Posts Tagged ‘big bands’

THE SUBJECT IS MUSIC

July 28, 2019

Let’s Discuss

Chapter 5

My Popular Music

Each generation, it appears, has its own popular music. For mine, it is what is now called The Great American Songbook, or Standards. I was born in 1930. The number one hit that year was “Happy Days Are Here Again,” which was adopted by the Democratic Party and played at the 1932 Democratic National Convention that nominated Franklin Delano Roosevelt for President. Americans were looking for happy days to return, and FDR promised them “a new deal.”
Some of the other hits of 1930 were “Ten Cents a Dance,” ”On the Sunny Side of the Street,” “Body and Soul,” “St. Louis Blues,” “Georgia on My Mind,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” “Embraceable You,” and “Three Little Words.”

Big Bands were still popular when I was the drummer for the Teen Tavern Tooters in the late 1940’s. Teen Tavern was a teen club for Columbus, Jordan, and Baker High Schools that was operated by the Columbus Recreation Department when World War II ended. The above photo was taken in 1947.

By 1930, big bands were beginning their dominance of the popular music scene because dance music was very much in demand. Swing was becoming the thing. The fox trot, jitterbug, and Lindy Hop were gaining popularity in the ballrooms. By 1936, the big bands had become dominant. There were a few vocalists whose names topped their accompanying orchestras on record labels. The number one hit of 1936 was “Pennies from Heaven” sung by Bing Crosby. However, the vast majority of hits featured big bands such as Tommy Dorsey, Shep Fields, Jimmy Dorsey, Jan Garber, Eddy Duchin, Guy Lombardo, Hal Kemp, and Jimmie Lunceford.

Then, in 1938 Glenn Miller started his climb to the top. Wikipedia reports he was the best-selling recording artist from 1939 to 1943. In 1942, he and his orchestra were given the first gold record by RCA Victor for “Chattanooga Choo-Choo.” It was a big hit with 11-year-old me at the time. Another favorite of mine was “Tuxedo Junction,” which was recorded in 1940. It sold 115,000 copies in the first week. When the Bradley Theater opened in downtown Columbus in 1940, it featured an organist from Atlanta whose Hammond organ was hooked up to the theater’s sound system. After the feature film finished, he would play a short concert. He sat on a sofa in the lobby reading a book between concerts. He was a friendly young man and he would take requests. I asked him to play “Tuxedo Junction.” I was thrilled when he played it. Unfortunately, he and his organ were gone in a few weeks. If you wanted to enjoy a live organ performance after that, you had to go to the Fabulous Fox in Atlanta, which was something I wouldn’t experience until six years late, when I was 15 years old.

Since it’s generally accepted that a generation is about 25 years, we can say that my generation began in 1930 and ended 25 years later in 1955. 1955 was the beginning of the ascendance of Rock and Roll music, and the ending of the reign of Swing. Bill Haley and His Comets multi-million selling recording “Rock Around the Clock” was played over the credits of the film “Blackboard Jungle.” Elvis Presley started his career in 1954 at Sun Records in Memphis. Little Richard recorded “Tutti Frutti” in 1955. At the time, I thought Rock and Roll was a fad that would not last. Swing never entirely went away but was rapidly eclipsed by Rock and Roll which is still the dominant form of popular music.

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Mr. and Mrs. and the Cavaliers Resume a Tradition

October 1, 2008

After one of the band’s numbers, leader George Corridino, told the dancers, “It’s a pleasure playing for you tonight. I am not sure the Cavaliers have ever played for the Mr. and Mrs. Club before.”

The Cavaliers playing for the 2008 Mr. and Mrs. Club Luau Dance

The Cavaliers playing for the 2008 Mr. and Mrs. Club Luau Dance

I assured him that it had.  When I first joined the dance club more than 30 years ago, the Cavaliers was playing for it.  Always liking the sound of a big band, I was pleased when the 17-piece Cavaliers played. The club did stop using it a long time ago because of the price tag for a group that large.  The club went to combos exclusively. That didn’t leave George out because he played for a lot of combos and ended up with his own.

Well, the club went back to that big band recently, hiring it to play for the annual Luau Dance. And they were really good. I always liked the full sound of a live big band and enjoyed very much dancing to it.

  Though the Mr. and Mrs. Club is private, limited to married couples, it does invite the general public to its annual New Years Eve Dance. All it takes to get in is the price of a ticket.  A lot of people come to enjoy the traditional New Year’s Eve Dance with all of the trappings, champagne, noise makers, funny hats, balloons that drop at midnight as the live band plays Auld Lang Seine, and a full breakfast served after the dance is over.

A lot of younger couples come to that one, and it is fun to watch the college-age kids dance. They really get good. TV Shows like “So You Think You Can be a Dancer” and “Dancing with the Stars” have turned on a lot of young people to ballroom dancing again. That’s a good sign because it means the style will stay in style into the future.

Big Band Jazz at the Liberty: The Atlanta Seventeen

September 17, 2008

  I had barely come down from the high provided by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s inspired Beethoven concert Saturday night at the Bill Heard Theater, when I was lifted right back up there by the Atlanta Seventeen Sunday night at the Liberty. The locale was appropriate, since the Liberty, back when it was a “colored” theater in old Jim Crow days, featured the great big bands of the 1930’s and 40’s like Count Basie and Duke Ellington. The Atlanta Seventeen played some of the Basie arrangements during the concert.

  It was a totally different type of music from what we heard Saturday at the Bill Herd Theater, but that swinging big band had something important in common with the CSO: it was also inspired. 

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Atlanta Seventeen (Courtesy: Borden Black)

  What’s more, it was exciting.  As the program states, “To experience this dynamic, well rehearsed ensemble in action is a delight for big band enthusiasts of all ages who identify with the kind of exceitemnt generated only by precision playing.” 

  I wish I could describe the way the music affected me, and judging by the thundering applause, everyone attending the Columbus Jazz Society sponsored concert, but it’s something that words just can’t convey. As the saying goes, “You had to be there.” And you really did, because there is no replacing the emotional impact of live music. As good as sound systems are, they still cannot match “being there.”

  While the band is made up mainly of Atlanta area professional and business types – one of its saxophonists is a dentist –  it has a large percentage of former high school and college band directors. Bob Greenhaw, who played with my late nephew Jack Gibson in the Columbus High Band, the teenage rock group “Abstracts,” and the Auburn Knights big band more than 40 years ago , is the leader.

  Greenhaw became a high school band director, teaching at Richards Middle School and than at Hardway High School in Columbus. He finished out his career as director of the music program at Valdosta State University.

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Bob Greenhaw, Atlanta Seventeen (Courtesy: Borden Black)

  When I spotted Paul VanderGheynst sitting on the second row, playing trombone, I thought the retired Columbus State University director of the school’s jazz music program had been brought in to fill in for a trombone player who couldn’t make the trip. Wrong. Though he still lives in Columbus, he is a regular member of the Atlanta Seventeen.  “If I want to play regularly I have to go to Atlanta, Dick. There is nothing here.”  Well, we do have the Cavaliers big band, but they don’t perform a lot.

  The current director of the CSU jazz program, which features an outstanding jazz big band, was sitting in for the Atlanta Seventeen’s pianist, who couldn’t make the trip.  Shirantha Beddage plays incredible jazz piano. He also specializes in saxophone.  He also brought some student musicians with him. They played jazz combo music during the jam session which featured local musicians during the Atlanta Seventeen’s break. He is also president of the Columbus Jazz Society, sponsor of this memorable concert at the LIberty Theater.

  The emcee and president of the Seventeen, Fritz Siler, also taught at Spencer High in Columbus.

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Fritz Siler, Atlanta Seventeen (Courtesy: Borden Black)

   Cecil Wilder taught at Rothchild Middle School and Kendrick High School.

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Cecil Wilder, Atlanta Seventeen (Courtesy: Borden Black)

 

   So, you can see that Columbus is well represented in this truly impressive big band.

  Having been a drummer for a couple of big bands many years ago, I always pay close attention to the drummer.  Tony McCuthcen, the Seventeen’s drummer, was truly impressive, especially when he played the late, great drummer Buddy Rich solos in the concert’s finale “Mexicali Nose.”  I figured he was probably another Atlanta businessman, but Stiler cleared that up for me. McCutchen is the director of percussion for the University of Georgia’s music program, which includes the more than 300-piece Red Coat Marching Band.    

  If you like jazz, I strongly recommend that you join the Columbus Jazz Society. It’s annual membership fees are reasonable, only $35 for an individual, $60 for a family, and $20 for seniors and students. For that you get to attend the monthly jazz sessions at the Liberty.  Believe me, if you like live jazz, you’ll enjoy these sessions. Also, it’s a friendly crowd. After all, they have something in common; they love music, especially when it is jazz.

Great Orchestra, but Where Were the People?

September 16, 2008

    What a weekend. The Columbus Symphony raised the musical roof Saturday evening with one of the greatest warhorses in classical music, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Then, on Sunday night, the Atlanta Seventeen blew everyone away with Count Basie-Buddy Rich-type big band jazz charts. 

  First, the Columbus Symphony season opener.

Columbus Symphony Orchestra

Courtesy: Columbus Symphony Orchestra

  As we sat on the front row of the balcony soaking in Beethoven emotion, I decided that the front row is not a good place to be in the balcony. You have to lean foward in order to see over the rail. We moved up to the second row after the intermission where the view was better. There was no problem moving almost anywhere you wanted in the balcony because there were plenty of empty seats.  

  What a shame. We have a first-rate orchestra, thanks to conductor George del Gobo, and all of the fine musicians, many of whom come from out of town. It was doing Beethoven justice – really outstanding performances.

Columbus Symphony Orchestra)

George Del Gobo, Musical Director, Columbus Symphony Orchestra (Courtesy: Columbus Symphony Orchestra)

  But where were the people?  Looking down from the balcony, I could see that the orchestra level had a lot of empty seats, too. But, that’s not as bad as it sounds. As the CSO’s Executive Director J.J. Musgrove said, “There are about 150 empty seats [on the orchestra level] , but that doesn’t represent a loss because they belong to season ticket holders.” He suggested that when season ticket holders can’t come, it would be a good idea to give the tickets to someone else so that they will be exposed to the symphony and maybe decide to buy a ticket in the future.

  Actually the symphony is doing right well in this economic downturn. Musgrove said the orchestra went against the national trend and had a budget surplus for the last two years. It was only $1,500, but that’s better than losing money. Also, the orchestra is not truncating its season the way a lot of big orchestras are doing right now, some cutting their season in half.

  No symphony orchestra can make it on ticket sales alone. Only 19 percent of the CSO’s budget comes from that. The rest comes from contributions by individuals and foundations. There is a small but generous corps of contributors for the Columbus orchestra.

  I asked Musgrove if symphonic music is losing its audience. He said, “We’ve been debating that one for a few hundred years.”  He did admit that keeping people coming depends greatly on their being exposed to the music when they are children, and he is concerned that elementary school music programs are the first to go any time there is a school budget crunch.  Also, a big factor is if they have ever played an instrument. He said studies have shown that about 70 percent of symphony concert audiences have played an instrument at some time in their lives.  I’m part of the 70  percent. Percussion was my game.

  You know, what he said makes me reflect back to my childhood. I don’t think I really heard any symphonic music until I was in the 4th grade at Wynnton  School. Up until then I was only exposed to popular music, vocalists like Bing Crosby, Wee Bonnie Baker, and Kate Smith, and big bands like Sammy Kaye, Glenn Miller and Kay Kyser. 

 My fourth grade teacher brought her own small record player to class and played some symphonic records for us from time to time. I was sitting on the other side of the room when she explained that she couldn’t turn up the volume any more because it might disturb other classes. She asked, “Is there anyone who can’t hear this well? If so, and you really want to hear it better, I’ll let you move closer to the record player.” I held up my hand.  I guess I didn’t look very cultural because she seemed really surprised that I wanted to hear that long-haired music better, but, she seemed pleased that I did and let me move closer. I wasn’t doing that for show. I really liked it and wanted to hear it better.  

  I never got over really liking it, and the first time I heard a live symphony performance I was really hooked.  I was in the Jordan Vocational High School Band at the time. Our band director Bob Barr said, “The whole band has been invited to attend the Three Arts League concert by the Pittsburg Symphony.” When questioned about who paid for the tickets, he said, “Some rich lady. She doesn’t want everyone to know who she is.”  My guess is that it was the late Virginia Illges, a primary backer of the League. She was instrumental in starting the Columbus Symphony and asked Barr to be its first conductor. Whoever it was, she also paid for the Columbus High Band to go. What a great gift. We were sitting right on the front two rows and when that grand orchestra cranked up, it was magical.    

  It does pay to provide musical education, because appreciating great music gives one pleasure all through life, especially when you can hear it live and played by a good orchestra.  Speaking of live and by a good orchestra, tomorrow  I’ll tell you about the wonderful evening of music provided by the Columbus Jazz Society on Sunday night. Stay tuned.