Archive for the ‘Jazz’ Category

The Sound Of Royal Sax   Leave a comment

A while back I posted a piece about a pair of 1960’s combos with very similar names — Tornados and Tornadoes — but today it’s a different kind of name thing. If you’re at all interested in jazz, you might have run across a great saxophonist who worked with everybody from Ellington to Basie to Lawrence Welk and even led his own band for a while. But the funny thing is that even though most of what you see (including his own record albums) shows his name as Marshall Royal, it was actually Marshal — the extra ‘L’ just got added somewhere along the way.

mrMarshal Royal was born in Oklahoma, but mostly grew up in Los Angeles after his family moved there during the first World War. Both parents were skilled musicians and his father — Marshal Royal Sr. — was a music teacher and occasional bandleader, so Junior was given a good musical education. (As was his younger brother, Ernie, who would become a professional trumpeter.) By the late 1920s Royal was in his teens and was proficient on piano, violin, guitar, clarinet, and saxophone. He soon began working in nightclub bands and was just sixteen when he caught the eye of the Duke, whose orchestra was even then beginning its rise to fame. Although Ellington just needed him as a violinist for a special film occasion, it was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

For most of the 1930s, Royal kept busy playing sax – and occasionally clarinet — in the Los Angeles area, mostly as a part of Les Hite’s popular regional band although he also spent some time with Art Tatum. As the decade ended he moved on to a spot with Lionel Hampton’s outfit but a couple of years later World War II came along, and Royal (and Ernie) became a part of one the US Navy’s bands for the duration. In the post-war years he again found plenty of work with bands like Eddie Heywood’s, but the 1950s began a two-decade period that would make his fame — becoming an important part of Count Basie’s big band.

Royal’s clean and clear alto sax sound led the way for the band, but he also took a vital leadership role in the group, becoming its musical director and a mentor to the younger players. It was a long and richly satisfying period, but he also found time to do some other things — his 1960 album with Gordon Jenkins was one of his best. When he finally returned to his home area of Los Angeles in the early 1970s he was ready to wind down a little and diversify. He spent most of his latter years working with a variety of other pros (yes, including Lawrence Welk) although he did lead a band of his own for a while in the 1980s. He continued working occasionally even into the 1990s, and was just a few days short of his 83rd birthday when he died in 1995.

mrcdMarshal Royal – “Blue Prelude”


Barney Bigard Chose The Clarinet   Leave a comment

Regular visitors to the GMC might remember that I once played the clarinet myself, and that probably contributes to my fondness for spotlighting clarinetists from the past. (The real thing, not hapless amateurs like me.) One of the best was Barney Bigard, whose career began in the 1920s and stretched for a half-century — even though he didn’t begin it as a clarinetist.

Bigard was yet another musically-inclined New Orleans native, a member of a prominent Creole family who studied music with Lorenzo Tio Jr., the legendary clarinetist who barneybalso taught Sidney Bechet. But by the time he reached adulthood and began appearing professionally, Bigard was mostly playing tenor sax, and he was very good — good enough to move to Chicago in the 1920s and play alongside some of the best of the early jazz era, including Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, and Jelly Roll Morton. But within a few years Bigard had landed a job that would be a turning point in his career — playing in Duke Ellington’s band.

For a fifteen year period that ended in 1942 when he tired of the rat race involved with a touring band, Bigard built his reputation with Ellington’s renowned orchestra. Laying aside his sax and mostly playing clarinet, he became a featured part of the band, not only as a soloist but also as a composer and arranger on some of the group’s biggest hits, including “Mood Indigo.”

After leaving Ellington, Bigard found plenty of work with other groups, but in the post-war years he found himself on the road again, this time touring the world with Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars, an outfit that would find a lot of success for a number of years. Bigard was on board for a lot of that time, although he did take a couple of breaks from the grind to work with others, but by the 1960s he was slowing down. In his later years he remained active, sometimes leading small groups or just working alongside other pros, but was closer to semi-retired. He was 74 when he died in 1980.

Barney Bigard – “Farewell Blues”barn

Hutch Hutchinson – High Society’s Favorite Gigolo   Leave a comment

One of the most fascinating stories from the early jazz age would have to that of Leslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson, who left behind a budding career in the US in fear of the Ku Klux Klan, only to become a star in Europe. In fact, during the 1920s and 1930s he was one of the biggest cabaret performers around; a handsome, charismatic singer and pianist whose lifestyle led to him being called ‘high society’s favorite gigolo’.

hutBorn in 1900 on the Caribbean island of Grenada, Leslie Arthur Julien Hutchinson was the son of a church organist who made sure his offspring had a musical background, even though he had higher hopes for him. While still in his teens, young Leslie moved to New York to study but found himself drawn to a musical career. He began by playing piano and singing in bars, and within a few years he was playing in area bands and beginning to make records.

Unfortunately, the band Hutch played for was so popular with high society fans that it was targeted by the KKK, and he fled to Europe. Shortly before that he had married and fathered a daughter, but it’s unclear whether they made the trip with him. In any case, it didn’t take long for him to become a cabaret star — first in Paris, and then in London — while also becoming the favorite of many of his upper class female fans. (And possibly a few men too — he was rumored to be bisexual.) At least one of his affairs with a British socialite resulted in a scandal when it produced another of what would eventually be his eight children (with seven different women).

Although Hutch continued to be a popular attraction in England for many years, he did have a setback in the mid-1930s when he was romantically linked with a titled member of the British aristocracy. Some of his previous fans deserted him after that, and he was no longer welcome to perform at any royal functions. Still, he continued to stay busy on stage, radio, and TV as the years passed, but eventually his career wound down and he was also dogged by ill health. He died in 1969.

hutcdLeslie ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson – “Begin the Beguine”

Five-Star Favs – It All Began In Mexico   2 comments

First a word of explanation to newer visitors (and a reminder to regulars). The Special Feature known as Five Star Favs is the one that spotlights a song that falls into a very unique category — it inhabits space in the top tier of my music collection, which means I have given it a five-star rating. It might be from any of several different genres, and I’m not sure that I can always explain why it’s special to me, but I don’t think that’s even necessary. A favorite is a favorite because you like it.stars

Today’s featured selection actually began life as a Mexican mambo instrumental. “Quién será?” was written by Pablo Beltran Ruiz and Luis Demetrio more than sixty years ago, and has since become a Latin standard. But it’s not exactly a Five-Star Fav for me in its original version. That distinction began to take form when Norman Gimbel added English lyrics and Dean Martin recorded it in 1954, under the name “Sway.” It became a hit record, and eventually one of my all-time favorites.

Although Dino’s version is my Five Star Fav, the song has been recorded by a lot of others in subsequent years. Among them are Rosemary Clooney and Connie Francis for the ladies; while Bobby Rydell and Cliff Richard followed in Dino’s footsteps, as did the singer with the best-known version in the new millennium, Michael Bublé.

Just for contrast — and to have a little fun — I’ve included a video of the song as performed by the Pussycat Dolls. The group’s rendition appeared on the soundtrack of the 2004 film Shall We Dance?, which starred Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez.

dincdDean Martin – “Sway”

In Appreciation Of The Amazing Viola Smith   4 comments

This is a different kind of post for the GMC. First of all, the only music I can find that features the spotlighted performer is on a video. But it’s also different because I’m going to give you the basics, but then point you toward a couple of other places that do a much better job of telling the whole story of this fascinating lady. vsViola Smith, once known as the ‘Female Gene Krupa’, started her career way back in the 1930s — and amazingly, she’s now 102 years old and still doing just fine.

Her story began in 1912 when she was born Viola Schmitz in Mount Calvary, Wisconsin. Her father owned a restaurant and dance hall, and made sure his eight daughters all learned to play musical instruments so that he could mold them into a band. For some of them — especially Viola — it was the beginning of a career as professional musicians.viola

Before she finally retired from the business, Viola would become a vital part of some of the ‘all-girl’ bands that toured America in the 1930s and 1940s, would appear on radio and TV, and would be a member of the original Kit-Kat band in the famous Broadway musical, Cabaret. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg for the lady who was known as one of the best ever.

It’s a fascinating story, one that has spurred a number of good articles in recent years. You can find two of the best HERE and HERE, but I would also emphatically urge you to view the video below, which features the lady herself talking about her experiences. It’s interspersed with old pictures and also scenes from a pre-World War II musical short, which you can see in its entirety HERE. It features Viola as one of the stars of the all-girl band known as the Coquettes. Although Frances Carroll is billed first, Viola and her sister were co-founders of the group. (I’ve extracted one of the songs from the film, and you can find it below.)

At last report, Viola was happily retired and living in Costa Mesa, California, surrounded by friends and family.

Viola Smith & The Coquettes – “Snake Charmer”