Thursday, January 3, 2013

Big Band Lost and Found

I lost a favorite big band song for a quarter century. Today I have it back and I finally know who performed it. Don't you love happy endings?

Billy Ray Cyrus sings, "I want my mullet back. My ol' Camero, an' my eight-track." I say, keep the Camero, lose the eight-track.

Eight-track tapes are a source of derision today, and rightly so. They were never as sensible as cassette tapes, but they avoided the minor problem of having to fast-forward to the end of a side. They had significant drawbacks of their own, namely interruptions in the middle of the music as you clunked through each of the four stereo channels.

They were also much bulkier than cassettes. But almost everyone had them for a while, and I listened to them quite a bit in the car. One favorite tape was called "Those Swingin' Days of the Big Bands!" It's an awful title, I'm afraid, a flagrant attempt to market the compilation with both the terms Swing and Big Bands. Who could possibly resist? The thing is, despite that godawful title, the music was really good, and much of it I found to be extraordinary.

I had gotten into the habit of listening to the tape frequently when the unthinkable happened. During a routine ejection, the tape got caught in the internal works. Now I had a problem.

The solution came from my grandfather, a veteran of the movie theater projection booth for his entire career. He was able to splice the damaged area of tape and return a playable eight-track cartridge to me. Unfortunatley, in order to open up the casing, he had had to remove the label that identified all the songs and their performers. I think you can see where this is going.

For the most part, though, that was not a problem. But there was one rapturous tune that I just couldn't get out of my head. What on earth was it?

Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, 
"The Way You Look To-Night" Sheet Music (1936)
From Swing Time

My father was able to identify the song right away: "The Way You Look Tonight" by Jerome Kern. It's a great song. The lyrics are by Dorothy Fields, but this version was instrumental and quite sweet. The obvious question was who performed it?

Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields, 
"The Way You Look To-Night" Sheet Music (1936)
From Swing Time

It's taken me more than a quarter century to answer that. "Those Swingin' Days of the Big Bands!" was long out of print, and other Big Band compilations just didn't seem to have the version of the song I was looking for.

The internet came along, but for years no search engine could give me the information I needed. Today, thankfully, finding this song has become ridiculously easy.

For the past year, the version I love of this song has been available on YouTube for the asking. YouTube videos have become a kind of clandestine way of posting recorded music. I don't think that's always a bad thing, particularly when the music is orphaned or out of print.

 Will Osborne
"The Way You Look Tonight"
Jerome Kern

I just found this video, and all the pieces of the puzzle finally have fallen together. To my astonishment I don't recall ever hearing of Will Osborne and his orchestra, but I hope to familiarize myself with a lot more of the recorded music now. How on earth was this exquisite song unearthed for "Those Swinging Days of the Big Bands?" I have no idea. But it's great to have this music back in my life where it belongs.

A 1936 Advertisement for Will Osborne and his Orchestra in the Terrace Restaurant at the Hotel New Yorker

Maurice Seymour, Photograph of Will Osborne
Inscribed "To Harry [McLaughlin, Patriot Newspaper Reporter]/ Best Wishes Again/ Will Osborne" 

And now I see I could just as easily have gotten the full playlist from this eBay photo. It seems this 3 LP set contains a lot more music than was ever on my eight-track:

Those Swingin' Days of the Big Bands! LP



  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Whoops! I accidentally removed the following comment from Sous-Chef:

      How fun, I knew the song but not this version or the band. Touché to your perseverance.

      Posted by Sous-Chef to Attempted Bloggery at Thursday, January 3, 2013 8:47:00 AM EST