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THEMES OF THE BIG BANDS: Drifting and Dreaming

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Themes of the Big Bands, Vo l. 2 (1934 - 1945)

With the first flowering of commercial dance units and pioneering days of radio broadcasting during the early 1920s, bands had need of a good number to use as a signature-tune. Often the tunes were borrowings or adaptations of well-known numbers, or in a few cases were specially commissioned (Sammy Kaye wrote his own \Kaye’s Melody") – but whatever their provenance they were usually either sweet or catchy, something the listeners might whistle or at least instantly identify. ‘King of Jazz’ Paul Whiteman cornered the market in this respect with no fewer than three whistling good theme-tunes. The first, the Schonberger Brothers’ 1920 million-seller "Whispering" (a song resurrected a decade later in England by his fellow- American Roy Fox) was soon to be followed by his 1921 U.S. No.1 best-seller "Say It With Music" and 1924 million-selling No.1 "Three O’Clock In The Morning". He set the trend and the other bands soon followed suit. As already noted in Let’s Dance! – Themes of the Big Bands, Vol. 1 (Naxos 8.120536), by the time Swing had really taken off during the mid-1930s, themes had become paramount and their arrangers were kept busy adapting numbers specially for radio intros and exits (the most notable example being the Goodman Orchestra, with George Bassman’s "Let’s Dance" followed by Gordon Jenkins’ "Good Night").

Leap Frog … Leaping first into action is the Reinertown (Philadelphia)-born saxophonistclarinettist and songwriter Les Brown (1912-2001) and His Band of Renown with his jaunty signature tune. This number can, incidentally, only have been more famously associated with Les than his own million-selling U.S. No.1 composition "Sentimental Journey" (with Doris Day) by dint of the fact that it introduced his many radio and TV appearances. And The Very Thought Of You (originally a 1934 hit for his British outfit, featuring his star vocalist Al Bowlly, 1894-1941) was, similarly, only one of many best-selling songs penned by the Sussexborn composer-arranger Ray Noble (1903-1978) before he led a band the United States.

Summertime … As the non-instrumental front-man of one of the finest swing and Dixielandstyle swing bands of the 1930s, Bing’s vocalist brother Bob (b. Spokane, Washington (DC), 1913) produced a steady flow of U.S. chart hits for Decca, including the three No.1s "In a Little Gypsy Tea Room" (1935), "Whispers In The Dark" (1937) and "Day In , Day Out" (1939). Also a noted actor and songwriter, he chose as his band’s promotional theme Clara’s solo from the now time-honoured 1935 Gershwin folk-opera Porgy And Bess.

The Waltz You Saved For Me … Born in Savannah, Illinois, songwriter Wayne King (1901- 1985), aka ‘The Waltz King’, began as a featured sax player with the Del Lampe jazz-dance orchestra in Chicago, Illinois, but soon relinquished this style in favour of the smooth sound of his own band, which he formed at the Aragon Ballroom, in 1927. During the next eight years he became a U.S. household name on radio through Lady Esther Serenade, The Elgin-American Watch Company Show and, later, his own show, sponsored by the United Drug Company. His many hits included two 1931 U.S. No.1s ("Dream A Little Dream Of Me" and the U.S. cover-version of the Ray Noble song "Goodnight, Sweetheart") and the 1937 No.3 "Josephine". His theme, which he co-wrote in 1930 with Gus Kahn and Emil Flindt, was a U.S. No.18 in 1934.

My Time Is Your Time … A popular Depression era heart-throb vocalist, the Vermont-born saxophonist, clarinettist, composer and singing-actor Rudy Vallee (aka Hubert Prior, 1901- 1986) borrowed his name and playing style from sax ace Rudy Wiedoeft. Graduating from Yale in 1927, he led a band at the New York Heigh-Ho Club (whence his subsequent radio catch-phrase "Heigh-ho, everybody"). In 1929, he formed his own recording band, starred in his first film The Vagabond Lover and became one of the first crooners to generate masshysteria. He had five U.S. No.1s : "Honey" (1929), "Stein Song" (anthem of Maine University, 1930), "Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?" (1932), "Vieni, Vieni" (1937) and "As Time Goes By" (1943). From 1942 until the end of World War 2 he led the U.S. Coastguards Band.

It’s A Lonesome Old Town … Born in Bayonne, New Jersey, ex-vaudeville violinist Ben Bernie (1891-1943) formed his own band, on the advice of Sophie Tucker, shortly after World War 1. Early on, he secured a booking at New York’s prestigious Reisenweber’s Restaurant and was also long resident at the Hotel Roosevelt. ‘Ole Maestro’ Bernie led bands which recorded prolifically (first for Vocalion, later for Decca) from 1922 until 1941, appeared in a few films and broadcast in a typically laid-back style, punctuating his numbers by the "Yowsah, yowsah" catch-phrase which endeared him to millions.

Nola … This best-selling 1916 salon novelty which the New York-born composer, pianist and organist Felix Arndt (1889-1918) named after his wife was first adopted and recorded in 1922 (U.S. No.3 hit) by pianist-composer Vincent "Hello, everybody" Lopez (1894-1975). His band, formed in 1918, gave the first live U.S. radio broadcast, from WJX, in Newark, in 1921. A pioneer of the TV chat show, Lopez also had long residencies at New York Hotels (notably, 27 years at the Taft) and appeared on Broadway and in films. He never retired and ran a band until his death.

Racing With The Moon … Ohio-born trumpeter, songwriter, bandleader Vaughn Monroe (1911-1973) produced no fewer than nine U.S. No.1 hits, including "There, I’ve Said It Again" (1945), "Ballerina" (1947) and "Riders In The Sky" (1949). Popular on radio and screen and dubbed ‘Nelson Eddy in Swing Time’, Vaughn also penned – or co-wrote – a number of songs, including this, his theme, a million-selling U.S. No.25 in 1941. From 1940 to 1953, he toured with his band as vocalist-leader.

Hell’s Bells … Tenor-saxophonist and sweet-bandleader Art Kassel (1896-1965) formed his first band in 1924, in Chicago, Illinois, and made his first records, as Art Kassel and His Kassels-In-The-Air (for Victor) in January 1929. Some of jazz’s finest sidemen passed through his band’s ranks, including Bud Freeman, Benny Goodman, Jimmy McPartland and Dave Tough. Almost exclusively Midwest-based until the late 1950s, he became widely known via radio on sponsored shows, including the Shell Oil Show and Elgin Show. His theme-song was a U.S. No.2 hit in July 1932.

A Blues Serenade … Classically-trained, New York-born Henry King (1906-1974) formed his own piano-led, violin-orientated, society and ballroom sweet band in the early 1930s. Although for a time resident at the Los Angeles Biltmore, the King orchestra toured to San Francisco, Denver, Memphis, New Orleans and Houston and became very popular on radio (King later claimed to have recorded more than 5,000 broadcasts for various networks). From 1933, he recorded for Vocalion, Victor, Columbia and Decca until the 1950s (with five pre-1949 hits in the U.S. Top Ten).

Quaker City Jazz … Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, child prodigy violinist and songwriter Jan Savitt (1913-1948) trained at the Curtis Institute. At fifteen he was invited by Stokowski to join the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. He formed a string quartet which broadcast on coast-to-coast radio but switched to popular music in 1937 to form his distinctive Top Hatters, which featured the black vocalist Bon-Bon (aka George Tunnell) and pianist-arranger Jack Pleis. S
Disc: 1
1 Leap Frog
2 The Very Thought Of You
3 Summertime
4 The Waltz You Saved For Me
5 My Time Is Your Time
6 Artistry In Rhythm
7 It's A Lonesome Old Town
8 Nola
9 Apurksody
10 Racing With The Moon
11 Hell's Bells
12 A Blues Serenade
13 Quaker City Jazz
14 I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues
15 Piano Concerto in B Flat
16 Drifting And Dreaming
17 I'm Getting Sentimental Over You
18 Skyliner
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