Many Moods of Christmas Album and Robert Russell Bennett
GP: Let’s talk about the new Christmas album. It’s entitled “The Many Moods of Christmas”. It’s arranged by one of the legendary arrangers, and he’s done everything from Victory at Sea to God knows what. His name is Robert Russell Bennett, and you’ve worked with him over the years, I guess from the very beginning, haven’t you?
RS: Almost from the beginning. I certainly met him in those Waring years. It may be that our first albums were made in the early ‘50’s and they would begin with Victor Herbert or Broadway Traditions. The Robert Shaw Chorale on Broadway, I can remember, was one of the titles, and Porgy and Bess, and things like that. And Robert Russell Bennett, I found out the other day because I was looking – I looked at his - he died just two years ago. And He died at the age of about 83 or 4. He arranged over 300 Broadway shows. Now this is just unbelievable, from Rose Marie in 19, just following WWI, to the ones you’ve - Victory at Sea and Oklahoma, and he substantially created the sound of Broadway. That is to say, obviously other guys, Irving Berlin and Jerome Kern, and even back to Victor Herbert and Richard Rodgers.
GP: Was he a composer as well?
RS: Yes, he was a composer. Strangely enough, his own compositions - for instance, he wrote a Stephen Foster symphony, and he would take themes of Stephen Foster, and they would come out a little bit as though he were arranging them for a Broadway show. But He had incredible taste and standards for his listening. I can remember at one time when he told me, Robert, he says, I’ve just - I’ve decided to give up my tickets to the orchestra. He was talking about living in New York. He says, I’ve had enough - 50 years or 40. But he says, they can’t play Schubert anymore, so I can’t sit there and listen to it. And he was, I don’t think I ever met a finer gentleman in my life. He was just absolutely sweet and kind and honest.
GP: He must have been a true genius.
RS: Unbelievable man, great man.
GP: The Medley Concept again is on this, the new album, that used the arrangements by Bennett - four sections. Are these the arrangements he did years ago? Or something he did for you before he died?
RS: These are about 21 or 22 years old now, and we would sit down together one afternoon. And my contribution to the arrangements was very small. We’d decide the titles and we’d decide, usually we’d decide the keys and the sequence, and I’d say, well Robert, let’s do a male chorus here, and then follow it with mixed and then an interlude of 32 measures. It had begun sort of - I guess our association had begun because in those- yeah, the early years, I had laid out - Fred Waring sold me to Billy Rose to lay out the music for The Aquacades* , both in San Francisco and in New York. And Robert Russell Bennett was writing the arrangements for the swimming routines. And so I laid out with him - we need 12 bars of splash music here and 36 bars of diving music here and so on - and I laid out with all those tunes, “Yours for a Song”, “Song of Romance” and others, and so I laid out those arrangements for him. And so the same thing sort of operated. So any time we got involved making a recording together, we’d sit down and decide what we were going to do. And then he just went ahead and wrote every note. He was just fabulous.
* The Aquacade was a music, dance and swimming show produced by Billy Rose at the Great Lakes Exposition in 1937. The Aquacade later moved to the 1939 New York World's Fair where it was the most successful production of the fair.
GP: It’s a beautiful album. It’s also employing the new digital process on Telarc and I was in a local record store earlier today and they had sold out of it. So somebody’s buying it. Once again, it looks like you got another hit.
RS: I understand that they’ve shipped 10,000 into this area and you can’t buy them any place.