John Wilson records classic Angela Morley scores
JOHN WILSON CONDUCTS THE ROMANTIC ARRANGEMENTS OF ANGELA MORLEY
David Ades reports on a very special new release
Dateline: July 2001; Abbey Road, Studios, London
Occasions like this don’t happen very often. It is rare enough for a light orchestra to make a new recording, and rarer still for an arranger to be given the opportunity of hearing old scores being dusted off once again.
Major record companies wouldn’t consider such a project, unless sales in the hundreds of thousands were assured. Fortunately, in Britain we possess a thriving independent sector, and in Michael Dutton we have a producer who is prepared to invest thousands of pounds in something which is dear to the hearts of all of us who believe that quality popular music is still vitally important.
Spare a thought also for the conductor with the responsibility of bringing to life these timeless creations, with the writer sitting barely five feet away from his podium! Lesser mortals could find such a situation intimidating, to say the least. Happily John Wilson appreciated the helpful co-operation he received from Angela Morley; her very few suggestions were well received, and the mutual admiration each had for the other created a harmonious working environment which permeated every note performed by John’s youthful players.
Angela Morley was positively glowing during these sessions. She sat entranced in EMI’s Studio Two as John Wilson took his fine orchestra through each of these timeless scores, extracting all of the intricate nuances which make a Morley arrangement so special.
Only occasionally did she climb the steep stairs up to the control room for a brief chat with sound engineer Mike Dutton, and producer Michael Ponder.
During a break, she talked to Journal Into Melody expressing her delight that these scores are being revitalised for a new audience.
"The arrangements that are being recorded for this CD have all had a life in the past but, magically, thanks to John Wilson, they now have a new existence. We’re doing about nine arrangements from my days in the early 1960s with Reader’s Digest, and the rest come from the 1970s when I did a lot of conducting for the BBC Radio Orchestra. John Wilson is super talented and a joy to work with; he loves all of this kind of this music ... not only mine but Robert Farnon and those lovely sounds of the MGM musicals in the golden age, especially Conrad Salinger who I think we all feel is the best there ever was in Hollywood. John is wrapped up in this kind of music as well as having a wonderful symphonic career - he conducts the Hallé and other orchestras. This is a real treat for me.
"I’m not in the control room ... it’s so lovely to sit in the studio and listen to these pieces played by this new generation of new musicians who are all super players, perhaps better than the old ones in many, many cases."
Full tracklisting details can be found at the end of this feature. We list below the tunes recorded at the various sessions, together with Angela’s own comments about some of them:
Tuesday 24 July
APRIL IN PARIS
"I put the syncopated section into the middle of this piece because it has a very slow tempo. I wrote something which sounds extemporised, but it’s not."
WITH A SONG IN MY HEART
"I wrote this arrangement about 1960, and haven’t heard it since. They played it most beautifully. When I got the printed music and saw the verse I had the idea of doing it as something sounding like a string quartet, postponing the moment before going into the main tune."
SOFT LIGHTS AND SWEET MUSIC
"I did this for an album in England which was called ‘Christmas by the Fireside’ and issued in mono. In the USA Warner Bros. put it out in stereo as ‘Happy Holiday’. I have changed the arrangement just a little bit. Like some of the others, I felt that it needed a little bit of modernising. I’ve tried to make it atmospheric .. full of falling things! I originally did have a sort of beguine rhythm going in this piece, but I don’t feel that it is a very important part of this arrangement."
I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS
"Years ago, for some reason or another, I really didn’t know how to write an arrangement of this one. At a later time of my life, in the 1970s, I found a way of doing it, and started part of the arrangement. Then I finished it in the 1970s for the BBC Radio Orchestra - I’ve re-written partly for this recording."
TIME ON MY HANDS
" ... I love interweaving parts!"
SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES
"This was the first thing I did for Reader’s Digest around 1960. Norman Luboff produced (who was a neighbour of mine in London at the time), and we recorded in Walthamstow Town Hall, with that wonderful acoustic."
WHERE OR WHEN
"Another one from 1960-61 Reader’s Digest period. The arrangement is exactly the same as I did it 40 years ago. It’s a lovely song, and I decided to let the harp play the tune for the first time around, and then the celeste; only later does it go to what you’d expect with the violins
and the woodwinds."
"I am particularly proud of an arrangement I did for Rosemary Squires which, if anything, I prefer to this one. Again, I haven’t tinkered with my original score."
A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE
"I wrote that for an album "London Pride" brought out in England in mono (with a trombone solo by Laddie Busby), but in the USA it was part of a series in stereo which included Michel Legrand’s portrait of Paris. I’ve changed my original score just a little bit."
Wednesday 25 July
NOBODY ELSE BUT ME
"I wrote this not very long ago for a violinist who didn’t really care for it, so I thought ‘Right!’ I’ll take this back and find someone who will play it most beautifully in England!"
THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL
To coincide with this new release, Richard Hindley has written the following special tribute to Angela Morley exclusively for ‘Journal Into Melody’.
A Personal Tribute by Richard Hindley
"She’s a very classy person and a great arranger, in the same league as Riddle, May, Farnon, Salinger et al."
The quote is from maestro John Wilson. The venue is EMI’s Abbey Road Studios and the description is of Angela Morley, whose career and reputation continues to grow despite her move a few years ago from the bustling city of Los Angeles to a quiet outer suburb of Phoenix, Arizona.
It’s here that composer-conductor John Williams still contacts her for help with orchestrations for the movies he scores; Itzhak Perlman, guest soloist for this year’s Academy Awards requests that she arrange a suite for the Ceremony; and her own music room is the venue for the local Alliance Française choir, which she’s formed to record a series of locally produced CDs.
Dotted around the house, in a seemingly hazardous fashion, you happen to discover various citations and awards. Angela, after all, is the recipient of no less than two Academy Award nominations, as well as six Emmy Award nominations and three Emmy Awards for arranging. No wonder then that John Wilson, who is thrilled at the whole project, notices how much respect his musicians have for her.
Two days in July are booked for this, the third CD recording session by the John Wilson Orchestra, a Vocalion release commissioned by Michael Dutton. This time the orchestra consists of some 40 players, many of them representing the cream of London’s talent. John has assembled a 40 piece orchestra consisting of 24 strings, 5 woodwind, 4 trombones, tuba, sax, trumpet, guitar, piano/celeste, drums, percussion and harp. And John was justifiably proud to describe his musicians: "The players I work with are all very, very carefully chosen. I know most of the best players in London and who is right for what style etc. The orchestra was extremely glamorous. The string section particularly so - most of the players are soloists or well-known chamber music players or section principals. I suppose they are sympathetic to the style. We have been playing together for 5 years and they know what I want and they love doing it".
After months of research and preparation, John is ready to cue his players for the first of 16 tracks from Angela’s repertoire. The release of this CD has been eagerly awaited by many RFS members simply because we’ll be hearing British musicians playing new interpretations, some of which have not appeared since their original airing on LP, or their broadcast by the BBC Radio Orchestra. Angela’s name has regularly appeared in members’ lists published by this magazine of all time favourites for reissue, and it’s certainly been a while since an entire album devoted to her orchestral arrangements has appeared. So this new album will supplement the re-issue of the soundtrack score for Watership Down, the early stereo album Christmas by the Fireside, The Symphonic Suite of the Music of Jerome Kern (a Vocalion release conducted by Stanley Black, shared with an Irving Berlin Suite by other arrangers), several tracks on albums conducted by John Williams (notably the two Cinema Serenade issues) and not forgetting her earlier work on two Geraldo Tip Top Tunes albums.
Angela made sure she would be in London to attend this recording session, and her arrival that morning must have meant a lot to her. I asked how she felt about hearing her scores, all of which would be performed for the first time in years. "Studio 2 is full of memories for I recorded many times with Geraldo’s Orchestra there between 1944 and 1948. All those fairly recently released recordings of Tip Top Tunes favourites, some of them with alto solos by me, were recorded in that studio. At that time the recording booth was in the studio, just to the right inside the door as one enters and under the present stairs. The recording was done on a wax blank. If you wanted to hear it back you could, but you’d destroy it in the process! One could hardly hear the bass & the drums. In the later 1950s, I conducted my own arrangements accompanying Rosemary Squires, Max Geldray and Mel Tormé, the latter recording his ‘Christmas Song’ with me in 1961. That was, I believe, the last time that I set foot in that studio. It was a little strange but fun to return to EMI Abbey Road. Probably the strangest thing was to be looking at an orchestra of 40 or so London session musicians and to only recognise one face, Andy Vinter (on piano/celeste)!"
It was the Geraldo Orchestra that permitted her to start arranging, with encouragement and inspiration from another of its contributors, Robert Farnon. Angela, who readily acknowledges that she ‘fell under his spell’, also identifies Bill Finnegan, chief arranger with the Glenn Miller Orchestra, as another potent influence. Angela is well aware of the advantage she was given: "The great bonus for a developing arranger was that the band might be a swing band on Monday and then augmented to symphonic size on Tuesday, while on other days perhaps various combinations in-between, and on occasion even adding a choir. Since I got to arrange for all these combinations, was there ever a better arranging academy? I doubt that anything like that exists today".
But another influence was to exert itself onto Angela’s style, an influence that still continues into the present day - her admiration of that French master of orchestration, Maurice Ravel. What exactly is his appeal? "Firstly, his very elegant melodic writing, then his polytonal harmonies and lastly his exquisite orchestral sense".
So what can we look forward to in the John Wilson album? "Of the arrangements that John recorded this summer, only two of them had been originally written for Philips. These are ‘Embraceable You’ which I originally arranged in 1954 for a Gershwin album of the same name, and ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’ for ‘London Pride’ (or in USA ’Sounds of the Cites: London’) from 1958. Philips allowed me to have about the same number of musicians as John had and the London album was recorded at Walthamstow Civic Hall. ’Snowfall’ from 1959 was scored for my second Christmas album ‘Christmas by the Fireside’ issued by Pye. I didn’t write any new arrangements for this CD but I did rewrite parts of some of the arrangements. I’m always rewriting my arrangements in my mind and if you let me near them, I can’t resist the urge to ‘improve them’. When I look at my ‘50s arrangements, I want to simplify them and remove any ‘50s fads that seem dated now".
Most of the tracks for the new album were written for a Reader’s Digest boxed set entitled 120 Greatest Hit Songs from Broadway, written around 1960/61. "I suggested that Norman Luboff produce the package and he did. The package reached the final boxed set status, then Charles Gerhardt (the American contracted producer) arrived in London announcing that much of it was to be redone. ’Too much instrumental music, not enough singers!’ I’m not sure how many, if any, of my instrumental recordings ended up in the final package. (There were 11 in the Australian release). I believe that this summer we recorded eight of them. However, the instrumental line-up of the Broadway arrangements was then adopted for all the other arrangements on the CD. This meant rescoring or adapting. Of the remaining pieces, ’Ruby’ dates from about 1966 and then several arrangements from my 1970s broadcasts conducting the BBC Radio Orchestra".
John Wilson helped Angela sift through a huge repertoire of scores and they both feel they’ve selected the best ones. I asked John if he’d had any difficulty in accessing written copies of the scores: "Angela has kept all her scores (thank God!) and some parts, too; the rest had to be copied; this took an AGE!"
So we have to thank John’s dedication and commitment in getting the project onto scoring paper before conducting the music at Abbey Road, an unusual situation for Angela, who for once relinquished the conductor’s baton: "I sat just behind John’s podium all the time to just enjoy the novel experience of being a fly on the wall at my own past recordings. I also had many occasions to discuss the interpretations with John and sometimes to correct wrong notes or wrong phrasing."
For John Wilson the suggestions "made perfect sense and were in line with what I thought myself. The whole thing was recorded in 9 hours and was all very painless. We enjoy a very convivial working relationship. The finished thing sounds very posh. Angela said to me that this was the best orchestra she had ever worked with, Hollywood included. Made me feel very proud indeed".
With the session completed, John Wilson’s final commitment was to supervise the mix-down of the tracks so that we can all enjoy the final result when the album is released. Angela spent some time on holiday in Europe before returning to her home in Arizona where she continues to lead a busy life. As for your correspondent on the other side of the world, even before hearing the album, I’ll be getting first in line to ask Mr Dutton: Sir, please can I have some more?
In researching this article, the author acknowledges the help of John Wilson and Angela Morley who, in the early part of her career, worked under the name of Wally Stott.
JOHN WILSON AND HIS ORCHESTRA
playing the Romantic Arrangements of Angela Morley
"Soft Lights and Sweet Music"
1 APRIL IN PARIS, 2 SOFT LIGHTS AND SWEET MUSIC, 3 SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES, 4 TIME ON MY HANDS,
5 A NIGHTINGALE SANG IN BERKELEY SQUARE, 6 RUBY, 7 SNOWFALL, 8 WHERE OR WHEN, 9 EMILY,
10 EMBRACEABLE YOU, 11 I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT TIME IT WAS, 12 LONELY TOWN, 13 THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL, 14 MY SHIP, 15 NOBODY ELSE BUT ME, 16 WITH A SONG IN MY HEART
Vocalion CDSA 6803