(Ellington & Parish)
Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra
Analysed By Robert Walton
When I first noticed the names of Edward Kennedy ‘Duke’ Ellington, Sidney Torch, Charles Williams and the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra all together on a record, I thought I must have been seeing things! Here was one of the most influential figures in jazz in the same genre as two top English light orchestral composer/conductors as well as one of the greatest orchestras in light music. The unusual assemblage of such a list was unbelievable. You couldn’t get a more unlikely group. And to think that Ellington led the most famous jazz band of all time.
When Sidney Torch became involved with light orchestras he seemed to have given up arranging popular songs. Maybe he’d got tired of them in his organ playing days or was commissioned to concentrate on his own music. So it was an unexpected pleasure to discover him arranging an Ellington tune for the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra conducted by Charles Williams. (BBC London Transcription Service). So let’s have a listen to Torch getting into the mind of a jazz musician.
If ever a melody was given the full treatment it was Sidney Torch’s 1945 arrangement of Duke Ellington’s 1933 standard Sophisticated Lady. Written in the key of A Flat, the release goes to G, but the clever bit is the way it returns to A Flat. All the orchestral ingredients of Torch’s DNA are featured, both dramatic and light. The introductory attacking strings give the piece a huge build-up merging into those familiar downward chromatic notes of the song, followed by a long simmering chord helped by the harp before reaching the main theme. The “David Rose” sliding effect in the bridge proved most effective. Sophisticated Lady is hard enough to sing, let alone play, so it’s just as well the Queen’s Hall Light Orchestra was on hand. Actually it sounds better played instrumentally. In fact it began life as an instrumental but I believe possesses the seeds of a piano concerto.
And again the orchestra repeats another exciting run-up, this time sounding almost like an organ. I wonder if that was deliberate or co-incidental? Then the sound of background music from an imaginary blockbuster biblical movie, complete with solo violin. And that haunting Ellington tune returns. Did I hear a touch of Torch’s Radio Romantic?
A single bell tolls Torch’s moment of freedom when the song gets everything the arranger can throw at it. Pure Torch. And then into waltz time. But how is this masterpiece going to end? Quietly. I wonder what the Duke would have said? Guild Light Music GLCD 5223
Analysed by Robert Walton
It must be highly unusual for a three minute composition on a 78 rpm disc to actually supply music for each scene like a film soundtrack. I can’t recall such a thing.
In this case the location is Paris (familiar to the composer) when we are picked up by a limousine. One’s mind immediately turns to Gershwin whose reputation for describing big cities is well established as An American in Paris, but the opening sound of Acquaviva is more appropriate (remember New York in a Nutshell?) This is followed by a lush welcoming string passage when we are ushered courteously into a humble café. You may say this is a little over the top, but this is no ordinary restaurant. You can tell by the music and the decor. A haunting Mancini-like waltz greets us as we step down from this classy automobile and enter a warm and friendly establishment.
Now seated at a table, you know you’re in for the ultimate in French cuisine or just a drink, because right on cue the sound of an accordion joins the orchestra. We’re in Paris alright! Made to order music just like the food. Yes, they’ve thought of everything. It’s the kind of café where you can have anything you like, and you won’t get annoyed glances from the staff, even if it’s just a coffee! After more string sounds, solos from the piano, guitar and woodwind provide the perfect atmosphere. Before we know it we’re back to the accordion but not for long because our limo has arrived and awaits us. That was a quick drink! Acquaviva is again on hand to whip us away into the traffic of the French capital’s most famous thoroughfare.
In conclusion a word or two about our esteemed composer, Joseph Francis Kuhn. I have to admit I was totally ignorant of him until a little research put me right. He was an American symphonic composer, arranger and conductor known for his sweeping rhapsodies. The Paris Theatre 0rchestra was one of the many groups connected with the American Miller Company one of which was the 101 Strings. Sadly Kuhn died at the tragically young age of 37 in 1962 from a spinal cord injury. Look out for four of his other works on Guild CDs.
Catch Champs Elysees Café on “Confetti” Guild GLCD 5175
Analysed by Robert Walton
The most recent volcanic eruption in Auckland, New Zealand took place about 800 years ago. It created Rangitoto Island at the mouth of the Waitemata Harbour. Fast forward to the 20th century and during WW2 a 6 year old boy was walking barefoot in the sand on the mainland opposite Rangitoto along Takapuna Beach, when he suffered his own personal ‘eruption’ - a nasty bee sting! Yes, it was me! There were no EpiPens in those days. By the time we got home my face was completely swollen and unrecognizable but the combination of a doctor and a brandy seemed to do the trick. I gather it was touch and go for a while. Luckily I have never experienced another. All the more reason to always carry an EpiPen. So hearing this composition brings it all back. I can’t help feeling sorry for my attacker though.
I never saw or heard the actual bee, but anytime Dolf Van Der Linden’s Orchestra happens to be playing Bees-A-Buzzin’ I’m straight back to the scene of the crime! There’s absolutely no doubt about the title of this piece, which enters instantly. The opening busy busy section is a good test for an orchestra especially one as good as this. Up, down and around goes the scale-like tune delivering the appropriate mood.
And so to a short secondary theme giving us just the right contrast to the main melody, which is standing by to rejoin the piece. And then we’re immediately into the bridge for a third tune adding yet another building block to this brief journey of continuous rhythm. The listener somehow feels freer (if that’s possible in this context) and slightly relaxed but as soon as the bee returns to its normal work of sipping the nectar, the melody takes on a more business-like tension.
Of course the most famous ‘bee’ tune is Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble-bee from his 1900 opera “The Tale of Tsar Saltan” with a more oriental flavour containing 50,000 notes! It’s intended to evoke a chaotic and rapidly changing flight path of a bumblebee. It certainly succeeds.
And in its own way so does Seibert’s Bees-A-Buzzin’ if somewhat less frenetic. It’s a sort of gentle entry preparing you for the hard chromatic world of Rimsky-Korsakov!
Heard on Guild Light Music
Confetti GLCD 5175
By Robert Walton
Rawtenstall is the largest town at the centre of the Rossendale Valley in Lancashire, England. With a population of 22,000, it’s situated 15 miles north of Manchester in the ancient Forest of Rossendale.
Whenever I saw genial Rawtenstall-born Ernest at the Robert Farnon Society meetings, he always gave the impression of being a country person. He won a scholarship to Manchester Cathedral Choir School and Manchester University where he graduated in 1947. This solid musical
background paid off because the following year he was a staff arranger for a London firm of music publishers as well as becoming organist for a Mayfair church.
He was essentially a light music composer sometimes credited as ‘Alan Perry’. I first became aware of him through Little Serenade, a piece that was never off the air when I came to England in 1962. Because of that, I tended to associate Tomlinson with compositions of a rural nature perhaps relating to his roots.
Here’s one that is definitely not from that ilk but with an undeniably city feel about it - Sheerline. In fact it doesn’t sound typically Tomlinson at all but demonstrates he could turn his hand to any style should the mood or commission take him. If anything there’s a touch of Farnon about it. But it shows he’s right at home writing a busy rhythmic theme.
The introductory 4 bars don’t burst in like some compositions but sort of enter gently to join up with the waiting, catchy meandering melody. As well as being in a pleasant category it’s also ideal material for what it was designed for. Light orchestral music at its finest. There’s still so much of his music hidden away and demanding to be discovered.
The tune starts climbing immediately but not for long. With a mind of its own and sensing a journey ahead, it begins to dart about wherever the fancy takes it and keeps the listener on his/her toes. (Fred Astaire would be tempted). The harmonies are tailor made for the tune.
The middle 8 provides a perfect link, momentarily taking your eye off the ball. But it’s this constant caper as the melody twists and turns, creating one of the most perfect arrangements/compositions in this specialized art of production music. Ernest Tomlinson has created a classic, which would have been quite at home in the Chappell library.
And talking of libraries, when London publishing houses were throwing away skip loads of music, it was Tomlinson to the rescue as he saved tons of tunes for posterity. All devotees of light music owe him an incalculable debt of gratitude. As a footnote, actress Jane Horrocks (“Little Voice”) was also born in Rawtenstall. Guild GLCD 5232.