Remembering past bandleaders, musicians, arrangers and ballroom operators.
Band Leader Jan Garber, 'Airlanes Idol,' Dies at 82
Jan Garber, an orchestra leader whose dance bands had appeared in Omaha ballrooms from the 1930s to the 1960s, died Wednesday at a hospital in Shreveport, La. He was 82.
Garber was noted for playing smooth, danceable music. He was billed on radio broadcasts in the Big Band era as the "Idol of the Airlanes."
Although most big dance bands had disappeared by the late 1950s, Garber continued until 1971 to organize and lead orchestras, the Associated Press said.
In Omaha he had appeared at the old Chermot ballroom, at the Ak-Sar-Ben Coliseum and Peony Park. In 1968, Garber said that on doctor's orders he was no longer performing each night. But his band was scheduled to play a Peony Park dance and Garber told an interviewer: "I wouldn't miss Omaha for anything."
Asked why his orchestra had continued while others folded, Garber replied: "It's because we have a sound of our own - and we're consistent. We play the music people like to dance to . . . "
Survivor's include his wife, the former Dorothy Comegys; a daughter, Janis, of Las Vegas, a singer; and two brothers.
[Source: Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), dated October 6, 1977]
Pat Gilmore, the famous bandleader who has just died, was a patriot who knew no fear. The following incident was a stirring one, and showed the metal and grit of the Irish-American:
It was at the famous Charleston convention, which followed the outbreak of the civil war, that, just after adjournment, cries went up for a war hymn. “Give us the ‘Marseillaise!’” shouted a man with stentorian voice. Gilmore’s loyalty to the stars and stripes caused him to wave his baton and cry: “Give them ‘Yankee Doodle,’ boys!” Amid yells of derision from sympathizers with the confederate cause, the band played the tune through. It was followed by “Hail Columbia” and “The Star Spangled Banner.” Gilmore was roundly denounced by members of the convention, but he got away from Charleston in safety, returned to Boston, and, inducing every one of his musicians to go with him, joined the Second Massachusetts Volunteers.
[Source: Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, New York), dated September 28, 1892]
Roy Don Glasser, 83, of 2251 Highland Ave. South, Apt. 2, Birmingham, Ala., died at 1:30 p.m. April 26, 2004, in Mount Clare Baptist Medical Center, Birmingham, Ala.
Services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday in Hurst Funeral Home, Ladd. The Rev. Kevin Gorman, O.S.B., will officiate. Burial will be at Calvary Cemetery, Arlington.
Visitation will be 5-8 p.m. Friday and from 10 a.m. until the time of services Saturday in the funeral home.
Mr. Glasser was born Aug. 28, 1920, in Latrobe, Pa., to Roy and Minerva (Coughenour) Glasser. He married Lois Costello on March 23, 1964.
He served in Burma with the U.S. Army during World War II.
He was an orchestra leader and performed across the country for more than 50 years.
Survivors are his wife, Lois of Birmingham, Ala.; one son, Donald Glasser; and two brothers, Bill and Gene Glasser of Derry, Pa.
Pallbearers will be Robert, Steve, Timothy, Rick, Tazio, Ryan and Laurence Fonderoli.
[Source: News Tribune (La Salle, Illinois), dated April 28, 2004]
Ex-Bandleader Dies in California
Santa Barbara, Calif. (UPI) - Jean Goldkette, 62, once a top bandleader and discoverer of several top jazz greats throughout the twenties to the forties, died Saturday of an apparent heart attack.
Goldkette, according to his business manager, James Arthur Morgan, discovered such prominent band figures as Tommy Dorsey, Glen [sic] Miller, Artie Shaw and Glenn Gray.
Goldkette and Morgan were together at the Carrillo Hotel here when the one-time bandleader and pianist was stricken. He later died at County Hospital.
[Source: Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), dated March 26, 1962]
Gollner, Gus Earnest
Death Mars Band Concert
Clarinetist is Victim on Peony Stage
A concert featuring hits of the Big Band era at Peony Park Monday night was marred by the death of one of its musicians.
Ernest Gollner, 49, of 3450 Taylor Street, who opened the Variety Club program with a clarinet solo, collapsed on the stage after the opening number before about one thousand patrons.
Mr. Gollner died of an apparent heart attack about 30 minutes after arrival at Immanuel Hospital, attendants said.
The 36-piece orchestra, headed by Mal Dunn, presented hit songs of the big band era in their original styles as a fund-raising venture for needy children.
Tony Bradley, treasurer of the Omaha Musician’s Union, said the band was comprised of segments of the Omaha Symphony Orchestra and musicians from many bands in the Omaha area.
[Source: Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), dated December 5, 1967]
Clarinetists’s Last Solo; Band Goes On
He Played His Heart Out
By Mary McGrath
At 8:50 p.m. Monday night Mal Dunn gave the down beat to 36 musicians recruited from Omaha bands and from the Omaha Symphony Orchestra.
Clarinetist Gus Ernest Gollner took the solo spot and the familiar strains of Benny Goodman’s theme song “Let’s Dance” sounded through the Peony Park Ballroom.
One thousand persons in the audience who had come to hear “Hits from the Big Band Era” smiled and remembered.
With enthusiastic applause ringing in his ears, Mr. Gollner turned toward his chair. But he never rejoined the band. He collapsed and slumped over his music stand and his clarinet and saxophone.
The curtain was drawn immediately. Two doctors and Mr. Gollner’s wife, Mary Lee, rushed on stage. Organist Ernest Priesman, who had presented a pre-concert program, went back to the keyboard. All in the audience listened and waited.
About 35 minutes later the curtain parted again and the concert resumed with Walter Scott and Art Pray, who were in the audience, taking over for Mr. Gollner and his brother, Fred, a pianist.
At almost the exact minute Mr. Gollner who would have been 49 Saturday died at a local hospital, never having regained consciousness.
“He literally blew his heart out,” Mr. Dunn, visibly shaken, said later of Mr. Gollner, who suffered a heart attack in August but felt he now was well enough to play.
Mr. Gollner, a native of Avoca, Neb., had been a professional musician since he was 17, playing with Chicago bands before coming to Omaha about 10 years ago.
In Omaha he played with various orchestras, including Paul Moorhead, Skippy Anderson and Lambert Bartak. He lived at 3456 Taylor Street.
In addition to his wife and brother, he is survived by a son, Sp5c Gary Gollner, at Fort Leavenworth, Kans.; a daughter, Judy, who attended Dana College; mother, Mrs. Ella Gollner, Avoca; a sister, Mrs. Dorothy Olewine, Omaha.
Funeral services will be at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Roeder Mortuary. Burial will be at Avoca.
Monday night’s concert was sponsored by the Variety Club as a benefit for handicapped persons.
[Source: Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), dated December 5, 1967]
Mal Dunn gave the downbeat to 36 musicians at 8:50 p.m. and Gus Ernest Gollner stepped into the solo spot with his clarinet. One thousand persons at Peony Park, who came to hear “Hits from the Big Band Era,” applauded Mr. Gollner’s rendition of the Benny Goodman theme, “Let’s Dance.”
The soloist bowed, turned toward his chair and collapsed. He died shortly after reaching the hospital, about the minute he would have been 49 years old.
True to show business tradition, the show went on after a 35-minute wait. Two musicians came from the audience to replace the stricken man and his brother Fred.
[Source: Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), dated December 10, 1967]
Benny Goodman Dies; His Music Embodied An Era
Benny Goodman, the eloquent clarinetist proclaimed the King of Swing when his dance band soared to fame in the mid-1930s and who epitomized an era in popular American music, died yesterday, apparently of a heart attack at his Manhattan apartment. He was 77.
Goodman, although known primarily as a jazz musician and swing band leader, was equally at home on a classical concert stage playing Mozart or Stravinsky, and he devoted much of his life to such performances.
It was Goodman who helped give swing some respectability by taking his band and other top jazz performers into New York's Carnegie Hall on Jan. 16, 1938, for a concert that rocked that staid old auditorium.
It was Goodman who shattered the racial barrier in the band business by being the first leader of a big white dance orchestra to hire black musicians - pianist Teddy Wilson and vibraharpist Lionel Hampton, who played in the Benny Goodman Quartet. Much of the swinging style that made the Goodman band famous was attributable to the arrangements of Fletcher (Smack) Henderson, a black former band leader.
The Goodman band included drummer Gene Krupa and trumpeter Harry James - both of whom went on to lead highly successful bands of their own - as well as pianist Jess Stacy, trumpeter Ziggy Elman and (at one time or another) singers Helen Ward, Helen Forrest and Peggy Lee.
Goodman was intense about his music, achieving his liquid, seemingly effortless clarinet style by hours of daily practice most of his life. He demanded such concentration from his sidemen that a few dragging passages could draw from him a cold glare known as "The Ray" - a long, accusatory, poker-faced glare over the top of his glasses.
"If you're interested in music," Goodman once said, "you can't slop around. I expected things and they had to be done."
Benjamin David Goodman was born in Chicago on May 30, 1909, the eighth of 11 children of Russian immigrants. His father worked as a tailor in sweatshops, and the family lived in poverty.
When the father heard that a local synagogue was lending instruments and giving music lessons for 25 cents a week, he quickly enrolled Benny and two other sons. Harry, 12, got a tuba and Freddie, 11, was handed a trumpet. Benny was only 10 and needed something lighter, so he was loaned a clarinet.
It was not long before Benny, like another future famous jazz clarinetist, Jimmy Noone, was taking lessons from a stern old German named Franz Schoepp, who played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. A solid musical background and a compulsion for arduous preparation were instilled early.
When he was 12, Benny Goodman made his first professional appearance, earning $5 for a Ted Lewis imitation in a theater vaudeville show.
Once, when he was 13, he was hired to play in an orchestra on a Lake Michigan excursion boat. One of the best-known stories about Goodman is that he wandered onto the bandstand in his knickers, and the famous trumpet player Bix Beiderbecke snapped at him, "Get off there, kid. Stop fooling around."
By the time Goodman was 16, he had so established himself among Chicago jazz musicians that the popular band leader Ben Pollack sent for him to join the Pollack band at the Venice Ballroom in Southern California. The band at that time also included trombonist Glenn Miller, who did many of the arrangements.
Goodman began to organize jazz groups to make recordings for record companies, and by 1929 he parted company with Pollack.
In 1933, Goodman met the man who helped him develop the band that was to make him famous: John Hammond, a socially prominent jazz fan, critic and promoter. Hammond's sister, Alice, become Goodman's wife in 1942.
In 1934, Goodman's new orchestra opened at Billy Rose's New York theater-restaurant, then played the Roosevelt Grill. These led to a contract for a series of late-night Saturday "Let's Dance" radio broadcasts on NBC and a cross-country tour that was mostly a failure.
The Saturday night broadcasts were too late to attract many listeners in the East, but young people heard them on the West Coast. When the tour reached the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, a large crowd was waiting to hear the Goodman band in person. In the view of many fans, this was the beginning of the Swing Era.
Stanley Baron, who wrote the text for Goodman's pictorial biography, "Benny, King of Swing," described opening night:
"For the first hour, Benny played it safe. He called for the sweetest, softest, most gently and dreamily danceable arrangements in the band's book. The response was polite and no more. Then suddenly Benny felt something snap, as it were, inside his soul. For all he knew, this might be the band's last night together."
Another writer, who may have been making a logical assumption, quoted Goodman as suddenly telling his sidemen, "Swing it."
Goodman decided that if he were going to fail, he would fail on his own terms. He brought out some of his favorite arrangements by Henderson - "Blue Skies," "Sometimes I'm Happy," "King Porter Stomp." As he beat out the tempo for "Sugar Foot Stomp," Bunny Berigan rose up in the trumpet section, playing a crackling solo, and a responsive roar went up from the listeners and they surged around the bandstand, cheering.
"The great roar of recognition which went up from the crowd was possibly the sweetest sound Benny had ever heard. It was obvious that the kids had all been waiting for the band to really swing," one writer noted.
The Palomar extended Goodman's one-month booking to two. Attendance records fell. The Goodman band - with its members gaining individual fame - went back to the Midwest and the East Coast in triumph.
By January 1938, when Goodman invaded Carnegie Hall, he had added vibraharpist Hampton, whom he had found leading a band in the Paradise Cafe in Los Angeles.
The Carnegie Hall concert featured virtuoso performances by Hampton, Krupa, Elman, James and Jess Stacy. A packed house rocked to "Don't Be That Way," "Stompin' at the Savoy," "Sing, Sing, Sing" and other numbers.
"Benny was a phenomenon," said booking agent Willard Alexander. "He was not really the biggest band of the swing era. Glenn Miller was. But Benny was the biggest new thing in this type of presentation. He was even different physically, contrary to what everybody expected in a bandleader. No glamour. No sex appeal. But a well-grounded musician."
Goodman began to build his parallel career as a classical clarinetist in 1938 as well, eventually recording with the Budapest String Quartet and commissioning composer Bela Bartok to write him a work he recorded in 1940 with violinist Joseph Szigeti.
He continued to lead a big band until 1950. After World War II, he tried, briefly, to adapt to the new jazz style - bebop - but soon gave it up, to the relief of proponents of both bebop and swing.
Goodman made jazz appearances and assembled swing bands for major tours for decades - including a highly successful one of the Far East in the winter of 1956-57 and a remarkable chain of swing concerts in the Soviet Union in 1962.
Goodman appeared as himself in several movies, and he became the subject of a movie biography in 1956, "The Benny Goodman Story," with Steve Allen in the title role.
After recovering from several serious illnesses, including a brain aneurysm, Goodman last year began bringing his clarinet to private parties and dinners. He soon showed his technique and sound still were in top shape, and he put a band on call. Early this year he started accepting a limited number of concert engagements, starting in March at the Kennedy Center in Washington, and a one-hour PBS special aired in March titled "Let's Dance," the name of the old live Nabisco radio show that propelled his band into the Swing Era spotlight in 1935.
Veteran jazz buff Charles Bourgeois, top assistant to jazz festival impresario George Wein, bumped into Goodman Thursday night at Mr. Sam's nightclub in New York.
"He was in good spirits. He was enjoying the show," Bourgeois said. "I've been a fan since a teenager. I was a devoted fan forever. His music will live on."
Goodman and his wife, who died in 1978, had two daughters: Rachel, a concert pianist, and Benjie.
Some of his former sidemen, it has been reported, did not remember Goodman with much fondness, primarily because of his relentless demands on their talents.
Jess Stacy once told Time magazine, "All the time I was with Goodman, he was never satisfied. With him, perfection was just around the corner. He's worked hard enough, but I guess the more you work the more there is to learn."
Stacy added, "I figure Benny will die in bed with that damn clarinet."
[Source: San Francisco Chronicle (San Francisco, California), dated June 14, 1986]
Funeral services for Glen Gray, 63, bandleader who died Friday of cancer, will be held Monday at Plymouth, Mass. Gray's "Casa Loma" orchestra played in the top theaters and dance pavilions across the nation from 1929 to 1950.
[Source: Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), dated August 25, 1963]
Jerry Gray, composer and former arranger for Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and other groups of the big band era, died here Tuesday. He had been musical director at the Fairmont Hotel's Venetian Room since it opened in April, 1969.
Jerry Gray dead at 58
Heart Attack Claims Fairmont Bandleader
Jerry Gray, 58, whose band has played in the Venetian Room of the Fairmont Hotel since it opened in April, 1969, died about noon Tuesday of an apparent heart attack and was pronounced dead on arrival at Presbyterian Hospital at 12:30 p.m.
Gray became a major influence in popular music during the big band era primarily as an arranger.
His first big hit was at age 19 with Artie Shaw's arrangement of "Begin the Beguine."
After the Shaw band broke up, he joined Glenn Miller in 1939 and is credited with creating the Miller sound.
Two of Miller's big greatest hits, "String of Pearls" and "Pennsylvania 6-5000" were written by Gray and he arranged such Miller standars as "The Anvil Chorus," "Moonlight Cocktails," "Chattanooga Choo Choo," "I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo" and "American Patrol."
During this time, too, Gray arranged the music for the band's two movies, "Orchestra Wives" and "Sun Valley Serenade."
He spent seven years with Miller and declined an invitation from the band leader to join him on the wartime flight across the English Channel in 1944 during which Miller disappeared. For a while after, Gray headed the Miller Air Force Band.
Between his big band career and coming to the Fairmont, Gray arranged the musical scores for such motion pictures as "Pink Panther" and "What Did You Do in the War, Daddy."
With his own band he toured with Nat Cole, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and Bob Hope, and played for a number of radio and TV shows.
He originally came to the Dallas Fairmont for the purpose of putting together a band and staying with it "until it got going."
Mel Torme's comments on Gray's talents are representative of the respect held in the industry for the arranger-bandleader. "Jerry is a great musical arranger and writer . . . he is certainly one of my musical heroes."
Gray was born Generoso Graziano July 3, 1918 in Boston, Mass., and was graduated from the Boston Conservatory of Music.
He is survived by his wife Joan, a daughter and two sons.
Funeral arrangements are pending at Restland Memorial Park.
[Source: Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), dated August 11, 1976]
Hollywood (AP) - Hal Grayson, one of the top bandleaders of the 30's and 40's, was found dead Friday in his room in a hotel on a Hollywood side street. He was 51.
[Source: Dallas Morning News (Dallas, Texas), dated October 31, 1959]
Once Big Name Bandleader Dies
Hollywood (AP) – Hal Grayson, one of the biggest names in the big band era, died Friday alone in a hotel room, ending a 10-year bout with the law and alcohol. He was 51.
The former bandleader, who appeared at the largest hotels in the country from 1932 to 1944, only last week was released from Lincoln Heights jail following an arrest for drunkenness.
He was found dead in bed by a maintenance man who had been looking after him since he moved into the hotel. His death was attributed to natural causes.
Grayson was born May 31, 1908 in Los Angeles. He started his climb to fame while enrolled at the University of Southern California, where he formed a dance band.
Helped Many To Stardom
He appeared in a number of Warner Bros. movies and helped many vocalists on their way to stardom. Among them were Betty Grable, Martha Tilton and Shirley Ross. Orchestra leader Stan Kenton also played in his band.
The bandleader’s decline came in 1948 when he was arrested on his first drunk charge. A couple of dozen drunk arrests followed along with a series of confinements in sanitariums and hospitals to fight off his addiction.
Grayson once said that loneliness caused his drinking. A friend disclosed that the bandleader was further distressed when a plan to film his life story fell through.
Divorced Three Times
Added to the bandleader’s turbulent career were three divorces. His first marriage to his college sweetheart, Joye Marjorie, ended in 1932. A second marriage to Phyllis McMullen in Salt Lake City in 1933 collapsed quickly. He married Frances Bowe Slaugh in 1940 and divorced her three years later.
Grayson got his first break when bandleader Al Lyman recommended him as his replacement in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. He played a number of years at the Avalon Ballroom on Catalina Island and at most of the ballrooms and university and college functions in the nation.
[Source: Eureka Humboldt Standard (Eureka, California), dated October 31, 1959]
Manny Green, renowned bandleader, dies
Manny Green, the Galveston-born big-band leader who enchanted crowds of different generations with his trademark danceable beat, died at age 86 Monday after a lengthy bout with lung cancer.
Green's name originally was Manuel Greenberg but he changed it to make it more of a punchy, flashy show-biz, name, his son, Jack Greenberg of Houston, said Tuesday. Green, who lived in Houston, was a great musician and a wonderful human being, he said.
"He really liked those tempos that were easy for people to dance to," Greenberg said. "And my Dad really liked people. People found it really easy to talk to him."
Green died of both the cancer and congestive lung failure, Greenberg said.
Green's orchestra, a 12-piece band with 700 musical arrangements, was the first to play a telethon in Texas, according to the National Ballroom & Entertainment Association website.
Members of the orchestra often were proclaimed the masters of "music the way it used to be." During their careers, Green and his orchestra performed alongside Mel Tormé and some of the members appeared on the Lawrence Welk Show.
Greenberg said he played trumpet with his father's band for almost 40 years.
"It was a lot of fun trumpeting next to older musicians who played a lot better than me," he said.
Green served in the South Pacific during World War II, winning four bronze stars, according to his obituary.
The acclaimed musician also served with the Galveston County Sheriff's Office, retiring in 1988 with the rank of captain, his obituary shows.
He served as president of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 74, for 20 years and was active in the Big Band Academy of America and the National Ballroom and Entertainment Association. The association awarded him both the 1998 Best Regional Band title and a 2003 Achievement Award.
He was a lifelong member of Congregation Beth Jacob and belonged to Harmony Masonic Lodge, Scottish Rite, Arabia Shrine, and El Mina Shrine Temple, volunteering in its Shrine Burn Institute, his obituary states.
His bad health stopped him from his volunteer efforts, according to the obituary.
He belonged to VFW Post 880 and passed the 55-year mark in Elks Lodge Number 126.
Green began singing professionally in 1936, played bass with other bands and put together his own band in 1948.
His was the house band at the Marine Room on the Pleasure Pier out over the Gulf of Mexico and it broadcasted nightly until 1961, when Hurricane Carla destroyed the pier.
Green was also a regular at the famed Hollywood Dinner Club in Galveston, as well as the Shamrock and Rice Hotels in Houston, according to his obituary.
One of Greenberg's fondest memories of his father was on Saturday nights, after performing at one Galveston club or another, going to hang out after hours with numerous other musicians who had just finished performing locally.
"I must have been a 15-year-old kid when that happened and it was really neat," Greenberg said. "My dad was a big musical influence of mine and I loved to hear those dance bands."
Green's Orchestra was featured as part of the entertainment when the Republican Convention was held in Houston in 1992. In 1996, the band accompanied Myron Floren, also of the Lawrence Welk Show, at the 1894 Grand Opera House in the Historic Strand District in Galveston.
Also in 1996, he played on the Carnival Cruise ship "Celebration" for a cruise to the Caribbean.
In September, 1997, Manny held a Big Band Gala - a weekend of dancing in Galveston - the first to be held in Texas. Dancers attended the gala from nine states. It was a huge success.
He is survived by his son, daughter-in-law Jane of Houston; two granddaughters, Janet Wilkerson and husband Steve, of Houston, and Jeri Parker and husband Darryl, of Birmingham, Alabama. He also had five great-grandchildren, his obituary states.
Green's burial will be at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Beth Jacob Cemetery, 61st street and Avenue T, Galveston, with Rabbi James Kessler officiating. A memorial service will be announced at a later date.
[Source: Galveston County Daily News (Galveston, Texas), dated August 1, 2007]
Jimmy Grier Is Dead; Bandleader of 1930’s
Glendale, Cal. (AP) – Jimmy Grier, 57, noted bandleader and composer of the 1930’s, died Thursday. In collaboration with Pinky Tomlin, he wrote “Object of My Affection” and “What’s the Reason I’m Not Pleasin’ You.”
During the peak of his career he led large orchestras in hotels across the nation.
[Source: Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), dated June 5, 1959]
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