• Fats Waller’s Muzak Session 1935

    HearMeIt has been amazing to experience the music and the stories behind it as we have researched the archives, but we haven’t had a lot of opportunities to really step inside the studio.  One of the researchers stumbled upon this account of an actual day of recording in the Muzak Studios.

    Book: “Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya: The Story of Jazz As Told by the Men Who Made It”
    Authors: Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff
    Excerpt (pages 261 thru 262)
    W.T. Ed Kirkeby (Fats Waller manager)

    I had booked a date with Muzak to do some transcriptions with Fats and his Rhythm.  As we had three shows daily at the Lowe’s State Theatre, we had to sandwich this recording session in between our stage work.  The recording studio was just across the street from the stage entrance, so it was no job to get there.  Fats and I had quite a hassle with the stagehands’ union which was insisting on putting on an extra electrician at Fats’ expense.  One hundred bucks a week just to plug in a line for his Hammond organ.  “Take yo hand outa ma pocket,” Fats had screamed, and was glad to get away from the scene of the holdup.

    Once in the Muzak studio we lost no time.  The first show at the theatre had keyed up the boys, and with a fine Steinway piano and an excellent “studio sound” Fats looked forward to having himself a ball.  Everyone was keyed up and in the proper frame of mind for musical stimulation – and the panic was soon on.  The boys played like there was no tomorrow.  They knew all the tunes and the masters piled up at a truly amazing rate.  With the next show ahead Fats had to keep a terrific pace, but with all the drive there was always that feeling of relaxation, of Fats having fun.  He would chuckle and grin, raise his eyebrows in glee, and when Gene Sedric would come up for a solo Fats’ booming voice would urge him to greater efforts with, “Get on yo feet, Baby Bear, and earn yo salary.”  Or to Slick Jones who would be frantically chewing a wad of gum, “Gimme some skin, man gimme some skin.”  And as the pace became more torrid and the joint really began to rock, Fats would scream to Bugs Hamilton, “Ah send me, send me….SEND ME…..YEAH!”  And Buggsy’s trumpet would soar to the clouds and do fine things under the spell of the Waller drive.  Yes, it was happy music and it made for a joyous day not only for those who made the music, but for us in the control room who were lucky enough to be in on the (Muzak) session.

    The date was over for Fats and his Rhythm with a grand total of twelve sides recorded.  “On stage” at the theatre was only ten minutes away and the boys disappeared fast.  Fats got away with “I’ll see you later”, for he was to return after the second show for a session of piano solos.  And later that afternoon he did just that.  Four more solo records seemed like play, and that powerful left hand was a one-man rhythm section.  No one could doubt after that second record session, in addition to his three shows at the theatre on the same day, that the tremendous drive and vitality that characterized Fats’ work was really without equal anywhere.

    This session was held at Muzak on March 11, 1935.  Here’s a taste of that incredible recording…

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • Live in the Muzak Studios

    Glen Gray Album

    One of the most engaging facts about our Muzak archive recordings, especially from the ‘30s and ‘40s, is that they sound LIVE.  That’s because they practically were.  Executive producer Ben Selvin would book many artists and orchestras while they were on tour in New York.  They’d come into the Muzak studio and simply play their live sets.  In a matter of just a few hours these bands would knock out 12 to 15 songs, most in only one take.

    When listening to a recently digitized session by Glen Gray and his Orchestra, recorded at Muzak’s Manhattan studio on February 5, 1936, it was as if I was listening to them playing live at the Casa Loma just down the street.  One of the musicians steps up to the mic as the band plays along.

    So grab the closest seat to the stage you can find, order your favorite beverage and listen to a fun performance by Korry Scott on vocals with Glen Gray and his Orchestra.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • How Did We Get the Library?

    AlbumsImagine that you were given the task of recording hundreds of high quality music tracks, all in a matter of months, for an upstart company specializing in music delivery.  Record labels wouldn’t give you the rights to their libraries, so you have no other choice than to do it yourself.  Now imagine it’s 1934 and you’re in the midst of The Depression, so money and studios are extremely hard to come by.

    After years of research and digging through our archives and history, it still amazes me that we (Muzak) were able to get it done.  Within just a few months Muzak was on the air to hundreds of businesses and residences in Cleveland and New York.  By the late ‘30s, we were delivering to thousands all over the east coast.

    With Ben Selvin at the controls, the quality of the recordings in those early days was superb and the artists he persuaded to record at our Muzak studios in Manhattan were the best in the industry.

    How about another example?  On November 5, 1937 Ben invited Ray Sinatra and his Orchestra in for a session.  Just a year earlier, Ray had recorded his first gig with Ben at Muzak, so it was time for more.  The talent in this family was very apparent and Mr. Selvin wanted to take full advantage.

    Here is a track from this 1937 Muzak session.



    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • Shilkret Session – Exquisite

    Nathaniel Shilkret

    Nathaniel Shilkret

    Over the last year we’ve showcased dozens of artists who recorded at Muzak in the ‘30s and ‘40s .  A few weeks back one of our readers, Joe Adams, asked me to look into the Muzak recordings of Nathaniel Shilkret.  Joe was a huge fan of Muzak in the ‘40s, and he knew our library inside and out.  So when he mentioned that our recordings of Shilkret were some of the best he’d ever heard, I got excited to check them out myself.  The very next day I found a few of the tracks and listened.  Oh my!

    On July 8, 1940, Nathaniel Shilkret and his orchestra graced Muzak’s Manhattan studio to record one of the cleanest, most technically exquisite sessions we’ve heard to date. Through the years Nathaniel Shilkret’s orchestra members had included Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Lionel Hampton, Glenn Miller, George Gershwin and Andrés Segovia.  In other words, Nathaniel was a magnet for some of the best musicians the industry has ever seen.

    At the time of this Muzak recording session Shilkret was also working with MGM on a series of movie scores – one busy guy.  Enjoy this wonderful rendition of Nathaniel Shilkret and his Orchestra’s “Minute Waltz”, from Muzak’s transcription archives.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • Featuring the 1940s on 75.muzak.com

    History of Muzak in the 1940s

    History of Muzak in the 1940s

    Here is just one of many stories you’ll find when visiting our Muzak history website:

    From 1939 to 1945 most of the world was embroiled in WWII and the country united in a period of mass solidarity.  As the men went off to war, women flock to fill vacancies in factories, shipyards and arsenals, where they produced essential supplies for the boys “Over There”.   Everyone rolled up their sleeves to get the job done – and Muzak was no exception.

    Muzak got behind the war effort in many important ways, most publicly by providing music programming for 1,400 nationwide factories with upbeat hits like “G.I. Joe” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”, along with cool-down mood music by artists likes Buddy Weed and Arthur Fiedler.  The intended role of “Music by Muzak” was to increase production and productivity – and Muzak delivered on their promise.  Researchers, military leaders and industry tycoons alike took notice when war effort assembly line output increased by 11% when Muzak motivated this all female workforce.

    Industrial psychologists began to study the influence of music on productivity levels in work environments, and an increase in production output was just the tip of the iceberg.  Muzak’s music increased worker’s morale, with 83% reporting they found their jobs more enjoyable.  The verdict was in: Muzak made work better.  Soon, corporate America would get in on the action.

    For music, pictures, stories and factoids that will keep you riveted, visit http://75.muzak.com

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • Did Rap Music Start Here?

    Deep River Boys

    Deep River Boys

    The wonderful thing about music is that nobody really knows who hummed the first melody, who uttered the first lyric or who beat on the first skin. The debates about where the origins of almost every genre of music will continue through our lifetimes and beyond. Did Rock start with Elvis, Carl Perkins or Fats Waller? Did Jazz start in the streets of Chicago, New Orleans or in New York? What about Country music? Was the Carter family where it all began, or was it in the back hills of the Carolinas decades before that?

    When combing through our Muzak master library, we came across a session from 1954 that caught my ear. The Deep River Boys, a popular 4 piece vocal group from Virginia, came into Muzak’s Manhattan studio on June 7th to record a dozen songs accompanied by a single piano. One of the compositions they sang that afternoon was “What Did He Say,” written by Cy Coben. Could this have been the first rap song ever recorded? Listen and decide for yourself.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • The Galli Sisters Get My Vote

    The Galli Sisters

    The Galli Sisters

    OK, it’s time to stir the pot.  I think we can all agree that the most popular sister act during the 1940s was the Andrew Sisters, right?   A string of huge hits like “Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar”, “Beer Barrel Polka” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” didn’t hurt their popularity one bit.  But were they the best sister act?

    After listening to scores of tracks recorded by the Galli Sisters at the Muzak studio in Manhattan in the mid through late ‘40s, I began to question who should own that top spot.  As a matter of fact, the more I listened, the more I fell in love with the Galli Sisters.  Their harmonies, personality and dynamics were unmatched in my book.  Move over Andrew Sisters.  After close examination and debate (with myself), the Galli Sisters get my vote.  How about you?

    Give a listen and judge for yourself.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • Muzak Evolution in the ‘40s

    Associated Program Services Record

    Associated Program Services Transcription

    In the early ‘40s Muzak’s business model began to evolve.  One of owner Bill Benton’s visions was for the company to diversify.   With licensing changes and leverage applied by radio lobbyists, by 1940 Muzak was no longer allowed to broadcast via telephone lines directly to homes.  But many radio stations were envious of the large transcription music library Muzak had amassed.  Muzak seized on the opportunity by marketing their rich library and providing a music service to hundreds of radio stations across the country.  The product was called Associated Program Service, distributing new 16” record compilations to radio stations on a weekly basis.

    Because of the demand for this service, and the requests by radio stations for various styles of music, Muzak executive producer Ben Selvin broadened his sessions to include not only jazz, bluegrass, gospel and big band, but now opera, musicals, Latin, Hawaiian and hundreds of novelty orchestras.  He also wrote, arranged and recorded hundreds of “production aids,” which were a series of short musical promos, bumpers, station breaks, time intros and instrumental transitional segues, used by stations throughout their locally produced shows.  Radio was a Muzak money maker in the ‘40s and Mr. Selvin made sure he produced the quality, variety and aids to keep it that way.

    However, Bill Benton knew his biggest opportunity was music for business, which had grown steadily since 1934.  His research and marketing approach was starting to produce major results in the early ‘40s.  The Muzak franchise network, the first of its kind in the US, was starting to expand, with new territories popping up all over the country.  Music service via telephone lines along with the design and installation of quality sound systems into businesses was the foundation of Muzak’s business and growth model.  Then WWII took everything to another level for Muzak.

    But, let’s get back for a second to the “production aids” Muzak produced for radio.   Here’s one example of the creativity and ingenuity that Ben Selvin and his team applied to their craft over 70 years ago.  Ya gotta love this stuff!

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • Welcome Aboard Joe

    edit oar

    Over the past 8 months, you’ve read about my navigation through the early waters of Muzak.  The boat we’ve been riding is powered by an ocean of folks who have researched, dug into and discovered treasures from our history on a daily basis.

    The stories have not only come from the 40 pallets of archives we’ve been searching through the last 3 years, but from hoards of other sources.  Muzak franchisees, some of whom have over 7 decades of Muzak experiences, have shared stories and artifacts with our archive team.  A history professor and author from Chicago, Chris Stacy, has been a tremendous resource as have David and Emily Selvin, grandchildren of Muzak’s legendary producer, Ben Selvin.  There have been fact finding missions with ex-Muzak executives, including Chuck Walker, Rod Baum, Bruce Funkhouser and past CEOs Bill Boyd and 92-year-old Bing Muscio.  Several books have been written about Muzak and the internet has led us to many unexpected finds. Our Muzak Archive team of Roberta Keener, Jan Turner, Jagger Gestson, Bryant Hill, Lou Mondelli, Rick Nash, Tabatha Mullennix, Kira Bloomingdale and Jerri Firth, along with our archive curator, JK Dameron, has been relentless at uncovering and archiving historic gems.

    But, getting first hand information from someone who actually experienced those early Muzak days in the ‘30s and ‘40s is a rare find indeed.  Sure, Bing Muscio and Bill Boyd shared wonderful Muzak information from the ‘60s and ‘70s, but no earlier than that … not firsthand anyways.

    Then, last week a gentlemen who said he was in his “geezer-hood,” sent a message to our blog that warmed my heart and compelled me to contact him directly. Two calls and a dozen emails later, I realized that we had struck gold.  His name is Joe Adams.  He is 85-years-old and became a huge fan of Muzak in the ‘30s and ‘40s while in his teens.  The radio station he listened to played Muzak recordings.  As with most teens today, music became a huge part of Joe’s life.  He knew every song, every singer, every story … everything.  He boasted that the music, artists and quality was better on his favorite station, KE2XCC, than any other station in his Alpine, NJ area.  His station played Muzak’s Associated transcription recordings exclusively.  He knew all the artists, what their pseudonyms were, where they performed live, and what they ate for breakfast (almost).  For most of us, the passions of our childhood days fade.  But not for Joe.  He followed his passion for music throughout his life:  into military service, fatherhood, his journalism career, and into his “geezer-hood.”

    As Joe and I chatted at length about Muzak’s master library, he told me stories about almost every artist.  He became my own personal wiki.   We were both like kids in a candy store.

    So, as I continue to write about our journey through the waters of Muzak history, Joe will, from time to time, grab one of the oars.  Welcome aboard Joe!

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • The Sound of Muzak in the ’40s

    John Kirby

    John Kirby

    I have a few more blogs coming that will continue to uncover Muzak’s trendsetting customer research approach of the 1940s.  But you know me by now.  We’ve gotta hear some more music from our archives first!

    As owner Bill Benton was firing up the marketing machine, Ben Selvin continued his genius in the Muzak APM studios, recording the industry’s best.  Many of us think the recordings he captured through this decade are among our finest.  The singers were amazing; Rosemary Clooney, The Deep River Boys, a young Vic Damone, the Galli Sisters, and the list goes on.  The bands, arrangements and productions just kept getting better with each session.

    So, which track should we pick to get us started in the ‘40s?  Remember, these tracks have never been released to the public and haven’t been heard in over 50 years!

    I literally closed my eyes and randomly picked a track.  One of approximately 7,500 we recorded in the 1940s.

    …and the winner is (drum roll please) “Desert Night” by jazz band leader and double-bassists, John Kirby.   Having played with the likes of Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie and Buster Bailey, John Kirby was an extremely popular band leader in the ‘30s and ‘40s.  Listen to the musicianship and solos as John Kirby’s 6 piece group nailed this song in just one take back on August 18, 1944 at the Muzak studio in Manhattan.  Not a bad random pick if I do say so myself.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

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