Pete Candoli and Uan Rasey in conversation with Forest Patten
Talk about being in the presence of the Top Brass! (writes FORREST PATTEN). We’re not talking about military officers or corporate management here; but simply two of the finest trumpet masters to ever grace the concert stage and recording studio. Pete Candoli will forever be associated with his blazing solos in the Woody Herman and Henry Mancini organizations. Uan Rasey’s masterful playing can be heard in a host of blockbuster motion pictures from An American In Paris to the solitary trumpet featured in the late Jerry Goldsmith’s score to the film Chinatown. Frank Comstock arranged our meeting (as a part of Frank’s Summit) on the morning of September 8, 2004. We met at Uan Rasey’s home in the Laurel Canyon area near Studio City, Califoria. Once again, RFS member Rob Keil joined us for the gathering and participated in the following interview.
PETE CANDOLI AND UAN RASEY
IN CONVERSATION WITH FORREST PATTEN
TOGETHER WITH ROB KEIL
FP: Gentlemen, I’d like to welcome you to our interview today and start out with a question for Pete Candoli. I heard this famous story about you when you were with the Woody Herman band. Dressed in a Superman costume, you leaped over the band (on stage) and performed quite a trumpet solo on that great Herman hit "Apple Honey." Tell us about that.
PC: This is funny. I used to work out all the time in at Sid Klein’s gym in New York.
You’d see these guys with 52-inch chests. I used to be there all the time. They must have thought that I was high or something because I’d always be jumping around. I was just a health nut at that time. I was inspired by Uan (Rasey) the first time I met him. I was in high school at the time and would spend the summer months playing with the Sonny Dunham orchestra. That’s where I met Uan. He was one of the first true health food nuts! He had a bag of carrots and celery that he’d carry around all day. You know, natural foods. I thought that this guy was pretty weird! He played first trumpet then, but it wasn’t until later that everyone realized how good this man really is. I sincerely mean that. Uan’s probably the finest trumpet teacher that this town has ever seen. He’s also a composer and many other things. Anyway, they called me Superman in Woody’s band because I could open windows that nobody else could lift up, things like that. So they thought I should wear a Superman suit as a part of the act. They made me a costume complete with cape. Woody wanted me to come out at the end of "Apple Honey." That was a great Herd arrangement. We had fine players like Neil Hefti, Bill Harris, and many others at the time. During the last chorus (before the finale) I’d play a trumpet break and jump on-stage while ripping my suit off to reveal this Superman outfit underneath. One time I had this cable attached (because I’d jump off of a seven-foot platform) and it malfunctioned! Chubby Jackson was announcing over the microphone "It’s Superman!" I was supposed fly out towards the audience. Somehow the cable pulled me side-to-side across the stage and I (while holding this Superman pose) ended up hitting my head on a wall and bouncing back to the middle of the stage. I had to blow the horn after that! That’s when I told Woody that the act was over. There was danger in that act! They wrote a tune for me called "Superman With A Horn" that I performed at Carnegie Hall.
FP: There’s an album that I’ve always considered to be the epitome of great trumpet virtuosity. You both played on it. It’s called TUTTI’S TRUMPETS conducted by Tutti Camarata. What do you remember about those sessions?
PC: Uan was a lead player on that album. Mannie Klein and Shorty Sherock were there.
UR: And Conrad Gozzo. Pete had some great solos on that record. That was a lot of fun. It’s just been re-issued on CD.
PC: It’s been a wonderful ride and it still is. I guess at this point, I’m too nervous to steal so I’ve got to keep playing!
FP: And, of course, there was all of your fine work with Henry Mancini.
PC: Hank was a piano player with the Glenn Miller band after the service. He’d sit there and daydream. He was like the Gordon Jenkins of the piano. He’d "plink" something here and "plink" something there. He was a wonderful guy and a wonderful friend. I love all of the great things he has written.
UR: I’ve got to tell you a story. I was on a record date along with Conrad Gozzo and Pete. I’m telling you, Pete did everything for Hank. And you know the kind of jazz he plays. We’re making the first take and Barney Kessell yells out "Pete! Pete! I know why you stopped playing. The way that you were playing, you were headed right for Do."
PC: Barney was one of the funniest guys. He did about three or four albums with my brother Conte.
FP: I’m very curious about your particular style of trumpet playing. When I think of those players who really hit those "high" notes, the names Cat Anderson, Maynard Ferguson and Bud Brisbois come to mind. How hard was it to reach those notes?
PC: I don’t remember. I just did it. I think a lot of the notes were written. I never considered myself a "screamer", unlike Maynard who’s a wonderful player. I never screamed to be screaming unless there was a need to be on top of the band following the last chorus or something.
UR: But Pete was one of the great lead players, too. I’ve worked with quite a few of these guys, but they don’t quite match the quality of Pete as a lead player.
PC: The best album I’ve ever been involved with (featuring brass and rhythm) was Bob Bain’s album with pianist Junior Mance. They had bent notes like you’ve never heard. That’s my all-time favorite. You can’t fake those notes. You either have them or you don’t. I remember talking to Billy May, He said that good players will unconsciously land on the right notes in the chord and it will just feel good. They won’t have to play louder or softer. A good note will have the substance in a chord or a phrase. Billy knew that right away. He was such a natural and one of my favorites.
FP: Pete, did you prefer the live performances of the big band era, or the work in the recording studios for motion pictures and television?
PC: Everything has its purpose and everything is great in its own way. It’s wonderful what they did with the motion picture orchestras, The composer Hugo Friedhoffer was a dear friend. He was right up there with Robert Farnon. I was amazed with the artistry of these composers. I always considered myself just an instrumentalist.
RK: I’m a big Henry Mancini and Billy May fan so meeting the two of you is a big thrill for me. When working with Mancini or May, they obviously picked you because you had something special that they heard. When playing for them, how much was actually written out versus how much did they actually let you improvise on your solos?
PC: With Hank, he’d let me go most of the time. Except there would be a few instances where he’d say, "Pete, this scene is kind of easy so stay in bounds on this one." I said "OK", because I knew exactly what he meant. There was no reason to "go outside" because I knew what the content of the compositions were. Most of the time, though, he’d let me go where I wanted to go on the solos. I had a lot of freedom. I was really thrilled to be able to work with people like Nelson Riddle, Don Costa and Frank Comstock.
FP: Pete, do you have a comment or two about Robert Farnon?
PC: Well, I’ve known about Robert Farnon for as long as I’ve known about Hugo Friedhoffer and others. I knew his brother Brian quite well. He had a band up in Reno and is a fine musician and a wonderful guy. Of course, Bob headed over to England and has been there a long time. We sure miss him around here! To me, he’s one of the great pinnacles and always has been. He introduced so many nuances in music that you have to stop and ask "what went by there?" when you listen to his music.
UR: He’s very close to Conrad Salinger who, I believe, is still one of the very best. I don’t mean to offend Bob when I say that. I worked a lot with Salinger when I was at MGM.
FP: Are there any brass players from today’s generation that you particularly like?
PC: Yes. Arturo Sandoval. He’s one of Uan’s students and always calls on him when he’s in town. Uan’s one of the finest teachers around.
UR: The mediocrity of the music business came with the guitar thing back in the late 50’s. People who knew nothing about music (or how to play an instrument) were, all of a sudden, making half a million dollars a year from record deals. You just can’t fight that. It just went downhill after that.
PC: To me, it doesn’t matter. It became a commodity. People ended up making millions who were not even connected with the music business! It’s a different business altogether really. In rap, all you need is a couple of bongo players in the background while a DJ creates scratching sounds on his turntable and another guy warbles some lyrics.
UR: We did a parody record with Stan Freberg. Billy May would tell Stan to "mumble more." Stan would just repeat "baby, baby" during the whole take! It was hilarious. I was very close to Billy. He didn’t like artificial sound in the recording studios. With the proper microphone placements, he wanted to hear the band (on the recording) just as he heard it from the podium. He didn’t feel comfortable with the engineers who wanted to artificially "sweeten" a session.
PC: At least in the school system where they have stage bands, they have various degrees for instrumentalists. That’s our saving grace.
At that time, Pete Condoli had to leave for an outside appointment. We continued our interview with Uan Rasey.
FP: Uan, your bio lists so many famous films that you’ve worked on. There were all of those great MGM musicals starting in 1947.
UR: I was really being auditioned at the time on different musicals with different leaders. They didn’t like the way that Raphael Mendez played classical or jazz. That was unfortunate because he was a great player. One day there was a big argument between Miklos Rosza and Raphael Mendez about making something a little bit smoother. Rosza wanted some vibrato and Mendez couldn’t seem to get what he wanted. They asked me to play it and apparently they liked it. We did the picture ON THE TOWN and Lennie Hayton seemed to like what I did with the jazz parts. I stayed at MGM for 35 years.
FP: Tell us about some of the films you’ve worked on.
UR: You know, I was never really of fan of films. Other guys would come home with a copy of this or a copy of that. It was just work as far as I was concerned. I was more fascinated with the craftsmen on the lot who would build the miniature ships or the locomotives. For some reason, I enjoyed the work a lot, but I never really retained a personal interest in the films themselves. I think my family was rather disappointed that I didn’t have that much to talk about!
FP: How about your solo on AN AMERICAN IN PARIS.
UR: The first time, I read through it straight. Then Gene Kelly came over and said, "Sexy. Play it sexy." So I played what I thought was "sexy." I got a screen credit for my efforts in that film which was rather unheard of in those days.
FP: We know that Gene Kelly had a lot of input into the choreography of a film. How much input did he have in the actual musical side?
UR: Gene was the type of guy who’d be willing to change things for a dance sequence where Fred (Astaire) had to have it one way and that was it. I remember one time that we had a four bar break and Fred came in wrong. The 50-piece band was right but Fred insisted they were wrong. Gene would have simply laughed about it and gone on. He might have wanted to add a shake here or leave something out. He might have wanted to emphasize something or completely change a step altogether. If we came up with a phrase or something that would prove a little jazzier during the rehearsal, Gene would say "Try it." We had to be cautious when adding these bits and pieces because the conductor, Johnny Green, knew very little about jazz and had his own way of interpreting it.
FP: When you did the scoring at MGM, did they always pre-record the tracks and have a playback on the set for the singers and actors?
UR: Yes. You pre-recorded everything and they could sweeten it later if they wanted to. They’d have a playback on the set when they were actually shooting the sequences.
FP: Jumping a head a few years, tell about your work on the film CHINATOWN with the late Jerry Goldsmith. The trumpet solo actually carries the whole score.
UR: There were 40 strings, four pianos, four drummers and one trumpet player. That was it. I had no idea what the picture was about. Arranger Arthur Morton told me to play it sexy but like it’s not good sex! That was his interpretation of it. It was well written, though.
FP: Let’s talk about your work for Capitol Records. I remember hearing you all over the place on many of the Glen Gray Casa Loma Band releases. Did Glen actually conduct those sessions.
UR: Those were a lot of fun. No, Glen did no conduct. His arrangers did and were very inept. We really had to clean up his arrangement of Benny Goodman’s "Let’s Dance." It took us something like two hours to do it and it was chaotic. Jack Marshall was waiting in the wings to bring in the arrangement he had put together for the group. He came in and, facing the band, asked that he be shown the same respect as the previous arranger! Everyone had a good laugh over that.
FP: You were on the Capitol album SOLO SPOTLIGHT that was Glen Gray’s tribute to composer Victor Young.
UR: I worked with Victor going back to the radio days. He was not only a fine writer, but a fine conductor. In reality, he’d rather be playing poker than rehearsing. But he was a great technician.
FP: You’ve obviously had fun over the years.
UR: I remember Billy May would turn to all of us and say "Cheer down everyone! Cheer down!" I was always surrounded by guys who’d like to laugh and would have a great sense of humor. People like Bob Bain, Shelly Manne, Frank Comstock, Jack Marshall, and Joe Howard.
RK: I’ve always been a big fan of Billy May. I’ve heard that he would come into a session with an armload of music. The band would go through one score and move onto the next one almost immediately.
UR: Billy really didn’t like to rehearse much. Many times, he’d have an arranger working on a chart almost up to the last minute. He’d say let’s go through it once and, if the music was OK, then let’s record it. The only difference was when Billy was working on Bing Crosby’s show. Billy really enjoyed classical music. Back in 1948, I brought back over 40 scores from Boosey & Hawkes in London. He liked seeing what the great classical composers had written. On Wednesday we’d rehearse all of Bing’s numbers for the show and have the actual dress rehearsal on Thursday morning. Following that, the orchestra would play from charts that Billy had written. I remember he once did a chart of the third movement from Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. He wrote it backwards and it took him two-to-three hours to write it all out (longer than it took him to write out anything for Bing). He did it just to see what the piece would sound like in reverse! We played it through with a 40-piece orchestra. He’d write things out just like that and for fun. It would take him three or four hours to write these things, but it would only take an hour or less to write Bing’s numbers. Bill Finnegan composed the beautiful "Serenade In Blue" for Glenn Miller. However, the night before they were going to rehearse it, he hadn’t written an intro for it. Glenn decided to hold a contest among his arrangers to see who could come up with the best intro. Besides Bill Finnegan, there was Jerry Gray and Billy May. Billy’s intro won and the rest, as they say, is history.
FP: Uan, on behalf of all of us associated with the Robert Farnon Society, thanks for a great interview.
UR: My pleasure. It’s been fun.