• Ol’ Man River

    Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra

    Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra

    In 1927, Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein wrote the musical “Show Boat”, featuring the now Grammy winning tune “Ol’ Man River.”  In that same year, Glen Gray’s popular Orange Blossom Band was playing in Toronto at the Casa Loma Hotel.  It was there that they first arranged and performed “Ol’ Man River.”  It immediately became a mainstay in their set list for years to come.

    On February 25, 1935, Glen Gray and his Orchestra stepped into Muzak’s studio in Manhattan to record this and 12 other songs.  It’s easy to see why they played “Ol’ Man River” for so many years; a great song with a great arrangement, played by a great band.  Enjoy this never before released recording of “Ol’ Man River” by the Glen Gray Orchestra.


    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • Aliases Abound

    AMP Recording Session

    AMP Recording Session

    Our research of Muzak recording sessions through the ‘30s and ‘40s found many of the musicians and bands using aliases.  One of Muzak’s most frequent recording artists was Louis Katzman, who recorded for Muzak as:  Atlantic Dance Orchestra, The Biltmore Club Orchestra, The Castillians, Jazz-O-Harmonists, Louis Katzman Colonial Orchestra, and Whittall’s Anglo-Persians.  Muzak’s executive producer and recording artist Ben Selvin recorded under nearly 25 different orchestra names himself.

    Here are a few more aliases we found in our archives thanks to Jan Turner, Roberta Keener and our research team…

    Artist Alias
    Bernard Levitow Orchestra Bernard Lewison
    Bert Shefter – pianist Bert Shay
    Carson Robison And His Buckaroos Bud Buckingham and His Buckaroos
    Enric Madriguera Dance Orchestra Emilio Moreno
    Fabien Sevitzky and Concert String Orchestra Associated String Orchestra
    Frank Luther Quintets Bud Billings
    George Shackley Moonbeams Ensemble George Shelley
    Green Brothers Novelty Orchestra Gordon Brothers
    Green Brothers Trio Chapel Chimer
    Jack Parker – vocalist John Powell
    Jack Shilkret And His Orchestra Jack Shaw
    Mary Hopple – vocalist Margaret Hembee
    Morton Gould – pianist Morton Glenn
    Muriel Wilson – vocalist Mary Wheeler
    National Fascist Militia Band Pan American Brass Band
    Norman Cordon Nat Cromwell
    Orpheus Male Chorus Associated Male Glee Club
    The Modern Symphonic Choir The Manhattan Choristers
    Tom Griselle Orchestra Thomas Greenow
    Veronica Wiggins – vocalist Virginia Wayne
    Walter Preston – vocalist/director Wallace Paine
    Willard Robinson’s Deep River Orchestra William Randolph and his Bayou Orchestra

    Most of these musicians had contracts with record labels.  In order to make a little more money during the Great Depression years, they found themselves recording for other entities and using various aliases to disguise their real identity.  Other times the labels wanted to give the impression that there were new bands on the market, so they’d give the old ones a new name.  Sponsors and venues would pay bands to change their names to feature their product or location.  And sometimes it was simply because of the name’s appeal (or lack of it).  The “National Fascist Militia Band,” on tour in The States during the summer of 1934, was Mussolini’s own national band from Italy.  I’d have to say giving that band the alias “Pan American Brass Band” was a good move on the part of Muzak, wouldn’t you?

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan

  • Jimmy Dorsey Finds His Note at Muzak

    Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra Stage Report

    Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra Stage Report

    The hundreds of bands and orchestras that graced Muzak’s studio through the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s were attracted to this Manhattan facility for three reasons.  First, because the sessions were produced by Ben Selvin, the industry’s top producer.  Second, it was a good pay check, and that came in very handy during The Depression and war years.  And third, because these musicians were given the freedom to do their thing!

    A couple of musical buddies of Ben Selvin were brothers Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey.  Both brothers, whether in the same band or with their own orchestras, found themselves in the Muzak studio recording their favorite tunes dozens of times throughout the ‘30s.  One such session was held on September 23, 1935, with Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra.  It was obvious that the band was in good form that day because of the spontaneity and fun captured in several of these recordings.  Most of the 15 tracks they laid down that autumn afternoon were in one take, which tells you the band was not only tight, but extremely loose at the same time.

    When current day producer Joe Carter, who is knee deep in digitizing these Muzak archives, first heard this 1935 session he immediately emailed me an mp3 so I could hear for myself.  He knew we had something very special… and he was right!  The song is titled “I’ve Got a Note” by Jimmy Dorsey and His Orchestra.  What a great tune, full of great musicians havin’ a heap of fun.  Hear for yourself and enjoy!

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan

  • Ben Selvin’s Recordings

    Ben Selvin conducts in the AMP Studios

    Ben Selvin conducts in the AMP Studios

    You probably already know that Ben Selvin was the early day Muzak VP of Programming.  You also know that Ben was the most respected and prolific producer in the music industry from the teens through the 1950s.  As Ben would schedule sessions with various artists at Muzak’s AMP studios in Manhattan, he’d occasionally book his own bands to lay down some tunes for the Muzak library.  On second thought, I’m not sure that the recording of over 400 tracks can be considered “occasional.”

    Ben became the darling of the music industry following his 1919 recording of “Dardanella” with his Novelty Band, which was the first record to ever sell over 5 million albums (it would have gone multi-platinum if the RIAA had been awarding certifications back then).  Ben was commissioned by several of the top record labels to produce just about every musical genre known at the time.  Because of Ben’s extensive background with string arrangements, it’s only natural that when he came to Muzak in 1934 the majority of his recordings where orchestral.  However, because of his appreciation for and experience with all types of musical genres, and the fact that Muzak’s early library depended on a wide variety of music, we’ve found loads of cuts by Ben Selvin that touch on big band, gospel, swing, novelty, hillbilly and even barbershop.

    I’d like to share two Muzak recordings by Selvin.  These, along with our entire archive library, have never been released to the public, and haven’t been heard in over 60 years… so consider this a special treat.

    The first recording, a Selvin arrangement of Disney’s “Someday My Prince Will Come”, showcases Ben’s orchestral upbringings, with harps, piano, light horns and an ocean of violins.  The second features vocals by the Norsemen with piano accompaniment by Charles Harold.  It’s called “The Handicap”.  When listening to these two 1940s recordings, it’s hard to believe that both songs were orchestrated, arranged and produced by the same guy: Muzak’s own Ben Selvin.  Enjoy!

    Submitted by Bruce McKagan

  • The Golden Age of Radio…Thanks to Muzak

    Associated Program Services Album

    Associated Program Services Album

    As you’ve read and heard in several of my latest blogs, Muzak’s early days were all about recording the industry’s best.  These recordings were perfect for building their main product offering, which was music for business.  However, once radio stations heard about this, they wanted in on the action.  You see, back in the ‘30s and ‘40s radio would not and could not legally broadcast recordings sold to the public. If they wanted to feature music, they would book musicians into their studios and broadcast them live, which was an expensive and restrictive proposition.  Muzak’s electronic transcription recordings where produced exclusively for broadcast, making them a great option and a hot commodity for radio stations across the country in those early days of radio.

    By the late ‘30s Muzak’s “Associated Programming Services” (APS) began to develop their own “library services” (e.g., programming) for syndication and broadcast networks.    Each week stations would receive one or two new 16” discs with 4 to 6 recordings per side for their library.  Associated subscribers accumulated a library of thousands of tracks in different genres such as big band, jazz, opera, hillbilly, musicals, Negro gospel, classical, popular vocals, and lots of novelty recordings.  Because of the popularity of these recordings, Muzak came to be known as the “hit makers”.

    Associated also provided their radio customers with what were known as production aids.  These were recordings in the form of jingles, bumpers, station breaks and IDs, announcements, musical interludes and introductions.  Subscribers could literally produce their own radio shows by programming production aids along with musical tracks and local DJ voice-overs. This proved to be a highly profitable investment in a world hungry for novelty and fresh content over broadcast radio.

    Muzak continued to supply content to radio stations across America all through the Golden Age of Radio (‘30s, ‘40s and early ‘50s – before TV caught on), after which time we boxed these masters up and hid them in storage for over 60 years.  No wonder the Grammy Museum, Library of Congress and Smithsonian are so excited about helping us uncover these American pop culture treasures.  As a matter of fact, I think that’s Bob from the Grammys calling right now.  Excuse me for a second…

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan

  • Muzak’s First Big Dream

    Depression RadioIt’s always been amazing to me that a company like Muzak would open up shop for the first time during the depths of the Great Depression.  Was Muzak’s inventor, Gen. George Squier, a visionary or just a wild dreamer?   By 1934, the year Muzak was founded, the Great Depression had forced the GNP to drop by 30%, 13 million jobs were lost and unemployment had risen to almost 38%.  This sure didn’t seem like a good time to start a business; especially one that produced a non-essential product like music…. right?

    What’s important to understand is that during these hard times music delivered not only escape from the realities of the depression, but hope.  Musicals, storytellers, spirituals, big band, hillbilly music, opera and novelty songs were the medicine of the day.  Even though the common American was going without many of their basic necessities, radio and phonograph sales were dramatically on the rise.

    So I guess George was a visionary after all!  He figured out an innovative way to distribute music to thousands of consumers and businesses by the mid ‘30s.  Ben Selvin, Muzak’s first VP of Programming, was the guy who produced recordings that captured the heart and desires of the American people during the depression.  Recordings by the likes of the Dorsey Brothers, the original Riders of the Purple Sage, the Deep River Boys, the Green Brothers, Fats Waller, Jan Pearce and thousands of incredible artists who performed in the ‘30s and ‘40s.  This was the music that entertained and gave hope to a nation in the depths of the Great Depression.  The rest is history and Muzak was in the middle of it all.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan

  • The Cotton Club Comes to Muzak

    Cotton Club OrchestraJust up the street from Muzak’s AMP studios in Manhattan was the Cotton Club, Harlem’s hottest nightclub through the 1920s and ‘30s, featuring legendary jazz artists like Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Lena Horn and Claude Hopkins.
    Muzak’s executive producer Ben Selvin was a big fan of the jazz music coming out of the Cotton Club, having recorded the likes of Fats Waller and Claude Hopkins on several occasions through the ‘30s. On October 18, 1935, Ben booked a session with Claude Hopkins and His Cotton Club Orchestra to record twenty-seven songs. Let me repeat that…27 songs recorded in one afternoon session!
    As I was listening to these tracks, which haven’t been heard in over 60 years, I was amazed by the quality, the musicianship and the dynamics of the music. No wonder the Cotton Club was the hottest club in town and Muzak’s music programs were selling like hotcakes. This music was and still is incredible.

    Now to pick one song for you to hear… it’s a tough job. How about “Sweet Horn”? With Fred Norman on vocals, this track sounds like it was recorded live at the Cotton Club. You can almost see the audience swaying back and forth as the band eggs the crowd on. Makes ya wish you could’ve been there. Enjoy Claude Hopkins and His Cotton Club Orchestra playing “Sweet Horn”.

  • The Dorsey Brothers’ “Ragtime Band”

    The Dorsey BrothersIn the early days of Muzak, many of the standards of the time were covered by popular recording artists.  “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, written by Irving Berlin in 1911, became his first hit song, sparking an international dance craze.  That same year it topped the charts four different times, by four different bands.  Now that’s a hit!

    By the 1930s, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” had become a standard of which I found over 10 recordings by Muzak from 1935 thru 1950.  Featuring artists like Bert Block, Milt Herth, The Virginians, Sam Tabak, Emil Coleman and Al Goodman, we have not digitized most of these recordings to date, so I have yet to hear them…. except for one.

    On February 1, 1935, the Dorsey Brothers Dance Orchestra entered the Muzak studio in Manhattan, for a 3 hour session to record “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” along with 9 other tracks.   This session was recorded just months before the big break-up when Tommy left Jimmy Dorsey to form his own band.

    What a band!  What a song!  What a recording!  What a treasure!!  You can only imagine my excitement when I first heard this never before released recording of the Dorsey Brothers.   In ONE TAKE the brothers captured this epic arrangement for all time.  I invite you to be one of the first to hear this recording in over 60 years!  Enjoy the Dorsey Brothers Dance Orchestra’s rendition of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” from our Muzak master archives.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan

  • Wanna Hear Some Early Muzak?

    Joe Haymes Album

    Joe Haymes Album

    Over the last several months, I’ve taken you on a Muzak journey thru our music archives, starting back in 1934…but hadn’t shared one piece of music with you until my last post. I hope you all enjoyed learning about Frank Luther’s Golden Slippers!

    Let’s start with a session done at Muzak’s AMP Studio in Manhattan on December 20, 1934. It’s called “There’s Gonna Be a Wedding in the Band”, recorded by Joe Haymes and his Orchestra. The Haymes Orchestra was one of the country’s hottest dance bands in the 30’s, with a particular knack for jazz novelties, with players like Johnny Mice, Pee Wee Erwin, Toots Mondello and both Dorsey brothers. Haymes also toured as an arranger for Les Brown and Tommy Dorsey. Not bad credentials.

    This session, including “There’s Gonna Be A Wedding in the Band”, was held for a little over 3 hours and produced 14 tracks on a Thursday afternoon in 1934. As a hobby producer, I just finished spending over 16 studio hours on one song. Joe Haymes and His Orchestra did 14 songs in 3 hours??? Incredible!

    What caught me about this recording was the whimsical, fun nature of the lyrics, the wonderful arrangement and the level of musicianship. This band cooked! I would have loved to have seen these guys live. This track was recorded in one take, so this is as live as we’ll get. Enjoy!!

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan

  • The First Hillbilly Heart-Throb

    Frank Luther

    Frank Luther

    When Ben Selvin, Muzak’s executive producer in the ‘30s and ‘40s, called on bands and musicians to record for Muzak, he seemed impartial to their musical styles or genres.  He booked big bands, jazz, gospel, opera and everything in between.  On November 23, 1934, Ben invited his friend Frank Luther into his Muzak studio to record a few tunes.  Frank Luther had a trio with his wife, Zora Layman, and baritone Leonard Stokes. They were the first featured act on the NBC radio series, “Hillbilly Heart-Throbs” at the time of this recording.  Frank is recognized along with the Carter family and Carson Robison as pioneers of country western music.

    Frank’s trio was often found in Muzak studios because of his warm and engaging approach to music.  “Oh Dem Golden Slippers” is a great example of Frank’s rural American style.  This Frank Luther tune is one of 20,000 Muzak recordings from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s that has never been released to the public and hasn’t been heard in over 60 years.    We are in the painstaking process of digitizing this immense library.   Over the next few weeks we plan to spoon feed you some of these historic nuggets.  Have fun listening to and sharing these pop culture treasures with your friends.  I sure am.

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