Dateline March 2002
Three Farnon Tributes to Great Songwriters reappear at last on CD
ROBERT FARNON AND HIS ORCHESTRA Victor Schertzinger, Hoagy Carmichael and Vincent Youmans Suites
1 The Fleet’s In*, 2 Dream Lover*, 3 Sand In My Shoes. 4 Marcheta, 5 One Night Of Love, 6 Kiss The Boys Goodbye*, 7 Love Passes By BONUS TRACK, 8 Tangerine BONUS TRACK
9 My Resistance Is Low*, 10 Stardust, 11 Little Old Lady, 12 Georgia On My Mind, 13 One Morning In May, 14 Lazybones*
15 Hallelujah**, 16 Tea For Two, 17 Sometimes I’m Happy, 18 Without A Song, 19 Great Day**, 20 Orchids In The Moonlight, 21 More Than You Know, 22 Time On My Hands, 23 The Carioca BONUS TRACK
* with The Johnston Singers ** with The George Mitchell Choir
VOCALION CDLK4137 Recording History:
"Victor Schertzinger Suite" Decca LK4055 released March 1953
"Hoagy Carmichael Suite" Decca LK4055 released March 1953
"Music of Vincent Youmans" Decca LF1052 released September 1951
Love Passes By BONUS TRACK not on original LP - London L 1240 (78)
Tangerine BONUS TRACK not on original LP - London L1242 (78)
The Carioca BONUS TRACK not on original LP - Decca F9185 (78)
Robert Farnon is generally regarded as the greatest living composer of Light Orchestral music in the world. He is also revered as an arranger of quality popular songs, having influenced most of the top writers on both sides of the Atlantic during the second half of the 20th century. In his long recording career he has been responsible for brilliant orchestrations of melodies crafted by the finest songwriters of the last century, and the latest release in Vocalion’s landmark series of Decca reissues concentrates on three fascinating men.
Victor Schertzinger was born on 8 April 1880 in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, USA; he died aged 61 in Hollywood, California, on 26 October 1941. As a child he was a gifted violinist, and during his formative years he toured as a concert soloist and studied music in Europe. In 1913 his song "Marcheta" was published, and three years later he moved to Hollywood where an early commission involved composing a special score for Thomas Ince’s "Civilization". Very soon he also started directing films, and managed to combine this new career successfully with his songwriting. The arrival of talkies resulted in Schertzinger contributing complete scores and individual songs to many top musicals, including the title song for "One Night Of Love" (1934); "Dream Lover" from the Jeanette MacDonald hit "The Love Parade" (1929); and "Sand In My Shoes" and the title song from "Kiss The Boys Goodbye" (1941). Two of his biggest hits reached cinema screens shortly after his death, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer - "Tangerine" and the title song from "The Fleet’s In". As a film director his credits included numerous dramatic features, but he is probably remembered best for his musicals, especially the first of the ‘Road’ movies starring Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour in "The Road To Singapore".
Hoagy Carmichael had a successful career as a composer, pianist, singer and actor. He was born Hoagland Howard Carmichael on 22 November 1899 at Bloomington, Indiana, USA, and died aged 82 on 27 December 1981 at Palm Springs, California. Largely self-taught, he grew up in a poor rural community, but his future career in the music business seemed pre-destined when he became friendly with the legendary Bix Beiderbecke, for whom he co-composed "Riverboat Shuffle". Based in New York in 1929 (the year when "Stardust" was published, although it had been composed two years earlier), Carmichael formed close relationships with many jazz musicians later to become famous, especially Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. For his songs Carmichael occasionally wrote both words and music, but he often collaborated with the best lyric writers, notably Johnny Mercer ("Lazybones"), Mitchell Parish ("Stardust" & "One Morning In May"), and Frank Loesser ("Little Old Lady"). "My Resistance Is Low" came from a 1951 film "The Las Vegas Story". Althought "Stardust" is reckoned to be the most recorded popular tune of all time, "Georgia On My Mind" (lyrics by Stuart Gorrell) has proved to be one of Carmichael’s most enduring successes, with each new generation of performers seeming to ‘rediscover’ this great standard.
Vincent Youmans was a leading composer and producer for stage productions during the 1920s and 1930s, but his career was cut short by a long battle against tuberculosis. Vincent Miller Youmans was born on 27 September 1898 at New York USA; he died aged 47 at Denver, Colorado on 45 April 1946. He served with the US Navy during the first World War, and co-produced musicals for the entertainment of his colleagues. Later he worked as a song plugger, and was a rehearsal pianist for the influential composer Victor Herbert. Youmans’ first Broadway score was "Two Little Girls In Blue" (1921) which opened a long and successful association with the theatre. From this period came "Tea For Two" (reputedly written almost as a joke for "No No Nanette" - 1927); "Hallelujah!" and "Sometimes I’m Happy" (from "Hit The Deck" - 1927, later filmed by MGM in 1955); "Without A Song", "More Than You Know" and the title song (from "Great Day" - 1929); and "Time On My Hands" (from the 1930 musical "Smiles"). Like many of his contemporaries, he was attracted to Hollywood, but his only major original score was for "Flying Down To Rio" (1933), the movie which launched the legendary screen partnership of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Two of the big hits from this film were "The Carioca" and "Orchids In The Moonlight". By comparison with many of his contemporaries, his song catalogue is small, and he rarely used the same collaborator. But the quality of his music survives, and he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
These three talented songwriters all received the special Robert Farnon treatment, when the maestro honoured their contributions to the popular music scene of fifty years ago. Through his masterly arrangements, Farnon has preserved each of these melodies for later generations to enjoy, without knowing the stars or shows with whom they were originally associated. To be able to survive in isolation, as they undoubtedly do, is ample testament to their quality.
The front cover of this CD booklet reproduces the British and American LP sleeves for the Hoagy Carmichael / Victor Schertzinger 12" album. Vincent Youmans occupied a 10" LP, and it was released at a time when LP covers in Britain were not individually designed. Therefore we see the standard Decca design for their ‘popular’ releases, merely carrying basic details of the music and orchestra in the overprinting. The back of the sleeve simply told purchasers that the record had to be played with a special pick-up, and should be cleaned with a barely damp cloth. Record companies quickly discovered the sales potential of attractive designs on their LP covers, so examples of early releases such as this are definitely in the ‘historical’ category.
The recordings on the Hoagy Carmichael and Victor Schertzinger Suites (including the two ‘bonus’ tracks not included in the original albums, but released as singles only in the USA) were recorded at the Kingsway Hall, London during May and June 1952. The Victor Youmans tracks were recorded in February 1951, with the exception of the ‘bonus’ track "The Carioca", which was recorded on 18 May 1949.
Dedicated to taking Light Music seriously
"Frankly, he gives a damn" was the headline chosen by Clive Davis for his interview with John Wilson, printed in the London Times on 9 January. He was quoting Clark Gable’s famous line from "Gone With The Wind", one of the scores being revitalised for the Royal Festival Hall concert of Hollywood Film Music on 19 January.
Valuable publicity such as this is essential if concert halls are to be filled, but the day is fast approaching when it will be John Wilson’s name alone that is all that will be required. Because this young man (he is still only 29) has already built up an enviable reputation for his records and concert appearances.
Davis reminded Times readers that John has emerged as a champion of Light Music since graduating from the Royal College of Music, where he was awarded the much-coveted Tagore Gold Medal. Apart from his recordings (which include the acclaimed ASV series on Eric Coates), he orchestrated Sir Richard Rodney Bennett’s score for the BBC adaptation of "Gormenghast", which led to the Orchestral Jazz CD with Bennett for Vocalion in 2000 (CDSA6800). A second, highly-praised CD (also for Vocalion) involved re-recording many of Angela Morley’s classic scores ("Soft Lights and Sweet Music" – CDSA 6803).
We are proud that John is a member of the Robert Farnon Society. During the past five years we have enjoyed meeting him at our London recitals and at various concerts, and his infectious enthusiasm for his music has impressed us greatly. Clive Davis picked up on it, recognising that John’s "great passion is his orchestra, which also performs swing-flavoured arrangements from the pen of Nelson Riddle, Robert Farnon, Billy May and other arrangers who tend to be lumped together as ‘easy listening’ …. which is, of course, back in vogue."
According to Davis, John’s greatest concern is that he finds himself working in a cultural no-man’s-land. "We haven’t really got a Pops culture in this country, the way they do in America" he says. "Light music here is always treated as a poor relation. It’s usually played very badly, when what it needs is a virtuoso orchestra … it needs to be performed by musicians who can make the notes spring off the page. If you do it well, you realise these pieces really can stand the test of time. You have to pin people back in their seats, make them judge with their ears rather than their preconceptions."
The great day of the concert finally arrived: Saturday 19 January 2002. At the Royal Festival Hall many RFS members were spotted among the enthusiastic near-capacity audience, and it was a treat for sore eyes to see such a large symphony-size orchestra waiting to perform. Seated behind the orchestra were the 100 members of the Crouch End Festival Chorus.
John Wilson entered to sustained applause and cheers, and then opened the concert with the magnificent 20th Century Fox Fanfare (with CinemaScope extension – as they used to say!) leading into Alfred Newman’s Street Scene as it was heard at the opening of the film "How to Marry a Millionaire". From 1939 to 1960 Newman (1901-1970) was head of the music department at 20th Century Fox, and it is no exaggeration to say that it was his influence which contributed greatly to the high standards of the music in many of the major Hollywood films of the middle years of the last century.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was one of several European composers who made their home in Hollywood during the 1930s, and his score for The Sea Hawk proved his mastery in scoring for adventure movies.
The classic David Raksin (b. 1912) Laura made a nice contrast, leading into what many in the audience regarded as the concert’s high spot – the Conrad Salinger arrangements for MGM musicals.
The baritone Richard Morrison made an all-too-brief appearance singing the Howard Keel role from "Kismet" – Night of my Nights, ably assisted by the choir. The classic Central Park scene from "Band Wagon" brought us the beautiful Arthur Schwartz melody Dancing in the Dark; even without seeing Fred Astaire, this arrangement still hits the spot.
The sparkling main title and fountain scene from "Gigi" led into two Gene Kelly numbers, most ably sung by Gary Williams – Singin’ in the Rain and Heather on the Hill. Then to close part one, a real ‘tour de force’ from orchestra, choir and Gary Williams performing the Fred Astaire classic from "Ziegfeld Follies" – Harry Warren’s This Heart of Mine. In his introduction John Wilson hinted that it may have been Conrad Salinger at his most self-indulgent, but what a wonderful number all the same. Everyone involved was simply magnificent!
During the interval you could sense that all of us were on a ‘high’ as you walked around this great concert hall.
Just as the first part opened with probably the most famous film fanfare of them all, so the second began with one that could have been almost equally well-known, if Warner Bros. had decided to use it for more of their movies. Composed by Max Steiner (1888-1971) it was the natural introduction for his memorable score for that Bette Davis weepie "Now Voyager".
Then came the main work of the evening, a new symphonic suite, arranged and reconstructed by John Wilson, based on the various themes by Max Steiner for "Gone With The Wind". It opened to the David O. Selznik fanfare, then launched into the familiar Tara theme. But very soon the audience realised that Steiner had written a considerable amount of music for this epic, some of it based on the melodies associated with the days of slavery in the deep south. John Wilson has done a major service to film historians by restoring this music as an important work in its own right.
To conclude this wonderful evening, the orchestra excelled themselves in The Ride of the Cossacks from "Taras Bulba" by Franz Waxman (1906-1967). When it finished the applause and cheering was deafening; I didn’t time it, but John Wilson returned to the podium three times to acknowledge the appreciation of us all. The audience would have loved more, but possibly anything else would have been an anti-climax after the Waxman fireworks. In any case, I have it on good authority that John had been working until the small hours the previous night finishing the scores for the concert. He must have been thinking of his bed!
But on such occasions the body’s adrenalin kicks in, and shortly afterwards a queue of well over 100 people had formed near the Farringdon Records area where John was signing copies of his latest CD, and anything else that his fans put in front of him! He deserved all the congratulations that were heaped on him, and can be justifiably proud of everything that he achieved on that memorable January evening in London.
What are the lasting impressions? First and foremost the delight at seeing so many young musicians in the orchestra, and the fact that they seemed to be enjoying themselves so much. Then the singers, especially Gary Williams who could not be faulted in his recreations – he must have worked very hard on them. And one cannot forget the wonderful sound of the chorus, creating that gorgeous curtain of sound enveloping orchestra and singers as they used to do, until the sheer cost presumably meant that the studios eventually decided to dispense with them in such numbers.
The audience also deserve a mention, not only since they were so enthusiastic, but because it has to be said that it cheered the hearts of those of us who can remember this music from the first time round, to see so many younger people enjoying it as well. The future of quality popular music may not be as gloomy as some doom-laden critics would have us believe.
As for John Wilson himself, it was a treat to observe his rapport with his orchestra. He coaxed them to give of their best, and rewarded them with a beaming smile when they inevitably did. John’s passion for the music permeated the entire proceedings, and he had players and audience in the palm of his hand. It takes a very special person to be able to achieve that.
Now that this triumph is behind him, what are John Wilson’s plans for the future? Let’s return to his Times interview. Clive Davis told us that he plans to continue his excavation work on the great Hollywood musicals. He has High Society in his sights, not to mention Singin’ In The Rain and Gigi. "When I left college, I made the decision that I wanted to be a re-creative rather than a creative artist," he explains. "I’m not one of those film music nerds who listen only to soundtracks. I listen to ‘proper’ music too. These great scores deserve to be reconstituted as concert music in their own right."