Paul Weston – many over 50 years ago. During the 2-hour break the studio was rearranged to accommodate an 18-piece big band, with 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, 6 saxes plus piano (Andy Vinter, ex-BBC Big Band), double bass, drums and guitar.
At 3.00pm promptly, the first run-through of Just You, Just Me began, with John beaming all over his face in response to the great sound – often just sitting on his chair without conducting, leaving the band to take control of the melody. Thereafter one standard followed another as the band got to grips with Talk of the Town, At Sundown, Judy, I’m Confessing and finally Memories of You with an outstanding trumpet solo from Mike Lovatt.
It was good to meet up with Paul Weston’s son Tim (accompanied by his charming wife Shelby), who had come to London especially for these sessions. He seemed very impressed with the band, and with the wall of sound that engulfed us in the control room. Tim wasn’t even a glint in his parents’ eyes when some of these charts were written (his mother is, of course, the legendary Jo Stafford), but he could remember seeing his father working at home on scores, sitting at the piano with a pencil in his mouth. At the time the family was living in Beverly Hills, where they had moved in 1957, and like all busy musicians, Paul was frequently facing deadlines. In the days before faxes and photocopying this meant rushing scores by car to his copyists (Clyde Balsley and Jack Collins) in Hollywood. In 1980 the Westons sold their home and settled in Century City, a suburb of Los Angeles.
On the podium Paul could be a hard taskmaster, expecting high standards from his musicians. He would clap his hands when it was necessary to bring them to order. Away from work he was quite different – relaxed and good company. When constructing his scores he would always take special care with his introductions, and the links between the reprise of the main theme. Occasionally it is possible to detect a pattern in his arrangements for full orchestra, with the theme first being given to the strings and woodwinds, before the brass are allowed to grab the melody firmly and fully, creating a blast of sound that must have caused some problems for early sound engineers.
The next morning at 10.00am the band was augmented with vibes, for six more great numbers – Breezing Along With The Breeze, It’s a Lovely Day Today, You Turned The Tables On Me, Keeping Out Of Mischief, What Can I Say and All Of Me.
As already mentioned, during the afternoon some Angela Morley tracks were over-dubbed, so the remaining two Paul Weston sessions were scheduled for Friday the 16th, commencing at 10.00am when 22 strings plus harp were added. The trumpets and trombones were reduced to three each, but there was still a strong sax contingent of six players, doubling on various other instruments as usual. Radio-2’s Malcolm Laycock also made a welcome appearance, and in the afternoon singer Gary Williams (fresh from his triumph at the Royal Festival Hall film music concert in March) called to see his friend John Wilson.
The opening number Moonlight Becomes You had everyone in the control room gasping with delight when the full brass section opened up half-way through. The same glorious effects were soon repeated in other numbers, including Time After Time, East Of The Sun, Time On My Hands, You Go To My Head and This Can’t Be Love.
The string sound coming from the John Wilson Orchestra was noticeably fuller than used to be heard on Paul Weston’s own recordings. Was he restricted by his record company bosses, or did he decide for himself that a massive string section was not required? Maybe the microphones and/or studios in the USA produced a different sound? Tim Weston discussed this with his mother upon his return home; Jo Stafford said that the small string section reflected the fact that Paul himself was paying for the sessions! Jo was one of the few artists who, by virtue of her big sales, could specify/’command’ that the company ‘ate’ the costs of recording.
Paul’s own instrument was the piano, although his particular favourites were saxes and clarinets. As a very young man he had decided to study arranging after an horrific train accident had almost killed him, because he had to find something to occupy him whilst undergoing a long convalescence. It proved to be the turning point in his career, especially as he had previously failed an audition to join a dance band as a clarinet player. (Later he joined the same band on piano – The Green Serenaders at Dartmouth – and toured South America and the Caribbean playing with them on a cruise ship).
After an hour’s break for lunch, the final three-hour session began at 2.00pm, with another run-though of This Can’t Be Love, hoping to improve on the pre-lunch play-through. The usual pattern is for each number to be rehearsed once, then a ‘take’ is recorded. Sometimes this is very good with very few ‘fluffs’ or wrong notes, but either the conductor or the sound engineer usually spot something that is not quite right. A second ‘take’ is often sufficient, and if necessary parts of the two can be edited to make one satisfactory performance. Sometimes a short passage is repeated (a ‘patch’) which can easily be inserted, which avoids too much time being spent re-recording something that has been satisfactorily achieved previously. Very rarely a certain number might keep causing problems, requiring even four or five ‘takes’ but by this time the musicians are starting to get a bit jaded, and the performance can begin to suffer.
Things went well during the afternoon, with Sleepy Time Gal, When Your Lover Has Gone, Through, But Not For Me, Poor Butterfly and April In Paris successfully taped. Time was available just before 5.00pm, so it was decided to do a re-take of Time On My Hands which had not entirely pleased John during the morning.
And then it was all over. Everyone was still on a high, reliving some of the highlights of the past four days. New friends had been made, and old friends warmly greeted once more. RFS members Stan and Pat Coates had been at John’s side in the studio, checking through all the scores and collecting and distributing them at each change of title.
It takes so many people to bring an enterprise such as this to a successful conclusion, and one can only hope that the wonderful sounds heard in the studio can be faithfully recreated at home when these two CDs are eventually released. In the safe hands of Michael Dutton, this is a guaranteed certainty!
David Ades (August 2003)
For details of these – and all Vocalion CDs – you are invited to visit their website which you can access through our ‘Links’ page.
JOHN WILSON CONDUCTS THE ROMANTIC ARRANGEMENTS OF ANGELA MORLEY
David Ades reports on a very special new release
Dateline: July 2001; Abbey Road, Studios, London
Occasions like this don’t happen very often. It is rare enough for a light orchestra to make a new recording, and rarer still for an arranger to be given the opportunity of hearing old scores being dusted off once again.
Major record companies wouldn’t consider such a project, unless sales in the hundreds of thousands were assured. Fortunately, in Britain we possess a thriving independent sector, and in Michael Dutton we have a producer who is prepared to invest thousands of pounds in something which is dear to the hearts of all of us who believe that quality popular music is still vitally important.
Spare a thought also for the conductor with the responsibility of bringing to life these timeless creations, with the writer sitting barely five feet away from his podium! Lesser mortals could find such a situation intimidating, to say the least. Happily John Wilson appreciated the helpful co-operation he received from Angela Morley; her very few suggestions were well received, and the mutual admiration each had for the other created a harmonious working environment which permeated every note performed by John’s youthful players.
Angela Morley was positively glowing during these sessions. She sat entranced in EMI’s Studio Two as John Wilson took his fine orchestra through each of these timeless scores, extracting all of the intricate nuances which make a Morley arrangement so special.
Only occasionally did she climb the steep stairs up to the control room for a brief chat with sound engineer Mike Dutton, and producer Michael Ponder.
During a break, she talked to Journal Into Melody expressing her delight that these scores are being revitalised for a new audience.
"The arrangements that are being recorded for this CD have all had a life in the past but, magically, thanks to John Wilson, they now have a new existence. We’re doing about nine arrangements from my days in the early 1960s with Reader’s Digest, and the rest come from the 1970s when I did a lot of conducting for the BBC Radio Orchestra. John Wilson is super talented and a joy to work with; he loves all of this kind of this music ... not only mine but Robert Farnon and those lovely sounds of the MGM musicals in the golden age, especially Conrad Salinger who I think we all feel is the best there ever was in Hollywood. John is wrapped up in this kind of music as well as having a wonderful symphonic career - he conducts the Hallé and other orchestras. This is a real treat for me.
"I’m not in the control room ... it’s so lovely to sit in the studio and listen to these pieces played by this new generation of new musicians who are all super players, perhaps better than the old ones in many, many cases."
Full tracklisting details can be found at the end of this feature. We list below the tunes recorded at the various sessions, together with Angela’s own comments about some of them:
Tuesday 24 July
APRIL IN PARIS
"I put the syncopated section into the middle of this piece because it has a very slow tempo. I wrote something which sounds extemporised, but it’s not."
WITH A SONG IN MY HEART
"I wrote this arrangement about 1960, and haven’t heard it since. They played it most beautifully. When I got the printed music and saw the verse I had the idea of doing it as something sounding like a string quartet, postponing the moment before going into the main tune."
SOFT LIGHTS AND SWEET MUSIC
"I did this for an album in England which was called ‘Christmas by the Fireside’ and issued in mono. In the USA Warner Bros. put it out in stereo as ‘Happy Holiday’. I have changed the arrangement just a little bit. Like some of the others, I felt that it needed a little bit of modernising. I’ve tried to make it atmospheric .. full of falling things! I originally did have a sort of beguine rhythm going in this piece, but I don’t feel that it is a very important part of this arrangement."
I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS
"Years ago, for some reason or another, I really didn’t know how to write an arrangement of this one. At a later time of my life, in the 1970s, I found a way of doing it, and started part of the arrangement. Then I finished it in the 1970s for the BBC Radio Orchestra - I’ve re-written partly for this recording."
TIME ON MY HANDS
" ... I love interweaving parts!"
SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES
"This was the first thing I did for Reader’s Digest around 1960. Norman Luboff produced (who was a neighbour of mine in London at the time), and we recorded in Walthamstow Town Hall, with that wonderful acoustic."
WHERE OR WHEN
"Another one from 1960-61 Reader’s Digest period. The arrangement is exactly the same as I did it 40 years ago. It’s a lovely song, and I decided to let the harp play the tune for the first time around, and then the celeste; only later does it go to what you’d expect with the violins
and the woodwinds."
"I am particularly proud of an arrangement I did for Rosemary Squires which, if anything, I prefer to this one. Again, I haven’t tinkered with my original score."
A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE
"I wrote that for an album "London Pride" brought out in England in mono (with a trombone solo by Laddie Busby), but in the USA it was part of a series in stereo which included Michel Legrand’s portrait of Paris. I’ve changed my original score just a little bit."
Wednesday 25 July
NOBODY ELSE BUT ME
"I wrote this not very long ago for a violinist who didn’t really care for it, so I thought ‘Right!’ I’ll take this back and find someone who will play it most beautifully in England!"
THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL
To coincide with this new release, Richard Hindley has written the following special tribute to Angela Morley exclusively for ‘Journal Into Melody’.
A Personal Tribute by Richard Hindley
"She’s a very classy person and a great arranger, in the same league as Riddle, May, Farnon, Salinger et al."
The quote is from maestro John Wilson. The venue is EMI’s Abbey Road Studios and the description is of Angela Morley, whose career and reputation continues to grow despite her move a few years ago from the bustling city of Los Angeles to a quiet outer suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.
It’s here that composer-conductor John Williams still contacts her for help with orchestrations for the movies he scores; Itzhak Perlman, guest soloist for this year’s Academy Awards requests that she arrange a suite for the Ceremony; and her own music room is the venue for the local Alliance Française choir, which she’s formed to record a series of locally produced CDs.
Dotted around the house, in a seemingly hazardous fashion, you happen to discover various citations and awards. Angela, after all, is the recipient of no less than two Academy Award nominations, as well as six Emmy Award nominations and three Emmy Awards for arranging. No wonder then that John Wilson, who is thrilled at the whole project, notices how much respect his musicians have for her.
Two days in July are booked for this, the third CD recording session by the John Wilson Orchestra, a Vocalion release commissioned by Michael Dutton. This time the orchestra consists of some 40 players, many of them representing the cream of London’s talent. John has assembled a 40 piece orchestra consisting of 24 strings, 5 woodwind, 4 trombones, tuba, sax, trumpet, guitar, piano/celeste, drums, percussion and harp. And John was justifiably proud to describe his musicians: "The players I work with are all very, very carefully chosen. I know most of the best players in London and who is right for what style etc. The orchestra was extremely glamorous. The string section particularly so - most of the players are soloists or well-known chamber music players or section principals. I suppose they are sympathetic to the style. We have been playing together for 5 years and they know what I want and they love doing it".
After months of research and preparation, John is ready to cue his players for the first of 16 tracks from Angela’s repertoire. The release of this CD has been eagerly awaited by many RFS members simply because we’ll be hearing British musicians playing new interpretations, some of which have not appeared since their original airing on LP, or their broadcast by the BBC Radio Orchestra. Angela’s name has regularly appeared in members’ lists published by this magazine of all time favourites for reissue, and it’s certainly been a while since an entire album devoted to her orchestral arrangements has appeared. So this new album will supplement the re-issue of the soundtrack score for Watership Down, the early stereo album Christmas by the Fireside, The Symphonic Suite of the Music of Jerome Kern (a Vocalion release conducted by Stanley Black, shared with an Irving Berlin Suite by other arrangers), several tracks on albums conducted by John Williams (notably the two Cinema Serenade issues) and not forgetting her earlier work on two Geraldo Tip Top Tunes albums.
Angela made sure she would be in London to attend this recording session, and her arrival that morning must have meant a lot to her. I asked how she felt about hearing her scores, all of which would be performed for the first time in years. "Studio 2 is full of memories for I recorded many times with Geraldo’s Orchestra there between 1944 and 1948. All those fairly recently released recordings of Tip Top Tunes favourites, some of them with alto solos by me, were recorded in that studio. At that time the recording booth was in the studio, just to the right inside the door as one enters and under the present stairs. The recording was done on a wax blank. If you wanted to hear it back you could, but you’d destroy it in the process! One could hardly hear the bass & the drums. In the later 1950s, I conducted my own arrangements accompanying Rosemary Squires, Max Geldray and Mel Tormé, the latter recording his ‘Christmas Song’ with me in 1961. That was, I believe, the last time that I set foot in that studio. It was a little strange but fun to return to EMI Abbey Road. Probably the strangest thing was to be looking at an orchestra of 40 or so London session musicians and to only recognise one face, Andy Vinter (on piano/celeste)!"
It was the Geraldo Orchestra that permitted her to start arranging, with encouragement and inspiration from another of its contributors, Robert Farnon. Angela, who readily acknowledges that she ‘fell under his spell’, also identifies Bill Finnegan, chief arranger with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, as another potent influence. Angela is well aware of the advantage she was given: "The great bonus for a developing arranger was that the band might be a swing band on Monday and then augmented to symphonic size on Tuesday, while on other days perhaps various combinations in-between, and on occasion even adding a choir. Since I got to arrange for all these combinations, was there ever a better arranging academy? I doubt that anything like that exists today".
But another influence was to exert itself onto Angela’s style, an influence that still continues into the present day - her admiration of that French master of orchestration, Maurice Ravel. What exactly is his appeal? "Firstly, his very elegant melodic writing, then his polytonal harmonies and lastly his exquisite orchestral sense".
So what can we look forward to in the John Wilson album? "Of the arrangements that John recorded this summer, only two of them had been originally written for Philips. These are ‘Embraceable You’ which I originally arranged in 1954 for a Gershwin album of the same name, and ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’ for ‘London Pride’ (or in USA ’Sounds of the Cites: London’) from 1958. Philips allowed me to have about the same number of musicians as John had and the London album was recorded at Walthamstow Civic Hall. ’Snowfall’ from 1959 was scored for my second Christmas album ‘Christmas by the Fireside’ issued by Pye. I didn’t write any new arrangements for this CD but I did rewrite parts of some of the arrangements. I’m always rewriting my arrangements in my mind and if you let me near them, I can’t resist the urge to ‘improve them’. When I look at my ‘50s arrangements, I want to simplify them and remove any ‘50s fads that seem dated now".
Most of the tracks for the new album were written for a Reader’s Digest boxed set entitled 120 Greatest Hit Songs from Broadway, written around 1960/61. "I suggested that Norman Luboff produce the package and he did. The package reached the final boxed set status, then Charles Gerhardt (the American contracted producer) arrived in London announcing that much of it was to be redone. ’Too much instrumental music, not enough singers!’ I’m not sure how many, if any, of my instrumental recordings ended up in the final package. (There were 11 in the Australian release). I believe that this summer we recorded eight of them. However, the instrumental line-up of the Broadway arrangements was then adopted for all the other arrangements on the CD. This meant rescoring or adapting. Of the remaining pieces, ’Ruby’ dates from about 1966 and then several arrangements from my 1970s broadcasts conducting the BBC Radio Orchestra".
John Wilson helped Angela sift through a huge repertoire of scores and they both feel they’ve selected the best ones. I asked John if he’d had any difficulty in accessing written copies of the scores: "Angela has kept all her scores (thank God!) and some parts, too; the rest had to be copied; this took an AGE!"
So we have to thank John’s dedication and commitment in getting the project onto scoring paper before conducting the music at Abbey Road, an unusual situation for Angela, who for once relinquished the conductor’s baton: "I sat just behind John’s podium all the time to just enjoy the novel experience of being a fly on the wall at my own past recordings. I also had many occasions to discuss the interpretations with John and sometimes to correct wrong notes or wrong phrasing."
For John Wilson the suggestions "made perfect sense and were in line with what I thought myself. The whole thing was recorded in 9 hours and was all very painless. We enjoy a very convivial working relationship. The finished thing sounds very posh. Angela said to me that this was the best orchestra she had ever worked with, Hollywood included. Made me feel very proud indeed".
With the session completed, John Wilson’s final commitment was to supervise the mix-down of the tracks so that we can all enjoy the final result when the album is released. Angela spent some time on holiday in Europe before returning to her home in Arizona where she continues to lead a busy life. As for your correspondent on the other side of the world, even before hearing the album, I’ll be getting first in line to ask Mr Dutton: Sir, please can I have some more?
In researching this article, the author acknowledges the help of John Wilson and Angela Morley who, in the early part of her career, worked under the name of Wally Stott.
JOHN WILSON AND HIS ORCHESTRA
playing the Romantic Arrangements of Angela Morley
"Soft Lights and Sweet Music"
1 APRIL IN PARIS, 2 SOFT LIGHTS AND SWEET MUSIC, 3 SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES, 4 TIME ON MY HANDS,
5 A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE, 6 RUBY, 7 SNOWFALL, 8 WHERE OR WHEN, 9 EMILY,
10 EMBRACEABLE YOU, 11 I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS, 12 LONELY TOWN, 13 THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, 14 MY SHIP, 15 NOBODY ELSE BUT ME, 16 WITH A SONG IN MY HEART
Vocalion CDSA 6803
CONRAD SALINGER -
M-G-M ARRaNGER SUPREME
by RICHARD HINDLEY
"What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again"
Think of a production number from one of the great MGM musicals. Whether it be Gene Kelly splashing along the sidewalk from ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse ‘Dancing in the Dark’ from ‘The Bandwagon’, or Fred with Judy Garland as a ‘Couple of Swells’ in ‘Easter Parade’, the chances are you’ll be associating these famous performers with those equally well known arrangements by Conrad Salinger. What’s interesting is that even if he hadn’t been associated with the number of your choice, it was Salinger who eventually set the defining style of the studio’s musicals, something that took place soon after the start of his 23 year career there.
His life-long friend and associate, John Green, who was Head of the MGM Music Department in the 1950s, described him as the studio’s ‘star orchestrator, one of the two or three outstanding arranger/orchestrators in the entire field of musical theatre’. In a recent interview John Wilson described Salinger’s talents: "he could translate colour and mood into sound to produce the most startling production numbers. When needed he could write on a grand scale, as in the climax of ‘This Heart of Mine’ (‘Ziegfeld Follies’, 1946), and then he would paint delicate smaller scale sound pictures as in parts of ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ (1952)".
Jeff Sultanof, conductor, arranger and editor, describes it in technical terms: "Salinger’s genius was to fill the sound canvas with rich, beautiful harmonies balanced with contrapuntal lines, and then set them in basic orchestral colour groups, the combination almost too busy in some cases, but not quite. There are those who believe that MGM’s musicals are over-orchestrated and overdone musically, but I’ve rarely heard a musician complain about Salinger’s work, because it is skilfully written and yet inspired. And there is always room for the singer. This is why Salinger’s work continues to inspire orchestrators, even though few of us will ever have the opportunity to create that level of work since there are few movie musicals made today".
Salinger’s credentials are a case in point when it comes to music making in Hollywood, where three composers - Max Steiner, Alfred Newman and Erich Korngold - had established during the nineteen thirties a scoring style based on nineteenth century romanticism. Moving on to the Hollywood musicals from the 1940s, Salinger’s talents brought in a French sensibility to the musical scene, influenced by Debussy and Ravel, and, by implication, their acknowledged master, Rimsky-Korsakov, whose rich orchestrations left an indelible mark on both of them. Christopher Hampton, the late musician and writer, also credits Frederic Delius as an influence too, reminding us that he’d lived for most of his life in France, and whose music was deeply influenced by Impressionist painting. Hints of the legacy of these composers run through Salinger’s work and you can sometimes spot a dash of Respighi and Stravinsky as well. To understand why, you only have to look at his background.
"It’s a lovely day that’s all around you, count your treasures you are well-to-do…"
In its promotional publicity, Brookline, Massachusetts, describes itself as ‘a desirable commuter suburb of Boston’. John F Kennedy was born there in 1917, and its later musical residents included Arthur Fiedler, Serge Koussevitsky (a music professor from Moscow who became conductor of the Boston Symphony) and Roland Hayes (a renowned black American lyric tenor). Ironically, there is no mention of Conrad Salinger, born there on 30th August 1901. The music flowing from his pen would be heard by more people around the world than all three of these together. This image of Brookline gives an implication that he came from a wealthy and probably cultivated family, one that could afford to encourage his talents even after his graduation from Harvard in 1923. To complete his musical studies, he crossed the Atlantic to France where he was enrolled in the Paris Conservatoire. Yet this shift to another culture was enticing in more ways than one: Salinger was homosexual, and, by moving to Paris, he could turn his back on the puritanical and censorious society of his upbringing. (In fact Boston retained this reputation well into the 20th century, prompting the expression "Banned in Boston" - an unintentional pun mercilessly exploited in the sixties in the eponymous David Rose bump and grind composition - for MGM Records, to boot).
Salinger studied harmony and orchestration with André Gédalge, himself author of a famous work on counterpoint, and possibly Maurice Ravel as well. The tuition with Ravel is in dispute, but Ravel was certainly involved at the Conservatoire during this period, another of his pupils being Ralph Vaughan Williams. In any case, Ravel himself had studied under Gédalge - whose other pupils included Darius Milhaud and Arthur Honegger. But there would have been other influences at work on Salinger as well, for let’s not forget what a vibrant and exciting place Paris was at this time. Even after the ravages of the First World War it still remained the arts capital of the world, with jazz adding to the vigour of the music scene, aided and abetted by such luminaries as Josephine Baker who created a sensation with her performances of exotic primitivism.
Salinger spent a total of seven years in Paris, and apart from learning to speak fluent French, he would have been exposed to the popular French music of the day. Running throughout his work are cheerful jaunty motifs, redolent of the boulevards of Paris: think ‘Mimi’ by Rodgers and Hart and ‘Ah Paree!’ from Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Follies’, to name other writers who have consciously parodied that French boulevard style in their songs. This influence, with its lightness of touch mixed with the solid academic background from the Conservatoire (he was a proficient composer and conductor, too) was to serve Salinger brilliantly during his career, although the technicolor world of the French capital as portrayed in ‘An American in Paris’, ‘Funny Face’ and ‘Gigi’ lay quite a few years ahead. One wonders what the look on the face of André Gédalge would have been, were he to have heard ‘Sinbad the Sailor’, Salinger’s reworking of Rimsky-Korsakov’s ‘Scheherezade’ some 25 years later for Gene Kelly’s ‘Invitation to the Dance’.
"Your troubles there, they’re out of style, for Broadway always wears a smile…"
Returning to the art deco splendour of New York in 1929, Salinger was very much a cultivated ‘man of the world’, always impeccably dressed, an image of sartorial splendour that he’d retain throughout his life, quite the opposite of the public’s idea of how many musicians present themselves. Indeed, closer inspection of a 1937 photograph taken of him joking with co-worker John Green reveals a framed reproduction of the Dutch master Vermeer: an unexpected adornment for the wall of his office, where presumably the photograph was taken, but certainly in keeping with his refinement.
His professional career started at Harms, the music publishing company, as a staff arranger. He then moved into the world of Broadway shows and the movie industry, for at this time some of it was still based in New York. His first film experience was for Paramount, both at their Astoria Studios on Long Island and the Paramount Theatre on 41st Street NYC. This was the era when first run movie releases were preceded by spectacular stage shows. The head of the department who engaged him was Adolph Deutsch, who would reappear in Salinger’s career at MGM. Salinger is acknowledged to be an uncredited arranger, along with John Green, for the Lubitch musical ‘The Smiling Lieutenant’ (1931).
Between 1932 to 1937 Salinger concentrated on arranging for a dozen Broadway shows, initially assisting Robert Russell Bennett, who considered him to be a protégé. David Raksin and John Green were other noteworthy arrangers on some of these shows, again names that would reappear at MGM. Green in fact scored the Broadway show ‘Here Goes the Bride’ in 1931 on which Salinger worked. Other titles from this period include ‘George White’s Scandals’ (1936) and ‘Billy Rose’s Jumbo’ (1935) with a Rodgers and Hart score. This one would eventually be filmed at MGM in the sixties after delays of many years caused by contractual restraints. Of particular interest is ‘Ziegfeld Follies of 1936’ which boasted a sophisticated score by Vernon Duke and Ira Gershwin and a cast including Bob Hope, Fanny Brice and Eve Arden. This is one of the few instances where we can now hear a new cast recording utilising the original arrangements, all painstakingly reconstructed. Issued recently on CD by Decca USA, it evocatively conveys the original intentions of the production, although the many glorious arrangements, the work of three other arrangers in addition to Salinger, regrettably remain unsigned.
"I’m on my way, here’s my beret, I’m going Hollywood…"
Salinger’s transition to Hollywood was not instantaneous: his first assignment was for Alfred Newman at Goldwyn-United Artists in 1937, but the experience proved unenjoyable and he returned to New York and Broadway. He was also assigned to the the Astaire/Rogers musical ‘Carefree’ (1938) at RKO, where his work as arranger/orchestrator went uncredited, as was that of his co-worker Robert Russell Bennett. But by now Salinger’s fame and reputation had spread throughout the industry, and he’d already met up with Roger Edens, an accomplished musician and writer, a man of many talents who acted virtually as an associate producer at MGM. Edens was a close colleague of songwriter producer Arthur Freed, who was to create the studio’s most prestigious musicals. This he achieved by surrounding himself with a handpicked team composed of the studio’s top talent, the legendary ‘Freed Unit’. Freed’s clout and standing ensured its members were virtually on call for his productions, much to the occasional annoyance of other producers at the studio.
Edens arranged that Salinger should immediately join the Unit and he was eventually offered an irresistible long-term contract that drew him permanently to Hollywood. This was a well worn path for countless actors, directors and musicians since the start of talking pictures, for Hollywood had always had the drawcard of fame with its concomitant wealth to seduce talent to its doors. So Salinger gave his regards to Broadway and started a career at MGM. His contribution to some 50 musicals would be inextricably linked to the fortunes of the MGM dream factory.
"Where troubles melt like lemon drops away across the chimney tops, that’s where you’ll find me…"
His first assignment was on ‘The Wizard of Oz’(1939) as the uncredited orchestrator of the ill fated ‘Jitterbug’ number, unfortunately destined for the cutting room floor, although the music track remains in existence. ‘Strike Up the Band’ (1940) brought him his first on-screen credit and from then on the credits run thick and fast, his work on all the musicals directed by Vincente Minnelli from 1942 being particularly inspired. Minnelli was also an import from Broadway as well as being a self-confessed Francophile. Their collaboration worked to such an extent that, as John Wilson aptly puts it, ‘he heard what Minnelli saw’. No wonder his work reached new highs. Jeff Sultanof describes it as being ‘beautiful to hear and sophisticated in content. I believe the other orchestrators at MGM were influenced by Salinger. Wally Heglin’s arrangements before and after 1943 show the Salinger influence as an example’.
During these years Salinger and Roger Edens created a powerful synergy in their contribution to the production numbers: Edens would sketch out the mood, tempo, texture and setting of a prospective number, after which Salinger fleshed out the details. ‘The Trolley Song’ in Minnelli’s second movie musical ‘Meet Me in St Louis’ (1944) is the perfect example, and a description of Judy Garland’s recording of it is vividly described in a book by Hugh Fordin on the Freed Unit: ‘even after the orchestra’s first reading of his arrangement…an excitement spread among those playing and listening. Then, when Judy came in with her dead-sure instinct of what she was to deliver, the ceiling seemed to fly off the stage…..Salinger’s arrangement was a masterpiece. It conveyed all the colour, the motion, the excitement that was eventually going to be seen on the screen. With the remaining numbers and the background scoring for this film as well as all the work he was to do thereafter, Salinger always maintained sonority and texture in his writing, which made his a very special sound and style that has never been equalled in the American movie musical’.
For the next Minnelli collaboration, ‘Ziegfeld Follies’ (1946) we get sumptuous and exotic textures, notably in the lavish production numbers ‘Limehouse Blues’ and ‘This Heart of Mine’. In the latter Salinger includes French horn obbligato passages worthy of Richard Strauss to transport us well and truly ‘over the top’. But most importantly, in both these numbers, it’s the narrative - the dramatic story telling which bursts through the confines of those popular songs - that pushes the art of the arranger well into the realms of composer.
Jeff Sultanof points out that the Salinger style ‘was also tailored for the microphone, an important distinction’, and this is the key explanation of that unique MGM sound. In the late twenties, Bing Crosby had studied the limitations of 78 rpm recording techniques, tailoring his voice accordingly. In similar fashion, Salinger accepted that the optical sound recording of the day, the process that preceded tape recording by photographing the audio onto film - had a limited dynamic range, with a consequent loss in quality between live performance and final release print. Despite those huge Hollywood budgets and virtually limitless musical resources at the studio, he realised his writing sounded best with around 38 players, more in keeping with the pit orchestras of Broadway. Any choral backing was consequently scaled down to match, thus creating something relatively easier (and less costly) to record. But this also had the advantage of creating an orchestra from the cream of talent available. As described by John Wilson: ‘it was really a dance band line-up with a string section. Many of the musicians had been star players with such as Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. Si Zentner, for example, usually led the trombones. And they were augmented as required from film to film. Above all, though, the orchestra was noted for its warmth of the brass sound and the ‘fat’, almost old-fashioned string sound. You have to bear in mind that America received a flood of refugees from Europe, particularly from Russia, and that many brought with them the Jewish traditions of string playing. So the sound is rich and vibrant, full-bodied, at times almost flashy, with a strong vibrato, and relentlessly brilliant.’
"Forget your troubles come on get happy, you’d better chase all your cares away…"
Throughout his career at MGM, Salinger also distinguished himself as a composer of background scores for many of the musicals in addition to arranging the numbers, such as ‘Till the Clouds Roll By’ (1946) ‘On the Town’ (1949) and ‘Show Boat’ (1951) for which he shared an Oscar Nomination with Adolph Deutsch for ‘Best Scoring of a Musical Picture’. For some dramatic productions, such as ‘The Last Time I Saw Paris’ (1954) and ‘Gaby’ (1956) he scored the entire film, utilising as thematic inspiration Jerome Kern’s song for the former, and Richard Rodgers’ ‘Where or When’ for the latter. With the introduction of tape recording, and later on stereophonic recording, he saw the studio revert to the larger orchestra, which suited the new wide screen image and spectacular adaptations of Broadway musicals like ‘Brigadoon’ (1954) and ‘Kismet’ (1955) and ‘Silk Stockings’(1957).
These gradually took over from the staple musical output that had been the hallmark of MGM into the early fifties, so that the release of such masterpieces as ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ (1952) and ‘The Bandwagon’ (1953) signalled the gradual demise of original scripts and the scaling down of musical output in general. Christopher Hampton considers this period to be the epitome of Salinger’s endeavours, when he created ‘the de luxe quality of orchestral writing exemplified by ‘Dancing in the Dark’, ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ and ‘The Heather on the Hill’ (from Brigadoon) - a quality born of his feeling for beauty of timbre, for mood, for atmosphere, for nuance, above all for line, the give-and-take of melody and countermelody’.
By the mid fifties, Metro was starting to fall apart, with producers no longer under contract and the famous roster of stars well on the wane. Consequently we find Salinger looking in other directions for employment. His credit, as composer, is to be found in the TV series ‘General Electric Theatre’ (1954), ‘Wagon Train’ (1957) - quite a contrast to frothy musicals, but in the distinguished company of such other composers as David Raksin, David Buttolph and Gerry Goldsmith - and ‘Batchelor Father’ (1960 series). Even so, Salinger still worked as orchestrator on the dwindling number of musicals, two of them with Paris settings. ‘Funny Face’ was directed by Stanley Donen in 1957 and has the notable ‘Bonjour Paris’ number, for which Salinger provides a brilliant kaleidoscopic arrangement that describes the bustle and panoramas of the city in its underscoring of Roger Eden’s song. ‘Gigi’ (1958), proved to be the last production for the Freed Unit that was not developed from a Broadway show and Salinger’s last collaboration with Freed and Minnelli.
One surprise is to discover that he was the uncredited orchestrator on the blockbuster western ‘The Big Country’ (United Artists, 1958). The score, composed by Jerome Moross, is regarded as one of Hollywood’s best. One wonders what exactly Salinger’s contribution was, given his stature and years of experience against those of Moross, a relative newcomer to the Hollywood big league. There has to be an irony about those opening bars - the composer describes the spinning wagon wheels of the main title, but his orchestrator is the man who had created and arranged the ‘Trolley Song’ wheel motif! Nevertheless, a compensating recognition was about to come to Salinger, one that would bring his name to prominence for the record-buying public.
By the late fifties Verve Records was identified with recordings featuring top jazz instrumentalists and singers. All the more unusual then, that Salinger was approached to prepare an instrumental album of his arrangements. This was the idea of Buddy Bregman, the label’s star arranger/conductor and head of A & R, a man with a huge list of impressive credits. By then he had already accompanied Ella Fitzgerald on both her Cole Porter and Rodgers and Hart Songbook albums, two of the top twenty-five albums in almost every magazine poll and Record Guide Book. These, plus the Bing Crosby album ‘Bing Sings Whilst Bregman Swings’ had all gone platinum. Bregman had also recorded several successful big band albums of his own. Norman Granz, chief producer at Verve (and creator of the label itself), gave Bregman the go-ahead, and the album started to take shape. Bregman recalls the 12 tracks, all of his own choosing, were mainly based on Salinger’s vocal arrangements from the MGM musicals, scored for the classic line up of 40 musicians that he’d hit upon for the MGM Studio Orchestra - although the sleeve notes of the album refer to the tracks as ‘(the) personal favourites of Mr Salinger’. It was recorded at Capitol Records on Vine Street, Hollywood, in Studio A, and, as Bregman recalls: ‘Connie Salinger attended….he left everything to me….he loved everything and the musicians he did know he interacted with. He was thrilled that I thought of this idea’. Bregman describes him as ‘a sweet man, a shy guy who always smiled’, in fact the antithesis of Bregman himself who, for this album, had the magnanimity to step aside from his usual credit in deference to this other great musician.
The stereo album, ‘A Lazy Afternoon’ (Verve LP MGV 2068) was issued as ‘The Conrad Salinger Orchestra Conducted by Buddy Bregman’- and you don’t find many accolades like that in the recording industry. Bregman remains proud of the achievement: ‘It’s a great album - not for my work - but for the idea that I put the whole thing together and his great charts!’ If you were to find a copy of this rare album, you may agree that it’s one of the greatest, and a special one at that, for there must be no other where it’s the arranger who has top billing. But Salinger himself was not a recording artist and was unknown to the general public. Perhaps this was a disadvantage when it came to sales of the album, for in USA they proved to be disappointing. Certainly Verve Records’ clichéd dreamy girl cover – de rigeur for orchestral albums of the day – gives no hint of its unique contents. Consequently its British release was scaled down to an extended play 45rpm issue (HMV 7EG 8322), although it fared slightly better in Australia, where it appeared on Astor, a budget label of rather poor audio quality. Interestingly, Bregman admits the Salinger influence for his subsequent instrumental album of Gershwin songs featured in the movie ‘Funny Face’ (Verve LP MGV 2064). What wonderful CD reissues these two albums would now make!
‘Billy Rose’s Jumbo’ (1962, aka ‘Jumbo’), the last MGM musical on which Salinger worked, reunited him with the Rodgers and Hart score from his Broadway past. It turned out to be not only the last musical for the studio that has the identifiable ‘MGM sound’ but for Salinger it was both a completion and a full stop, for by now the entire future of the studio looked bleak. Hollywood continued to respond to the demands of a younger audience - with the realisation that the rock era was truly here to stay - plus even further declines in box office receipts. Eventually the studio would be scaled down solely for television production and by 1969 a new regime would appear, headed by James Aubrey, who would order the destruction of the entire music library - an act, viewed in hindsight, that symbolised the imperatives of accountancy over any cultural legacy that might have been preserved.
"then goodbye, brings a tear to the eye…"
Conrad Salinger lived in Pacific Palisades, one of the wealthiest and most beautiful suburbs of Los Angeles. It was here that, on 9th July 1961, he took his life. He was 59 years old. The international movie database notes the cause of death as a ‘heart attack while sleeping’, surely a more graceful and dignified public record of his passing.
Perhaps this is where we should take a few bars rest, those of us who remain ‘waltzing in the wonder of why we’re here’ to contemplate the achievements of this talented man. Hollywood, with its mega Dream Factory, may well have delivered him fame and riches, but perhaps at the expense of peace of mind. We have seen how his life’s work became linked to an enormous studio, whose fortunes and production of its once staple musical output both declined. During this period Salinger worked with its top talent, nourished by scores from the nation’s greatest songwriters: Kern, Berlin, Gershwin, Porter, Arlen, Youmans, Lerner and Loewe, Burton Lane, Hugh Martin, Arthur Schwartz, Harry Warren, Comden and Green, and not forgetting Arthur Freed himself, as lyricist. He became, as Jeff Sultanof puts it ‘perhaps the single greatest orchestrator for motion pictures that I’m aware of…. I believe the following orchestrations changed the course of popular orchestral writing: ‘Dancing in the Dark’, ‘Mack the Black’ (from ‘The Pirate’, 1948), ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, ‘This Heart of Mine’ and ‘The Trolley Song’.
"now the young world has grown old, gone are the silver and gold…"
The Metro musicals, like all movies, were once a disposable commodity, to be released one week and forgotten the next. But with the advent of sales to television and later the release of the ‘That’s Entertainment’ compilations from the MGM vaults, a new generation came to appreciate their merits. From the 80s they’ve been re-released on videotape, laserdisc and now DVD as well as on CD by the Rhino label. These CDs have restored the songs and numbers to the same duration as performed in the films, unrestricted by the timing constraints of previous 78rpm and LP releases.
Although Salinger was part of a vast team of talent, his contribution has nevertheless continued to be appreciated. In 1985 Barbra Streisand insisted on his orchestration of Jerome Kern’s ballad ‘Bill’ from ‘Show Boat’(1951) for her Broadway Album, which was then adapted by Peter Matz. Although a new arrangement had been presented to her, she could not forget seeing the movie as a child, with the Salinger arrangement staying in her memory, and that was the backing she wanted. The next significant recognition was on a much bigger scale: the release in 1990 of the Chandos CD ‘A Musical Spectacular: Songs and Production Numbers from the MGM Musicals’, recorded in London by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Elmer Bernstein. The arrangements were lovingly restored by the instigator of the project, Christopher Palmer, whose detailed sleeve notes celebrated Salinger’s work for the first time since Buddy Bregman’s album. Palmer described him as ‘the real hero of the album’ which, thirteen years later, is in its third release, the latest version at last giving Salinger’s credit prominently on the front cover.
"But came the dawn, the show goes on, and I don’t wanna say godnight!"
March 2003 signalled an even more exciting event, when John Wilson presented his ‘That’s Entertainment’ concert at the Royal Festival Hall, London. John had set himself an enormous task of restoration to scorepaper of many of his favourite MGM numbers by accessing remnants of the originals, for the most part retained in sketch form for reasons of copyright, but ‘long hidden in deepest storage’. He assembled an 85 piece orchestra with an enormous choir of 100 to perform creations of many talented arrangers: Skip Martin, John Green, Andre Previn and Robert van Epps - but the most prominent name was that of Salinger. Unlike the Chandos recording, John ensured his line-up included many fine musicians familiar with the jazz idiom to recreate a much more authentic MGM sound. The audience, to quote John, ‘went bananas’ - proof indeed that these scores should have a secure life in the concert hall, in happy coexistence with the originals on the soundtracks of the movies themselves.
Salinger may well have had to deal with problems both professional and private at the end of his life, but we can still enjoy the legacy of his talent - a talent that enhances and sometimes transcends those glorious Metro musicals of his day.
In researching this article I acknowledge information from the following:
The book ‘MGM’s Greatest Musicals : The Arthur Freed Unit’ by Hugh Fordin, published by Da Capo Press New York 1996 (the book was originally published in 1975 under the title ‘The World of Entertainment! Hollywood’s Greatest Musicals’); Christopher Palmer’s sleeve notes for the RPO Chandos CD; John Wilson talking to Malcolm Laycock for BBC Radio 2; John Wilson’s programme notes for his ‘That’s Entertainment’ concert, supplied by RFS member Ken Bruce; and Gary Zantos, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the MGM studios.
Thanks are also due to Buddy Bregman, and especially to Jeff Sultanoff - his enthusiasm and supplying of invaluable information was a great inspiration. In addition to his conducting, arranging and editing activities, Jeff is also an author and Assistant Professor of Music at Five Towns University, Long Island, NY. (He modestly revealed that he has edited and recopied fifty-two Robert Farnon compositions and arrangements, which Bob has seen and approved. Working in conjunction with John Wilson, he is preparing a Robert Farnon edition of definitive versions of his music). Thanks also to my friend William Motzing, Lecturer in Jazz Studies, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, University of Sydney, for checking through the final draft. (Bill has recorded the Main Title from Robert Farnon’s ‘Bear Island’ score on his 1994 double CD ‘Best of Adventure’ with the City of Prague Philharmonic).
Richard Hindley (June 2003)
Editor: Richard Hindley is a respected Film Editor, based in Mossman, NSW, Australia. His recent credits include the animated movie musical "The Magic Pudding" released by Fox/Icon, featuring the voices of John Cleese and Toni Colette; and the children’s television series "Out There", a co-production between ABC Australia, BBC and Sesame/Nicelodeon. Richard has been a member of the Robert Farnon Society since its very first meeting in 1956.
SOUND RESTORATION : HOW FAR SHOULD IT GO?
The Editor invites comments from the experts in the field
Two events have had a momentous impact upon the recording scene during the past 20 years. First of all the arrival of the compact disc has resulted in what can only be described as an explosion in the availability of music at an affordable price; and secondly (and more recently) advances in digital sound technology have made it possible to improve the sound quality of pre-1950s recordings to a degree which once would have been thought impossible.
In many respects 1950 (give or take a year either way) seems to have been a watershed in sound reproduction. Until then, the 78 rpm disc had been the universal carrier of recorded music, having quickly superseded wax cylinders when sound recording became possible in the late 1800s. But two important things happened in the middle of the last century: record companies started using tape for studio recordings, and the Long Playing record arrived on the scene.
Both of these developments offered significant improvements in sound quality, both as to the quality of the actual recordings which could be faithfully captured for later replay, and in the elimination of much of the background noise which had gone hand in hand with 78s.
The familiar sound of frying eggs and bacon - the sizzle and crackle of 78s - could largely have been eliminated. In the late 1920s companies such as Columbia in Britain were issuing 78s pressed in a material which offered a much quieter surface that their contemporaries. In the last days of 78s many were pressed in vinyl (the same as LPs) and surely this could have been introduced much sooner. World War 2 was partly to blame (shellac was in short supply and recycled material wasn’t exactly pure) but also a certain amount of ‘grit’ was added at times to make 78s more durable and last longer.
Whatever the reasons (and cost must have been another consideration), the material from which most 78s were pressed was noisy, but strangely the human ear seemed able to filter it out so that listeners only heard what they wanted to hear. Also, for some perverse reason, the background noise from acoustic gramophones (with those incredibly heavy soundboxes) was less noticeable than from electric record players.
But when LPs (and to a lesser extent 45s) took over, comparisons with the older 78s highlighted the imperfections, which people regarded as no longer being acceptable.
This lengthy introduction is all leading up to the point in the early 1990s when latest developments such as the British invention CEDAR made it possible (and affordable) for record companies to start processing old recordings to extract the music, and leave the unwanted noise behind. The 50-year copyright rule in Britain also helped, because by the end of the 20th century virtually all of the 78rpm repertoire was now available to anyone who wanted to clean up and repackage vintage recordings from the past.
For the sake of accuracy, it should be mentioned that the hiss from tape recordings, and the crackles and plops from well-played LPs, can also benefit from the likes of CEDAR.
The big companies who owned the original recordings were among the first to embrace the new technology, although their enthusiasm waned as the 1990s progressed. Today it is largely the smaller independent companies who are making the running, and producing some of the best results. I suppose we should always remember that commercial companies cannot continue without profits, and their CDs of reissues must appeal to purchasers. If a touch of reverb can ‘liven up’ a dull recording and make it more appealing to record buyers, we should hardly be surprised if producers make this choice. Perhaps it is a choice between preserving a recording accurately for historical purposes, or simply making it sound enjoyable for today’s CD purchasers.
The technology is progressing at an astonishing rate. Once it could cost over £100 to process a 3-minute 78rpm disc; today anyone with a personal computer (and a little basic technical knowledge) can afford to buy the software which can process old recordings to an acceptable standard.
We can all remember the vintage LPs from the 1970s, where the method of ‘improving’ the sound quality of 78s (usually on dance band recordings) was to reduce the treble to mask the hiss and crackle. Unfortunately this removed much of the ‘bite’ in the music as well - some records sounded as though you were hearing them with a cushion stuffed inside your loudspeaker.
Today almost anything is possible ... and now we get to the real reason for this article.
The big question being asked by those with ears to appreciate the difference is: how far should today’s sound engineers go in carrying out the restoration of old records?
Should one merely try to remove some, or all of the background noise? Should a little echo be added here and there to try and ‘liven up’ dull, or dry recordings? Pre-war microphones and studios had their limitations (remember electrical recordings only arrived in the mid-1920s), and such shortcomings often become more obvious when background noise is eliminated. And on the subject of noise, should all hiss and crackle be completely removed? Sometimes this can distort the music, and result in an unreal sound from the orchestra and singers.
Through letters and comments to this and other magazines, I have become increasingly aware that record buyers are now paying far more attention to the expertise and style of the top sound engineers. Each and every one of them seem to have their strong supporters and occasionally their critics. Sometimes it can depend upon whether you normally listen on headphones or through loudspeakers. It may sound obvious, but the best sound reproduction systems can occasionally spoil listening pleasure, because any shortcomings may become more apparent.
I have therefore invited several of the top sound restorers from around the world to let me have their comments, for the benefit of readers of Journal Into Melody, and I am pleased that several have taken considerable trouble in their replies. We now print the first two responses that came in from two respected sound engineers; more will follow in March 2002.
My approach to the subject can be boiled down to a very simple rule... The goal of audio restoration should be to come as close as possible to what would have been heard if you could have stood in the studio on the day the recording was made, limitations of the recording medium itself being taken into account.
In other words, an acoustic recording will NEVER be able to sound as good as even a relatively poor electrical recording, all else being equal, simply because of the technical limitation of the two mediums. In the acoustic recording, the extended low and high frequencies of the electrical process simply do not exist on the medium, and there is no way to extract what is not there in the first place. With the limitations of the media being understood, one can then strive to reach the best that the media was capable of, consistent with my stated goal of audio restoration. The ultimate object would be to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear, but since that is not likely possible, at least, a pretty good replica of the silk purse should be attempted!
There are some modern tricks that can be employed to improve the listenability of the original material, but none of these should interfere with listening through to the original recording, to the degree that the media allows. Some of these tricks involve surgical equalization to remove resonances hums or rumble in the original. Other equalization is done to improve the sound of instruments as much as the media limitations will allow, providing the restoration engineer has a good familiarity with what live instruments should sound like.
Adding reverberation is definitely NOT permitted in the goals of audio restoration... it wasn't there in the original recording, and should not be added after the fact. Some personal advantages that I have, are a long experience in the recording field with RCA Victor, and the broadcast field with three major Canadian radio stations, both AM and FM. Additionally, doing recordings of symphony orchestras, particularly Orchestra Toronto, a 105 piece community orchestra here in Toronto. There is no substitute for being able to walk around the orchestra during rehearsals and listening to the various instruments played by excellent musicians. This gives the knowledge of the sound that you want to achieve in the restoration process.
Usually, you can focus on one instrument, a soloist perhaps, and equalize to the true sound of that instrument... if you can do that, then mostly everything else will fall in place. Granted, you may not be able to get all the overtones of the instruments, depending on the medium used to make the recording.
The last part of audio restoration is like the image in a dirty mirror... clean the mirror and the image becomes clear and sharp. Noise reduction can be thought of as cleaning the mirror, that is, removing clicks pops, crackle and hiss noises on the media that stand between you and the studio sound. The success of this part is very dependent on the recording and the media itself. The ear hears certain "cues" that tell the mind what it is listening to, and you cannot necessarily remove ALL the noise, because attempting to do so usually results in losing the natural "cues" and adding unwanted artifacts of the processing that are less desirable than the noise that was to be removed.
The experts in this field have learned this and will stop before damage is done to the music. Unfortunately, there are many so-called "producers" out there who persist in demanding that ALL the noise be removed, resulting in dull, lifeless music... and everyone has heard the sad examples of these problems... there's just no accounting for taste.
For me, the "rules of restoration" so far as (electrically recorded) 78s are concerned are quite straightforward. The aim should be to reproduce what the original recording engineer heard on the loudspeaker in the control room. This means removing the unwanted noises introduced by the recording / reproducing medium which for 78s means clicks, crackles, hiss and, in some cases, hum. Any temptations to "enhance" or "improve" the sound should be resisted although, as I will attempt to explain, it is sometimes permissible to "tweak" certain aspects of the sound which may have suffered as a result of the restoration.
Whatever certain record companies and restorers might tell you, removal of ALL of the background noise is impossible without harming the music and should never be attempted. Systems such as CEDAR used in conjunction with skilled manual editing can remove all clicks and crackles from recordings without affecting the music but, in the case of shellac 78s, usually leave behind a noise which I choose to call "shash" – a mixture of hiss and other noises caused by the shellac and whatever fillers were used in its mix. Depending on the frequencies it contains a certain amount of shash can be removed (sometimes quite a lot) using various computer processes but, as it contains a wide range of frequencies, such removal inevitably affects the music to a greater or lesser degree. This is why some highly regarded restorers do not go further than the CEDAR stage with the result that, although their work is usually more "musical" than that of others, the small amount of noise in the background means that some record company executives feel they aren’t getting value for money and insist that further "restoration" is done to remove every vestige of background noise, usually with dire results.
When even a small amount of the shash is removed, then inevitably the music suffers to some degree and it is here I feel that a judicious amount of carefully applied "tweaking" is sometimes justified. A little "presence" may be applied using parametric equalisation and, in some circumstances, a little reverberation may be added as the "ambience" of a recording is usually the first thing to suffer during restoration. However, in my opinion, this reverb must be carefully chosen to match that of the original recording and MUST be monophonic – the practice of certain record companies to swamp carefully restored recordings with stereo reverberation is, to my mind, deplorable.
There are also "restorers" who think that they can considerably improve on the original and not only add stereo reverb but carry out what I can only describe as "mutilation" of recordings by means of considerable re-equalisation which actually changes the balance between the orchestral instruments. I believe that, apart from the noise introduced by the medium, the restored sound should be as close as possible to what the original artist / producer / recording engineer intended. I consider changing it to be supreme arrogance but, as there is undoubtedly a considerable number of record buyers who like this kind of thing, this practice will undoubtedly continue and who am I to say it is wrong. However, for those of us who do not approve, I think that it should be made clear on such CDs that what they contain is not the original sound but the "what I think it should have sounded like" creation of the restoration engineer.
Although this piece is concerned primarily with the restoration of 78s, I must touch on the "restoration" of more recent mono material originally recorded on tape. These recordings rarely suffered from the limitations in the recording process which is the usual excuse offered by record companies to justify "enhancing" recordings originally made on 78s, so why some companies consider it necessary to add stereo reverberation etc. to these carefully crafted productions is beyond me. It seems impossible to justify and, in my opinion, is an insult to those who produced the original recording.
As for those who claim to be able to turn mono recordings into stereo, words fail me! The laws of physics make this impossible and anyone making such claims is not a reputable restorer but a fraud and such productions should be avoided at all costs.
At the time of writing (September) there is considerable correspondence on this topic on several e-mail groups on the Internet. One statement in particular summed it all up for me "Returning a performance to its original sound is restoration; adding "sweetening" in an effort to make it better than it is falls in the category of meddling."
On Sunday 22 January 1967, at 2.30pm, the BBC Light Programme broadcast the first programme in a new series featuring Robert Farnon conducting the Radio Orchestra : "Farnon in Concert". Shortly before the first show, Robert Farnon gave a fascinating interview to ‘Crescendo’, which was reprinted in ‘Journal Into Melody’. Over 35 years later in 2003, we are pleased to give our present-day members the opportunity to read what Bob had to say.
Robert Farnon : talking about "Farnon in Concert", and much more
It’s a great pleasure to do this new weekly BBC series, which I believe is going to be heard each Sunday until the end of June. I’m looking forward to its run. Actually, I come over from my home in Guernsey every fortnight. On the Tuesday we usually do all the script, because there’s a lot of talking throughout the programme, between the visiting composer, the guest singer, the regular compere, John Dunn, and myself. We do most of that work at Broadcasting House, and it is cut into the show later. Then on the Wednesday, from 2.00 in the afternoon until 10 p.m., we record the music for one programme. On Thursday we do a second complete show.
That allows me to be home for one full week, rather than come over each week. Because the travelling’s a bit of a bind, you know. If you have to make it every week, you just get here, do your work, go home, spend one day and come back again. That’s how it was with the previous series on BBC, and I’m glad that they’ve been able to arrange it this way - thanks to the producer, Vernon Lawrence.
I worked with the Radio Orchestra last year, when we did two or three isolated programmes. Just occasionally I came in, conducted the orchestra and brought a few arrangements. Prior to that, I worked with the string section in a couple of programmes. On the whole, it’s a first-class orchestra. And they’re magnificent readers. They read this music just at sight - which is a godsend when we have such limited rehearsal time.
The Radio Orchestra has some very good soloists in it - the leader, violinist John Jezzard, Bobby Lamb (trombone), Jimmy Chester (alto). An excellent Canadian tenor player - Art Ellefson.
And, of course, Malcolm Cecil on bass and Jackie Dougan on drums are first-rate. Then we have Bobby Midgeley come in for the afternoon session, playing all the extra percussion wonderfully well. Individually, there’s an awful lot of talent there. Collectively, they’ve been together long enough now to have some terrific teamwork. Which you don’t get in the session boys so much. Sometimes you do - if the same four trombones or four trumpets arrive at a date, but quite often it isn’t so. I think the only real difference is there are probably a few more virtuosos among session players that do recordings and film work.
As a unit, this is a top-class light orchestra, which can play almost any style of music. We’ve done everything from small Dixieland jazz and beat stuff up to a movement from Dvorak’s "New World" Symphony. Which isn’t bad going, is it? And everything you could think of in-between.
It’s certainly a great help to know that there are these outstanding jazz players in the orchestra. Then I can dig into my library and say: "Well, yes, this’ll come off well, because it has a tenor solo, and we’ve got a terrific tenor player in the band." Or "Here’s a speciality for the alto," or whatever. It helps me in programming the music, to know what I can use.
As a matter of interest, Johnny Dankworth is going to be a guest in one of the programmes, and I’m writing a saxophone piece for him. But I must mention something else here - this originated from a suggestion by the producer, who thought it might be an idea if I wrote a little thing for Johnny. And, funnily enough, I’d been starting a serious composition for another alto player, also a fellow-Canadian, Bob Burns. But a major work - a saxophone concerto, which will feature Bob playing tenor, alto and soprano. He’ll play one of these instruments on each of three movements.
I must say that the general standard of musicianship in this country is very high. Right after the war, when I started doing some vocal accompaniments at Decca and working with the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra, I found that the reading was absolutely staggering. I’d never come across musicians who could sight–read so well. Back home it would take us probably twice the time. And it’s the same today.
Where American musicians tend to excel, I think, is in interpretation. Also, most of the American bands we hear are permanently–organised outfits, so they have more time to get a good ensemble sound. Ted Heath’s band, being permanent, got a wonderful ensemble sound. But in session work, where we’re going to do an album of jazz tunes, or whatever, we only have so much time to get these things done. In other words, the brass or saxophone section can’t take the music away and ‘wood-shed’ it, as we call it, for half an hour - just get into a corner and practice it, phrase it, change it and chop it about. As, say, Ted Heath’s band does - and the Americans.
It’s always been my opinion that we could get the same ensemble sound from the ordinary bands here. Ted’s was not a soloists’ band (not later on, anyway) but it was a great ensemble band. I remember, when I was with Geraldo, he allowed us to have a rehearsal of up to three or four hours, just wood-shedding one number. And, as a result, we got a great sound.
Being a perfectionist, I’m seldom completely happy about the sound. I think it’s a bit mean on my part - I shouldn’t be so selfish, always wanting everything to be perfect.
As for being a conductor, I conduct because I like conducting my own music. But I’m not really mad about actually conducting an orchestra. I much prefer writing. It was when I was in my teens in Toronto that the writing gradually took hold. From the time I was seven years old, I can remember music throughout the family. My father was a violinist; my mother played piano. My only sister was a jazz pianist, and my elder brother, Brian, was in a college band when he was twelve. I was eleven or twelve when I bought my first set of drums, just playing the bass drum and brass, and played trumpet for many years.
What happened was: I was on drums with my brother’s band, and it was very difficult to find brass players. The tenor saxophone player had an old cornet, which he gave to me as a present. So I started studying it, and taking lessons and I liked it very much. Then I used to play the second trumpet parts at the drums, just playing the bass drum and hi-hat cymbal with my feet, leaving my hands free to play the trumpet! In 1936 I joined the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, playing first trumpet for Percy Faith’s Orchestra. That was an entree for me, as far as writing was concerned, because I used to do some arranging for Percy, too. He wasn’t a vocal writer at the time, and I did his choir arrangements for him. When he left for America, I suppose I filled the gap, as it were. I took over, formed an orchestra and did a lot of conducting for CBC. But I would play as well. I didn’t give up playing until I came to Britain with the Canadian Army in 1944.
My original studies in writing were with a private teacher named Louis Wiseman. He was a pupil at a school in Prague at the same time as one of the Strauss family. A very good teacher, though not a good composer. He taught me the harmony, the counterpoint and the general theory of music. I took it over from there. And I didn’t write any popular music to speak of; I was just concerned in writing serious music. I wrote a symphonette for orchestra, then two symphonies and several orchestral works, an etude for trumpet, some piano pieces - and this was all before I came over here. It was when I was in Britain with the Canadian Band of the AEF that I became more involved in the light music side. As the conductor of a popular orchestra, which ours was, similar to those of Glenn Miller and George Melachrino, I wasn’t accented by the BBC as a serious musician: I remember sending my Second Symphony score to the BBC for review, and I never heard from them about it for three years. Finally I discovered the score in a little office in Shaftesbury Avenue, underneath a pile of manuscripts. It had been there, gathering dust, for all that time. I was more or less advised by the chap there that they didn’t even look at it, because it couldn’t possibly be good if it was written by a jazz musician.
This is a strange attitude, but it is true. And I think it still prevails today to a great extent. I’ve written one or two serious works recently: one is a "Rhapsody For Violin And Orchestra", which has been played at the Festival Hall, as well as all over Europe and in Canada. But, although it’s been submitted to them, it’s never been played by the BBC Serious Music Department at all. And that’s today.
Apart from the BBC, I find the same unawareness on the part of the symphony orchestras here, to whom my work has been submitted, but who have not used it. Yet the symphony orchestras abroad consider it worth including in their repertoire. My First Symphony was played by the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. So if it’s performed by one of the ten leading orchestras in the world, it should be good enough for the BBC.
The AEF Band was a full aggregation, including strings, but we didn’t have the best players. During the war the Canadian Army had several big entertainment units, and they used to send, say, tenor twelve-piece groups out on the Continent with a show. Some of them got up very close behind the lines. The cream of the professional musicians of Canada were in these units. And we were left in London with rather the second string of players.
Therefore, with our leading brass, woodwind and string players out entertaining the troops, we had great difficulty in competing with Miller - and Melachrino. But we had quite a good orchestra, because we were working a 9 to 5 routine nearly every day of the week. So what we lacked in skill, we made up for in ensemble playing and drilled musicianship, I suppose.
Anyway, it served as a launching point for me here. Of course, we were working in the BBC regularly and, shortly after the war, the Corporation offered me a series along the lines of the large orchestral music of the Canadian Army Band. That, incidentally, was on a Sunday afternoon, as this one is. It was called Journey Into Melody, and we followed it with another series, Melody Hour. Now we’ve either come full circle, or we’re turning the clock back 20 years - I don’t know what. But we’re doing the same thing, more or less, again. Though I think the styles have changed a bit.
It would be interesting, perhaps, for some people to know that a lot of the arrangements we’re playing in this present series are the ones we played in the original series 18-20 years ago. They’re not all new arrangements, by any means.
Unfortunately there’s no budget for arranging in the programme. I’m just pulling the suitable ones out of the book. And, according to the musicians, most of them still stand up. Which is nice to know.
My associations with jazz and jazz musicians go back to when I lived in Toronto. Of course, New York wasn’t very far away - just across the border. And we used to go over every possible weekend and sit in with some of these boys, just for a musical tonic. I first played with Dizzy Gillespie when he came through Toronto with Cab Calloway’s band. We used to have jam sessions afterwards and play like mad all night long, together with Chu Berry on tenor and Cozy Cole on drums. Dizzy played straight trumpet then - he didn’t have it sticking up in the air. He used to giggle when I played a jazz solo on cornet - he’d always played trumpet himself. In fact, I think it’s a nicer sound than flugelhorn, easier to control, with a better tone.
I used to sit in and play jazz choruses at Minton’s. Also at a place called the Trianon in Buffalo, which is even closer to Toronto. I used to work a 9 till 1 job at a Summer place near Niagara Falls. Our way of relaxing after the job every night was to nip over to Buffalo. It was only about an hour’s drive - we’d get back about 6.00 in the morning. At the Trianon, we played with some very interesting fellows from the old Don Redman Band, such as Jean Goldkette, Red Norvo and his brother, a drummer. Red’s wife, Mildred Bailey, was singing with the band. Those were very happy salad days.
It was just filling my need to play jazz - that was the only way to play it. Because there weren’t very many jazz musicians in my home town at the time. Not like there is now - we have Oscar Peterson in residence and, until recently, we also had Ray Brown and Ed Thigpen. But we didn’t then, so we had to go over the border for our jazz.
Any interest evidenced by jazz people like Quincy Jones in my present-day work doesn’t have anything to do with jazz, I don’t think. Probably, they just like some of the arrangements I’ve done on record. Harmonically, more than anything else, and perhaps the orchestral colours. I don’t think they listen much to the jazz side of it, because we don’t play very much. The orchestras we use are a little bit too large to play jazz. We attempt it - to try to find that elusive combination of jazz and symphonic. It’s terribly difficult, but a lot of people - Johnny Dankworth, John Lewis, Duke Ellington - are having a go, too. But on a big scale, with the 60-piece Radio Orchestra that you hear on Sundays, it’s not at all easy to move a band of that size in a swinging arrangement. Occasionally, though, it does happen.
Quincy Jones was with Philips Records for quite a long time, as an A and R man. We made about four or five albums together, including the one with Sarah Vaughan. I directed the orchestra; he was in the control room A and R-ing, as it were. I think that contract resulted from the fact that my orchestral music appealed to him. And he was interested in writing for the orchestra in that way -for the straighter instruments and strings. Not just the jazz side of it, which he had done for so many years. This, of course, is what he’s now putting into practice in his film scores.
It’s surprising how many of these jazz boys want to write for strings. I remember having a letter from Victor Feldman, saying he’d love to do some string writing, and asking if I’d give him a correspondence lesson or two. He sent over some examples; I sent back corrections, and so on. We just did it on a friendly basis, because we’re old pals, you know.
The same applied to Quincy. We used to have little chewing–the–fat sessions, when he would ask about string voicings and whatnot. Likewise the baritone player Sahib Shihab, who lives in Denmark. We had some friendly little get–togethers in Copenhagen. He would do a few bars, and we’d talk about it. And I think he learned more that way than he would trying to find some book which would instruct him along the appropriate lines.
Writing for strings is quite an art ….
To write for strings well is quite an art, I believe. A lot of people today are writing for strings the same way they would write for saxophones. And it sounds that way, you know, rather dull. They have one phrase for about eight bars with a big slur marked over it. But a violin can’t do that. He’ll run out of bow, even if the bow is 20 feet long. He couldn’t phrase that way.
In string writing, bowing is very important. That is, whether it’s an up-bow, a down-bow, or whatever. It requires a bit of study. So does the harp; that’s a most complicated instrument to write for.
Scoring for the straight woodwinds also calls for a little bit of skill. If it lies well for the instrument, the player will give it more, and it sounds better. If you put the part in front of them, and all the bowing is marked, all the dynamics and everything is there, it immediately sounds right on the first read-through. And, of course, that makes a musician feel good, too - the fact that he got through, perhaps, a difficult string piece the first time. But he couldn’t do that if the bowing was all upside-down. It would make him look a bit of a Charlie, when he’s not.
The string writing, I think, has had a lot to do with the jobs I’ve been asked to do. Because most of these big dance bands-cum-string orchestras have rather uninteresting things to play. Even Glenn Miller, when he had that magnificent string section during the war - he didn’t use it. They were playing long notes all the time, instead of interesting string parts.
Writing for singers? I’ve never enjoyed it to any great extent. I like working with the orchestra by itself. I’ve written for many singers, and I don’t ever remember one side becoming a hit. I did string arrangements for Vera Lynn till I was blue in the face, and never a hit. Then she decided to get someone else, Roland Shaw, and the very first number he wrote for her was a hit! I just didn’t have any luck. Although the Sarah Vaughan record came off. But that was almost orchestral writing, anyway. We had the Danish choir, the orchestra, and Sarah herself is like a musical instrument. She’s so intelligent; she listens to the accompaniment and just weaves in like an ad lib tenor or whatever.
As a matter of fact, Sinatra is like that, too. He knows just where to slide in. But on our ill-fated album, into which I put a lot of work, he just wasn’t in very good voice. He’d just returned from a world tour, and was doing concerts at the Festival Hall each night. He, too, claimed that his voice was tired. Therefore he wouldn’t allow the record to be released in America, because the singing would have done him more harm than good. So he rested his voice after that, I think, and about five or six months later he made an album, on which his singing was much improved. Yes, it would be nice to do another one with him if it’s not too late.
Tony Bennett and I have been trying to make an album for years. Just recently he asked if I could come over to New York to make one. And I couldn’t, because I was just beginning the BBC Farnon In Concert series.
Incidentally, Tony has recorded the floperoo Eurovision Contest song that I wrote - "Country Girl". Apparently it’s become quite a hit in America since its release there. He’s also incorporated it into his act at the Copacabana, just accompanied by a harpist; which would be interesting. We’re hoping to have him as a guest on the Sunday radio show, when he comes over in May. So we might have a chance to hear his performance of my song then.
But I haven’t done much songwriting - no talent for it, really. "Country Girl" took me about three months to write; it was a great struggle. I enjoyed doing it, but no one should take that long writing a song, I don’t think.
When it comes to arranging, even if it’s just a pop song, I use the same form that I would for a serious work. I have, more or less, an idea of the format of what I’m going to do with it, but I never know how it will develop. And I like developing arrangements of any kind. They should be developed somewhere. Otherwise, it could be just another stock printed arrangement. What happens is: I lay out, say, a complete four- or five-line sketch right from the beginning. Then, when you score it, that’s the joyful part. Adding the gingerbread. The hard, creative work has been done in the sketch; you have your framework, as it were. Therefore, you can sit back and it’s just like writing a letter; then you add the different little colours and flourishes as you go along.
My approach to composition has always been the same, really. I like to think it’s improved a bit, because I’m certainly learning every day. But I know what I like to do. I still want to write serious music, because I enjoy it so much.
In 1962 I wrote two large orchestral works, one to showcase Oscar Peterson and his Trio and one for Dizzy Gillespie, which we were to record in Berlin. And I wanted to use six or seven lead men from London, not being too familiar with the musicians in Germany, to make sure that at least the leaders of each section were going to carry us through. It was just as well I did, because, although we found a wonderful string section over there, at that time the brass and saxophone players weren’t too good. They’re much better now - at least there are more available.
However, the British men were informed by the Musicians’ Union that, if they proceeded with this recording involving American musicians, disciplinary action would be taken. And when Dizzy, Oscar and Norman Granz, who was promoting this album for Verve, arrived in Berlin, they each received telegrams from the American Federation of Musicians. They all stood to be expelled from the Union if they carried on with the project. Of course, that scrubbed the whole thing.
The reason we went to Berlin was that, if it were to be done in New York, it would cost the record company a fortune, what with the travelling expenses and everything. We had about 75 musicians in one section of a movement, plus Oscar’s Trio. Then plus Dizzy. Whereas the Union fees and general costs in Berlin would be much lower.
So Norman wondered if we could do it in England, but that wasn’t possible, either. It was decided to shelve it for the time being, and, if I came to New York later on, perhaps they could do the Dizzy side of the album. Then the Oscar side at another time, and spread the expense over like that.
Meanwhile, Dizzy and Oscar both joined other companies. I joined Philips, who didn’t allow me to work for another company, because I was under exclusive contract. Eventually I got permission to do the LP on Verve—but something else happened. Dizzy went to the Far East, I think. Some situation always came along to stop it materialising.
But I still hope we can do it some time. I might even orchestrate it for a smaller combination. Perhaps that would give us a chance, financially, to record it, without having to bring in a gallery of strings. String players are very expensive these days. I’d certainly like to revise some of it. By now it would be a dated work: it’s four years old.
I do think that jazz dates very quickly. It always will, somehow. The same as improvisations in classical works; I think they date. In the old days, concertos included a cadenza which was to be improvised by the particular player. I imagine that, if what he did then was played today by Rubinstein, it would sound very dated. Anything that’s improvised dates. Listening to the Goodman band now, although it’s great and brilliant, it sounds terribly corny to me, when you compare it with the swinging arrangements they play today.
Some of the things they do in jazz today really amaze me. Look at Dizzy - the way he has improved. When I used to play with him, he was even worse than I was - dreadful player. But now he’s great, and I’ve told him so. He often says: "I’m glad you gave up the cornet, man!"
When I played jazz, I didn’t have the incredible facility of, say, Al Hirt. I don’t think anyone else did in that era. In my opinion, the techniques in jazz have progressed to such a fantastic degree of excellence that it’s almost impossible to believe.
Footnote: Remember that Robert Farnon gave this interview towards the end of 1966, and we have repeated it here without any updating. Of course, we now know that he was soon to achieve his wish of making some fine albums with Tony Bennett, and that LP with Frank Sinatra is now far more highly regarded than it was at the time.
The Brilliant Young Conductor who has recorded so much fine Light Music in recent years, is interviewed by ROB BARNETT
RB: Where were you born?
Gavin Sutherland: I was born in Chester-le-Street, County Durham. What was your family background?
Father was a factory inspector, mother a secretary for the local Council. In the North East arts were considered inappropriate as a profession – you were essentially bred as factory fodder – light engineering and so forth – and I couldn’t face that.
Were your parents or family at all musical? Well, I think it’s fair to say that we were a family that appreciated music, and the house was certainly full of music, but the only direct musical contact was my mother. She played organ at our local church but stopped before I was born (and actually stopped playing completely as a result). My father liked to sing around the house, and at many of the "go-as-you-pleases" – a forerunner to karaoke in many a working men’s club! My sister liked to sing (though used to regularly slide down in pitch from the key in which she started!!) and learned to dance, and so was a regular in several operatic societies. Your education ... I started to play our piano, unbidden, by ear, at the age of three. This slowly developed through the years, although I was still branded as self taught. It’s almost right to say I could read music before I could read, although I think my musical interests needed harnessing. Thus it was that I was given lessons on the trombone (we had no piano teacher in our education authority) from the age of seven. This got me into the county youth bands, and I found this wholly to my liking. I did all of my grades on trombone (all distinction, I’m embarrassed to confess!) but just let the piano wend its way of its own accord. My real early musical education was practical – sitting in the bands and orchestras – watching, remembering, absorbing. To this end I wish to pay tribute to two of my mentors from this time – Derek Scollard, my first trombone teacher, who arranged and conducted one of the bands I worked with. He gave me the impetus to start dabbling with arrangement, although my first few efforts (the first dates from the age of 7!) were lamentable…but I stuck at it and that’s where my love of writing and arranging music was born. The other leading light at the time was the late Jack Stobbs – a rather eccentric and totally fascinating teacher. I think he knew my interests and focused on them – plus his love of English music opened up my ears to the music of Walton, Elgar, Warlock, Finzi, Arnold, and so on. Added to that his encouragement and energy got me "to the next stage" as it were – a stage that is often difficult in a musician’s life, where one battles with the soul and, as Dave Allen famously put it, "the braincells become haemorrhoids" and Neanderthal tendencies creep in!! To this end, I didn’t really have time to notice that, as my quest for more experience led me to local amateur operatic societies and choral societies, first as accompanist then as conductor (I musically directed my first show at the age of 11, and, whilst the participants can’t take you seriously at that stage, at least it got me moving in the direction of conducting.). On the amateur operatic front I think I worked on over fifty productions until I went to university, and all the while it got me working with people. The music business doesn’t just stop with the total grip on thorough knowledge of your craft – social and people skills are profoundly important too, and I’m glad to say I made most of my mistakes and received most of my knocks when I was young enough for it not to hurt! I do have to say my other school studies possibly suffered a little but I was apparently oblivious to that. I did get a lot of jealous stick from my peers at school, and found solace in being able to lock myself away in a music practice room and simply play. It’s still a comfort blanket to this day! Have literary sources influenced your style or approach? You mean musical books? I had lots of them – Frederick Prausnitz’s "Score and Podium", William Lovelock’s "The Elements of Orchestral Arrangement", Piston’s famous orchestration tome, Adkins’ "Treatise on the Military Band", and so on. I have to be honest and say that although I tried to devour them, thinking it would be a bigger help than it subsequently was (!), I found the real way to learn for me was simply to practise and absorb other conductors. As for arranging and composition, scores were the great textbooks to me. Anything currently in our repertoire in the bands, full scores of classical and contemporary works, all of these came hurtling through our local library at a rate of knots! What direction did your musical studies take? Well, I tried for Durham University for my mother (who was determined I should get a job as a music teacher – something I think I could never ever have done!) but, as I only had qualifications as a trombonist on paper they couldn’t possibly consider me. I even offered to go and play for them, but that wouldn’t work! Newcastle said they didn’t really want to take many local students, as they were going more for foreign applicants (charming!). So it was that I headed south to see what was on offer. I was offered unconditionals by several of the main music colleges, but actually settled on Huddersfield University (Polytechnic for my first two years there) as it seemed to offer the most adaptable course and also pleased my mother as being "not London". Can you tell us more about your musical training? Huddersfield was a real eye-opener. Amongst many fine musicians, all of whom like me had applied and got in on their merits, I felt suddenly rather nervous. From the safe and cosy atmosphere of regular fun work in the North East it now all took on a more serious feel. As it turned out, I think I matured considerably at Huddersfield, both musically and personally. Some teachers became good close friends, one got me my first regular professional job (I had had a bit of freelance playing, conducting and arranging just before I got to Huddersfield, but not on a regular basis). I suppose I was counted as "a funny ‘un" since some of my teachers did not want to undo what I’d achieved musically and technically so far in my life. As a result I was taught more about interpretation as a pianist (with the marvellous Bernard Robertson), pushing out the boundaries of composition (with Peter J.Lawson – a real hero) and performance development as a conductor (first with John Gulley and then with another of my key influences in life – John Longstaff). But what of the trombone? Well, I’d had enough – I’d got a new instrument but it wasn’t making any difference at all – I really knew I wasn’t good enough, so it went back in its case just after I turned 19. I must have done something right, for I ended up getting a first, two prizes (the Krucynski Prize for Piano and the Davidson Prize for Distinction brought to the Institution) and, through John Longstaff, regular work as a pianist with Northern Ballet Theatre. To end up playing a piano concerto in my last end-of-year concert (Gershwin in F, of course!) must have angered many of the fine pianists in my year, for which I apologise, but I had left Huddersfield with a much better idea of my future, thanks to an assured and energetic training. As a conductor are you associated with a particular orchestra? This is actually a follow on from the question about training, since one of Northern Ballet Theatre’s then staff conductors was about to leave (this was about 1994/5) and, thanks to both John Longstaff (their Head of Music at the time) and John Pryce-Jones (their Music Director), I began to conduct more and more for the company (I had started playing piano for them during my second year at university), finally being appointed as a full-time staff conductor in 1995. My introduction to the world of ballet had occurred much earlier, playing for a ballet school for five years during my teens. Funny thing, fate… I did a very large share of the conducting with the company during this time, eager to develop and full of enthusiasm. After three and a half more years I decided to move on, and thought of London as the place to base myself, it being the epicentre of arts in the country. During my last season with NBT I had made my first CD – "Brian Kay’s British Light Music Discoveries" for ASV, with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. I seemed to hit it off with them, and, on learning I had conducted for ballet, they offered me performances of "The Nutcracker" with Birmingham Royal Ballet at the end of that year. This then led to a current association with this fine orchestra, in the ballet pit, occasionally on the concert platform, but mainly in the recording studio. The funny thing is I form associations with many orchestras (the joke being "Gavin is always invited to conduct the orchestra at least twice – the second time to apologise!") – a recent one being with the Australian Pops Philharmonic Orchestra, for whom I’ve arranged and conducted a lot. I also became associated with the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and have conducted significantly for them. My associations are always truly meant, and strong bonds are often important to maintain a stability in a hectic life such as mine. Given a free hand which ten works .. previously unrecorded would you want to record. and why in each case?
- Three Rivers Fantasy by Arthur Wilkinson – as a child I adored this piece, played as it was at the start of the day’s transmission on Tyne-Tees Television. A bright and joyous celebration of North Eastern folksongs and tunes, the printed music is sadly lost (like so many works). I have reconstructed it, along with TV startup pieces from the other ITV regions, for an ongoing project to record all of them on CD. They really do reflect a cross-section of the biggest names in British Music.
- The Mansell Concerto by Kenneth Leslie Smith – I came upon this piece during my early years as a radio listener (we had Radio 2 on until about 3 then the television was turned on – what better musical upbringing could a person have?) with the late Bob Docker and the BBC Concert Orchestra, and found it really fascinating, with some lovely harmonic shifts.
- Symphony by Eric Rogers – I found this score amongst Eric’s papers whilst researching "The Carry On Album" and it looks a most impressive piece. I must say that we are actually going to record this in September (2002), so slowly but surely the ambition gets there!
- Westward Ho! by Hastings Mann – Similar reasoning to (1), but used for the (then) Westward TV area during the 1960s.
- Devonshire Dances by Paul Lewis – I don’t think these have been properly recorded (they’ve certainly been performed a lot) but I am an enormous fan of Paul’s music (and we remain close friends) and these sparkling pieces for harp and chamber orchestra are really beautifully worked. Paul’s gift for melody must come from the need in library music to establish the mood, right from bar one. A rare talent.
- The Phoenix Tree by Philip Lane – Philip has been, without a doubt, the single most important person in my career thus far. His production skills are fantastic, and we’ve developed a real rapport in the studio and away from work too. I am a very big fan of his music, since it always screams optimism! His choral and orchestral writing has been long acknowledged as excellent, and this piece, written for performance by Aled Jones in 1990, is exemplary.
- Fantasia on "Auld Lang Syne" by Ernest Tomlinson – It was Ernest that brought Philip and I together in the first place, and for that I’m eternally grateful. Added to that I’ve always enjoyed Ernest’s music and the generosity and warmth of his spirit. I first heard this piece in a concert conducted by my old friend John Wilson at the Royal College of Music, and was captivated by just how many tunes fit with the New Year anthem, and each other! There is also a version for two pianos (and, most importantly, two turner-overs!) but I’d dearly love to commit this piece to disc as it is a work of contrapuntal genius!
- Pastorale Montage by Gideon Fagan – This piece is actually recorded on an old Chappell music library disc, but was used as music for one of the old BBC TV Interlude films, depicting a slowly turning windmill. A gorgeous miniature which fitted the pictures so well.
- London Medley by Arthur Wilkinson – written for the interval of the 1968 Eurovision Song Contest from the Albert Hall, and conducted by Norrie Paramor, this piece is delightful and very approachable. It also continues with my interest in Arthur Wilkinson and was in fact composed in the last year of his life – a warning to workaholic musicians everywhere.
- Selection from "Over She Goes" (Billy Mayerl, arr. George Zalva (Cruikshank)). I had known Billy Mayerl’s music for many years as a pianist, but had little idea that he had written songs and musicals also. This musical starred the wonderful Stanley Lupino, a comedian whose work I was introduced to by one of my best friends, Martin Fenton. Typical of show selections, it actually does heighten a lot of fine tunes with exquisite nuance of orchestration – something lost in some arrangements these days.
What would be your advice to a person considering conducting as a career? Go for it. The business is so diverse now that there are so many different avenues to pursue. Alongside the problem of gaining experience comes the fact that orchestral musicians can come over as the biggest cynics in the world. The only way to handle them is to be yourself and be clear. Technique can be taught, but people skills only come with trial and error. You have touched on this a little already but what qualities are necessary in a great conductor? This ties in with the previous question – being down to earth, energetic and enthusiastic, being able to breathe with the orchestra (Henry Wood often said that the best conductors would be string players – I rather disagree, as breathing in phrasing comes far more naturally with the techniques of a wind player). Along with this comes all the stick technique you can muster in back up to keeping things calm and easy to follow – all the greats had this gift. What is your attitude to the recording studio? One of my favourite working environments. The focus of concentration every time the light goes on is a feeling I adore. To know that at the end of a session your thumbprint is on every piece on that disc (or soundtrack, or whatever). The other thing is consistency. The preferred method of working for the discs I’ve done is to try and get down two complete takes, then go back and cover any "patches" that may need tightening. To do this one must feel the music since if a patch is to be dropped in to a track the tempi must match, as must the feel. The many discs I’ve done with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia in particular are blessed by such fine playing and a really comfortable atmosphere in the studio that rehearsal can be kept on the economical side. When things start running against the clock, though, and we are pushed for time, the whole attitude shifts to sorting things out immediately in the most time-saving way possible, whilst trying to keep calm. How did you become involved with ASV and other record companies? It started with Ernest Tomlinson bringing Philip Lane and I together in late 1996. I possessed the scores to the "Carry On" films and Philip, already well respected as a record producer, told me he was keen to record a disc of them. We met for the first time at his house in Cheltenham, and further discussions took place in London, Bath and even in a hotel in Batley! The record companies he had tried thought the idea too parochial and so the idea was shelved for a while. Meanwhile Philip had began work on a series of British Light Music discs for ASV. I think Kenneth Alwyn wasn’t available, and Philip, having seen my work on the ballet podium and knowing my love of light music, asked me if I was available. Thus it was that I took two days off work at NBT (the first I had taken off in three years) to go to London and record the disc (this was April 1998). One disc led to another, which led to another, and so on…"The Carry On Album" finally got made in February 1999! What are your recording plans? I’ve just done a disc of Matthew Curtis’s music (my 30th disc made to date) with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia at Whitfield Street in London (with a man of whom I must make special mention – Mike Ross-Trevor, award-winning and highly respected recording engineer, and above all a very nice guy!) and then I made the cast recording of my musical "Little Women" (which enjoyed a short run at the Bloomsbury Theatre during July). The next projects are a further volume of British String Miniatures (I think it’s Volume 3 or 4!) and an interesting disc of the works of British film composers, but works they wrote for the concert hall. We feature works by Leighton Lucas, Bruce Montgomery, Anthony Collins, Eric Rogers and others. Other discs planned for the future include the music of Montague Phillips, Charles Williams, a tantalising disc known at the minute by the working title "The Denham Concertos" after the famous film studios (pieces written very much with the success of the "Warsaw Concerto" in the film "Dangerous Moonlight" in mind) , a possible disc of the music of Angela Morley, oh, and Carry On volume two! Have you been steered away from some composers by record companies? Not really. The record companies listen to people such as Philip, with his thorough research of suitable works for balanced discs, and his astute business skills make their recording viable. ....Or to some composers by record companies Safest to say "see above"! What would be your ten desert island CDs and why? Easy!
- The Dream of Gerontius conducted by Sir John Barbirolli – simple – my favourite choral piece, my favourite conductor.
- "The Great British Experience" – an EMI compilation by David Ades that is a real bedrock disc for any light music collector.
- "The Sound Gallery" – it’s not all 40s and 50s light music that I like, you know!
- "Brian Kay’s British Light Discoveries" – partly to remind me of that very first session, partly because of the moving nature of some of the pieces we recorded, like Maurice Johnstone’s "Tarn Hows" and the beautiful "Little Suite" of Richard Rodney Bennett
- "The Carl Stalling Project" – all film and cartoon music fascinates me – the intricacies of it leave me spellbound at times. Stalling was the master, and his witty scores always make me chuckle.
- That Conifer double-disc set of the music of Robert Farnon – another hero, with such a genial style that any light music lover can only marvel at his gifts.
- Hoffnung’s Music Festivals – A sense of humour in music, whether in the writing or in the performance, is very important to me. I love to laugh, and I think light music has to "smile" – there was no one more keen to see it do so than cartoonist Gerard Hoffnung.
- Any disc by Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66 – I also like Latin music, and the sultry pulse of the bossa nova. Mendes’ arrangements were fantastic and provoke a really exciting reaction in my body.
- Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys – perfect production values, beautiful songs, excellent performances.
- ANY CD of Eric Coates – for preference I’d have to say the first of Malcolm Nabarro’s series on ASV, as the performance of the "London Suite" is the best I have ever heard.
Oh, and my luxury would be a bag of crisps! GS Editor: this interview appears courtesy of the British Music Society. Readers who would like to know more about the British Music Society are invited to write to 7 Tudor Gardens, Upminster, Essex, RM14 3DE, or you can e-mail Rob Barnett at: GAVIN SUTHERLAND Selective Discography
ASV CD WHL 2113 BRIAN KAY’S BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC DISCOVERIES: The Roots of Heaven (Sir Malcolm Arnold); Suite of Scottish Dances (William Alwyn); An Impression on a Windy Day (Sir Malcolm Sargent); The Glass Slipper (Clifton Parker); The Coloured Counties (James Langley); The Barber of Seville Goes to the Devil (Gordon Jacob); Tarn Hows (Maurice Johnstone); Two Worlds (Alan Langford); Little Suite (Sir Richard Rodney Bennett). ROYAL BALLET SINFONIA ASV CD WHL 2119 THE "CARRY ON" ALBUM: Music from the "Carry On" films composed by Bruce Montgomery and Eric Rogers. CITY OF PRAGUE PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA ASV CD WHL 2126 BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC DISCOVERIES Vol. 2: Little Suite No. 4 (Sor Malcolm Arnold); The River (Wiloliam Blezard); Traditional Hornpipe Suite (Adrian Cruft); Rossini on Ilkla Moor (Eric Fenby); Wexford Bells (Raymond Warren); The Path Across the Moors (Arthur Butterworth); An Ayrshire Serenade (Anthony Hedges); An English Overture (Paul Lewis); Suite of Cotswold Folkdances (Philip Lane). ROYAL BALLET SINFONIA MARCO POLO 8225161 BILL WORLAND: Shopping Spree, Latin Lover, In the Shadow of Vesuvius, Pepita, Scottish Flower, Sombrero, Brighton Belle, etc. RTE CONCERT ORCHESTRA MARCO POLO 8225162 PERCY WHITLOCK: The Feast of St. Benedict, Ballet of the Wood Creatures, Wessex Suite, Music for Orchestra, etc. RTE CONCERT ORCHESTRA ASV CD WHL 2131 BRITISH LIGHT MUSIC DISCOVERIES Vol. 4: Partita (John Rutter); Suite Française (Sir Richard Rodney Bennett); The Padstow Lifeboat (Sir Malcolm Arnold); Fantasy on Dover Castle (David Fanshawe); Battersea Park Suite (William Blezard); Dance Diversions (Michael Hurd); A Miniature Symphony (Paul Lewis). ROYAL BALLET SINFONIA MARCO POLO 8225185 PHILIP LANE: London Salute, Diversions on a Theme of Paganini, Cotswold Dances, Divertissement for Clarinet Harp and Strings, Three Christmas Pictures, A Maritime Overture, Three Nautical Miniatures for Strings, Prestbury Park. ROYAL BALLET SINFONIA ASV CD WHL 2132 ENGLISH BASSOON CONCERTOS: Concerto in D (Eric Fogg); Concertino (John Addison); Concertino (Peter Hope); Summer Music (Arthur Butterworth). ROYAL BALLET SINFONIA ASV CD WHL 2133 BRITISH LIGHT OVERTURES Volume 1: Caramba (William Blezard); Overture to a Costume Comedy (Stanley Black); Overture and Beginners (James Langley); Tantivy Towers (Thomas Dunhill); Boy Wizard (Herbert Chappell); Festive Overture (Walter Carroll); Overture to an Unwritten Comedy (Michael Hurd); The Arcadians (Lionel Monckton); A Spa Overture (Philip Lane); Concert Overture (Thomas Pitfield); Sussex Symphony Overture (Paul Lewis). ROYAL BALLET SINFONIA ASV CD WHL 2138 LONDON LANDMARKS: Metropolis (David Watts); Rotten Row (Angela Morley); London Salute (Philip Lane); Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra (Christopher Gunning); London Fields (Phyllis Tate); London Landmarks (Haydn Wood); Festival of London March (Paul Lewis). ROYAL BALLET SINFONIA MARCO POLO 8225184 ALFRED REYNOLDS: Festival March, Alice Through The Looking-Glass, The Toy Cart, The Taming of the Shrew, 1066 And All That, etc. ROYAL BALLET SINFONIA ASV CD WHL 2134 BRITISH STRING MINIATURES: Divertimento (Gareth Walters); Elegy (Sir Edward Elgar); Suite (Michael Roberts); Two Aquarelles (Frederick Delius); Fiddler’s Green (Anthony Hedges); Two Pieces from Henry V (Sir William Walton); Partita (John Addison). ROYAL BALLET SINFONIA
On Sunday 21 July 2002, BRIAN KAY devoted his Radio-3 "Light Programme" to a Tribute to ROBERT FARNON who would be celebrating his 85th birthday later that week – on 24 July. At the last minute Brian had to abandon plans to travel to Guernsey to interview Bob at his home, but the radio link worked perfectly, and listeners could not have been aware that they were actually hundreds of miles apart. In response to requests from many RFS members, we are pleased to print the following abridged transcript of the broadcast.
MUSIC: JUMPING BEAN
Brian Kay: That’s the familiar, and suitably bouncy sound of Robert Farnon’s Jumping Bean, a novelty number which introduces an entire programme devoted to the music of the most distinguished light music composer living and working today. He’s known universally as "The Guv’nor", and he’s been famously described by Andre Previn as ‘the greatest living writer for strings’, and few would argue with that. Next Wednesday he celebrates, amazingly enough, his 85th birthday, and this afternoon’s selection is put together as part of our celebration of that major milestone. Not only the music, but also words of wisdom from the great man himself, as he joins us for the programme and, indeed is, most welcome. Bob, first of all many congratulations on having had your bus pass now for 20 years. Not much use, I suppose, on the beautiful island of Guernsey?
Robert Farnon: No, we have to walk everywhere, Brian. By the way, hello and thank you for the invitation.
BK: It’s great to have you on the programme. "The Guv’nor", I mentioned in my introduction. Who first called you that, do you remember?
RF: Yes, it was accidental because in Britain the guv’nor is just the boss of anything and Don Lusher, you know the trombone player … at rehearsal someone asked him who I was and he said, " Oh, that’s the guv’nor", meaning the boss of the orchestra.
BK: Fair enough.
RF: It didn’t mean what they think it does in the States; they think it is the Governor of the State.
BK: I would stick with it if I was you; it suits you extremely well.
RF: Sounds good, doesn’t it?
BK: It certainly does. Let’s get to the heart of the matter straight away. Light music has been at the centre of your life for so many years and your contribution to it has greatly enriched our lives. Are you happy with that description? What does light music actually mean to you?
RF: Well, in Canada we called it concert music but it’s the same thing. When we played Eric Coates over there they just called it concert music not light music. It wasn’t known as that. But, no, I am quite happy with either light or concert.
BK: Did you play Eric Coates in Canada in the early days?
RF: Yes, we did, my goodness. We over there had a proms season every year and he was always represented in at least one number on each programme.
BK: Glad to hear it.
RF: Very popular.
BK: We are going back to those early days. The first burst of fame you had, I guess, was presenting a programme called ‘Happy Gang’ for Canadian radio as a young man. What was that all about?
RF: Well, Brian, I was just a member of this crowd; it was six different musicians who got together to do a two weeks "fill" for the summer for our very popular radio show over there, the name of which I’ve forgotten. But our programme turned out to be so popular they kept it on. Would you believe it, it went on for 22 years.
BK: That’s some "fill".
RF: Amazing, five days a week.
MUSIC: GOOD LUCK AND THE SAME TO YOU (The Happy Gang)
BK: Happy memories, I’ve no doubt.
RF: Oh, we had a wonderful time. Every non-scripted programme we just said more or less what came into our minds, as long as it was clean!
BK: Fair enough, we should have you on this programme more often. You were only in your mid-20s when you joined the Percy Faith Orchestra as a trumpet player. Did you think at that stage you might turn out to be a trumpeter for the rest of your life?
RF: Yes, I did. You know, I didn’t think of conducting, well … writing … I was writing all the time but I certainly didn’t think I would ever make a living at writing – but, playing the trumpet, yes I did.
BK: So you were doing arrangements for the Percy Faith Orchestra?
RF: Well, I was doing his choir arrangements ‘cause he didn’t like writing for voices and therefore didn’t do it very well. So he asked me each week for his shows to do one or two numbers for his choir.
BK: I guess more broadcasting came your way when you became conductor of the Canadian Band of the Allied Expeditionary Forces?
RF: Yes, that was when I came to England, Brian, and took over the band and they brought me in to do the orchestrations.
BK: So that was the same position, really then, that Glenn Miller had in the States and George Melachrino had over here?
RF: Exactly the same, Brian.
BK: Did you get to work with both of them?
RF: Yes, we worked in London. We did these broadcasts four or five times a week, and we did a programme on the Christmas that Miller disappeared. It was at the Queensberry Club. We were waiting to do the show and he, of course, didn’t turn up and eventually we just went ahead without him. But it was a very sad occasion.
BK: Was it really a broadcasting orchestra, then? I mean was it principally put together to keep the troops happy?
RF: Yes, broadcasting, Brian, and we also did a lot of personal appearances for the services.
MUSIC: TEA FOR TWO (Canadian Band of the AEF)
BK: When we got to the end of the war, Bob, I guess that must have been when you decided to stay in Britain – why was that?
RF: Well, my ambition even as a young lad was writing for movies and, of course, in Canada we didn’t have any industry to speak of, and then when I got to England I found that there was such a wealth of work to be had writing for pictures, if you could get your foot in the door.
BK: How did you get your foot in the door?
RF: Through my wife. Yes, she was the casting director for the Herbert Wilcox productions of Anna Neagle … so I told her I loved her more times than I should. So she got me my first film.
BK: Was that ‘Spring In Park Lane’?
RF: That’s right, yes.
BK: Well that was a pretty good start. But you didn’t think you’d be a movie composer for the rest of your life?
RF: No, not really, it was just one of the things I wanted to do. I wanted more than anything, of course, to write serious music which had to be postponed when I joined the Army.
BK: And is still on hold, presumably?
RF: Well, I get a few pieces in from time to time but not very much.
BK: What was there about English or British light music that particularly appealed to you?
RF: Well, it was very refreshing to me and very similar to our concert music, as we were calling it in Canada. But much more sophisticated, and great composers such as Haydn Wood, Eric Coates and several others. And they were inspirational to me.
MUSIC: LONDON BRIDGE MARCH (Eric Coates)
BK: Inspirational, Bob, but not necessarily an influence, I guess?
RF: Not really an influence, no, because my influence was more American than it was English.
BK: Well, the general feeling seems to be that English music at that stage needed something of a shot in the arm and you were the man to supply it.
RF: Well I was told that, too …
BK: Did you actually meet people like Eric Coates?
RF: Yes, I did. I matter of fact met him many, many times and on one occasion he had written a suite called ‘The Three Bears Suite’ in which he had a little jazz section. But he said, "I can’t write jazz, would you mind rewriting this for me?" So I sat down one day and rewrote this little section.
BK: I don’t think you have been credited on the record sleeves?
RF: No, that was a secret.
Editor: this would have been for Eric Coates’ adaptation of the Waltz Theme, for the Chappell (and Decca) recordings.
BK: What sort of a man was he to meet and work with?
RF: He was a sweet little man, Brian, he really was a lovely person. He and I had the same music publisher, therefore we met quite frequently.
BK: Did he actively encourage you?
RF: Well, no - funny with composers, it’s seldom we ever meet let alone discuss our work. No, there was no influence just a mutual admiration, I suppose.
BK: Like yourself he was a great tunesmith, if I may put it that way. Where do those marvellous melodies come from, both yours and his?
RF: You know, I wish I could answer that. I don’t know. I just sit down and decide to write something. If it comes then I continue until I finish it. If it doesn’t I walk the dog and try later.
BK: Divine inspiration?
RF: Yes, I think so.
BK: You settled in this country in the 40s; I mean you came to live here completely. Were there not the opportunities in Canada for you to do the sort of work you wanted?
RF: Well, you know I didn’t even find that out, Brian, because after the war I asked if I could be discharged in Britain because I wanted to get my foot in the door as soon as possible here and start doing movie work and radio.
BK: Did you feel homesick at all once you got here?
RF: You know I didn’t because both my parents were born on this side of the "Pond" and it wasn’t strange to me; it was home really and I was quite happy here.
BK: And yet you wrote all those wonderful ‘Canadian Impressions’. Do they bring the open countryside of Canada back to you?
RF: I wrote most of the pieces of that kind when I was over here so I must have been a bit homesick, mustn’t I?
MUSIC: LAKE OF THE WOODS
BK: Those sort of larger scale works, Bob …do you regret not having the chance in a sense to write more of those?
RF: Yes, I do, but the light music took over as far as I was concerned and all the pieces were doing so well I ended up not having enough time to devote to more serious pieces until later on in my life.
BK: Well, maybe, you can start afresh now?
RF: Yeah, well I made up for it a little bit but not enough!
BK: So, England in the 1940s, you were involved with all the great names, like Ambrose and Ted Heath, and became a staff arranger for Geraldo. How did that come about, that sort of appointment?
RF: Well, now … the story can be told now but at the time it couldn’t because I was still in uniform and I was moonlighting at night and writing for Ted Heath and bands when I shouldn’t have been. I should have been writing for the Army, but they heard the Army orchestra and they liked what they heard so they asked me to contribute to their libraries, which I did quite a lot.
BK: When Geraldo went to the States you took over as conductor.
RF: Yes, he signed me for a year under contract to arrange exclusively for him and when he went to the States he asked if I would take over the orchestra, which I did.
BK: Was this all gradually leading to the formation of your own orchestra – the Robert Farnon Orchestra?
RF: Yes, it was because it was very shortly after that when I left Geraldo that the BBC offered me the Sunday programme called ‘Melody Hour’.
BK: Ah, it’s our fault, is it?
RF: Yes it is. That’s how it started.
BK: And one of your first big hits with them was Portrait of a Flirt, I think.
RF: Yes, it was, and then Journey Into Melody and a few things like that which were also used as themes for certain radio shows like ‘In Town Tonight’ and what not.
MUSIC: PORTRAIT OF A FLIRT
BK: Portrait of a Flirt and Jumping Bean appeared in 1948 on your first 78. Bob, I wonder which was the "B" side?
RF: Well Jumping Bean was the first one I’d done and the Portrait of a Flirt, although it was nothing like the Jumping Bean, that was the sort of sequel. They said, "You must write another Jumping Bean", and it was very successful.
BK: I suppose you’d call it a double "A" side in that case. And the orchestra mainly worked in the early days for radio programmes and backing singers like Vera Lynn and Gracie FieldS and even Norman Wisdom and the Ilford Girls’ Choir, I see.
RF: That came about because during the Army days when we were doing our broadcasts we also accompanied a lot of these famous British names, and then I met up with them later. They asked me to write other things for them.
BK: I was going to say they were specifically asking for you, or was it you’d become a staff conductor/arranger, so to speak, for Decca?
RF: Well, that was the reason for Gracie and, yes, several … you’re quite right, it was.
BK: Did it leave enough time for composing because I guess that’s what you wanted to do most?
RF: Well, it certainly left enough time, Brian, to compose light music because I was composing it most of the time. And the arrangements just came in incidentally, they were not difficult to do and I’d roll them off in a week or so and then get back to doing something original.
BK: The very idea of rolling them off in a week or so! Yes, I see. Was the novelty number, as we call it, your best way in as a composer so to speak?
RF: You know it was that because of Jumping Bean, I think.
BK: Sure. By the end of the 40s you were certainly absolutely in, and then you had 20 years as an arranger for Chappell’s, which brings me on to the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra and that connection there.
RF: It was a fine orchestra which recorded in a very fine hall in London called Queen’s Hall.
Editor: Bob was referring to the origins of the QHLO, many years earlier. By the time Bob was conducting it the Quieen’s Hall had already been destroyed by enemy bombing on the night of 10/11 May, 1941.
BK: So if you turned up at Chappell’s in the morning at 9 o’clock, presumably dead on the dot, and somebody said we want you to write a three minute piece, you just sat there and wrote it, did you? Is that how it worked?
RF: I wish I had. Occasionally it happened that way but mostly it was a little harder work than that.
BK: What did they do – did they commission certain things from you or …
RF: Well all the big … they gave me my head mostly, carte blanche all the time, they said just write whatever you like.
BK: And you managed to perform all this music, presumably, with the QHLO?
RF: Oh yes, very much, and all my broadcasts, of course.
MUSIC: PROUD CANVAS
BK: Bob, your very distinctive sound and harmonies: how do you conjure up those sounds?
RF: You know I have been asked that many, many times, Brian, and I don’t know the answer. I think it’s that gift from that Man up in the Happy Hunting Ground.
BK: Is that what it is? Presumably, working with an orchestra like the QHLO was in itself some inspiration to you when it comes to sound?
RF: Oh yes it was a splendid orchestra with the finest musicians in the country. I couldn’t believe it, one day I said, "Who is that horn player we have today?", ‘cause I wasn’t too familiar with them – not by name – and the horn player was Dennis Brain! And I didn’t know until later.
BK: And how come? I mean what intrigues me (I’ve often mentioned this on the Sunday afternoon programme) is the absolutely natural way in which they phrase light music. Was it natural or did it need somebody like you standing in front to bring it out of them?
RF: Well, they needed a little help at first but they soon got used to that idiom and, of course, they loved playing it because it was completely different to them, different style, and then it became, I don’t know, standard sound British light music to a certain extent. It was sound that the Americans admired so much and wondered … I used to be asked sometimes, "How many basses did you use in that recording?" I said, "One".
BK: Just one? Is that true?
RF: They thought we had a gallery of them!
BK: Just looking back to Proud Canvas, I sense in that music the influence of Hollywood film music. You did write music for 40 films: ‘Spring in Park Lane’, we’ve mentioned, ‘The Road to Hong Kong’, those sort of films. Did you enjoy writing for films because it’s a very different discipline, isn’t it?
RF: Brian, I just loved writing for films, I really did. I felt well here’s a type of music you’re writing and it won’t be lost out on the airwaves and never heard again. It’s on film now and it will be heard.
BK: But the actual process of writing music, did you have to write to a stopwatch and that sort of thing?
RF: Yes, I did. But I didn’t mind that, I enjoyed it. It was a good discipline, too.
BK: And did you see the movie before you started to write the music?
RF: Yes. With musicals we didn’t because the music was recorded first and then the film was shot, but with dramatic films, of course, we did see a lot of the rushes and that was a great help, you know, if we saw a love scene or an action section then we knew what it was going to look like before we started writing.
MUSIC: FINALE FROM ‘CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER’
BK: What about songs and theatre music, Bob? Did that ever have any real appeal for you?
RF: I wasn’t very good at it, Brian, so I didn’t write very much in the way of songs. I remember one year being asked to write a number for the Eurovision Song Contest. I think when they had the last six to select from mine was last.
BK: Far too good for the Competition, obviously.
RF: I don’t know but I didn’t take to it. Occasionally I would write a song … the song was easy to do but the lyrics would take me two or three months and I always needed the help of my wife.
Editor: the song in question was "Country Girl", later a big hit for Tony Bennett.
BK: But you were always happy to arrange other people’s songs, of course.
RF: Oh yes, of course. I don’t just arrange but I put quite a lot of composition into it, too. And I’ve been told that’s what makes my score just a little bit different.
BK: It certainly does. And what did it mean to you to be working with great singers like Sinatra and Tony Bennett? I know you worked with him a great deal.
RF: You mention two who were delights to work with - it was so easy - all the professionals are great - it’s the ones who weren’t that good at their job that were difficult to work with - but not these people.
BK: You just did one big album with Sinatra, didn’t you?
RF: Yes, he only did one in Britain; he wanted to just say, "Well, I’ve done an album of British songs", because there was a wealth of material to choose from. And he picked some very nice ones.
MUSIC: A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE (Frank Sinatra)
BK: Bob, when light music in a sense declined in the 60s, 70s and 80s, I guess you had to find some kind of new direction?
RF: Well, that’s when I returned to writing more serious music. Well I had nothing else to do so I went back to base one.
BK: Why do you think that decline took place? What do you think was it that reduced its impact at that stage?
RF: Well, it’s just like most popular music it doesn’t last forever, the styles are continually changing. Although I must admit the latest one, rock ‘n’ roll, has been going on a long time!
BK: It has, hasn’t it? I suppose also opportunities … I mean the spa orchestras and the hotel orchestras and even concert orchestras and all those BBC light music orchestras, for example, they ceased to exist.
RF: That is the answer, really, the orchestras were dwindling and we had no one to write for; for instance in a country like Norway where they only had one orchestra in the whole country, but at one time in Britain we had eight or nine.
BK: Well, thank goodness, we still have the BBC Concert Orchestra.
RF: Oh yes, that’s keeping the flag flying; it’s the only one that is.
BK: You must have been very grateful for the opportunities you had of having so many orchestras to write for?
RF: Yes, and I was fortunate, too, with my contact with Chappell publishers. They did so much for me.
BK: Well it resulted in four Ivor Novello awards: Westminster Waltz in ’56, Sea Shore in ’60, Colditz March in ’73, and a special achievement award for outstanding services to British music in ’91. Do those awards matter a great deal to you?
RF: They certainly do - I polish them every Sunday morning!
BK: And even Grammy’s as well on the other side of the Atlantic … just as popular. The one you’ve got, I see, was for your arrangements for the Singers Unlimited. Something very close to my heart.
Editor: Bob was nominated for a Grammy for his work with the Singers Unlimited, but he actually won the award for ‘Lament’ with trombonist J.J. Johnson
MUSIC: THE MORE I SEE YOU (The Singers Unlimited)
BK:That must have been an extraordinary outfit to work for because they, I think if I remember rightly, recorded the vocals at a separate time from the orchestra?
RF: Yes, that’s right. They didn’t record ‘till we’d done the accompaniments usually and, also, they were done in a different country. I would do the accompaniments in London and they would record over in Germany separately. Well, they had to with the Singers Unlimited because they only had four voices but they had about 16 vocal tracks. Another wonderful musician who I love very much and loved working with is Shearing and we did the same with him. He did his piano tracks before us and then we put the accompaniment to it.
BK: I was going to say that you came here from Canada and George Shearing went west, and you’ve recently done another CD with him. Is it different?
RF: I was going to say we didn’t even see each other passing on the ocean! No, we never met until quite recently.
BK: So you simply weren’t in the studio on the same day?
RF: Oh no, not at all, some times a month or two went by.
Editor: Bob is remembering the ‘On Target’ album with George Shearing. They were definitely both working together in the CTS Studios at Wembley for the Telarc CD ‘How Beautiful is Night’.
MUSIC: PUT ON A HAPPY FACE (George Shearing)
BK: So, Bob, 85 approaching next Wednesday, you’re still happy to be working, obviously?
RF: Very much so, yeah!
BK: What’s coming up?
RF: Let me think now – I’ve just finished an album recently with the Scottish jazz singer, Carol Kidd; and then I did an orchestral album with strings; and the next one is a Christmas album for Tony Bennett, recording Christmas in July but, as you know, they have to be recorded several months ahead in order to do all the processing.
BK: Looking back over your life, would you have changed the way things have gone? I know you still have this hankering to write a major symphony or whatever.
RF: Well, I’ve often thought about that and in the early days I used to be very cross and wished that I had done more studying, serious studying. But now I’m not. I’m not angry with myself for not studying.
BK: I’d say you’d managed pretty well without. And you’re happy with the way light music is once again very popular?
RF: Yes, very much so. It’s encouraging and I’m delighted. I don’t know whether I could write it but I’m pleased to see that even my old warhorses are being played again.
BK: And will be for many years to come, I’m sure. Well, the world of light music has undoubtedly been enriched by your massive contribution to a style of music which so many enjoy for its tunefulness, its catchiness and the sheer feel-good factor it gives. I’m sure all your devoted fans world-wide would want to join me in wishing you everything of the best on Wednesday for that big birthday and, indeed, to say, Bob Farnon, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us today and, of course, thank you for the music!
RF: Brian, thank you very much.
MUSIC: WESTMINSTER WALTZ
Editor: my very special thanks to Peter Burt who willingly ‘volunteered’ to undertake the arduous task of transcribing this broadcast.
JOHNNY HARRIS - "all to bring you music"
a Profile by DAVID NOADES
In a previous issue it was revealed that composer-arranger Johnny Harris started his career as a trumpet player in a series of dance bands in the 1950s after graduating from The Guildhall School Of Music. He got his first break as an arranger with Tony Hatch at PYE and throughout the 1960s worked with many top names both live and on record including Tom Jones, Lulu, Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey, Cilla Black, Jackie Trent, Connie Francis, Rolf Harris, Olivia Newton John, Roy Budd and John Schroeder.
The turning point in his career came in 1969 when his manager Daniel Secunda signed a deal with Warner Bros to record two albums, the first being the cleverly-titled "Movements" which is now considered by many to be a classic. There has been a lot of renewed interest in this album in recent years and Warners have now reissued the album on CD complete with bonus tracks. The album was preceded by a single, the hauntingly beautiful "Footprints On The Moon", which was Johnny's tribute to the Apollo moon landings. The single received a lot of radio airplay during the summer of 1969 and film director Richard Sarafian was suitably impressed and decided that he wanted Johnny to write the score for his new film, the psychological thriller "Fragment Of Fear". "The director said it was a movie about drug addicts and said that he wanted the music to be spikey" Johnny revealed, which led him to pen the hypnotic title theme and the fast and furious "Stepping Stones" which was used in a chase sequence. The score was recorded in London with a small 10-piece orchestra and a rhythm section including Mickey Gee on guitar, Herbie Flowers on bass, Harold Fisher on drums, Johnny Dean percussion with the addition of Roger Coulam on organ and Harold McNeil who played the distinctive screaming flute solos.
The result was a highly original and strikingly beautiful score which Johnny thought was too good to remain hidden away and so decided to re-record some of the material for the album. To achieve the same sound he used the same musicians who had recorded the score plus a larger string section. Originally he had wanted to fill the album with his own compositions but Warners also wanted him to duplicate the type of stuff he had performed on the Lulu show where he famously rearranged pop hits of the day in his own unique style. So the set includes impressive arrangements of The Beatles' "Something", The Doors’ "Light My Fire" and The Rolling Stones' "Paint It Black". The latter is especially memorable as it features elements of "Night On A Bare Mountain" but each and every track is an audio delight combining elements of rock, jazz and classical resulting in a truly memorable musical melange. As well as the fine blend of pop and orchestrations and the distinctive arrangements, many of the tracks were linked with tiny flute motifs. "'We wanted to make it like a trip" Johnny said and revealed that the effect was created by getting engineer Bob Auger to play the tapes of Harold McNeil's flute pieces back-wards during the mixing which gave the whole album a very haunting, almost psychedelic feel.
"Movements" received enthusiastic reviews and was a huge success in the UK and overseas and remained on Warners’ best sellers list for several years. However the public had to wait over three years until the next Harris solo album as he was busy on other projects. Eventually he found time to work on a worthy follow-up and the result was the enigmatic and energetic "All To Bring You Morning". Although not as memorable as the first album it contains blissfully delicate versions of John Lennon's "Imagine" and Leslie Duncan's "Love Song", plus one incredible suite (the title track) where over a 13-minute period Johnny takes the orchestra from a hard edged brass filled stomp to a beautiful finale of crying strings. During the sessions for the album Jon Anderson and Alan White from the rock group Yes got involved as they were in the studio next door and were fans of Johnny's work. As well as adding to the rhythm section they also provided vocals resulting in a nice mix of rock and orchestra.
Following on from the success of the two Warner albums United Artists reissued an album Johnny had recorded for them in 1966 which was a tribute to the music of Lionel Bart. Here Johnny rearranged a number of the writer's famous songs for string orchestra, and the results hinted at the spine-tingling sound which was to be a feature of later projects. Far more satisfying however was "The Guitar Workshop" which was a project he did for PYE with Tony Hatch. The idea was to present well-known classical pieces arranged for a pop beat combo and Johnny took the idea further injecting elements of jazz and baroque with melodies played by guitar, mandolin and harpsichord resulting in a wholly superb musical experiment.
Highlights are Delibes’ "Valse Lente" presented as a choppy jazz-waltz and a suite from "Peter and The Wolf" with Peter's Theme played on guitar in octaves and The Cat's Theme enhanced by some serious fuzz guitar.
Sadly Johnny rarely got to perform his solo material live, however there were a few occasions when he was given the opportunity to put on a show. The first of these was "Uptight!" which took place at the Talk Of The Town in 1968 and was a one-off special filmed by the BBC. Producer Stewart Morris had watched Johnny's performance when he appeared at the Royal Variety Show with Tom Jones and was so impressed by the way the audience paid just as much attention to him as they did to the singer that he created the special show just for him. The result was truly amazing and featured songs from Georgie Fame and Lulu, dance sequences and most importantly instrumental numbers from Johnny and the orchestra for which they received a standing ovation.
This led to him being invited to act as musical director for Lulu's series "Happening For Lulu". Here Johnny used the same highly visual conducting style and quickly became very popular with audiences and received almost as much fan mail as Lulu. He also conducted the orchestra for Lulu's appearance at the Eurovision Song Contest in Madrid where she won. This made further impact with the public and even influenced comedian Benny Hill to stage his own spoof "European Song Contest" with Benny playing all the contestants as well as the British conductor "Jet Pacey" which was an obvious reference to Johnny's kinetic conducting!
Johnny also found time to sit in for Johnny Pearson as MD for "Top Of The Pops" and also provided the music for a TV documentary about the footballer Georgie Best. And on New Years Eve 1969 it was his orchestra who backed the many artists who appeared on "Pop Go The 60's", which was a look back at the music of the decade, and a show which Johnny confesses he can't even remember. As well as backing such singers as Tom Jones, Adam Faith and Sandie Shaw one of the highlights of the show was Johnny's superb interpretation of The Rolling Stones’ "Jumping Jack Flash" where he whipped the orchestra into a funky frenzy much to the delight of the studio audience.
However the best was yet to come when Johnny was invited to conduct for Dionne Warwick when she appeared at the Albert Hall in 1970. Here he enjoyed the pleasure of conducting an impressive 40-piece orchestra who as well as backing Dionne and guest singer Ritchie Havens, presented some tracks from Johnny's solo album to great effect as a warm up to the main show. The orchestra included young musicians from the Royal College and the Royal Academy of Music and were greatly enhanced by the addition of rock musicians including Tony Colton and Ray Smith from the country-rock band Head Hands and Feet. "It was quite an evening " Johnny recalled and the press thought so as well calling it "One of the most exciting experiences in show business" .
As well as arranging for a great number of artists during the 1960s and early 70s Johnny was also partly responsible for kick-starting the careers of Tom Jones, Shirley Bassey and Paul Anka who all went on to achieve international success after succumbing to the Johnny Harris sound. Up until 1966 Tom Jones had always performed with his backing band The Squires but it was decided to back the singer with a big orchestra to give him a fuller, harder sound and Johnny was hired as musical director. He toured extensively with Tom throughout 1966-67 in the UK and in the US including Las Vegas where they were very well received. It was during these times that Johnny first developed his highly visual conducting style having recognised that with a singer as dynamic as Tom Jones it was necessary to offset what he was doing on stage. So Johnny literally became part of the music, cavorting round the stage and directing the musicians in a highly flamboyant manner which gave the audience a show to remember. Some of the highlights of these concerts can be found on the highly charged "Live At The Talk Of The Town" album which was issued in 1967. Johnny also arranged for Tom on record and toured with him again in the 1970s.
With Shirley Bassey Johnny was asked to do almost the opposite and turn her from a cabaret star into a pop star. Although she had enjoyed enormous success as a live act and was now living as a tax exile in Switzerland she hadn't had a top ten hit for nearly seven years and her managers wanted to give her a new image and a new style. Johnny had already worked on arrangements for her albums and shows and was considered to be just the man for the job and was encouraged to take the pop-orchestral sound he had created on "Movements" and develop it to suit the singer. Once again he called upon the services of Tony Colton and Ray Smith who along with guitarist Chris Spedding supplemented the orchestra and the result was the truly stupendous "Something" album which was one of the most successful of her career. The title track was also lifted as a single and gave Shirley her biggest hit ever and put her back on the musical map. Johnny went on to work on no less than four other albums with her for United Artists which although were not as memorable as the first one contained more stunning arrangements and wonderful performances.
Throughout this time Johnny was also busy working with other singers including Richard Harris, who he became great friends with, Sacha Distell, Jack Jones and Petula Clark. Johnny worked with his song writing partner John Bromley on songs for the latter's "Petula 71" album which Harris also produced, conducted and arranged. He also did some concerts with her at this time including a TV special, "Petula and Friends" as well as other TV shows with Lulu, Tom Jones, Matt Monro and Keith Michell, who like Richard Harris was another actor turned singer. Johnny also met up with Paul Anka who he had originally met while he was working with Tom Jones in the UK. Anka had enjoyed enormous success in the early 1960s but a decade later was looking for a new sound and came to the UK to record an album which he asked Johnny to arrange and produce. The result was the highly polished "Jubilation" set (released on Buddah) which included the six minute title track which became Anka's theme song throughout the seventies. And it was the start of a five year working relationship which saw Johnny relocating to America and working on the singer's follow-up albums "Feelings" and "The Painter" as well as a series of memorable concerts.
The main reason for moving to the States was that although he was happy with his producing and arranging work in the UK he felt that he wanted to concentrate on writing scores for film and television and Hollywood was the place to be as the UK film industry was on the decline. He had written the scores for a few British films including the controversial "I Want What I Want" and the Richard Harris vehicle "The Hero", but as they were not mainstream material his music went largely unnoticed. He set up home in California and quickly found work writing music for TV commercials (which he had also done successfully in the UK), however get-ting commissions to write film scores took a little longer. His work with commercials soon paid off when he won a Clio Award for his Kodak commercial with Paul Anka, "The Times Of Our Lives". And once he became established as a composer-arranger in this field he found he had more offers of work in both film and television.
The first of these was for the horror film "The Evil" which led to a string of others including "The Initiation Of Sarah", "I Spy Returns", "Raw Courage", "Raven Hawk" and "Cyber High" which has just been released. There were also TV serials including "Mathew Star" and "Family Pictures" starring Angelica Houston and Sam Neil for which Johnny was nominated for an Emmy Award. He was also asked to rearrange the title theme and provide the incidental music for the cult series "Wonder Woman" which bought his name to the attention of a whole new audience. The star of this series was Lynda Carter who was also an accomplished singer and wanted to purse a career in music. Her manager Ron Samuels had seen Johnny's work with Paul Anka and hired Johnny to help mastermind her live act. At first Johnny refused as he was concentrating on his film work, but in the end he accepted and the result was a series of wonderful concerts, a world tour and three TV specials for CBS. Lynda continued her acting career as well and Johnny supplied the score and songs for a trio of TV movies which were released to critical acclaim in the 1980s. His success with Lynda led to requests to conduct other TV specials for CBS including shows by Jack Jones, Vikki Carr, Lisa Minnelli and Goldie Hawn and Diana Ross where he also got to work with Michael Jackson. There were also live concerts where Johnny conducted for Kenny Rogers, Johnny Mathis and also continued to arrange and compose for artists such as Sammy Davis Jnr, Barbra Streisand, Sacha Distell, Shirley MacLaine and Anthony Newley.
Johnny's success with the "Wonder Woman" series led to writing music for another cult sci-fi series "Buck Rogers In The 25th Century" for Universal. Here he had the luxury of working with a 40-piece orchestra on the lot although he found the work quite stressful creating new music for 26 shows a year. However as a result of the series the composer suddenly found himself in the charts when a piece of music from the series was turned into a disco track. One of the episodes centred around a mythical futuristic pop group and Johnny was required to write a piece of "space age pop" for them to be seen playing. With help from a synthesiser and a funky rhythm section the orchestra jammed for several minutes until the required sound was achieved. The result was a fast and funky 6 minute disco track which so impressed Howard Casey of KC and The Sunshine Band that he put the track out under the title "Odyssey" on his own label which became a huge hit in the clubs in the summer of 1980.
In 1990 Johnny was asked to supply the music for the newly launched Palm Spring Follies shows. These were the brainchild of retired TV producer Riff Markovitz who came up with idea of staging 1930s-style song and dance shows at the then-vacant Plaza Theatre in the heart of Palm Springs in California. And the neat part was that all the performers taking part were aged 50 or over having been coaxed out of retirement and were veterans of the vaudeville era. Some critics thought the idea was a total folly, however the shows quickly grew in popularity and were soon completely sold out every night. Johnny had been recommended by his friend TV composer Earle Hagen and was required to reproduce a Broadway-style orchestra to back the various singers, dancers and comedians for a three hour show which he worked on in association with vocal arrangers Earl Brown and Scott Lavender. As well as resident performers guests artists have also appeared including Frankie Laine, Tony Martin, Gloria DeHaven and The Mills Brothers who were all very well received. Johnny also takes part in the show conducting the overture, however the music is all pre-recorded and he is actually directing a non-existent orchestra although the sound is so good the audience think there are real musicians in the pit!
The work at The Follies has kept Johnny busy seven months a year for the last twelve years however he still manages to devote time to other projects. He now lives in Rancho Mirage, California with his second wife Laura and their young son Emerson and he has built himself a state-of-the-art studio in his garage which includes a place to record live musicians and its own digital control room. This enables him to work from home where he is able to prepare all the music for the Follies shows and to rehearse live material and try out new ideas.
Johnny is currently working on a few projects including "Musical Names" where pieces of orchestral music are created using women’s names. The letters of a name have notes assigned to them and a piece of music is built around it resulting in a full orchestral love theme which is presented on a CD as a unique gift idea. Johnny is also busy working on songs with Alan J. Freedman and Bob Merrill for a new pop opera based around the children's story "Pinnochio" which is planned to star Howard Keel and will debut next year. Recently he was also asked to re-record the "Movements" track "Stepping Stones" for use in a TV ad for Levis jeans. It seems that the ad agency had approached Warners to use the original but were put off by the $100,000 price tag and enquired if Johnny would be prepared top remake it. He said he could and brought in guitarist Paul Jackson and well-known jazz player Tom Scott on flute and recreated the sound using samples, painstakingly transcribing Harold Fisher's drums note for note from the original. He did such a good job that very few people realised that it wasn't the original recording and the track was released as a single which reached the charts.
This single bought Harris' name to the attention of a whole new audience who searched out copies of his original albums, which in turn led to deejays and dance acts sampling tracks from "Movements" and Shirley Bassey albums. His music also became big in the clubs where "Stepping Stones" and "Odyssey" so entranced listeners that the tracks were featured on a number of dance compilations. There was also the recent Shirley Bassey remix album which included new mixes of many of her old numbers including several Johnny Harris productions which proved to be very popular. This renewed interest in his old work has completely taken Johnny by surprise but he is always delighted when fans track him down to his west coast hideaway. "It's amazing to me that people are still interested and I'm getting e-mails from so many people" he revealed, both shocked and pleased by his new-found fame.
Recently he announced that he is devoting his spare time to ideas for "Movements 2" which will hopefully include contributions from all members of his family who are all involved in some capacity in the music business. "I just want to do another album, to do what I want to do" he said and revealed that the set might include his arrangement of the Leslie Bricusse song "Pure Imagination". However as he doesn't have much spare time at the moment it might be quite a while before we get to hear this sequel to his classic 1970 album. But one thing's for sure, it will be well worth the wait...
Johnny Harris Discography (All UK releases except*).
- Heart Of Bart (United Artists, 1966)
- A Handful Of Songs (United Artists) * The Guitar Workshop (PYE, 1966)
- Festival of International Hits (Readers Digest RDS 6423, 1969)
- Movements (Warner Bros WS 3002/K46054,1970)
- Man In The Wilderness (Warner Bros K46126, 1972)
- Bloomfield (PYE NSPL 18376, 1972)
- Johnny Harris Plays Lionel Bart (Sunset SLS 50212, 1971)
- All to Bring You Morning (Warner Bros K46187, 1973)
- Various -TK Disco Singles (TK, 1996) Inc Odyssey *
- Various- Stay Tuned (1998) Inc Stepping Stones
- Various- Loft Classics (Nuphonic NUX36, 1999) Inc Odyssey*
- Bloomfield (Cinephile CINCD 031,2000)
- Movements (Warner Bros. 8122-73602-2, 2002)
- Mynahg Hop/Here Comes The Boot (Mercury MF949, 1965)
- Footprints On The Moon/Lulu's Theme (Warner Bros WB 8000, 1969)
- Fragment Of Fear/Stepping Stones (Warner Bros WB 8016, 1970)
- Footprints On The Moon/Sacha's song (Lyons SFI 83, 1971 )
- Jubilation/Tip Top Theme (United Artists, 1976)*
- Odyssey parts 1 and 2 (TK, TKO-4314, 1980) *
- Stepping Stones (remixes) (EMI, 1997)
A Personal Tribute by Arthur Jackson
RFS members who attended the Bonnington meeting on 18 April 1999 had the rare privilege of meeting Loonis McGlohon and hearing some of his lovely music, without realising that just 2½ years later he would be gone from us. But even those who weren’t present would have seen from the photo in JIM140 that he seemed as cheerful and healthy-looking as ever at the age of 77.
Born in September 1921 in Ayden, North Carolina, he made it to East Carolina University at Greenville and apart from World War II more or less remained in North Carolina all his life. He served in the 345th Army Air Forces Band, then after demob joined Jimmy Dorsey for a while. He had an offer to join Ralph Flanagan's band, but having just married his childhood sweetheart Nan, he decided to stay in the south, making his permanent home in Charlotte. A true Southerner, he justified his decision by saying they wouldn't be able to get hominy grits in New York!
Spending the next half century in Charlotte was no hardship for Loonis. As Special Projects Director at Station WBTV he produced many musical and non-musical programmes for the ten stations on the circuit, adding to his wholehearted adoption of the city by originating the first "Park And Ride" system in America, and turning a patch of waste ground into a green park.
In 1985 he found out that some music he had written for his church choir on radio was popular in Kenya, and after learning from a music teacher out there about severe water shortages Loonis used the resources of WBTV to raise $100,000 for well-digging equipment, any unused money going to other African water projects.
Loonis was also highly active as a jazz pianist and accompanist to a host of singers including Dick Haymes, Margaret Whiting, Judy Garland, Maxine Sullivan, Eileen Farrell, Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney, Joe Williams and Mabel Mercer. He also worked with Benny Goodman ("a horrendous experience, boorish, rude and uncouth"), Charlie Spivak and Bob Hope, but perhaps his greatest experience was when he co-hosted, and with his trio provided the backings to all the guests on Alec Wilder's "American Popular Song" series on National Public Radio. 42 pro- grammes in all, with Alec and Loonis talking to the world's greatest popular singers, all ad-libbed!
He was Wilder's last collaborator on such musicianly songs as Be A Child, Blackberry Winter, Saturday's Child, also A Long Night and South To A Warmer Place, commissioned by Frank Sinatra for an album to try and helpthe dying Wilder, and the last songs Alec ever wrote but which he didn't live long enough to hear performed by Frank. Loonis' own Songbird is well-known via the Farnon/ Shearing recording, and Nobody Home had several versions including one on his own "Name-Dropping" CD which I reviewed in JIM148. A Las Vegas performer once called Loonis "the best-known unknown songwriter in the country", but that wasn't his only commendation, having received awards and citations for his work outside music.
I got to know Loonis when he wrote me a fan letter about the booklet and liner note I did for a Dick Haymes LP on which he was MD, and I had no idea that he was to become one of my beat friends. In 1981 he came to England to make an LP and he and his wife Nan, two daughters and a son-in-law came down to Cornwall to see us for a couple of days during which we took them to National Trust properties, also visiting Mevagiasey. This was an experience Loonis never forgot … in fact he mentioned it in every letter for the next 20 years.
We saw them all again four years later at their holiday flat in London (plus another new son-in-law) by which time I had a (temporary) professional relationship with Loonis collaborating on a number of songs which publishers naturally wouldn't look at in the current musical climate. As long as I knew him he never changed in his admiration for Bob Farnon, who he regarded as the greatest composer-arranger in the world. I can't honestly remember whether I introduced them to each other but I certainly did mention each in my letters to them both.
About the end of 1994 he started seven years of chemotherapy for lymphoma cancer, with periods of remission which enabled him to function professionally, though not as much as in previous years when he had played in China, Yugoslavia, Israel, Rome, Oslo etc. He recovered enough to appear at the Pizza In The Park in London when he rang me for the last time, and when he attended the RFS meeting at which he was pictured in JIM. Yes, he had finally achieved one of his life's ambitions when he worked with Bob on the Eileen Farrell sessions.
His letters were always optimistic, even when discussing the cancer, reporting open-heart surgery, gradually going blind and announcing a further heart condition. Then last year he was glad to say he had been cleared of the cancer and was looking forward to being honoured at a jazz concert at a Charlotte theatre named after him. And, even more important to such a family man, he was to have a mutual 80th birthday party for himself and Nan organised by "the kids" to which they had, appropriately enough, invited 80 friends.
But he hadn't been cleared of the cancer after all, and it finally returned, the end coming on 26 January 2002. Typically he ended that last letter still reminiscing about their visit to Cornwall 21 years ago. His musical talent apart, Loonis McGlohon was one of the nicest people I ever knew, and I count myself privileged to have had him as a friend.
In this exclusive feature for ‘Journal Into Melody’,
FORREST PATTEN interviews the famous American musician
FORREST PATTEN: Frank, tell us how it all began.
FRANK COMSTOCK: When I was eight years old, I just had to have a trombone. I thought that was the greatest horn in the world. My folks bought me one and I started to play in a local marching band in San Diego. That’s where I learned the horn. During the 1930’s and 40’s, most of the junior high schools had some sort of a dance band. While playing trombone in my school’s band, I asked the teacher if he could come up with some better arrangements than what we were playing. He said he couldn’t at that time but asked me if I’d take a crack at writing something. I told him I wouldn’t know where to begin. So he took some musical notation paper and on each staff wrote where the individual instruments would play middle C. That helped me to transpose the instruments and get them right. And that was it. I think that was my only legitimate training or lesson in music arranging. I went home and started copying all the Basie, Lunceford, and Goodman records that I could. Little by little, things started coming together and sounding right.
By the time I graduated from high school at 16, I was making a few bucks around town and doing pretty good. I went to high school with two outstanding musicians. One was trumpeter Uan Rasey and the other was pianist Paul Smith. They are both masters and have played on just about every date that I did.
I had a small dance band in San Diego for a few months. Suddenly, I got a message from Uan letting me know that he had landed a job with the Sonny Dunham band. He told me to get on the next train because Sonny needed an arranger and a trombone player. I left for the big time! I’ve been very fortunate in my career in that I have never really had to "look for work." It’s all been by word-of-mouth. All my life I went from one place to the next and never had to rely on an agent of any sort.
FP: As an arranger, did the individual bandleaders dictate how they wanted their charts to be, or were you given a free reign?
FC: I was very lucky. I never had a bandleader who told me what to do or demanded that I write something in a particular way. They requested an arrangement of a song and seemed to like what I turned out for them.
FP: Tell us about your time with the Sonny Dunham band.
FC: I liked Sonny very much, although I didn’t get to know him that well. I was with him for six or eight months both playing and writing. Then one day his manager made the announcement that the band was going to break up. He came up and told me that he had another job lined up for me with the Benny Carter band. He said that Carter didn’t want to spend months writing and wanted to just play his horn with the big band. This same manager, by the way, also represented Stan Kenton. Before I joined Benny Carter’s band, I did about three or four arrangements for Kenton which, I believe, he recorded.
Unfortunately, because of the recording ban that was going on at the time, none of my work with Sonny Dunham was ever recorded. Benny recorded four or five of my arrangements a year or so after I left his band and joined Les Brown.
FP: Tell us about your time with the Benny Carter band.
FC: Benny was a super guy who I dearly loved. We had more fun and laughs in that group. I sat next to J.J. Johnson. Behind me were Snooky Young and Gerald Wilson from the Lunceford band. Paul Webster was there, too. It was a great organization. Not too long after, Benny announced that he was breaking up the band. About that time, Les Brown brought his band to town. One of the trumpeters (who had been with Sonny Dunham) told Les to hire me as I could produce good arrangements. Because Benny was in the process of dismantling his band, he told me to "take the job and run!"
FP: So from there, it was on to Les Brown and his Band Of Renown.
FC: Les hired me as an arranger. That was it. However, right before we left the Hollywood Palladium for a road trip, one of the trombone players announced that he was not going any farther than Los Angeles. Les told me to bring my horn and I ended up playing in the band for a year and a half until he found another trombone player! In 1944, I settled into writing arrangements for Les full time. I was with him practically every day from 1943 through 1995.
FP: Your career seems to have progressed very naturally.
FC: I’ve always had great luck. Things just seemed to fall into place. An example is when Doris Day left Les’s band. .She wanted me to come along as her arranger-conductor. I was still writing for Les, but I went with her because she was heading back to California. As that was my home, I was very happy! When Doris went to get her screen test at Warner Bros., she took one of my arrangements. Ray Heindorf liked it and I began writing vocal and dance scores for her pictures. One of Heindorf’s best friends was Jack Webb and that’s how I got to work for a number of his shows. Webb then introduced me to Lowell Frank, one of the top recording mixers at Columbia. And that’s how it went.
FP: All of the greats that you have worked with over the years must have felt that you had the "Midas touch" when it came to creating top quality arrangements.
FC: I have to be honest with you. I never once wrote an arrangement that I really liked. Everything that I wrote, when I heard it, I always felt that it could be better. It was never really tough for me. I just wanted to do it another way, only better.
FP: Who are some of your favorite arrangers?
FC: Bob Farnon would be one of my super number one guys. I also like Billy May and Bill Finegan. There’s also Eddie Sauter and Neal Hefti. These are good old pals and arranger friends that I like very much. Sy Oliver is the "Robert Farnon of swing" because just about every band had a "Sy Oliver" flavor to it somehow. He was the leader of that sound. Les Brown had a trumpeter, Wes Hensel, who wrote some beautiful things for Les. Had he not played such beautiful trumpet, he might have been known as a fine arranger. When you talk about the studio people, there’s Eddie Powell who, working for Alfred Newman, must have orchestrated just about everything Twentieth Century Fox turned out in the last 100 years! Herbie Spencer was another beautiful writer that I loved. Ralph Burns, who worked with Woody Herman’s band in the mid 40’s, is another favorite. Fletcher Henderson was an early inspiration. There are many others that I’m leaving out. I’ve appreciated the fine work that they all did.
FP: What about classical composers?
FC: I couldn’t continue without mentioning Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Richard Strauss. I listened to them constantly and, hopefully, something rubbed off.
FP: How did you discover the music of Robert Farnon?
FC: Gene Puerling (who I’ll talk more about later) and I were working on the first of maybe ten or twelve albums that we did together. He brought some tapes over to the house that we listened to for hours and just flipped over them. As I recall, the two albums were TWO CIGARETTES IN THE DARK and FLIRTATION WALK. I think Gene and I both learned some things from listening that day. As far as Bob’s writing is concerned, I think the best thing he did for everybody (where they all benefited from him) was to say "Do what you want to do. Open up the chords. Add some more fat chords. Do anything you want." There was a period in the studios where things were so rigid that you couldn’t add a flat note. Bob’s writing said "Hey, come on. Let’s do something!" Even with a dance band like Les Brown’s where I didn’t have the strings or the woodwinds, I think that we pushed the envelope quite a bit in those days. I can only thank Bob over and over for the idea of "doing what you want to and it’ll come out well." I think that philosophy has benefited a lot of people.
FP: Were you responsible for the "sound" of the Les Brown band?
FC: I guess that something must have rubbed off after 60 years of writing for that band. The sound that he did acquire at one time was my idea. Les said that he wanted a "sound" so that when ever anyone heard it, they’d know that it was the Les Brown band (like the Glenn Miller sound with the clarinet lead). So I came up with the simple idea of having the trumpets in four-part harmony play in "harmon mutes." And underneath them (an octave lower) using the same notes, the trombone players were playing with either a hand over the bell or maybe a soft felt mute. Underneath that, I had a guitar playing the melody again, and it was a real nice sound. In later years, Les cut the band down a bit. He cut one trombone player and the guitarist. The sound never quite worked after that.
It was easy to write for. Through the years, Les and I had many arguments about tempos; but other than that, we had no problems about writing. I don’t think he ever once said that "you have to write this sound or this chord or whatever." He would ask for an arrangement of something like "Blue Skies," and I would write it. I never really had anything in mind. I just started to write and whatever came out was it. When I first joined the band, he also asked me to write an improved arrangement of his theme "Leap Frog." Les had been using an old stock arrangement that was written for three trumpets and two trombones plus three or four saxes. Since he had four trumpets, four trombones, and five or six saxes, half of the guys were faking it and trying to find the right notes. I took the original arrangement, put a few little "bumps" and "kicks" here and there and orchestrated it (as opposed to arranging it) so he could play it with his big band of eight brass and five saxes.
FP: Do you have any favorite Les Brown arrangements or recordings?
FC: There’s a recent CD "The Best Of The Capitol Years" with a lot of great stuff on it. There’s also the old Coral LP set "Les Brown—Live At The Palladium" which was done in 1953. The band didn’t know they were being recorded so things were really loose. You can hear the guys pounding their feet and laughing. It’s a great record worth listening to (if you can ever find it!). As I listen to all of these re-issued old LP’s containing tunes from Les’s band during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s (on CD), I think of my old arrangements and wonder how the hell did I write half that stuff. I couldn’t even start to find the chords now!
FP: You mentioned Doris Day. What was it like working with her?
FC: She’s an old pal of mine, really. When she joined Les’s band, she brought her son Terry (who was a few years old at the time) with her on the road. She also brought her mother to take care of Terry while she was working. One night, Terry went whipping out the front door of the hotel with Mom Day chasing him. Everything was icy on the sidewalk and Mom Day ended up slipping and breaking her leg. The only guy in the band who was free at night and didn’t have to be on the bandstand was the arranger! And guess who I had to baby sit every night? He was a little devil, but lots of fun. We’re still friends. I’d have to chase him all over the hotel, up and down the stairwells. We had a ball. I think that’s how Doris and I became such good friends because I saw her a lot. And writing her songs and arrangements was part of the story, too. We’ve been good friends for years. When she went for a screen test, she’d take my arrangements with her. Then I’d get hired on. I can’t remember exactly how many pictures I did with her and, although it wasn’t her fault, I know that it took six or seven years before I actually got a screen credit. That’s part of the Hollywood mystique. Doris was a part of my "laughing gang."
FP: Your "laughing gang"?
FC: When I had a record date, I just wanted to enjoy and have fun. I made great efforts to find the players who were all laughers. We had a ball. I think that’s a good secret for a lot of show business experience. There’s so much pressure and you have a lot of idiots yelling at you. It’s just nice to have a bunch of guys around you who can laugh and roll with the jokes. My late wife Joanie and I used to spend a lot of time with Doris at her place up in Carmel. We’d get laughing about the old days. I still talk to Doris every couple of weeks or so. Every time we talk she says "I wish we were back on the road, Frank. We had so much fun." I keep telling her "Yeah, we had a lot of fun but we were both 19 or 20 years old then. There’s a big difference." I think we’ll remain friends until we die.
FP: Tell us about Gene Puerling and the Hi-Lo’s.
FC: That was one of the happiest periods in my life. They were something else and fun to work with. Gene has such a great sense of humor. We joked about everything. I think if Gene and I were honest, we both pushed the envelope trying to top each other! He’d write something and I’d think I’ve got to get in there somehow. I’d write a line that was a little harder or wilder. On every date we’d have fun doing all those kinds of things. About three or four years ago, I called Gene to wish him a Merry Christmas. He said "You made my day. I’ve only had two phone calls today. One was from Bob Farnon and you’re the other one!" I can’t say enough about Gene. I feel that he’s the top vocal arranger of all time. I don’t know of anybody else who had the nerve to write what he did.
FP: How about some of the other artists that you’ve worked with?
FC: Rosemary Clooney. I did her TV show and the Hi-Lo’s were singing on there, as well. Every week we had to do several numbers. I also did an album with the Hi-Lo’s called RING AROUND ROSIE. It had some nice stuff on it. She was a nice girl. I didn’t get to know her too well. Frankie Laine. I knew Frankie before he made it big. He was singing in a little nightclub on Vine Street in Hollywood. After he became well known and had recorded some rather wild things, he decided that he wanted to do a "pretty" album. We did a couple together. One was TORCHIN’ and the other was YOU ARE MY LOVE, both for Columbia. He was always off on tour somewhere so we never became "bosom buddies" as they say. Norman Luboff. He was my pal. He used to call me "Smiley." We worked on a lot of shows together. When he started making vocal albums of pop songs, he’d call me in to write the rhythm and horn parts. Dick and Ted Nash played fill-in solos between the choruses. We lost track of each other after a while. I know he’s no longer with us. That happens. Margaret Whiting was Bob Hope’s singer for many years. I did her work on Bob’s television show plus several outside projects. She was a good singer and a nice gal. I knew Andy Williams from Doris Day’s old radio show before she joined Les’s band. While she was on radio in Cincinnati, Ohio, she was backed by the Williams Brothers. Andy was just a young kid. I think I did a record date with him some years later. He’d call every other week or so when he needed a little extra something for his TV show. That’s the same story for the Carol Burnett Show. Her husband, Joe Hamilton, was an old friend of mine. He sang with Six Hits And A Miss. He’d always call when they wanted a big production number or something like that.
FP: We can’t forget your work on the Bob Hope Show.
FC: I started writing for his show in 1947 (when Les Brown became his bandleader) and quit in 1964. That was quite a job. We never knew where we were going to be half the time. It might be a bus, a boat, a train, or a plane. I remember that we once did a tour of 90 towns in 60 days! I finally had to quit because I was getting so much studio work.
FP: How were you able to balance all of those shows with your arranging assignments?
FC: When you look at my bio, you’ll see all of these different shows that I worked on. Of course, in many cases, it wasn’t every day or every week. Most of the big musical shows had staff arrangers who would get swamped and would call. People like me, Billy May, and others would end up working all night on those shows just to help out, with no credits. I want to emphasize that all of my arranging assignments were just another job. Many of us would work with our fellow arrangers to help them finish a project. I also used to do a lot of ghost writing for Andre Previn.
FP: Tell us about some of your work in the movies.
FC: At Warner Bros., Norman Luboff was known as the "vocal man" and I was known as the "hot man." In the old days of radio, television, and studios, you really got pigeon-holed. They wouldn’t let you do anything that wasn’t in your "style." I remember when I started working there (thanks to Doris) they let me do all sorts of things in addition to her projects. However, I wasn’t allowed to write any "dramatic" cues. Because I had written for Benny Carter and Les Brown, they considered that "hot" music. Therefore, I became their "hot man". So if anybody sang or danced in a picture, I was the guy who’d get the job. That lasted for years and years. Ironically, after I’d been working for Jack Webb for some years, I had a shot at doing another picture. I talked to somebody and they said "we can’t hire you because all you do is dramatic stuff." Give me a break! What can you do about that? Everything is a challenge in the movies because there’s always so much going on. Where they add sound effects like car screeches and other elements, you’ve got to be careful with the music that you’re not stepping on somebody’s toes.
FP: I’m going to mention just a few of your films and have you fill in some background. Let’s start with the all-time classic SOME LIKE IT HOT.
FC: Somebody called me and asked me to do a few numbers. I said "fine." You know, young guys have to get the work where they can. I did two or three songs for Marilyn Monroe. One was "I Want To Be Loved By You." I just walked in, did it, and walked on to the next project.
FP: THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY.
FC: I did several orchestrations for Dmitri Tiomkin on some of his movie theme records. I guess he liked them because he asked me to do a couple of orchestrations (including the main title) for THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY. I also did the arrangement for another Tiomkin theme, GIANT.
FP: THE MUSIC MAN.
FC: Gus Levene and I were both doing orchestrations for musicals like that. We both got a screen credit. My big number was "Marion The Librarian." It was tough. It seemed as though it went on for 70 days. When you see a picture like that, you’ve got to realize that the arranger has to sit down and watch the dancers for a week, six months or whatever. So when they kick on certain beats, twirl on this beat, and jump up the stairs---those actions have to be put on beats somewhere. You then have to go home and write something that sounds like the music that you’re supposed to be arranging that still captures the "tricks" (choreography) that the dancers do. I did several other numbers for that picture, as well.
FP: CALAMITY JANE.
FC: That was the first screen credit I ever got in my life for orchestrating. I think I did almost everything for that picture. In fact, the last time that my wife and I went to see Doris Day, she greeted us at the airport singing one of the songs from the movie. We had a good laugh over that.
FP: THE DESERT SONG.
FC: That was a tremendous effort for Norman Luboff and me. We had to work and work to get everybody lined up. We had some people there who were not professional singers. We had to cut bars and slice notes to get it to sound right. That was another case where I went in, did what I was asked to do, and then moved on to something else.
FP: FINIAN’S RAINBOW.
FC: Gus Levene and I shared that credit, too. I did five or six tunes. I think I was the last guy who ever wrote a dance number for Fred Astaire. He was so gracious and kind that I couldn’t believe it. He gave me a nice compliment. He told me that this was the only dance arrangement that he had done where he didn’t have to change a single note on it. That was a very flattering comment to me because I always prided myself on getting every beat and every note right where it should be.
FP: WHERE’S CHARLEY?
FC: I was called in by Ray Heindorf who told me that I had to go down and look at that picture in Room 12 and "fix it up." To this day, I really can’t recall what I did. I was quite embarrassed because I had been asked to "fix up" something that Bob Farnon had done in London! My only thought on that is maybe the dance numbers were elongated or that Ray Bolger, the star, had changed some of his dance steps. I know I did a couple of numbers, but couldn’t tell which ones they were. I don’t think that film ever had wide distribution. I talked to Bob (Farnon) about it one day and he really didn’t remember that much about it either!
FP: Frank, in addition to being an arranger, you’ve also done some composing. Tell us about some of those pieces that we might recognize.
FC: I wrote the original theme for Jay Ward’s TV cartoon series ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS. I also wrote the segment themes for "Fractured Fairytales," "Bullwinkle’s Corner," and "Mr. Peabody’s Improbable History." Those cues were sent to Mexico where they were recorded by a small orchestra conducted by Fred Steiner. If anybody looks at those cartoons, they’ll notice that there really isn’t any "scoring" to the pictures. There’d be the "main title" and then we’d play the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" theme. When that faded out, they’d go into their cartoon segment for three to five minutes. When that finished, we’d do a quick reprise of the theme for a quick play-off. Then we’d play a theme for another segment of the show. Because there was no scoring to picture, I think that’s what made it so good. You didn’t have a set of notes emphasizing every bit of action. A couple of years after we got going, somebody got to Jay Ward, the producer of the show, and told him "Frank Comstock is making all the money on the music because he owns it. You gave it to him and told him to go publish it." He didn’t think about that at the time. He found out, though, that if he owned the music, he might make fifty cents out of a dollar. So he hired Fred Steiner to write four new themes to replace the cues I had written. From that point on, you’d hear a combination of Fred’s pieces along with my pieces. I think that the music editors still liked what I had written, so they never really took my cues out of the show. Dennis Farnon also wrote quite a few tracks for Steiner and Jay, as well. It was a hip show that adults could enjoy because the humor really went over the heads of most kids. I hate to say it, but I did pilots for about 20 or 30 shows that never made it on the air. Hopefully, it was because of the script or something and not because of the music!
FP: And, of course, there was this fellow named Jack Webb.
FC: I really enjoyed working for him. We had a lot of fun together. When we were both single, we used to travel around to all the clubs listening to the big bands. He was a great lover of jazz. It was always a challenge doing his shows. You always wonder how you could make something sound better or find a new chord. For PETE KELLY’S BLUES, I did the dramatic scoring. Matty Matlock, who was a clarinetist in Bob Crosby’s band, did the small band jazz things. That band had people like Dick Cathcart, Morty Korb, and Ray Sherman playing in it. It was fun to do. For DRAGNET, Jack Webb wanted to pep up the theme that he had been using for years. I really couldn’t change the melody, so I ended up putting a real wild chord in every hit of the melody. I added a ninth and a sixth and all these other "blue" or "hot" notes. I put in a French horn counter melody and it ended up sounding pretty good. You couldn’t do very much musically on a show like that because it was so stylized. For ADAM 12, I got to write just about anything I wanted to and it was a lot of fun. As in the case of all the other things I did for Jack, he’d tell me to go down to the stage, see the picture, and write some music for it. There were never any demands or anything like that. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) helped a lot because they sent out a sheet explaining all of their radio calls. When I was reading a script and came across a "Code 3 or Code 4," that meant that things were pretty settled and you didn’t have to rush to get to the scene. I would know right away that I didn’t have to write screaming chase music or something like that. If it was a "Code 1," then I’d have to write something with a little more excitement to it. I did have some help on that show since we did it for eight years. Every now and again, the music editor would tell me that I wouldn’t have to write anything for a certain cue because he had a pretty sizeable library of tracks to pull from when he needed, let’s say, a two-second segment or something. That was a big help! Composer John Williams had it right when he said, "In TV, they don’t want it good….they want it tomorrow." Anyone who’s ever worked in the system will know exactly what I mean.
FP: You also worked with the late Axel Stordahl on Ernest Borgnine’s ABC-TV series McHALE’S NAVY.
FC: Axel was a good friend of mine. He was doing the HIT PARADE show on radio with Frank Sinatra. After Doris Day left Les Brown, she became the female vocalist on the show and continued using my arrangements. When Axel got the "McHale" show (he wrote the theme and incidental cues), he called me in one day to help him with something. Not long after, he passed away. The studio then asked me to finish the series and that lasted a couple of more years until the show was cancelled.
FP: Tell us about HAPPY DAYS and LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY.
FC: They were something else. My friend Pete King got the job and asked me to help him during the first season. They had something like 60-to-80 tunes from the 1950’s (which they got clearances on) that needed to be re-recorded (without the original artists) for use within the shows. I think they ended up using most of that stuff in the malt shop scenes where you’d hear it coming out of the jukebox. Our job was to take the original 1950’s record and copy it note for note. Besides the clearance issue, we did it in order to get a cleaner sound without all of the pops and clicks from the original records. So we took the old records and made new versions of them. We’d bring in some good players and some vocal impressionists. We’d have them do Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, or Johnny Mathis. It saved the studio a lot of money! At the end of the first season, Pete King came down with spinal meningitis. He recovered from it, but he became stone deaf. He couldn’t hear a thing. As much as the studio tried to compensate on his behalf, he gave up the shows soon after. He asked me to continue and the studio wanted me to, as well. It was rather sad because Pete and I had done so many shows and movies together. It got to a point where we wrote so much alike that nobody could tell the difference.
FP: One of our RFS members, Ron Hare, has described your approach as "happy music" or a "happy sound."
FC: That’s the way I’ve always felt about everything. I hate to have any kind of dissension and I love to write swinging, happy music. Even on ballads, you can find a spot to throw in a little double-time to give it a little pep or cuteness. I used to write music without any conscious awareness of what I was doing. Somebody would say that they needed an arrangement and I’d start writing. Whatever came out came out. As I mentioned earlier, I always liked working with guys who came in with an "up" attitude. It’s tough enough going into a record or movie date, sitting there and trying to play everything perfectly. If you’ve got some fun-loving guys who are doing their best, it will come out just great. We had a fun time doing it. I hired people like Pete Candoli, Dalton Smith, and Uan Rasey. Alvin Stoller used to break us up when he’d drop his drumsticks. He’d do this when we had to do another take. Do you realize that almost every great studio recording musician came from the dance band days? I guess you had to be in a dance band to develop a sense of humor like that because we had some pretty tough times in those days.
FP: Frank, I know that a number of our readers would be interested in hearing about some of the recordings that featured the Frank Comstock orchestra.
FC: My first solo album was A YOUNG MAN’S FANCY where I tried to write nice, happy, chuckling kind of music. It was produced by my friend Paul Weston who was, at the time, A&R man for Columbia Records on the west coast. We were originally going to call it COMSTOCK’S LODE, named after one of the greatest mining discoveries of all time. Dear Mitch Miller in New York shot it down because he didn’t know what it meant. He insisted that if I had written and recorded it in New York, it would have been a much better album. You can imagine that Paul and I just about blew our stacks. We continued to do what we wanted to do out here. In fact, Miller went so far as to say that the album was never really released---it escaped! We did a couple of other albums and Paul always gave me carte blanche. He told me to write what I wanted and go with it. I did an awful lot with Columbia and their artists (writing background accompaniments). I can’t thank him enough for being the kind of man he was.
FP: For Warner Bros., you did an unusual concept album with an outer space approach. You had the regular orchestra augmented with some rather unique electronic effects. Tell us about PROJECT COMSTOCK.
FC: The outer space album was really a ball to do. We had one electric organ and several repeating amps that they were starting to use with woodwinds. For example, a flute player might play a short phrase and it would repeat constantly until he would play the next phrase. It would do the same thing. We employed a few little tricks like that. We didn’t have any synthesizers back then. When I wrote the scores on paper, I’d take the last note and put it first and vice versa. The bottom line there is when somebody played that note, there was no attack and it came out backwards. Think about it. Any note, whether soft or loud, has an attack on it. In this case, the accents were all in the back. We recorded them that way, and played the tape back three or four times faster making the trombones sound like trumpets. The stereo era was just beginning and the labels were trying to come up with crazy sounds to help demonstrate the new left/right effect. We were playing nice songs that everybody knew, but we also threw in some pretty far-out items. I think that Lowell Frank, the engineer, went mad trying to find all of the parts as we cut them apart and pasted them back together again. The album must have sold three copies.
FP: You also got to work with Warren Barker while at Warner Bros.
FC: We’d been old friends for years. I never knew why he quit in the middle of his career. He moved to Northern California and opened a cattle ranch. While he was in Hollywood, we did quite a few things together. Warner Bros. assigned us to do an album of TV Themes. Neither of us really wanted to do it. We flipped a coin to see who would lose! We each got six songs to arrange. When we came back, we actually ended up having a lot of fun because we had a really great band. There were five trumpets, five trombones, five saxes, three or four percussion, and harp. It was wild. Some people asked me how I ever got back into Disneyland after arranging "The Mickey Mouse Club March." Warren and I used the same band. He conducted his six pieces one night and I conducted my six pieces the next night.
FP: Of all the things you’ve done, do you have a favorite arrangement?
FC: That’s really hard to say. I was never really thrilled with anything that I wrote. I always wished that I had done something else with bar 12 or whatever. I always felt that I could do better on everything. I’m really a shy guy who finds it hard to take compliments from people. That’s the kind of attitude I’ve always had. I scared my darling, late wife in bed one night. I sat up all of a sudden and yelled "I should have written a Bb for the third trumpet on bar 12" on whatever tune it was. The arrangement I was referring to was something that I had written maybe 20 years before! I don’t know why I thought of it then. What can I say? Maybe all musicians are nuts.
FP: Earlier, you talked about Paul Weston. How about some of the other musical greats you’ve worked with.
FC: Billy May is one of the funniest arrangers of all time. A great arranger, but funny. He called me once and said "Hey, Bill Finegan is in trouble. He’s got a record date tonight and he forgot about it." So Billy May, Skip Martin and I all sat down and wrote at least two tunes apiece. Bill Finegan had his record date that night without any problems. Another time, Billy May really got me laughing when he said "Let’s go to the Arranger’s Society meeting. I’ll introduce you to all of the young guys who don’t know that you can write for brass and saxes at the same time."
FP: Will your scores ever become available for the new generation to study?
FC: I don’t have much to show. The producers and the studios own everything that you write. So when I wrote an arrangement for somebody, the studio got it. They could publish it, whatever. The only things I have are the arrangements I did on my two albums for Columbia (A YOUNG MAN’S FANCY and PATTERNS). I don’t know who’d want to copy that sound now. If you want to work, then you’ve got to give the studios the rights to publish and sell your songs.
FP: Your philosophy, then, has been to always be happy and to keep moving forward.
FC: Maybe it was my upbringing or the greatness of my parents, but I’ve always had to be doing something. When I was not working on a picture, I’d be out building a model railroad. I’ve built three over the years. I love to work with tools. When I felt that I couldn’t write up to my standards anymore, I simply quit and took up painting. I don’t know if my art is up to anybody’s standards, but I’m having fun doing it. My motto is: I’ve got to do better the next time, but enjoy yourself while doing it.
FRANK COMSTOCK: A SELECTED DISCOGRAPHY
---Frank Comstock and His Orchestra
1. Jazz Lab -- Starlite 7003, 2. A Young Man's Fancy -- Columbia CL 7003, 3. Patterns -- Columbia CS 8003, 4. Project Comstock: Music From Outer Space -- Warner Bros. 1463, 5. TV Guide Top Television Themes (6 tracks) -- Warner Bros. 1290, 6. Real Gusto -- Mark 56 #513, 7. Dipsy Doodle Disco -- Mark 56 #816 ---The Hi-Los w/ orch. arr. & conducted by Frank Comstock, 1. Listen! To The Hi-Los -- Starlite 7006, 2. The Hi-Los On Hand -- Starlite 7007, 3. The Hi-Los Under Glass -- Starlite 7005, 4. Suddenly It's The Hi-Los -- Columbia CL 952, 5. Now Hear This -- Columbia CL 1023, 6. Ring Around Rosie (w/ Rosemary Clooney) -- Columbia CL 1023, 7. Love Nest -- Columbia CL 1121
---Les Brown And His Band Of Renown / arr. by Frank Comstock
1. Dance With Les Brown -- Columbia CL 539, 2. That Sound Of Renown -- Coral 57030, 3. College Classics -- Capitol T-657, 4. Concert At The Palladium (2 volumes) -- Coral 57000/57001, 5. All-Weather Music -- Jasmine 1019, 6. The Best Of Les Brown (6 tracks) -- MCA 2-4070,
---Frankie Laine w/ orch. arr. & conducted by Frank Comstock
1. Torchin' -- Columbia CL 8024, 2. You Are My Love -- Columbia CL 8119 ---Doris Day w/ arr. by Frank Comstock, 1. Personal Christmas Collection (4 tracks) -- CBS Sony LGY 64153 (CD), 2. Lullaby Of Broadway (4 tracks) -- Columbia B-235
---Ray Heindorf w/ arr. by Frank Comstock
1. Top Film Themes Of '64 (7 tracks) -- Warner Bros. WB 1535, 2. Finian's Rainbow (Sound track) (6 tracks) -- Warner Bros. WB BS2550
Footnote from FORREST PATTEN: Gene Puerling describes Frank Comstock as the greatest arranger in the world who was fun to work with. He added that Frank knew how to balance his orchestral parts with the demanding vocal group arrangements. This is high praise coming from one musical legend to another. As you read the above interview, you will have seen that the idea of "fun" seems to be a recurring theme.
When you meet Frank Comstock, it’s like you’re spending time with an old friend. He’s a very modest, almost shy man who was never quite satisfied with his final product. He always wanted to do better. Here’s a guy who has worked with some of the biggest names in the music business, arranged for countless movies and television programs, recorded several instrumental albums, and has composed some very memorable pieces. He’s a very down-to-earth individual who really appreciates the opportunities that life has offered. Putting quality arrangements together is something that comes very naturally to him. It’s a God-given talent.
Today, Frank lives in Hunington Beach, California and will reach the age of 80 on September 20. He still keeps in touch with many of his musical friends and associates. He also is enjoying another artistic outlet --- painting. In December, 2001, Frank became a member of the Robert Farnon Society.
To cover every important milestone in Frank Comstock’s career would require a separate volume on its own. For this exclusive interview, we touched upon some highlights of a very special musical journey.