BILL McGUFFIE and his Piano and Strings "Strange Enchantment"
1 YOU MAKE ME FEEL SO YOUNG
2 THREE COINS IN THE FOUNTAIN
4 I’VE GOT YOU UNDER MY SKIN
5 YOU MY LOVE
6 I’LL GET BY
7 COME FLY WITH ME
8 THE GREAT PRETENDER
9 THIS I FIND IS BEAUTIFUL
10 ACCOUNT FOR BASIE
11 ANOTHER SUITCASE IN ANOTHER HALL
12 MY WAY
13 YOU ARE MY DEAREST LOVE
14 WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT?
15 I LOOKED AROUND
16 SO DEEP IS THE NIGHT
17 INNAMORATI A VENEZIA
18 BOY ON A DOLPHIN
19 STRANGE ENCHANTMENT
20 EVERY WHICH WAY BUT LOOSE
21 BLESS YOU FOR BEING AN ANGEL
22 I STILL SEE YOU (THE GO-BETWEEN)
23 I’LL TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOU
24 ALMA LLANERA
In the summer of 2000, Vocalion released "The Piano Artistry of Bill McGuffie with his Big Band" (CDLK4103) which was warmly received by Bill’s many friends and admirers (for full details see Journal Into Melody 144 – September 2000 – page 22). Very soon it became clear that a second collection of his music should be made available, and this time it was decided that the choice should centre upon Bill’s work with strings – although it was fully realised that whatever Bill performed he couldn’t completely escape from his first love of jazz.
Once again, Bill’s widow Rosemary gave her wholehearted support and encouragement, and the result is this mixture of the old and the new – popular favourites with some lesser-known, but equally enjoyable numbers – all given the polished treatment that was Bill McGuffie’s trademark.
Bill is still regarded with affection as one of Britain's finest pianists of the 20th century. Whether performing as a solo pianist, fronting a big band, or simply participating as a session musician in a large orchestra, he always displayed a supreme air of professionalism which endeared him to everyone who was privileged to know and work with him.
William McGuffie (his parents called him Billy, and he was also known to his friends as Wee Willie McGuffie) was born on 11 December 1927 at Carmyle, near Glasgow, Scotland. The third finger of his right hand was amputated in childhood following an accident, but he never allowed this to handicap his playing. At the age of 11 the Victoria College in Glasgow awarded him its Medal in recognition of his proficiency; a year later he made his first radio broadcast on Children's Hour.
Until he was 14 he was content to enjoy classical music. Then he heard some jazz, and asked his father to buy him some jazz records. McGuffie senior purchased six Charlie Kunz 78s. "His intentions were good!" recalled Bill some years later. While still aged 14 he began playing regularly with the BBC Scottish Variety Orchestra, and was proud to have accompanied two great Scottish artists of the Music Hall, Harry lauder and Will Fyffe.
Bill was also fascinated by the piano he heard in the Victor Silvester Orchestra on records and in radio broadcasts. "If only I could play all those notes" he thought. It was some while before he learned that Silvester actually employed two pianists at that time; with perseverance Bill managed to sound like them both.
Although music was his first love, initially he didn't consider it as a long-term career. He was a teenager during the Second World War, and began studying to become a naval architect. However he moved to Ayr to work with the Miff Hobson Orchestra, then in 1944 took the big step to try his luck in London, where his first engagement was with Teddy Foster at the Lyceum ballroom. Four years with Joe Loss followed, before joining the bands of Ambrose, Sidney Lipton and Maurice Winnick at the famous Ciro's club. Together with Carroll Gibbons, Bill played for staff parties at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
This grounding in the bread-and-butter side of the music business was to stand Bill in good stead at the Mayfair Club, where he led his own ensemble. But his major breakthrough came in the early 1950s when he spent three years with Cyril Stapleton's BBC Show Band - the first broadcast was heard on Saturday 3 October 1952. This superb ensemble included some of Britain's finest musicians, and the talents of top arrangers were employed to establish this band as one of the finest of its kind in the world. It should have gone on much longer, but inevitably became a victim of the financial constraints which have ever since plagued radio, thanks to the insatiable demands of television.
Bill left the Show Band after three years to go to California, where he worked at MGM Studios with Andre Previn and Johnny Green on several films, including The Tender Trap and Kismet .
Back in Britain, happily Bill's talents remained in strong demand. In England he toured with Stoll Theatre and Moss Empires, topping the bill in Variety. He was a valued member of Kenny Baker's Dozen, and under the influence of Robert Farnon and Philip Green he developed his skills as an arranger and composer, especially for films. His cinema credits are numerous, including themes and sometimes full scores for Too Hot to Handle (1960), It Takes a Thief (1960), The Long Shadow (1961 ), The Boys (1961 ), The Leather Boys (1963), Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. (1966), The Asphyx (1972) and The Small Miracle (1973). Back in 1955 he had worked with Robert Farnon on the film Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, starring Jane Russell, and can be seen on-screen in one sequence. In fact Bill made a brief appearance (a la Hitchcock) in virtually every film he worked on, sometimes as a cocktail pianist if the script called for it.
Another Farnon assignment was the last 'Road' movie, the British-made Road to Hong Kong (1962). Old-timers Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour were joined by Joan Collins, who actually sang one number. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin made guest appearances, and the eagle-eyed can also spot Bill briefly in one sequence.
Bill McGuffie could be heard regularly, as soloist or with his own Group, on radio in programmes such as Kings of the Keyboard, Piano Playtime, Night Ride, Music Through Midnight, Roundabout, Band Parade and Week Ending. He played in the orchestra for Breakfast (and Bedtime) With Braden and Round the Horne. He arranged and conducted for television programmes starring Hermione Gingold, Jimmy Edwards and Ronnie Barker.
Apart from his regular session work, Bill was also in demand from record companies to appear on disc in his own name, both as solo pianist and also fronting small groups and big bands.
In the early 1970s he played with Benny Goodman's Band and American Sextet on their European tours, but a stroke in 1974 laid him low for a while. At the time he was working for BBC Radio on Week Ending and also recording fourteen numbers per session every two weeks for Night Ride. Five weeks later, he was back at work in the studio.
This collection showcases the McGuffie talent at its peak, near the end of his distinguished career. In earlier years he had tended to concentrate more on small group recordings, occasionally featuring his own numbers. Perhaps Bill's most famous original composition is Sweet September, for which he won an Ivor Novello Award in 1963. International recognition came through a recording by Bill Evans, in a Klaus Ogerman arrangement, and Pete Jolly and The Shadows made cover versions. It was also published in Spain, under the title Tu Recuerdo.
He wrote under two other names: Guido Miguel for Spanish compositions, and Raphael Maertek. This came about after a Scottish friend had said that Bill had 'maer' (more) technique than some!
In 1980 the British Academy of Composers Songwriters and Authors awarded Bill its coveted Gold Badge of Merit. In his more serious moments Bill appreciated the music of Ravel and Debussy. In the jazz world he was a great admirer of the Count Basie Band. It may surprise some of his admirers to learn that Bill never considered himself to be a jazz pianist. Respected broadcaster Steve Race once singled Bill out as "a pianist who generates his own beat".
Bill McGuffie died at Chertsey, Surrey, on 22 March 1987 aged 59. Fortunately for us, he has left a legacy of fine recordings which will continue to provide endless musical pleasure for generations to come.