Today, Rifftides offers the second installment of scholar, teacher and historian Jeff Sultanof’s essay on pleasures and challenges in the craft of correcting arrangements.
Exploring Buried Treasure in Plain Sight, Part 2
By Jeff Sultanof
I was fortunate to have Jerome Graff (pictured) as a mentor and colleague for thirty-five years. Graff was one of the top vocal arranger/conductors in the music business, initially as the chief arranger and member of the vocal group The Beachcombers, who were a very popular lounge act at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. They also opened in the main room for such acts as Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne (Jerry wrote special material for her) and Nat Cole; Jerry even appeared on Cole’s television show. Such arrangers as Gene Puerling (The Hi-Los) and Bob Alcivar (The Fifth Dimension) have named him an important influence in group vocal music. I learned about act writing and conducting from him (among many other things), eventually working with him orchestrating and producing recordings. When I met him in 1973, he was still active in a business when singers of all types were performing in clubs, auditoriums, casinos and television. I heard many acts over the years: bona-fide stars, television actors who needed a few numbers to play live venues and increase their visibility, and near-amateurs who had money and a dream. Jerry and I would discuss them.
Jerry taught me that different performers needed different types of acts, that a new performer with no hits needed powerful material to make an impression and go to the bigger, more prestigious clubs, but a star could get away with simply performing his or her hits most of the time; audiences felt cheated if they weren’t performed. However, he believed that a total greatest-hits presentation was a cop-out, that you needed to have a strong structure with one song naturally moving to another. He wanted audiences to wonder how an hour of entertainment went flying by and felt like five minutes. In particular, an audience member needed to feel that each time he or she would see a performer, the show would be even better than the last time (a great example of this was Mitzi Gaynor, who toured every year with a new show that was spectacular and always packed the houses she played).
The conductor of an act is close to a conductor trained for musical theater and/or opera. Lothar Perl, my composition teacher, told me that positions in local opera houses were the best way for a new conductor to train. Accompanying singers is a discipline that warrants a form of radar different from symphony conducting. Skipped bars, blown lyrics, and temporary memory loss while speaking to the audience with music in the background are possible issues that demand immediate response from a conductor so that it does not seem like the artist made a mistake. The musicians reading this who have played behind singers no doubt have some great stories about some real-life disasters, particularly playing behind artists who were once big stars and simply don’t sound very good anymore. I’ve seen the look of panic on a conductor’s face, and the upset faces of the musicians.
So that held note with “Mona Lisa” next to it indicated that if Cole performed the up-tempo “Just One of Those Things” which was not a chart hit for him, he would follow it with one of his biggest records. The audience would experience a mood change, but would remain on a high with something they’d been waiting to hear. There are different ways a star can seduce you, and if the material is right, you remember how you felt in his or her presence long after you go home. The right song programming and continuity (the between-song jokes or introductions) are essential.
I observed various changes in different scores. I saw that the original introduction to “Walkin’ My Baby Back Home” was not used, that what was recorded came from the first few bars of ensemble with Cole singing the melody, also that the interlude was cut by eight bars, most likely for timing purposes (producers were encouraged to limit a track to three minutes or so). But “Walkin’” presented an interesting situation: the parts used at the recording session were marked up extensively, indicating that they were used a lot in live performance. In fact, they were so marked up that a new set of parts was prepared from those originals, with optional cuts (and some of the same errors). Perhaps that entire interlude was used or not used in different circumstances. It is a wonderful occurrence to have two sets of parts, because each one has its own sets of stories to tell, but can also potentially confuse things even more.
Another surprise awaited me when I examined the score to “Just One of Those Things,” namely that Billy May (pictured right) wrote out the first few pages entirely, and his hand continues on some parts while other parts are in a different hand. He obviously needed help finishing the arrangements on the date. This is yet another instance of ‘ghostwriting’ and the helper’s name does not appear in Jack Mirtle’s monumental discography on May, so this is new information. With the amount of television, motion picture and recording work happening on both East and West coasts, arrangers gladly helped each other finish work that was needed in a hurry. In New York, several arrangers lived within a short area of Central Park West and streets in the 70s blocks and helped each other on record dates and live television shows.
Rob DuBoff supplied samples of the work of Heinie Beau, who helped May out several times, but the handwriting doesn’t match. My guess is that Walter Sheets is the co-arranger, an excellent musician who helped Billy on the Ella Fitzgerald/Harold Arlen album. May met Sheets while both were arranging for the Bing Crosby radio show. Parts in constant use are similar to a negative of a movie that is very popular; many have simply fallen apart. “Mona Lisa” is an excellent case in point where decisions have to be made because there is a lot of pencil on them. This arrangement was written in Db, not a very popular key for string players, but musicians understand there is a world of difference between Db and D for singers.
Since there were a few different arrangements made of this song, one of Nat’s biggest hits, I first sorted out the parts to find the originals, because the score is not in the collection. Thankfully, Capitol stamped the original parts. Not only that, the original ozalid onion skins are here as well (a process to produce multiple copies of a part before photocopying became a reality). Professional musicians at sessions immediately recognized the odor of ammonia when copies of ozalid parts were handed out.
Pros know that very often, slurs cannot be followed exactly, since some arrangers write such long slurs that they cannot be taken literally. String players are particularly watchful for this, since a bow can only go so far, and a long phrase marking is totally meaningless to them. Have you noticed when you watch an orchestra’s string section that all of the bows go in the same direction? This is deliberate, as bowings are determined by the concertmaster and are marked in the parts (most major symphony orchestras have an archive of marked-up parts to the masterpieces of Beethoven, Brahms and Stravinsky; it is instructive to look at the bowings used by Mahler, Walter, and Bernstein). In the case of “Mona Lisa,” the bowings and slurs are clearly marked, and Rob and I love including them. This is yet another way to be closer to the music, observing the mechanics of making it ‘sound’ by masters in their field.
Writing out these things is a way to commune with the arrangers and the musicians who played these parts, as well as honoring them; to me it is a form of meditation. Because I trained to arrange and conduct for artists such as Cole, the experience of examining this music on this level is quite insightful and often profound. So many things are clearer to me because the arranger is speaking to me directly, not through a microphone. There is the added perk of making them available for performance and study in the best form possible.
Great art should be preserved and disseminated, and music is meant to be played and heard. The work of the great arrangers we admire is finally being acknowledged as great art.
( Profound thanks to Jeff Sultanof for his illuminating contribution)