than for their distinctive arranging styles...which in some cases resulted in a memorable
"re-composition" of the tune, containing new harmonies, counter-melodies, and
instrumental treatments. Among such legendary arrangers are the following artists:
was born in Toronto, Canada, where he lived the first 32 years of his life. He learned to play the violin first, and then at 10 he learned the piano. He had dreamed of a career as a concert pianist, and played for silent movies at age 13. He made his concert debut at age 15 at Massey Hall, Toronto, performing a work of Liszt.
Unfortunately, a freak accident at age 18 which burned his hand resulted in a change in the goal of this promising young prodigy from that of being a pianist to becoming a musical arranger.
He took arranging and composition lessons from a man in Toronto named Louis Waizman; This led to writing arrangements for upscale hotel orchestras and for a radio orchestra on station CKNC. Then in 1927 at age 19 became a regular radio performer and conductor. Still in his early 20's he became conductor of a local program called the "Simpsons' Opera Hour."
In 1933, at the age of 26, he was hired by the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Corporation, the radio network that was the forerunner of the CBC. It was on this network that he became arranger and conductor of many major musical programs. One of these shows-- called "Music By Faith"--was also heard in the United States.
Like other Canadian musicians before him, including Dennis and Robert Farnon, Percy Faith was to move to another country in order to achieve his greatest successes.
In 1940 the conductor of Chicago's Carnation Orchestra died suddenly. Percy was given the opportunity to take over the helm of this prestigious organization at age 32, and move to the United States. Within four years he was recording for the American Decca label. He became a U.S. citizen in 1945.
The same year he was substituting for Andre Kostelanetz, which led to having his own national radio shows for Carnation and Coca-Cola on U.S. radio networks. He did summer concerts with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and signed a short recording contract with RCA Victor records in 1949.
In 1950, at age 42, having been on major radio shows in two countries, and been a recording artist with two major record labels, he signed a contract with yet another record company which would become his home for the next 25 years until his death--Columbia Records (later called CBS/Sony).
Like Hugo Winterhalter, his counterpart at RCA Victor records, Percy Faith was contractually required to provide background arrangements for vocal artists on the Columbia label, in addition to recording albums as an orchestra leader and recording artist himself. In this dual role, he developed a unique style of arranging, which not only made his own instrumental recordings identifiable, but contributed a distinctive element to the sounds of vocalists Johnny Mathis, Sarah Vaughn, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, and Jerry Vale.
Challenged to write a "commercial song" one day in 1950, Percy dashed off a melodramatic lyric set to a melody by Carl Sigman, as a joke. When the resulting ditty, "My Heart Cries For You", was taken seriously by the label and scheduled for a release, Percy was appalled, and refused to let his name be included. So for awhile the pseudonym Peter Mars was listed as the lyric writer. Ironically, the song became a chart hit and had several cover versions. This may be proof of the old saw that "no one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public." Fortunately Percy was able to cash the royalty checks despite the pseudonym, no doubt he was "chagrined all the way to the bank." Later recordings and references to the song restored Percy's name as co-composer with Carl Sigman.
Parenthetically, some confusion arose due to a U.S. Copyright renewal for "Theme for Colgate Song Contest." It listed the composer as follows -- "Music: Percy Faith, pseud. of Peter Mars" which implied that Peter Mars was his real name. But both well-known Percy Faith experts Alan Bunting and Bill Halvorsen state that this is an error in the Copyright renewal citation and/or the Library of Congress LOCIS database. Alan Bunting found an interview dating from 1973 where Percy explained he concocted the pseudonym "Peter Mars" from his son's first name (Peter) and took "Mar" from his daughter's name Marilyn.
Characteristic of the Percy Faith sound was his novel use of chromatic counter-melodies, and creative combinations of instruments like vibraphone and flutes. His strings were often muted in subtle velvet tones, or used in novel pizzicato rhythmic figures. Like Nelson Riddle, Percy was a master of "re-composing" a melody, reharmonizing and balancing it with a catchy counter-melody so as to make the song his own. He often used brushes on the drum set, so as not to overpower the orchestra. But he experimented with Latin instruments too, so he did not ignore the percussion section. Above all, it was Percy's taste and critical ear during sessions which kept the quality level of the recordings high.
His early recordings ranged from Broadway standards to Hollywood film themes, and he always had his ear out for the catchy novelty song or catchy rhythm from any source in the world, upon which one could base a hook for an arrangement. Simple ideas are often best, but they can take the longest times to develop or discover. Percy seemed to have a never-ending source of them.
During the 1960s, the Columbia Records New York studio engineers also worked into these recordings a number of touches which gave Percy Faith orchestra recordings a unique sound--including a kind of "slap echo" involving tape delay, which was used on several instrumental sections including strings and drum set. Experimenting with close miking and reverb or echo was an early innovation by Columbia A&R Director Mitch Miller. It became a hallmark of Columbia to use these techniques tastefully, including the vocal miking of Tony Bennett and Johnny Mathis. These tricks along with Percy's solid arranging helped create a unique orchestral sound for such hits as "Theme From a Summer Place", a number-one Billboard chart hit in 1960.
An amazing output of albums from Columbia kept Percy's name before the public, and he was one of the biggest selling artists of 1950's "Mood Music" and 1960's pop orchestral albums in the United States. In keeping up with the output, Percy sometimes reached into his book of arrangements written 15-20 years before, occasionally freshening these arrangements up with brass or saxophones.
In 1968, when the transition to Rock and hype shoved amateur composers to the fore at Columbia, the label took the sad, extraordinary step of abandoning its Good Music catalog. With Clive Davis at the helm Columbia (CBS), all artists had to produce something befitting the "Age of Acquarius."
So toward the end of his life, Percy recorded his arrangements in Hollywood with a more Rock-oriented drumbeat pounding away in the background. Although a few good arrangements were mined from the melodic chaff of the era's young tunesmiths, most album cuts during this time were a sad anti-climax to Percy's otherwise brilliant career. The early years were the ones which had established his high standards, and sadly he ended by having to compromise those same standards he worked so hard to establish. It must have been a tough blow.
IN 1974, two years before his death, Percy established an Award for Music at the University of Toronto. He died in February, 1976 in Los Angeles from cancer at the age of 67.
Link to the "Percy Faith Pages" of Bill Halvorsen,
including articles about compiled CDs of
Percy Faith and Hugo Winterhalter
was born in Russia. He studied music at the prestigious St. Petersburg Conservatory, where the great Russian composers including Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin had been trained. At the age of 21, Andre left Russia to come to the United States, where he quickly became part of the circle of classical artists working in the hot new medium of radio broadcasting. Making the classical repertoire accessible to a mass audience was necessary for this new medium. This was a task for which Andre Kostelanetz seemed to have been born. He ascended to a position of prestige as conductor of symphonic music on radio, and to further his career, found ways to meet the public "half way" in its struggle to assimilate orchestral music, by his skillful concert programming and selection of repertoire, which some may argue is an art in and of itself.
The perks of being a radio conductor in the 1920s and 1930s included having your own orchestra, and sometimes your own programs. As radio spread his fame, he was asked to conduct the New York Philharmonic Orchestra in live performances as well. For a time it looked like he was the master of both the airwaves and the concert hall. But no man can serve two masters well, and Kostelanetz made his choice--to concentrate on radio and a new recording contract offered by the Columbia Records company (which was to become CBS/Sony).
Of all the artists surveyed for The Light Music Hall of Fame, Kostelanetz may be the one closest to traditional Classical sound. This is not surprising, since his background involved conducting standard works of the symphonic repertoire. But he had the advantage of a recording contract with Columbia, and so, urged by the label, made forays into the Broadway and "pop concert" repertoire early on. This kind of thing had been done by others, of course, by such people as Arthur Fiedler and Leroy Anderson, who both pioneered with the Boston Pops Orchestra. But they had kept the priorities of the live concert performance and its sound a part of the recordings they would make.
Kostelanetz and his record label seemed to go one step further in the direction of pop. The sound of the orchestra recordings they made kept evolving during the 1950s and 1960s until it was related more to the close miking techniques used by other Columbia artists than to a symphonic concert hall sound. Undoubtedly this was due to the influence of people like Columbia A&R Director Mitch Miller who pioneered producing music with separate sections recorded on separate channels with the amount of reverb controllable using echo chambers and other techniques.
Kostelanetz' early orchestra played arrangements which were solid and serviceable in the light classical vein, but had no particular originality. As his recording career evolved, the arrangements he played included more and more improbable combinations which could be balanced only using the audio console. Whether he felt that his audience was easily bored, or he was bored with tradition, by the 1960s "the Kostelanetz Sound" was a style of pop orchestration whereby a change of instrumentation occurred every two bars or so, necessary or not.
Although this could be dazzling under certain circumstances, it often gave a kind of kaleidoscopic restless quality to some of the 1960s arrangements, verging on the unsettling. But when it was imaginative, as in his recording of "Fly Me To The Moon", the odd recipe worked to produce fascinating display of orchestral colors. (Fortunately, his mood flips were not as madcap as Juan Esquivel, who took this kind of "changeable charlie" instrumentation technique from the sublime to the ridiculous. Andre was often at the limit of taste during this period, but it was obvious he was searching to provide a new contemporary orchestral sound.)
Some experimental arranging techniques were tried on various concept albums with differing degrees of success. For example, a Kostelanetz album of Sousa marches has an embarrassing number of surprise modulations to different keys occurring throughout every march. The constant key changes coming throughout the familiar melodies are not pleasant surprises. They make these extremely traditional pieces sound very disjointed. It is as if Kostelanetz was exercising his power to change for the sake of change, and it seems like a foolish exercise.
Since Kostelanetz albums contained no arranging credits, it is not known whether he himself was responsible for arranging the pieces on his albums, although this may not have been the case, since his background was that of a more traditional symphony conductor. In any event, Kostelanetz must have conceptualized the kind of arrangements he wanted with the arrangers he hired (if any), so in that sense he was "responsible" for the general direction of these albums, which despite their faults, do have a kind of similarity which one could argue creates a style of sorts. The vagueness about the authorship of the arrangements may have been intentional. Perhaps "ghost arrangers" were employed, and the packaging of his music by Columbia was done as if to imply there was a "Kostelanetz sound" behind it all, without explicitly stating he wrote the arrangements.
Kostelanetz is credited by ASCAP as a co-composer of the song "Moon Love" which was based upon a symphonic theme of Tchaikovsky and pop lyrics by the unlikely team of Mac Davis and Mac David. In such cases, the arranger who makes a few melodic grafts of the original melody to fit pop lyrics is given co-composer credit. A long-dead colleague is in no position to object. "Moon Love" was recorded by many artists, from Glenn Miller to Della Reese.
was born in the small town of Mexia, Texas. He attracted childhood attention as a piano prodigy when he performed at the Detroit (Michigan) Conservatory of Music. His early influences when he studied composition at Pepperdine University near Los Angeles, were Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel. In the 1930s and 1940s, he sat in on piano and tenor sax behind such artists as Billy Holiday, and contributed arrangements for such Big Bands as Bob Crosby and Tommy Dorsey.
He also sang well enough to become part of a new five-part singing group called "The Meltones" who made radio appearances, until their leader went into the army. Eventually, leader Mel Torme would return from military service and have a few chart songs, but without Les in the Meltones.
Les emerged from military service himself about that time, and was hired to sing in a four-part vocal group for the Pepsodent toothpaste commercials on the Bob Hope radio program each week. He admitted singing this commercial brought him a lot of money for those days, and he felt some guilt about how much he earned compared to concert artists for this weekly chore. He also found work in backup groups for some Capitol records vocalists in the early 1950s.
At the same time, Les Baxter was becoming known in Hollywood as an arranger and orchestra leader for radio shows like Bob Hope and Abbot and Costello. After achieving chart success with arrangements for chorus and orchestra including "Because of You" (1951), and the instrumental "April In Portugal" (1953), Capitol gave him carte blanche to try some instrumental concept LP albums.
He admitted years later to interviewers that in the 1950s he was not happy with the simplistic pop song formulas of the day, and related more to the approach of writing a record album as a kind of miniature tone poem, with each track being a section of the tone poem. Searching for something different with which to define his style as a recording artist, Les first experimented with the theremin--a science-fiction movie instrument--on a couple of early albums, and yet later he recorded albums with vocalist Yma Sumac.
Les also came up with a new formula for a vocal sound--a unison male chorus, which at that time was not a typical sound. (Years later the 1960s group "The Sandpipers" also tried this formula with a modicum of success.) Although our Light Music Hall of Fame pays tribute to the great instrumental composers and arrangers, some of Les Baxter's early recordings were performed by a "chorus and orchestra" which are inseparable on disk. Henry Mancini occasionally had a "chorus and orchestra" also.
Therefore, we include the Les Baxter recording of "If You've Forgotten Me" as recommended below, because we like the melody and arrangement, even though it has a chorus vocal during part of it. Oddly, this simple tune, which never made the Billboard charts in the 1950s, was nearly identical to the song recorded by Eric Carmen in 1976 as "Never Gonna Fall In Love Again", which became a kind of pop standard, often packaged in those ads for 70s songs seen on late night television. Curiously, the songwriting credits for this latter piece were shared by vocalist Eric Carmen and the Rachmaninoff estate (It is based upon a theme in the Third Movement of the Rachmaninoff Symphony #2, written in 1907.) Credits for the earlier piece recorded by Les Baxter never mention Rachmaninoff. Yet it is nearly identical. Of course in those days, the maximum term of a copyright was 52 years, so any claim from the Rachmaninoff estate would have expired in 1959. But, other than the legal credits, what a curious world of musical influences we live in.
In 1951, Les began creating the first in a series of what would later be known as "exotica" albums. His recording of his own original jungle-beat composition "Quiet Village" (1951) was the first tune which established his exotica credentials, a tune which was to be a number-one hit in 1957 when Martin Denny re-recorded it.
Les wrote quite a few "exotica" jungle albums, and even a couple with outer-space themes. One of these albums was "Space Escapade", an album with astronaut cover art which attracted attention of the authors of "Incredibly Strange Music". This book and another one about "Elevator Music" launched the recent marketing phenomena called "Space-Age Bachelor-Pad Music", also known as "Lounge Music". This marketing trend was largely an excuse for record labels to re-package and re-issue on CD their most extreme examples of Hi-Fi and Stereo Demonstration and Exotica albums.
Although his search for an original style led Les toward the more gaudy and gimmicky sounds, during the middle 1950s he also wrote arrangements in a pop vein for singles such as "The Poor People of Paris" (which had been a French hit sung by Edith Piaf) and the instrumental "Ruby" (from the 1953 film Ruby Gentry).
French arranger and orchestra leader Frank Pourcel recorded a couple of albums in the late 1950s which included several Les Baxter original compositions.
Les made a few attempts at film scoring in the 1960s, but most were forgettable low-budget science fiction films for people like film producer Roger Corman, which did not enhance his reputation in light music. He recorded a few albums for Frank Sinatra's "Reprise" label 1967-69. In the 1970s, he recorded his final exotica album with the "101 Strings" orchestra, called "Que Mango", advertised as "music for the Jet-set" who "fly to the spas and discotheques around the world". Unfortunately no notable themes or arrangements emerged from this collection.
In the late 1980's, his golden years were marred by an unsuccessful lawsuit in which he claimed that composer John Williams stole part of his 1953 song "Joy", and used it as the Oscar-winning theme of the 1982 hit movie "E.T., The Extra-Terrestrial". Since part of a copyright infringement suit requires the plaintiffs to prove the defendant had access to the earlier work, it was demonstrated by Baxter's lawyers that Williams had once played piano in a performance of Baxter's song at the Hollywood Bowl in the 1950's.
People sometimes assume that there is a fixed standard by which infringement cases are determined--such as so many bars of music must be identical, or so many seconds. But this is incorrect. Each infringement case is decided upon its own merits, by a jury which must use its own judgment in the matter. There are no fixed standards for determining musical plagiarism. The jury decided that although the two pieces was similar, only two bars of the pieces were identical, and these identical bars were too common to be an infringement.
However, Baxter never lived however to see the final outcome of the matter. After losing the first case, his lawyers filed an appeal. Six months after Baxter died in 1996, a federal appeals judge ruled that the case could go through a second jury trial. But due to the death of the composer, the appeals case may never come to trial.
was born Lester W. Polsfuss in Waukesha, Wisconsin (now a suburb of Milwaukee.) As a boy he was fascinated by musical instruments such as the player piano and harmonica. He was also fascinated by crystal radios and other electronics devices. Fortunately his father owned an auto-mechanic's garage, so tinkering with gadgets was possible. Although his hands were small, he settled on learning the guitar. Touring performers including cowboy star Gene Autry encouraged the boy, who soon began performing locally.
As a teenage performer, Les innovated a guitar pickup by jamming a phonograph needle in the neck of the instrument. He even experimented with stereo, by using two pickups, and two amplifiers on stage left and stage right. The ingenious lad of 14 even built his own small broadcasting station in 1929, and then a record lathe to cut phonograph records. (The turntable for his lathe was actually a Cadillac flywheel.) Clearly this young man was someone special.
With his multiple talents for playing harmonica, guitar, dobro, and even a little piano, Les (using the nickname "Red") became a radio entertainer and jazz performer, and soon moved to Chicago with a friend. These were depression days in America, but Les was able to make a lot of money for the times. No doubt his talent, breezy personality, and tenacity were part of his charm and success. He worked hard, playing radio shows during the day, and jazz clubs at night.
In 1934 Les began experimenting with overdubbing, which he called "making multiples", using a disc cutting lathe and overdubbing a up to eight parts to accompany himself. In 1936 he recorded his first commercial single 78rpm disks. During the next decade, his fame grew through radio and recordings. He traveled between Chicago, New York, and Hollywood playing with a succession of trios. His technical proficiency as a guitarist inspired other players, and his inventions for improving the sound of the guitar were making him a legend. Although he had created an experimental solid-body guitar in 1934 and other electric pickups subsequently...his design was becoming part of the style of guitar sound heard on recordings, and was to later be the basis for guitars sold by the Gibson Guitar company in the 1950s.
In 1945 Les played on Bing Crosby's recording of "It's Been a Long, Long Time". Bing had admired Les's playing and technical innovations, and urged him to start a recording studio. Bing Crosby gave Les Paul one of the first Ampex tape recorders, which had been used for tape-delaying his coast-to-coast broadcasts. A number of recording artists including the Andrews Sisters, Art Tatum, Jo Stafford, Kay Starr, Andre Previn, and Andy Williams used the fledgling studio behind Les Paul's house. Even W.C. Fields made a recording in the studio (the only one he ever made.)
With a bit of bravado, Les found his way into the Capitol records building via a back entrance, and charmed a vice president into listening to his demo tapes of multi-tracked guitar recordings. This led to a contract, which propelled Les and his wife into a series of major hits during the 1950s.
It was his own experiments with overdubbing that were to define his style as a recording artist, along with his wife, vocalist Mary Ford. Les commissioned the Ampex company to build the first "multi-track" tape machine, which had 8 separate channels on 1-inch wide recording tape. In this way Les could have better fidelity with the parts he had been "overdubbing" using disc-to-disc techniques previously. He also could "stack" Mary Ford's vocal parts to sound like a group vocal, and create such hits as "How High The Moon" and others. Although multi-tracking was a standard technique a decade later, it was Les Paul who innovated this technique.
For another decade, the sound of Les Paul and Mary Ford were a part of pop music. Les Paul's instrumental recordings had started the interest, and the team was together up until their divorce in the early 1960s. They were hard workers, at one point putting on both a weekly television show, and a daily network radio show. Mary passed away in 1977 from complications of diabetes. Les continued to work on innovations in guitar technology.
It may amaze his fans to learn that Les Paul in the 1990s, performs at jazz clubs in his current home of New York City regularly.
was born in rural Union County, Tennessee, on a farm between two small towns. Chet's father had studied music, and made a living as a traveling pianist for evangelists. He also taught guitar and piano on the side. After Chet's mother divorced when Chet was 6, a new step-father entered the picture who was also a guitarist. So Chet not only had natural talent, but he had encouragement right from the beginning to develop his musical skill. His stepfather provided a guitar, and an uncle gave him a fiddle, which he also learned to play in the old-time country music style.
After much practice in his lonely childhood during which he suffered from asthma, Chet was inspired by his father's new employer, Les Paul. By now, Chet's father was a rhythm guitarist with the Les Paul trio heard on national radio from places like New York City. Chet listened long distance to the trio, and to guitarist Merle Travis whose style of guitar playing fascinated Chet. It seemed as if Merle was playing a bass line and a rhythm accompaniment at the same time. Chet thought that Merle was playing the bass notes with his thumb and using his other three fingers for the rhythm parts. (It turned out Merle was only using one other finger.) Chet's misunderstanding about what he heard turned out to be a blessing in disguise, for he learned eventually a superior way of making this trick work (called "fingerpicking".) Chet taught his free fingers to play harmonies lead lines and three-note chords, whereas Merle's way would have only allowed a basic accompaniment along with the simulated bass line.
Soon, Chet developed such a beautiful tone and technical talent for playing guitar that he began to attract attention of musicians in Knoxville, Tennessee. One of them helped him get his first radio job on station WNOX where he was given a daily solo spot on a popular show. This requirement for something new each day forced Chet to absorb as many influences as possible from all fields, including pop, big band, classical, and even jazz. He took his assignment seriously, and tried to make something interesting and original out of each tune, a habit that would form the basis for his amazing versatility and good taste.
He also took seriously the need to develop his own style, and would try to change if someone said that a particular lick or phrase sounded like someone else. A gift of a guitar which Les Paul had given his father helped Chet produce even more beautiful sounds. But Chet also was listening to a new influence--European guitarist Django Rheinhardt whom Chet made a point to hear in person during his one and only US tour.
During the early 1940s Chet had made some experimental demos with Knoxville musicians, but it wasn't until 1944 that he played on his first commercial recording session. Lee Gillette of Capitol recorded on portable equipment in Atlanta, and Chet was asked to play fiddle as background for another Knoxville artist. In the next couple of years, Chet gained broader experience working at Cincinnati's WLW and Raleigh's WPTF radio, but the days of staff musicians were coming to an end across America. Luckily, Chet had developed a network of contacts who kept him with work as a sideman on the Grand Ole Opry, and other national radio shows, and occasional regional recording sessions.
In 1946, some transcription disks he recorded for one of the radio shows attracted the attention of Steve Sholes of RCA Victor, who asked Chet to record in Chicago as a guitarist and as a vocalist, in the manner of Merle Travis. This began his recording career, although he still had to find work in radio to support himself. An AFTRA strike created a temporary need for more country artists to record since the rival BMI organization controlled most of the country music rights. So this helped keep his datebook filled. Chet's rise was starting slow and steady, rather than with a meteoric flash.
By 1950, he began recording and working in Nashville which was becoming an ever-more important center for country music. In the casual collaborative spirit of Nashville, sometimes instrumentals were recorded at the end of sessions called to support vocalists. So the network of friends he made there along with his connections with his father and Les Paul, gave him a fairly solid base from which to expand his role just as the nation was becoming more interested in country music.
In 1954, Chet recorded his first 12" LP, "A Session With Chet Atkins", which many fans consider to be a watershed recording for him. It definitely had the good fortune of using some of the better sidemen available at the time, and his careful choice of repertoire showcased his versatility and talent even better than ever before. The last session for the album was recorded in Steve Sholes new RCA Victor Nashville studios which had just been finished.
Chet was eventually to find himself asked to work on staff at RCA Victor to take the place of his mentor Steve Sholes. In this role, he played a part in the careers of a wide variety of RCA Artists including Elvis Presley, and others who recorded in Nashville. During the late 1950s and early 1960s his instrumental recordings continued to evolve as wonderful expressions of a sure craftsmen with simple backgrounds to showcase his talent for playing melody, harmony, and bass all at once.
It has been said that tenacity, determination, and luck all played a part in the rise of Chet Atkins to prominence as an instrumentalist of the first rank. His own instinct for the right choice of chord to harmonize a melody, and the particular setting of an arrangement, give his music an individual yet timeless quality. Although his albums often use only a few musicians, he has been recorded with string sections to great effect. One album in particular--"Chet Atkins In Hollywood" was a collaboration with Dennis Farnon. This album yielded some wonderful tunes in a romantic setting.
Chet was a frequent guest on the "Prarie Home Companion" radio show of Garrison Keillor.
In recent years, Chet moved to Columbia Records (CBS/Sony) and unfortunately tried to re-invent himself as a "Contemporary Guitar Player" (CGP). His collaborations with rock guitarists and jazz artists broke new ground in terms of the cross-over to rock and jazz fields.
But they did not have the effortless beauty and taste of his earlier country-influenced pop recordings, which may be of more interest to light music aficionados. During his career, Chet Atkins, known as "Mr. Guitar" won 14 grammy awards and many other honors.
Chet passed away at his Nashville home after a lengthy battle with cancer just 10 days after his 77th birthday.
The Elgart brothers grew up in Connecticut. The family lived first in the city of New Haven, and then in New London. Despite the fact their father was a pianist who once played in Carnegie Hall, the boys initially had no interest in the idea of becoming musicians. Les, the older brother, finally was inspired to learn trumpet by a bugler friend he met in The Boy Scouts. Younger brother Larry soon decided to investigate the clarinet/saxophone family of instruments due to his admiration for Benny Goodman. He was fortunate to find a reed man who actually played with Benny Goodman band to give him some early lessons.
Despite their relatively late start as teenage music students (Les didn't begin studying the trumpet until he was 13, in 1931), both boys had natural talent, and learned quickly. Within two years, they organized a swing band which played at roller rinks and other places. After high school graduation in the late 1930s, they brothers decided to find work with bands in New Jersey and New York City to advance their careers.
During these years while World War Two raged in Europe and Japan, the swing dance band was an institution, and work abounded for talented players. The brothers paid their dues and learned the ropes. Sometimes they found themselves in the same band, sometimes they worked separately. Les played trumpet in the Charley Spivak Orchestra and for novelty bandleader Raymond Scott. Larry played Alto Sax for bandleaders including Tommy Dorsey, Woody Herman, and Bobby Byrne. But all the time, the brothers discussed the idea of forming their own band.
By 1946, the end of war heralded a change in American culture. The days of old-fashioned swing bands were numbered. Perhaps people wanted to forget the old things which were a part of the war years. It was in this environment that the relatively unknown Elgarts attempted to launch their first band. With arrangements by such talented young up-and-comers as Nelson Riddle, Ralph Flanagan, and Bill Finnegan, it's hard to explain how such an enterprise could fail, other than the fact the Elgart name was not able to compete with the more famous bandleaders when times got hard. Whatever the cause, by 1949, they had lost too much money to keep their first band going, and were even forced to sell their arrangements to Tommy Dorsey.
During the next few "in-between" years, they went back to being "sidemen" in other people's bands and working in "pit bands" for broadway shows. While working in one of these pit bands, Larry Elgart met pianist and tenor saxophonist Charles Albertine (b. 1929.) Charles, who was younger than either brother, became a close friend of the Elgarts--some called him their "third brother"--and was to play a large role in the development of another, more successful second Elgart group.
In the early 1950s, Larry and Charles experimented with sound production techniques with an eye to create something for the emerging field of Hi-Fidelity recording. Decca records producer Milt Gabler liked their ideas, and commissioned them to create a series of offbeat 10" mono LPs with titles like "Impressions Of Outer Space", and "Music for Barefoot Ballerinas".
With their knowledge of record production, and digging into their savings, the Elgart brothers and Charles Albertine produced a 1952 demo of a new kind of "dance orchestra"--17 pieces in all. To achieve even greater clarity in hearing the wind section, their drums and guitar played strictly a rhythm role, and they did not even include a piano in the rhythm section. The arrangements for this carefully chosen ensemble were designed to sound good on LP records. Often wind notes were played staccato, with legato only used during an occasional contrasting passage. Their stylistic formula was based upon a steady, danceable tempo, and a clear melody with clever understated harmonization and arranging.
Often, the reed section used a quiet "subtone" playing technique which could be recorded in striking contrast to a full brass section. Their arrangements were almost playful in their use of substitute harmonies of the straightforward melodies. Rhythmic interplay in the arrangements between trumpets, trombones, and reeds became a hallmark of the "Elgart sound". (Some have said in retrospect, that their sound was inspired by arrangements of Willie Smith for the Duke Ellington band. But whatever its inspiration, the Elgart style was considered modern for 1952, and very tasteful.) Some great sidemen of the times helped them polish their recorded sound.
Their demo immediately impressed Columbia Records executive Charles Avakian, who signed them at once. Their first LP album was to be recorded for the new 12" LP format. It was called "Sophisticated Swing". Although they had bad luck with their first band, their diligence and work on this new organization paid off. They also had the good fortune to be one of the last bands signed to talent agency MCA, which promoted them in conjunction with the record label. The label believed in them so much it pressed an unprecedented number of promotion copies--3,000 LPs. (This was the average number of sales for most jazz band albums of the day.) MCA arranged a college tour and TV appearances...and the Elgarts' "Sophisticated Swing" orchestra was off and running.
The combination of their unique recorded sound, clever arranging style, and professional promotion paid off big. It was one of the surprises of the 1950s that while the Dorsey band and others had peaked and subsided, there was at the top of the charts, along with Sinatra and Elvis, the names of Les and Larry Elgart. Their 1950s albums for Columbia included several timeless interpretations of big band standards in distinctly more modern treatments.
One of the tunes they recorded, which happened to be a boisterous original called "Bandstand Boogie", was used by TV personality Dick Clark as the theme song of his national dance show "American Bandstand" on the ABC-TV network. The theme song of the Les and Larry Elgart "dance orchestra" soon became another Albertine original called "The Dancing Sound".
After the retirement of older brother Les Elgart in 1959, Larry switched labels to RCA, and went on with recording in the early 1960s. In the early 1970s, finding a way to popularize medleys of songs during the disco-dance craze years, he made a series of LPs known as "Hooked On Swing" for K-Tel Records, which a newer generation think of when they hear the Elgart name. Into the 1990s, tireless Larry and his band continue to make appearances on the lecture circuit. But it is their earlier Columbia recordings of the 1950s which are classics of the understated Elgart style.
Although most light music artists are arrangers and composers who used strings, it is with an acknowledgment of the tasteful arranging of Charles Albertine and others that we include this "dance orchestra" which uses the traditional big band instrumentation in novel and subtle ways.
was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts. As the Elgart brothers had done, Ray paid his dues as a Swing-era sideman, playing trombone in the Big Bands of Bob Crosby, Bunny Berigan, and Artie Shaw, among others. Wanting more than the role of sideman, he took a mail-order correspondence course in music arranging, which led to further studies. After a stint in the U.S. Army during World War II, Ray began his post-war music career as an arranger for Harry James and supplemented it with trombone work as needed.
Soon his growing family included two children. Financial pressures to support his family forced Ray to travel West, to look in Hollywood for steadier employment in radio and film. But after only a couple of years, he had not found the success he had sought, and so returned back East. In 1951 Mitch Miller offered Ray an opportunity to become a staff arranger for Columbia Records in New York which he gladly accepted.
For five years, Ray wrote back-up arrangements for vocalists, and took the assignments other Columbia arrangers such as Percy Faith were to busy to write. For vocalist Don Cherry, Ray used a vocal group as if it was an instrumental section in a record called "Band Of Gold". This single zoomed to a Top-10 position on the Billboard Chart of , which was a big break for Ray.
Columbia gave Ray Conniff the chance to use this same formula, combining dance-tempo Big Band arrangements of Broadway show tunes with a mostly-wordless vocal chorus (a technique sometimes called "vocalise".) The Columbia New York recording engineers used the same "slap-echo" technique which had created a fetching sound for Percy Faith Orchestra and vocalists Johnny Mathis and Tony Bennett. As with the Elgarts, the proper tempo to express the arrangement was a key factor in the success of the Conniff sound. The result was a 1956 LP called "S'Wonderful", which achieved notable sales. This began the Ray Conniff career as an album artist.
In the next two decades, Ray arranged a couple dozen LPs for Columbia with well-known tunes in his distinctive style, often in collaboration with executive producer Ernie Altschuler and production supervisor Bob Ballard.
Occassionally, the chorus would be expanded from the usual 8 to 25 singers who were allowed to sing the song lyrics on a few albums. But usually, light music fans will remember the wordless vocalise style as combined with the instrumentation as characteristic of the Conniff arrangements. We have included some vocals recordings below in our recommended Hall of Fame listening list, even though light music is primarily an instrumental field, because these pieces seem to sum up the best combination of the Conniff ingredients, when repertoire, production and arrangement came together.
The Conniff orchestra was expanded from the typical dance band instrumentation to include a harp, percussion, organ doubling piano2, mallet instruments, and sometimes even Ukelele, Piccolo, Tuba, or Latin percussion (as with Les Baxter, Ray Conniff admitted a fascination for their sound.) In place of a string section, the Conniff ensemble used the trademark wordless vocal chorus (about half men and half women.)
This group often included top New York studio players who became well-known artists later, including guitarists Tony Mottola, Howard Roberts, and Al Caiola, trumpets Conrad Gozzo and Dick Cathcart, pianist Bob Ralston, arranger Bob Ballard, vocal leader and contractor Gene Merlino. And not the least was trombonist Ray Conniff, playing his own arrangements for posterity.
Through the years, the Ray Conniff Chorus and Orchestra have been seen performing occassional concerts in places like Lake Tahoe and on various TV specials. They even made one TV theme recording called "Theme From SWAT and other TV Themes" in 1976. But whatever they did, it was always done in their own inimitable danceable style as a base. Ray Conniff, now in his 80's, is semi-retired.
was born in London, England where he lived most of his life. He was a child prodigy on the violin, and debuted at age 13 as an instrumentalist. He also had what has been described as "a pleasant singing voice", and was even heard singing on the BBC at age 18.
Despite his deep understanding of stringed instruments enhanced by studies at Trinity College of Music, he also was quite versatile enough to play clarinet and saxophone in the popular English dance bands of the roaring 1920s and 1930s. By 1939 he was the leader of his own dance band at London's Cafe de Paris.
During World War II, George was unfortunate enough to sustain a back injury, and so was assigned to work in the area of entertaining troops in other countries, via broadcasts of music from England. This proved to be a fortuituous circumstance, in that the musicians he ended up meeting and molding into performing ensembles formed the nucleus of the "Melachrino Orchestra" he was to form following the war.
The orchestra he formed featured string writing predominantly, and his orchestrations of various melodies and songs became popular. He signed his first recording contract in 1946 for the British HMV label, and worked with producer Wally Ridley who later helped spread Melachrino's orchestra across the pond to the American label RCA-Victor. Many 78rpm singles were sold during this period, featuring his interpretation of the novelty songs and romantic ballads of the 1940s.
As the 1950s began, mood music was starting to come into its own as a viable type of music, which needed to make no apologies to the operettas and classical pieces being supplanted in the orchestra's repertoire.When George Melachrino moved to the EMI label, he began recording in the famed Abbey Road studios which the Beatles were later to make famous. It is an odd coincidence of music history that The Beatles, who were to usher in a new singer/songwriter age supplanted the trained musicians who created the light orchestral style, happened to record their hits in the selfsame studio where the older style of music was also recorded in England.
In the George Melachrino discography are over 100 78rpm recordings and about 50 LPs. With the able assistance of arranger William Hill-Bowen, the Melachrino style was refined and applied to many of the more interesting gems from the pens of light music and Broadway composers. During the EMI years, a number of Melachrino contributions were made to the EMI Mood Music library, used as production music for films and TV.
Sadly, Melachrino's career was cut short at age 56 when he fell asleep and drowned in his bathtub. So his repertoire is not as complete as it might have been, had he lived longer.
was a native of Wilkes-Barre, Pennslyvania, who studied violin and reed instruments, he was known as a sideman and string arranger for big bands including Claude Thornhill, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, and Ray McKinley.
Hugo Winterhalter enjoyed commercial successes as an arranger/orchestra leader in several single (45rpm) recordings beginning in 1949 with the Columbia recording "Blue Christmas". The rest of his chart successes were with RCA Victor.
He was fortunate to have joined RCA Victor records New York staff in 1950, creating early vocal background arrangements for the likes of contract vocalists Eddie Fisher, Perry Como, and Kay Starr, among others. Then in a short time he moved to the position of Music Director for the label, where he also recorded a series of instrumental concept albumns (as did his counterpart Percy Faith at Columbia.)
One of these albums ("The Two Sides of Hugo Winterhalter") illustrates on the cover art, the two sides of Winterhalter's personality which applied to his arrangements--a casual side which was reflected in somewhat blaring big band arrangements, and a more formal side which created the orchestrations with strings in a more balanced orchestral setting. It is the latter which will be of most interest to the Light Music afficianado.
Another 1952 concept album was trailblazing, in that it was one of the first recordings of music themes written specifically for the new medium of television. "Great Music Themes of Television" was an album which took these themes seriously, and expanded them from their brief on-air appearance, to the 3-minute length of a commercial track.
These somewhat lethargic arrangements may have not have been authentic to their original styles, or created excitement in the record industry. But this pioneering album was a valuable record of tunes composed for "the golden age of television", including "Studio One", "Philco Playhouse", "Kraft Theatre", "Robert Montgomery Presents", "Voice of Firestone" and the "Hallmark Hall of Fame". This album predates by 7 years the first big hit album of TV themes--the 1959 recording of "Peter Gunn" by Mancini--which most people assume incorrectly was the first TV theme album recorded.
Among his RCA Victor single recordings was the Winterhalter 1952 cover recordings of "Blue Tango" by Leroy Anderson which reached #8 on the Billboard singles chart, and Bernie Wayne's "Vanessa", which became a Light Music classic.
In 1954 he recorded the novelty polka "The Little Shoemaker" which had been a hit for the vocal group "The Gaylords". Winterhalter's instrumental cover version reached #9 on the Billboard chart. Another recording the same year was a "Bolero"-style arrangement called "Song of The Barefoot Contessa", an obscure film theme by Italian composer Mario Nasciembe which many remember fondly whenever the name Winterhalter was mentioned.
Then, with pianist/composer Eddie Heywood, the 1956 instrumental "Canadian Sunset" hit big (reaching the #2 position on the chart). Ironically less than 2 years earlier, Heywood and Winterhalter had teamed up to record Heywood's composition "Land Of Dreams" a very similar composition featuring Heywood's piano with a rambling bass figure. "Land of Dreams" was a modest success, but "Canadian Sunset" was the one that clicked and inspired several cover versions.
Hugo Winterhalter also composed a main title theme for the 1963 film "Diamond Head".
His death at the relatively young age of 64, echoes the short yet productive lives of too many hard working (and hard smoking) arrangers, including Nelson Riddle, and others.
including articles about compiled CDs of
Percy Faith and Hugo Winterhalter
was born in Hamburg, Germany. An early accident (he was hit by a tram) provided some insurance money which the family used to buy a piano. As a youth, Bert (whose nickname was "Flip") learned to play clarinet, saxophone, piano and accordian. This combination of reeds and keyboards is common among music students, and gives one a versatile skill set from which to draw as an instrumentalist.
Working first as a sideman in the big bands of Germany and in Denmark (as a prisoner of war), Bert developed an interest in arranging for dance music. He also had an interest in African music which would prove to be useful later. He formed his own big band to play catchy tunes at danceable tempos in Europe (a philosophy also espoused by the Elgart Brothers in the U.S.) In the late 1950s he was signed as A&R man for Polydor records.
In this capacity he produced vocal hits for Polydor artists, including the 1959 international hit "Morgen" originally sung by Ivo Robic. While Elvis Presley was stationed in Germany, Kaempfert helped him choose music for the film "G.I. Blues", including the song "Wooden Heart" which was a big hit in Europe although not released in the U.S. at the time. Kaempfert was also producing Polydor vocalist Tony Sheridan, and needed to find a new background group. Kaempfert spotted an English group which had just started its career playing in German nightclubs, and used The Beatles as the backup vocalists (their first professional recording.)
An instrumetal tune composed by Bert was called "Candlelight Cafe". A friend wrote lyrics for it, and it became "Danke Schoen". This song was intended for Bobby Darin to record on the Capitol label, but it was given to another up-and-coming artist whom Darin was producing at the time--Wayne Newton. This was a smash vocal hit for Wayne, which became his signature song.
Like the Elgarts, it was Bert Kaempfert's interest in perfecting sound in the recording studio which led to his success as an instrumental recording artist himself in the early 1960s. His "Afrikaan Beat" was not only the name of an early piece which became an instrumental hit, it also defined the style which his recording orchestra became famous for, in the way Lawrence Welk became known for "Champagne Music" in the U.S.
The combination of simple African-inspired melodies, arranged in a contrapuntal style alternating between flutes and trumpets was part of the Kaempfert sound. Two such piece--"A Swingin' Safari" and "That Happy Feeling" were arranged in this style, and became two of his popular trademark pieces. In 1960, Decca Records decided to start releasing Bert's records in the United States, and he found a wider audience. "A Swingin' Safari" became known in the U.S. via its use as the theme song for the NBC version of the game show, "The Match Game" (NBC, 1962-69).
Some other ingredients made the Kaempfert recorded sound special. Like the Elgarts, this included an engineering trick called "slap echo" to delay the reverb send for a kind of subtle "after-echo". His use of both a Bass Guitar and an upright String Bass gave his rhythm section a unique sound. Also, like the Elgarts, Bert Kaempfert used a wordless chorus (vocalise) as another section of the orchestra. A few slower ballads became a balance in the Kaempfert formula.
One of these, originally composed by Kaempfert for a German film--"Wonderland By Night"--featuring a trumpet solo by Charles Tabor, became a worldwide instrumental hit in 1960. He also had hit arrangements of vocal ballads including "Red Roses For A Blue Lady" (a Vaughn Monroe ballad of the 1940s) in 1965, and "Strangers In The Night" in 1966. (This last tune was composed by Kaempfert for the film "A Man Could Get Killed" and recorded by Frank Sinatra). Some fans will also remember his understated arrangements of tunes from the 1920s and 1930s including "Three O'Clock In The Morning", and "Bye, Bye, Blues".
The family resided on a farm outside Zug, Switzerland, and had a second home on the Island of Mallorca. It was there in Mallorca, that Bert Kaempfert succumbed to a cerebral hemorrhage at age 56 in 1980.
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