Music of Vaughn Monroe and Billy Eckstine
NEC Jazz Orchestra
Ken Schaphorst, Director
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Racing with the Moon Johnny Watson, Pauline Pope and Vaughn Monroe
Sung Huh, voice
My Devotion Roc Hillman and Johnny Napton
Elise Roth, voice
Take It, Jackson Johnny Watson
When the Lights Go On Again Bennie Benjamin, Sol Marcus and Eddie Seiler
Gianna Barone, voice
Let’s Get Lost Jimmy McHugh and Frank Loesser
Sam Jones, voice
Gianna Barone, Rebekah Holland, Elise Roth, Liz Tobias, background vocals
(Ghost) Riders in the Sky Stan Jones
Joseph Copeland, voice
Zachary Crowle, Sung Huh, Sam Jones, Michael Mayo, background vocals
Majarajah of Magador Lewis Harris and John Jacob Loeb
Robert Pate, voice
Ballerina Sidney Keith Russell and Carl Sigman
Zachary Crowle, voice
Elodi Schwendener, ballerina
Cool Breeze Tadd Dameron, Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie
Good Bait Tadd Dameron and Count Basie
Jelly, Jelly Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine
Liz Tobias, voice
Our Delight Tadd Dameron
Oop Bop Sh-Bam Dizzy Gillespie and Gil Fuller
I Want to Talk About You Billy Eckstine, arr. Tadd Dameron
Blowing the Blues Away Billy Eckstine and Jerry Valentine
Michael Mayo, voice
NEC Jazz Orchestra
Richard Garcia, alto saxophone, flute, clarinet
Lihi Haruvi, alto and soprano saxophones, clarinet
Wyatt Palmer, tenor saxophone, clarinet
Jacob Sieckman, tenor saxophone, flute, clarinet
Austin Yancey, baritone and alto saxophones, clarinet and bass clarinet
Nikolaos Anadolis, piano
Xiongguan Zhang, guitar
Daniel Raney, bass
Carl Pillot, drums
Voice: Gianna Barone, Zachary Crowle, Rebekah Holland, Sung Huh, Sam Jones, Michael Mayo, Robert Pate, Elise Roth, Liz Tobias
Ballerina: Elodi Schwendener
Violins: Kelsey Blumenthal, Samantha Bennett, Zenas Hsu, Jeremias Sergiani, Lisa Fujita, Maura Scanlin, Eva Aronian
Violas: Sergio Munoz, Jinsun Hong, Xi Zhang, Alexandra Simpson
Celli: Jamie Clark, Marza Wilks, Daniel Parker, Jeremiah Barcus
Vaughn Monroe (1911-1973) was and still is one of the most popular and identifiable stars of the big band era. Known affectionately as “old leather lungs” or “the voice with hair on its chest,” his unique vocal sound and style are vividly remembered by millions of fans, yet often forgotten by history texts and dismissed by jazz critics.
Immediately after high school, Monroe enrolled at the Carnegie Institute of Technology pursuing his love of science, but only completed one year. He had no trouble finding work with various touring dance bands, playing lead trumpet and featured on an occasional vocal. While with Larry Funk’s Band of a Thousand Melodies, Monroe came to know and love Boston. Opting for a more settled lifestyle, and following early aspirations of becoming an opera singer, Vaughn Monroe moved to Boston. He enrolled at New England Conservatory in the classical voice department in the fall of 1935, studying with Clarence B. Shirley.
Establishing himself in Boston, Monroe connected with Jack Marshard, the top society band leader and music promoter in New England at the time. Monroe began working in the Marshard band’s trumpet section, and left NEC for a steady payroll in 1936. Marshard recognized Vaughn Monroe’s work ethic, talent, and incredible voice. Coupled with the young trumpet star’s good looks and warm personality, Monroe was the likely choice to begin fronting some of Marshard’s bands. By 1939, important talent agents recognized the Monroe charm as well, and with Jack Marshard’s blessing, Vaughn decided to go out on his own with a new band.
The Vaughn Monroe Orchestra was born in 1940, but not before marrying his high school sweetheart, Marion, and settling in Wayland, Massachusetts. At the urging of several agents, Vaughn Monroe decided to pack away the trumpet in favor of featuring his voice. The band was thus built around the strong and unique voice of the maestro. The band opened at Seiler’s Ten Acres in Wayland, a popular nightclub, in May of 1940. Remote broadcasts began that same month, which allowed the new band to be heard by a larger audience. Soon, calls came in from New York City and the band was on the road after just a few months. Monroe scored many hits quickly, including perhaps his most enduring recording “Racing with the Moon,” his own composition that served as the band’s theme tune.
The Monroe band had one of the most consistent personnel roasters during its 14-year tenure. While the band rarely had any notable jazz soloists, it did consistently boast a high level of musicianship. A few are worth noting here: Andy Bagni was the style-setting lead alto sax with Monroe during the band’s entire existence. Frank Ryerson played lead trumpet and was also a talented arranger. Johnny Watson contributed most of the arrangements for the early band, including the theme tune and some excellent instrumentals, such as “Take it, Jackson.” Others went on to greater fame in their own right, including Ray Conniff, Art Deidrick, Don Costa, Frank Levine, vocalist Marylyn Duke, and the master rhythm guitarist, John ‘Bucky’ Pizzarelli who remembers his six years with Monroe with much fondness. Tenor saxophonist Ziggy Talent was often featured as a novelty vocalist, and had several big hits for Monroe, including “The Mahrajah of Magador.” The Monroe organization grew when he added a vocal group. The Norton Sisters, later billed as “The Moon Maids” (in reference to the theme tune “Racing with the Moon”) joined to record “Let’s Get Lost.”
With excellent musicians, finely-crafted arrangements, and a string of enduring top hits, Vaughn Monroe and his Orchestra swept popularity polls between 1942 and 1949, especially among college campuses. A deeply patriotic man himself, Monroe aided the war effort during WWII by recording V-discs and playing for servicemen. “When the Lights Go On Again” was an important song, epitomizing the sentiment felt all over the world. The lyric references the required blackouts of the world’s major cities, defending against bombings, yet contains a profound sense of optimism about a bright future. It is a reminder now of what life was like when the world was at war. Other selections of this period captured the hearts of the public through love songs. For example, the incredibly popular “My Devotion” was voted the “#1 wedding song” at the time. Countless Monroe recordings and songs had a profound effect on the public. Several historians vividly portray these as “music that won the war.”
During the post-war boom, Vaughn Monroe built and ran his own nightclub and restaurant. The Meadows, located on Route 9 in Framingham, opened in 1946, and served as “home base” for the busy Monroe band. The Meadows was a mainstay of entertainment in the greater Boston area for thirty years, creating an important cultural hub in the Natick-Framingham area along the turnpike. Assuming the true identity of a New Englander, Monroe became a Red Sox fan, befriending several star players including fellow left-hander Ted Williams. The Monroe Orchestra opened the Red Sox season at Fenway Park several times.
This fruitful period yielded some of the biggest and most enduring recorded hits for the band, including “Ballerina.” Then living in Newton, Massachusetts with his wife and two daughters, Vaughn Monroe traveled more and more. Though the Monroe band had appeared in several Hollywood films throughout the 1940s, Monroe himself began working as a solo actor in Westerns. A good deal of music from the period of the late 1940s reflects this shift, including multi-million selling “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” This pensive cowboy song combined with other novelty western records made Vaughn a force to be reckoned with on several media fronts.
In 1968, Vaughn Monroe decided to give up bandleading and touring permanently. He graciously donated his entire musical library to his alma mater, New England Conservatory. He and his wife then moved to Florida to plan a retirement together. Unfortunately, the retirement was cut short when Vaughn Monroe passed away from health complications on May 20, 1973.
The music of Vaughn Monroe, its legacy and message stands as a testament to the man himself: sincere, direct, consistently of high-quality, family-oriented, patriotic, and above all, musical. And the New England Conservatory of Music is pleased to present, for the first time since the archival acquisition, “The Music of Vaughn Monroe.”
-Daniel C. Gabel (member of the NEC Jazz Orchestra, currently working on a biography of Vaughn Monroe)
Listen. The greatest feeling I ever had in my life–with my clothes on–was when I first heard Diz and Bird together in St. Louis, Missouri, back in 1944.1 was eighteen years old and had just graduated from Lincoln High School. It was just across the Mississippi River in East St. Louis, Illinois.
When I heard Diz and Bird in B's band, I said, "What? What is this!?" . . . I mean, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, Buddy Anderson, Gene Ammons. Lucky Thompson, and Art Blakey all together in one band and not to mention B: Billy Eckstine himself . . .
B's band changed my life. I decided right then and there that I had to leave St. Louis and live in New York City where all these bad musicians were . . .
. . . I've come close to matching the feeling of that night in 1944 in music, when I first heard Diz and Bird, but I've never quite got there. I've gotten close, but not all the way there. I'm always looking for it, listening and feeling for it, though, trying to always feel it in and through the music I play every day. I still remember when I was just a kid, still wet behind the ears, hanging out with all these great musicians, my idols even until this day. Sucking in everything. Man, it was something.
-Miles Davis (The Autobiography of Miles Davis, with Quincy Troupe)
Vaughn Monroe and Billy Eckstine (1914-1993) are both best known as vocalists. But like Vaughn Monroe, Billy Eckstine also played the trumpet and valve trombone and was famous for his exacting musicianship. “I was a singer but I always thought of myself as a musician,” Eckstine explained to writer Stanley Dance. Eckstine first gained recognition in the late 30’s and early 40’s as the vocalist with Earl “Fatha” Hines’s band, recording the first of several versions of his blues classic, “Jelly, Jelly.” Eckstine formed his own band in 1944, luring both Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker away from Hines. Before Eckstine’s band broke up in 1947, it featured many of the most influential jazz players of the time, including Miles Davis, Kenny Dorham, Dexter Gordon, Fats Navarro, Oscar Pettiford, Sonny Stitt and Sarah Vaughn. It was one of the first big bands to perform the new, revolutionary style of jazz that later became known as bebop. Many staples of the later Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, including “Cool Breeze,” “Good Bait,” “Oop Bop Sh-Bam,” and “Our Delight,” received their first performances in Billy Eckstine’s ensemble. Unfortunately, the start of the Eckstine Band coincided with the AFM musicians’ strike/recording ban of 1942-1944. So, the band that Miles Davis heard in St. Louis was never recorded. But the legendary Eckstine band will go down in jazz history as one of the most fruitful and significant bands of all time.