Sunday, August 28, 2005

Big, lush, Sixties-style easy listening--from 1946

So, we just have to be talking about Morton Gould, right? Right. Gould, we recall, is the American composer and mood-music Maestro who first recorded his spectacular 1961 "Living Stereo" arrangement of Beyond the Blue Horizon in the year 1947--long before stereo, living or otherwise, and one year before vinyl. He rerecorded the arrangement for RCA in 1955, adding some musical train effects (using musical trains), and this recording, in turn, was reissued in rather thinnish stereo for the Beyond the Blue Horizon LP. I was surprised and delighted to discover the earlier recording.

And I'm delighted to have discovered two more pre-vinyl Gould arrangements that sound way ahead of their time, not only in terms of their sophisticated scoring, but also sound-wise. You'd swear that fidelity this good couldn't have existed prior to, oh, 1956. But the year was 1946.

(Was that a gasp or a yawn I heard?) Anyway, nothing to yawn about in this first number, which just might be my favorite Gould arrangement of all. It's a little too early to tell. Brazil (Barroso), Morton Gould and His Orchestra, from South of the Border album, 1946.

El Rancho Grande is less spectacular, and less vintage-Exotica, but it's still very interesting as pre-lounge lounge. The orchestration is terrific: half-"Pops," half-elevator. I wish I could think of a pun for that. (An elder-vator? No, no....) El Rancho Grande (Ramos), Morton Gould and His Orchestra, from South of the Border album, 1946.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Hugo Winterhalter's "Hesitation," fixed!

Many thanks to Stephen for pointing out that the Hugo Winterhalter Hesitation file clocked in at 4:59, which accounted for a lot of silent time. Here's the same file, fixed (I also placed this in the original post): Hesitation (Winterhalter), Hugo Winterhalter's Orchestra and Chorus, 1952.

My editing software, MAGIX, allows me to choose the start and stop points for each file. Of course, it allows gives me the chance to goof them up. Sorry about that!

And, while we're on the subject of big-band Winterhalter AND the whole-tone scale (which shows up all over the place in Hesitation), here's Winterhalter's utterly unsubtle and utterly fun arrangement of Beyond the Blue Horizon, from 1951. Again, we have a Conniff-style vocal chorus and much blending of voices with instruments: Beyond the Blue Horizon, Hugo Winterhalter's Orchestra and Chorus, 1951.



Monday, August 22, 2005

"Sea-sick swellings and diminishings"

Before I tell the fascinating history of the Hammond Novachord, let me share a "comment" I received in May from someone named "konbinisan," for those of you who didn't get to read it:

"The site The Roots of Lounge (, now also known as Beyond The Roots of Lounge, has been using the phrase 'Roots of Lounge' as a trademark since 1996." Kind of puts the "short" in "short and sweet."

It seems that, at the time, my URL included "rootsoflounge."™ That's right--my URL. Followed by "" No doubt, "konbinisan" didn't want anyone ending up here instead of there, and I can understand his or her concern. I mean, who would want to end up here? So, of course, I changed my URL. I'm a nice fellow.

Now, I consider a post like the post in question to be anonymous. I mean, so what if someone uses a "name," if it isn't the person's real name? And something just tells me "konbinisan" is an assumed name. ("nasinibnok," backwards.) A fake name, no profile, no way to write back--that's anonymous, in my book. And everything I just said is trademarked, so don't be stealing my definition of "anonymous."™ My lawyers are standing by. I know, because I hear the meter ticking.

Anyway, last night I went to Roots of Lounge™ and read that site's "About This Site." Seems that there's been a problem with people stealing content from the site and that ROL™, though it hates to be "all Type A about it," had to take serious measures. Such as leaving that note at my blog.

No offense to ROL™, but, to be perfectly direct, the day I need to steal something from that place is the day that, hopefully, someone shoots me in the head.

The Hammond Novachord (see was not a big success. It wasn't even a small success, even if the thing weighed 1/4 of a ton. But, according to many sources, it was the first synthesizer ever made, and it helped inspire Robert Moog to create the sounds he created. The Novachord was introduced at the 1939 World's Fair by Collins H. Driggs, American composer Ferde Grofe (Grand Canyon Suite, Metropolis, Death Valley Suite, the pop song Daybreak), and two other "Novachord Orchestra" members. Speaking of American composers, Elliot Carter stopped by the Ford Building while the NO was demonstrating Hammond's new synthesizer, and he was delighted:

"At the Ford building, I found... Ferde Grofe and three others at three Hammond Novachords and a Hammond organ, playing plushy arrangements of Old Folks at Home, and so on, with arpeggios, and sea-sick swellings and diminishings. They show just what the Novachord can do, how inhuman its breathless flutes and gutless violins can be."

Carter was down on "electrified music" in general, so it was inevitable he'd love and cherish the Novachord, which sounded like a video-game soundtrack stuck in "Pause." But I love the sound, even if, in addition to what I just described, it evoked a giant, mutant bee dying inside of a paper cone. It reminds me of the "piano" patch on my Korg Poly-800, for what that's worth (about $200 on eBay, I found out).

And here are four 1940 numbers by Novachord-introducer Collins H. Driggs, all from shellac. I have to wonder if When Day Is Done was arranged by Grofe, as it closely follows Grofe's 1927 arrangement for the Paul Whiteman Concert Orchestra™: When Day Is Done, Collins H. Driggs, Novachord solo, 1940. Estudiantina (Emil Waldteufel, 1883), Collins H. Driggs, Novachord solo, 1940. (From the French composer who gave us the waltz The Skaters.) Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, Collins H. Driggs, Novachord solo, 1940. Song of the Islands, Collins H. Driggs, Novachord solo, 1940.

Yup--lounge-style Hammond Novachord solos from 1940. Keep telling yourself that lounge music started in the early 1950s. Say it, again and again. ("It, again and again.") No, no, no....


Sunday, August 21, 2005

No sound files; just me

So, it's Sunday afternoon, and I'm waiting for the last of the Collins H. Driggs 1940 Novachord recordings to upload to, the storage site I use--a site which has been performing very well in recent weeks, I should note. seems to have done an admirable job of cyber-pest-control, getting rid of (hopefully) all of its bugs--or at least the ones that have been biting my Dell. Of course, I've just jinxed the heck out of myself by typing that. Never directly acknowledge good luck--never. And never admit that you're superstitious. This is the 21st century, after all. Life has never been more modern. We live in an age of animal-cloning, planet-surface radar-mapping, electronic vote-"counting," and high-resolution satellite-image-taking from space. And, if President Bush has his way, our classrooms will soon have Intelligent-Design-teaching alongside that stupid evolution stuff. In time, I hope to introduce my theory of Stupid Design (SD) into public classrooms. SD explains, among other things, how politicians like Bush and Ohio governor Taft manage to pop up in our species despite millennia of otherwise additive human evolution.

Wow. "Additive evolution"--a term I made up--seems to be an actual scientific term. Cool. Me, I mean.

Sometimes things get to me too much. On my MYPWHAE and Fields on Fire blogs, I've been dealing with the issue of gospel-song authorship, which mostly involves finding out who really wrote the sacred country tunes attributed to A.P. Carter. Apparently, there's this notion that Carter and/or the Victor label were careful about their borrowings, i.e. that they chose either copyright-expired material or material that never had a copyright. Right. Keep on the Firing Line was a fairly new song when the Carters swiped it. Will My Mother Know Me There? wasn't as new, but it still had its copyright. As did Will the Circle Be Unbroken. So, no, they weren't careful at all.

Which doesn't bother me. What the Carters stole, or didn't steal, 75 years ago is not the issue. The issue is that, as many years later, Keep on the Firing Line is still treated as a Carter Family song. Isn't three-quarters of a century too much time for the record to still be uncorrected? (By and by, or otherwise?)

Authorship is sure an important issue when it comes to rock or pop standards, though. Something tells me that Stairway to Heaven was not attributed to Dolly Parton when she recorded her version of it. And I doubt that Night and Day or Witchcraft were copyrighted by Frank Sinatra at any point.

But what about the artistic possibilities of good jazz? That's what Raymond Scott wrote about in the July, 1943 issue of Etude--I found Scott's piece while skimming through my copy of same the other day. "Deep" is not a word I'd use to describe the essay, and "in check" is not a word I'd use to describe Scott's ego. Etude introduced him as "one of the most vital figures in present-day popular music," which is interesting, because it means that all the folks touting Scott as the one of the great composers of the 20th century are in symphony with the editor of Etude some 60 years ago. I love it. The more things change....

I've owned Scott records (78s, mainly) over the years, but no one ever informed me that he was the last century's Mozart, and, apparently possessing tin ears, I heard nothing remarkable in his compositions. I must not have, anyway, because his sides are no longer in my collection. My reaction to Scott is summed up by an article featured at the Raymond Scott website--a 1939 Metronome piece, maybe? (can't remember)--which complains that all of the guy's stuff sounds the same, its avant garde reputation notwithstanding. What's interesting is that the present praise for Raymond seems to be little different from the press he was getting in his day. A cynic might suggest it's even an extension thereof. But I'm no cynic. (Ahem.)

This is where Scott and Elvis Presley have a lot in common. The explanations for their greatness seem to have been conceived right off the bat, then typed out and stuffed into envelopes marked "Open in the Event of Posterity." You know all the stuff about Elvis combining country and blues and creating a new form of music? Sam Phillips wrote that script at Sun, possibly before he'd even found his R&B-singing truck driver. Look magazine, in 1956, attributed rock and roll to "Negroes," which was both astute and correct. This was the commonly-accepted view. I suspect Phillips' tale would have been greeted by attendants in white coats.

Then, sometime during the 1970s, rock journalists picked up Phillips' crank r&r-genesis story and decided it would sell more magazine copies than the boring truth, and, in time, Sam's account became the official history. And, so, we celebrated rock and roll's "50th anniversary" last year. And Sun Studios probably had tourists lined up around the block. I wonder if Sam was watching this through his Heavenly telescope and having a good laugh? (Actually, Heaven has probably progressed to digital satellite images by now.)

Back to Scott, I'm not sure I can ever listen objectively to his music. Media hype is a powerful, and often negative, force. This is because the media has the power to make hype real. There's no burden of proof--an assertion, by itself, is sufficient. Sinatra is great, for example. Why? Well, because he was. Bob Dylan's lyrics are "important." Why? Because they are. We're supposed to think that some consensus, popular or otherwise, has been reached. Keep in mind, however, that no such process is necessary for an idea, any idea, to qualify for a plug on Fresh Air or at WMFU, or at any of the other cool-culture dispensing stations.

Yes, these things are very subjective. Good and bad aren't carved in stone. You say "tomato," and I say "lettuce." But ideas and notions must be allowed to evolve naturally, to sink or swim in the environment of other ideas and notions. Media hype allows the hyperbolically-fittest themes to survive unopposed; if it plays, it stays. A history of popular music based on, and around, hype is a shallow and narrow history whose highlights may or may not reflect the actual high points of evolution. As for the actual events--forget it. We can't even get the right credits for good old gospel songs that were published in the millions of copies. A hundred years from now, maybe websites will be attributing the entire Great American Songbook to Tony Bennett. (And he can have it, says my cat, Pery, who is no fan of that book.)


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

A record hokier than Fred Waring's "Trees"

Is there one? Probably, but my brain doesn't want to go there. As if Alfred Joyce Kilmer's poem weren't maudlin enough, Fred and his arrangers (Roy Ringwald and Hawley Ades, in this case) decided to turn the camp meter up to 11 for this 1947 recording--and I think I know why. If my guess is correct, this is the very Trees recording that Waring provided for the 1948 Disney cartoon short, Melody Time. That would explain the over-the-topness (even by Waring choral standards) of the presentation, as well as the compressed, flat sound that isn't at all typical of Decca in the late 1940s. First-rate musicianship combined with first-rank camp--Trees, from 1947. Trees (Rasbach-Kilmer), Fred Waring and His Pennsylvanians, soloist: Gordon Goodman, 1947.

Alfred Joyce Kilmer (above), who wrote Trees in 1913. Kilmer was killed in France during WWI.

When something's too campy for me, you know it's time to worry. But Waring's Decca sides weren't quite so far out, as a rule. And his earlier attempts at a glee club/choral sound were much more restrained. Here are two of them, starting with 1928's Who's Blue Now? a side graced by a remarkable vocal arrangement and brief but fine moments of Waring-style jazz: Who's Blue Now? (Caesar-Meyer), Waring's Pennsylvanians, 1928.

Three years later, Waring's choral-sound-to-be nearly was. Here is 1931's Dancing in the Dark, featuring the Three Waring Girls and various band members: Dancing in the Dark (Dietz-Schwartz), Waring's Pennsyvlanians, featuring the Three Waring Girls, 1928.

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Friday, August 12, 2005

Genuine, bona fide faux-Twenties/ragtime

And I thought the Twenties/ragtime revival started in 1947 with Art Mooney's I'm Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover, followed closely by Pee Wee Hunt's 1948 Twelfth Street Rag. Boy, was I wrong--it happened much earlier. Here, to prove it, are three bona fide faux-Twenties/ragtime sides by Frankie Carle (pianist for Horace Heidt, bandleader, solo artist, and writer of Sunrise Serenade) recorded in 1940 and 1946. The man could play the piano! Twelfth Street Rag (Euday Bowman), Frankie Carle, 1940. Stumbling (Zez Confrey), Frankie Carle, 1940. I Want a Girl (William Dillon-Harry Von Tilzer), Frankie Carle, 1946.

For years, I've ignored Carle's LPs (which, of course, turn up by the score in thrift bins), never realizing what great sounds they contain. Now we know.


Sunday, August 07, 2005

Big-band lounge by Hugo

Much postwar pop was in a big-band mode, so I've always regarded Hugo Winterhalter's swingier Columbia and RCA sides to be par for the bandstand. But we live in an age of micro-labeling everything, so let's call Winterhalter's more big-band lounge sides "big-band lounge." The larger category would be "postwar Winterhalter." Specifically, postwar Winterhalter with a prewar edge. Which would make a good novelty song-title.

Hugo, of course, had written pre-postwar big band arrangements for Jack Jenney, Claude Thornhill, Benny Goodman, and Count Basie, among others. After the war, he worked at MGM and Columbia, before spending thirteen years at RCA. His biggest Columbia hit was Jealous Heart, possibly the example of big-band lounge: Jealous Heart, Hugo Winterhalter and His Orchestra and Chorus, 1949.

It's possible I typed too soon. The more I think about it, maybe the ultimate example of big-band lounge is Hugo's 1952 Hesitation, recorded for RCA. Let's pause to give it a listen: Hesitation (Winterhalter), Hugo Winterhalter and His Orchestra, 1952.

Arranger Ray Conniff always gets the credit for treating human voices as part of the instrumental mix, but it sounds to me as if that's exactly what Hugo is doing on these two sides. Just my ears, maybe. Certainly, we could be forgiven for thinking that we're hearing the Ray Conniff Singers eight years before they officially debuted on vinyl. More of the Conniff-esque Hugo Winterhalter Singers to come....

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Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Roots of Ferrante and Teicher, Part 3

Who were the most popular virtuoso duo-pianists of the pre-Ferrante-and-Teicher period? That's a tough question, and one that's raised at least once every twenty years. Virginia and Livingston, I presume. At least, that's my guess. I refer to Virginia Morley and Livingston Gearhart, the duo-pianists featured by Fred Waring during the 1940s and early 1950s. Also, of course, I wanted an excuse to type "Livingston, I presume."

Gearhart wrote the duo's four-hand arrangements of Brahms, Strauss, Ravel, Chopin, and assorted Broadway composers. In fact, he wrote a number of original works that, judging by their titles, were from the Alec Wilder/Ferde Grofe/Raymond Scott/Alec Templeton American school of light music. Out of that whole group (which included many more than those listed), Scott has gotten all of the attention, mainly owing to the perpetuum-mobile thump-thump of his compositions, a quality pleasing to rock-conditioned ears, and maybe even a needed aural fix, in many instances, for same. I suspect that Gearhart favored the more involved theme-and-variation approach of Grofe or Templeton, but that's just a guess.

Actually, the finale from George Gershwin's Concerto in F--which we're about to hear--contains plenty of riffs and four-to-the bar thumping, but with a decidedly un-Scott-like diversity of texture. The track comes from the LP digitally-pictured above, a faux-stereo reissue whose best and most over-the-top selection, Trees, was cut down by awful re-engineering. The Concerto finale, however, sounds just fine in reduced-fake-stereo form (though please note that the lousy edit midway was not my doing; it came with the reissue). A brilliant arrangement and brilliant pianism from Morley and Gearhart's last year with Waring, 1954--the year that Virginia divorced Livingston and became Virginia Waring. Concerto in F (Finale, Gershwin), Virginia Morley and Livingston Gearhart, 1954.

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(Hm. Spell Check wants me to replace "Waring" with "Warring." I'd read that Fred could be hard to get along with sometimes, but that seems unkind.)