• 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

  • 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

  • Industry’s First Recorded Music Program

    Catchings Letter

    The year was 1934, Muzak’s first year in business.  Located in Cleveland, Muzak offered an exciting new distribution technology, telephonic multiplexing, backed by a growing music library that was becoming the envy of the music industry.  We had our eye on two business opportunities.  The first targeted home owners in the Cleveland area.  Even though Muzak’s advanced technology offered higher sound quality than radio, it was very expensive for a middle class family.  These were The Great Depression years, so only well-to-do residents could afford to subscribe.  Over the first 3 years, many elite customers were signed, but not enough to satisfy investors.

    Muzak’s second target, which was much more successful, was the hospitality business.  Back in the early ‘30s, if a restaurant and hotel wanted music, they needed to hire musicians to play live, which was extremely costly and not always applicable.  Pre-recorded music had never been an option.  Muzak VP Ben Selvin began to produce music programs that created the audio experience most clients were looking for.  This soon became a smart option for hotels and restaurants.  After moving to NYC in 1935, Muzak quickly became the talk of the town.

    In 1936, Muzak President Waddill Catchings wrote a memo to Ben Selvin that outlined their programming recommendations for restaurants.  See above.  This is the carbon from what is believed to be the first official document that outlines a recommended sequence of musical content for business.  This is where it all started for this 77-year-old business that still thrives on putting the right music in the right place for a perfect audio experience.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • Little Brother Crosby Makes His Mark

    Bob Crosby

    Bob Crosby

    In January of 1935, The Dorsey Brothers recorded at the Muzak studios with vocalist Bob Crosby.  Bob was the younger brother of Bing, who was making his own waves in the music industry.  Bob caught the ear of Muzak executive producer Ben Selvin.  Later that same year, Bob formed his own band and Ben booked him for a session on February 26, 1936.  Rooted in Dixieland music, The Bob Crosby Orchestra was filled with legendary musicians, including Yank Lawson, Billy Butterfield, Muggsy Spanier, Matty Matlock, Irving Fazola, Ward Silloway, Warren Smith, Eddie Miller, Bob Zurke, Jess Stacy, Nappy Lamare, Bob Haggart, Walt Yoder, Jack Sperling, and Ray Bauduc.

    Did you know that baby brother Bob Crosby has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one each for television and recording?  Bing has a few of his own.

    What a band!  Give a listen to one of the 15 recordings The Bob Crosby Orchestra laid down that winter afternoon in Manhattan.  One take is all they needed.  Now, after 75 years we get to listen in.

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • More Dorsey Studio Time

    Tommy Dorsey

    Tommy Dorsey

    Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra came to Muzak’s AMP studio in Manhattan on November 11, 1935 to lay down several tracks for the one year old music broadcast company. A chum of Muzak executive producer Ben Selvin, Tommy Dorsey found himself recording for Ben often because of their friendship, and it was crazy to turn down a paying gig during The Depression.

    If you’ve been following this blog you know that we’re having fun featuring several never before released tracks from our historic Muzak library. Today’s recording is of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra with their arrangement of “Sing Before Breakfast,” featuring Cliff Weston on vocals.

    Notice that, as with many of the songs recorded in the ‘30s, the vocals don’t get introduced until deep into the song.  Back in those days it was more important to feature the band than the singer.  Well, at least most band leaders felt that way.  Enjoy!

    Contributed by Bruce McKagan, Muzak Archives Director

  • 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

  • Page 1 of 212