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THEMES OF THE BIG BANDS: Here's That Band Again

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Themes of the Big Bands, Vol.3 (1934-1947)

It was a trend which began some time before the Swing era proper with the hit record. In 1920 "Whispering" coupled with "Japanese Sandman" combined to make what was effectively the first million-selling commercial dance disc for Paul Whiteman and, with the advent of radio around that time, bands — that is, any sizeable outfits of any repute which either broadcast or recorded — had need of some sort of introductory signature or play-out by which their fans could recognise them and, by the early 1930s, "themes" were a de rigueur facet of band broadcasting.

Cherokee … For his theme Charlie Barnet (1913-1991) chose this number composed in 1938 by Ray Noble, the British-born bandleader and HMV director of light music who, intermittently from 1934 to 1941, led his own big band assembled initially by Glenn Miller. Born into a wealthy New York family, saxophonist and composer Charles Daly Barnet virtually "ran away" from home at sixteen to pursue a career in music. After various stints at playing and arranging for Red Norvo, Adrian Rollini, Barney Bigard and others, he formed his first, Ellington-style, band in 1933 and was one of the first white bandleaders to employ black players (notably Benny Carter, Roy Eldridge, Frankie Newton and Charlie Shavers).

Moonlight Serenade … Until his untimely disappearance during WW2, trombonist-arranger Alton Glenn Miller (1904-1944) fronted one of the most internationally renowned and commercially successful big bands of all time, one immediately recognised by its individual "clarinet-over-sax" sound. A native of Clarinda, Iowa, Miller first played professionally with Boyd Senter in 1921, prior to a brief attendance at the University of Colorado. After playing on the West Coast he moved in 1926 to Chicago to join Ben Pollack and was from about 1928 a freelance jazz arranger and player with recording small-groups. Between 1929 and 1932 he worked variously in and out of the recording studio with Red Nichols, Benny Goodman and the Dorseys, arranged for Smith Ballew until 1934 and in 1935 organised and recorded with Ray Noble’s American Orchestra. His own first band was formed in 1937; the ‘Miller Sound’ truly blossomed a year or two later.

Pretty Little Petticoat … Born Harry Warnow in Brooklyn, Raymond Scott (1910-1994) first became a popular figure on CBS radio in 1934 as a staff-pianist and arranger of pieces with characteristic titles for his studio-orientated quintet/sextet ("Toy Trumpet", "In An 18th Century Drawing Room", "Twilight In Turkey" and "Businessmen’s Bounce" spring most readily to mind). A graduate of Juilliard School, Scott was a noted pioneer in electronic sound-effects. From 1938 he worked briefly in Hollywood and in 1940 further exploited his popularity by forming a big band which went on tour and, after its return to the studios in 1942, became one of the first mixed-race bands to broadcast, featuring Emmett Berry, Cozy Cole, Charlie Shavers, Ben Webster and other black jazzmen.

Day Dreams Come True At Night … Best remembered today as the hotel bandleader who promoted guitarist, vocalist and sometime bandleader Eddie Howard, Dick Jurgens was born in Sacramento, California, in 1911. In 1931, with his brother Will, he formed his first band which played at resorts around Lake Tahoe and in 1934 his polished society big band took up residency at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco. Its later residencies included the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, the Elitch Gardens in Denver and the Avalon on Catalina Island. During the 1930s Jurgens recorded many hits for Decca, ARC, Vocalion, OKeh and Columbia. A regular broadcaster, he co-wrote "Careless", "Elmer’s Tune", "One Dozen Roses" and several other well-known hit songs. During WW2 Dick was attached to the US Marine Corps (with his brother Will he toured the South Pacific with a forces’ entertainment unit) and afterwards continued in music in Chicago until his retirement in 1976.

Bubbles In The Wine … Still remembered in the States for his TV concerts of light classics in strict dance-tempo which, from the mid-1950s until the early 1970s proved a major ABC network draw, piano-accordionist Lawrence Welk (1903-1992) was a native of Strasburg, North Dakota. After forming his first society dance orchestra in the mid-1920s, he embarked on one-nighter tours of the hotel and ballroom circuits. Notwithstanding the purists’ label "wallpaper music", from the 1930s onwards his gimmicky ‘champagne’ style remained popular on both radio and TV and, between 1938 and 1953, his sweet band clocked up twenty-odd US Top 30 hits on the Vocalion, OKeh, Decca and Coral labels. Between 1956 and 1972, 42 of Welk’s LP albums made the US charts and, during 1961, one of them stayed at No.1 for eleven weeks.

Sunrise Serenade … Pianist-composer Francis Nunzio Carlone was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1903. Classically trained by his uncle, pianist Nicolas Colangelo, at nine he was playing in ballrooms. In 1925 he joined Edwin J. McEnelly and worked for Mal Hallett from 1933. Already a highly-rated pianist-arranger, Carle became a founder-member of Horace Heidt’s Brigadiers in June 1937 and set up his own orchestra four years later. His big band, formed in 1944, remained popular throughout the 1950s; its Top 30 hits included two US No.1s, both in 1946. Carle’s other compositions included "Georgianna" (1937), "Falling Leaves" (1940) and "Oh, What It Seemed To Be", a 1946 No.1 hit for Frank Sinatra.

Thinking Of You … The leader of one of the most popular of all 1930s-1940s American sweet bands, Rocky Mount, North Carolina-born James King Kern Kyser (1906-1985) entered his state university as a law student in 1924. Although unable to read music he fronted the college band and by 1927 had hit the road with a jazz band headed by arranger George Duning. In 1933, resident at the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, California, he developed his famous sweet style and a year later, while fronting a band at Chicago’s Black Hawk, got his first break on radio. By 1936 he had his own radio show and, two years later, thanks to regular appearances on the Lucky Strike Show, was a national figure on a par with Guy Lombardo. The show evolved into ‘Kollege of Musical Knowledge’, a highly popular radio quiz which ran until 1949. Between 1935 and 1948, Kyser’s hits included no fewer than eleven No.1s.

Nightmare … With Benny Goodman his only peer and rival, the legendary Artie Shaw (aka Arthur Arshawsky, b. New York, 1910) is still rated by many the Swing Era’s Number One clarinettist. He was also one of its finest composer-arrangers. After a spell with Irving Aaronson’s Commanders in the late 1920s, Art later became a CBS staff arranger and studied literature at Columbia University. He also worked variously with Red Nichols, Vincent Lopez, Roger Wolfe Kahn and others and freelanced in a string quartet with fellow-arranger Jerry Gray prior to forming his own band in 1935. Shaw made various film appearances and was latterly a theatrical producer before forming a new big band in the 1980s. His many swing compositions include "Streamline" (1936), "Back Bay Shuffle" (1939) and "Summit Ridge Drive" (1940).

Snowfall … Terre Haute (Indiana)-born pianist-arranger Claude Thornhill (1909-1965) led one of the smoothest big bands of the 1940s. Already jazzing by his teens with clarinettist-saxophonist colleague Dann
Disc: 1
Star Burst
1 Cherokee
2 Moonlight Serenade
3 Pretty Little Petticoat
4 Day Dreams Come True at Night
5 Bubbles in the Wine
6 Sunrise Serenade
7 Thinking of You
8 Nightmare
9 Snowfall
10 Hot Lips
11 Until the Real Thing Comes Along
12 Star Dreams
13 Rose Room
14 When My Baby Smiles at Me
15 Out of the Night
16 And the Angels Sing
17 Kaye's Melody
18 Low-Down Rhythm in a Top Hat
19 Auld Lang Syne
20 Star Burst
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