With All My Heart – Al Bowlly with Ray Noble And His Orchestra (LSA 3067 – 1972 )

LSA 3067 FrontRay Noble, an Englishman with exquisite musical taste, led one of the greatest bands of all time before he came to America. The only trouble was the band wasn’t his. Instead, it was composed of leading musicians who played regularly with numerous other bands in England but also assembled for Noble’s recording dates.

So good and so successful Were they, that Noble decided to come to America. This time, though, he didn’t organize another all star band. He let Glenn Miller do that for him.

Glenn knew his way around musicians. He’d already organized a band for Smith Ballew, and had helped the Dorsey Brothers start theirs. And, of course, he was a top arranger. Besides, Noble was having problems of a different sort when he arrived in the States. It seems the musicians’ union wasn’t ready to give him his card.

But Ray was able to find other employment, for he had already established himself as an outstanding composer via such hits as Goodnight Sweetheart, By the Fireside, Love is the Sweetest Thing and The Very Thought of You. So, while Noble went to Hollywood to write songs for the movies, Glenn began whipping his band into shape. It was quite an impressive crew, too. Just take a gander at the brass section. Charlie Spivak and Pee Wee Erwin played trumpets; Glenn, of course, and Wilbur Schwichtenberg were the trombones, Wilbur Schwichtenberg?! That is Will Bradley’s original name. The reeds featured Bud Freeman on tenor and Johnny Mince on clarinet, and the rhythm section had Claude Thornhill on piano, George Van Epps, about the best guitarist in the business at that time, and a magnificent bassist named Delmar Kaplan. Bill Harty, the manager whom Noble had brought over from England with him, was the drummer. More about him later. And Al Bowlly, who’d also come across with Ray, was the vocalist. More about him later, too-much more.

When Ray returned to New York, a union member in good standing. the band was well set. Some of the men looked as much to Miller for direction as they did to Noble. This, of course, led to friction. From many reports, even though its music may have sounded wonderfully relaxed, this was never the most carefree band in the world, It sported such an all-star line up that Noble was bound to be somewhat in awe of the musicians. Will Bradley talked about this recently. “I remember one night I wasn’t feeling too well and during a radio broadcast I went for a high last note on an arrangement ,I think it was a top D flat. I missed it. Only air came out I tried again. Again only air.” Did Noble lace into Bradley? Hardly. “I say, old boy,” he remarked almost apologetically, “did you lose one of your relatives?”

Mistakes were few and far between in the Noble band. Even though it was filled with top-notch musicians, it rehearsed often and well. Both Noble and Miller knew how to get the best out of their men, and it showed. Both tended to be perfectionists, as evidenced by the time they spent working for just the right sound and effects in a recording studio. On one date, in fact, they were so completely dissatisfied with what they’d done that they scrapped all the sides. But the time they spent in the recording studios was nothing com-pared with the time they spent on top of Radio City in the swank Rainbow Room, the band’s first and most important engagement. This turned out to be a seven-days-a-week affair with hours from nine p.m. until three a.m. Obviously, the band members got to know one another pretty well. Obviously, too, the grind began getting them down after a while. Sometimes, if there were no dancers in the room, the band might be dismissed early. This happened one Monday night. the men were down-stairs on the sixty-fourth floor-one floor below the Rainbow Room,. changing their clothes-when manager Harty rushed in and said, “Sorry, but an important customer just came in and he wants some music. So we’ve got to go back” And back the band went-all except Claude Thornhill. Noble waited a few minutes for him, but still no Claude. So the band began playing. And then in the middle of the first tune in walked Thornhill, immaculately dressed in his tuxedo jacket, shirt and tie. Only one thing was missing-his trousers! Yes, obviously the grind was beginning to wear down some of the men.

The “important customer” who caught Thornhill sans trousers later became the Governor of New York. His name: Nelson Rockefeller, It’s interesting to note that the Rockefeller family continued for twenty years thereafter to be good friends and admirers of Claude Thornhill. There must be a moral here somewhere!

Being tardy, according to Bradley, was part of the regular routine of the Noble band. ‘Ray and Harty,” he recalls, “had a habit of coming in at least forty five minutes late for rehearsals. After a while we all caught on and everybody came in fifteen or twenty minutes late.” Noble, the composer and creator, was inclined to be a dreamer. He was a man of tremendous personal charm ,tall, lanky, and rather like the guy in a British movie who didn’t get the girl because he kept falling into the swimming pool. Harty, as might be expected, was more of a business-man-shrewd, caustic, very perceptive-who took on the node of Noble’s hatchet man.

Both Noble and Harty were sharp enough to bring with them the man whose voice highlighted so many of their English recordings. This was Al Bowlly, an intense, warm, lovable, sentimental, bushy-browed chap. Bowlly had a unique way of phrasing and enunciating, as you can hear on these recordings. One night backstage he crooned a new song for me. one which, he told me, Glenn Miller had just written and which brought tears to AI’s eyes as he sang it. It was called Now I lay Me Down to sleep, but it was never recorded with its original lyrics. Several years later, however, Glenn did record it with its revised title, Moonlight Serenade.

Glenn’s musical presence was very much in evidence in the band, just as it is on many of the sides on this record. The four instrumentals, ‘Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, Dinah, Bugle Call Rag and Chinatown, My Chinatown, are strictly the Miller of that period ,sort of an expanded Dixieland approach with numerous catchy, novel effects, plus plenty of blowing room for such soloists as Freeman, Mince, Erwin, George Van Eps and Thornhill.

Freeman’s work is brilliant on these sides. His solo On ‘Way Down Yonder in New Orleans is most fascinating: his passage on Dinah is especially poignant and swinging. Bud’s wild harmonic and rhythmic excursions fascinated the guys in the band, according to Bradley, who reports that, “Glenn used to tum to me and say, ‘betcha a couple of drinks he doesn’t come out of this one,’ and I’d say, ‘Iwo drinks he does.’ 1 almost always won, too”

There are several other sides which sound quite Miller-ish, such as Slumming on Park Avenue, Big Chief De Sola, Double Trouble and Why Dream?, which uses some ooh wah brass effects, reminiscent of Glenn’s own band. Of course, Millers scores, great as they were, were not indicative of the typical Noble sound. This is much more in evidence on the smoothly phrased ballad sides, with light piano fill-ins, and especially so on “Down by the River”, played with the half-time rhythmic concept that permeated so many of Ray’s earlier recordings.

In many ways the most typical Noble sound of all, however, was that of Al Bowlly’s voice, which is so pervasive and so persuasive on many of the slower numbers. He succeeded in projecting a wonderfully warm and intimate mood, reflected especially here in Yours Truly Is Truly Yours, Where Am I?, The Touch of your lips (Noble’s own song), Why Dream? and With All My Heart And, of course, there is also the Noble personality, the light-hearted joker who’s really not quite the buffoon he pretends to be, on two Irving Berlin songs ,Slumming on Park Avenue and Top Hat.

So much a part of the entire Ray Noble musical picture was Al Bowlly, that when he left the band late in 1936 it lost much of its identity. Five of the star musicians had departed before Al , Thornhill, Freeman and Bradley firth, then Miller and Spivak but, as good as they all were and as much as the band’s high musical level was lowered when they left, losing them was not as critical as losing Bowlly. Bowlly returned to England, re-established himself there, and then, sadly, was killed in a nightclub that was bombed during an air raid in April 1941.

Though Noble remained in America for many years, he was never again to lead a band as musically satisfying as the one which made these recordings. In February 1937, shortly after the latest side contained herein Slumming on Park Avenue was made, the band broke up under rather unpleasant circumstances, with charged and counter-charges being hurled between the musicians on one side and Noble and Harty on the other. The two Englishmen went to Hollywood to perform on a radio series which they claimed had been promised to them. Out there, Ray, apparently more interested in a career as a comedian, organized a new band, one which possessed neither the charm, the excitement nor the musical finesse of his former orchestra. It is this former ensemble that must go down in dance band annals as one of the most tasteful, versatile and musicianly outfits of all time.

George T Simon

Al Bowlly Sings Again (Geoff Milne – 1964) –

     cache_17310595   The night skies of London during 1941 were filled with the droning of enemy aircraft bent on blasting the life and spirit out of this ancient city. Although battered and weary the inhabitants at no time gave any indication of defeat and the life of the metropolis carried on as nearly normal as possible. The cinemas and music halls were playing to capacity audiences; theatre land, although darkened to the outside world by the black-out still sparkled with all it’s old brilliance inside the theatres, and in a hundred dance-halls and clubs the bands and vocalists of the swing era were entertaining thousands of Londoners determined to enjoy themselves—Hitler or no Hitler. April the 16th of that year, was a typical example of one of those nights. The crowds had groped their way home through the murky streets and prepared for another battle of the blitz and the sirens were sounding throughout the south-east of England. That night is remembered as one of the worst of the battle of London, and as the weary citizens prepared themselves for another day’s work their newspapers carried the headlines announcing the death by enemy action in the early hours of April 17th of one of the greatest stars of the London musical scene —AL BOWLLY.

      Al, who had been called by many England’s Bing Crosby’, was at that time at the height of his career and was recognized as the most popular vocalist n the United Kingdom. For the decade prior to his untimely death his warm and intimate style of singing had been heard over the air-waves from the B.B.C., and countless thousands had been entranced by his crooning with some of the greatest bands in this band-laden era. Possibly ‘croon’ is not the correct verb to describe Al’s style of delivery, for his voice had about it a real sense of artistry, power and originality with a gift for investing the most banal of lyrics with real meaning.

       Given a song with a true intrinsic value such as “THE VERY THOUGHT OF YOU”, he created something more than ‘just another song’ He would inject it with his personality and weave a golden sound which set him head and shoulders above his contemporaries. Although Al spent the greater part of his career working with large bands, a large number of his records were made with a small group and this setting seemed to suit the intimacy of his delivery, in addition to which it gave him full opportunity to use his distinctive style to it’s best advantage. The fifteen songs selected for this album are all in this setting, and each and every one is further proof of this fact. Albert Alick Bowlly, was born at Delagea Bay in Portuguese East Africa in 1906 and lived there until his parents decided to move to Johannesburg. This move to the Union of South Africa, was made without too much difficulty, for although his mother was of Greek origin his father had always retained his British nationality. Al’s interest in music was first awakened when as a youngster he used to sit and listen for hours to the Zulu and Bechuanaland mine boys providing their own entertainment after a day in the mines around Johannesburg. Some of these miners were exceptionally gifted on the guitar and it was not long before the young Bowlly had persuaded his parents to buy him a cheap guitar and he was busily engaged in emulating the strange rhythms which he heard at those impromptu concerts. Upon leaving school Al was apprenticed to his brother-in-law who ran a barber’s shop. This was a fortunate step for Al’s relative also had a flair for the mandolin whilst his fellow assistant loved nothing better than to strum away on his guitar. It was only a matter of time before the three of them had formed a group and were spending most of their spare time practising.

         Once again fortune smiled on Al, for it was during one of these slack periods in the shop that a famous band leader walked in for a haircut and heard him singing. The maestro was so impressed with Al’s style and delivery that he offered him a contract with his band and Al embarked on a world tour with Adler’s Syncopated Band, a tour that was to lead to world fame. Eventually Al found his way to London and joined Fred Elizalde’s band at London’s Savoy Hotel in June of 1928. His engagement with this band lasted until December of 1929 when AI found his luck had temporarily run out, a state of affairs which were to continue until January, 1931. As the early days of the new year passed coldly by Al, so the story goes, was reduced to singing in the streets as a busker, when he was seen by Bill Harty, at that time on drums with Roy Fox, who persuaded him to come along and audition for Fox. The audition was a great success and he was immediately signed to appear with the Fox band at the Monseigneur Restaurant in London’s West End.

When the leadership of this orchestra was taken over by Lew Stone, Al stayed on and eventually be-came one of London Society’s greatest favourites. His reputation by now, was such that Ray Noble, who was leading a band in New York’s famous Rainbow Room, asked him to join him as the band’s vocalist. This was in 1935, and as soon as Al had fulfilled his London commitments he took Noble up on his offer and sailed for America. Unfortunately his triumphs in Manhattan proved to be short lived, for in January of 1937 he was stricken down with throat trouble and was forced to quit the Noble orchestra and return to England. His homecoming how-ever turned out to be something of a triumphal return and he was welcomed by a public who had reserved a place in their affections for this talented South African. Al formed his own band and took it out on a protracted music-hall tour packing them in wherever he appeared.

       It was while on this tour that he was introduced to an American who told him of a surgeon in the States who had had some success with the malady which was troubling Al.

       Bowlly decided to investigate the truth of this information and in October of 1937 he sailed for New York. The operation, which was of a dangerous nature and could have resulted in the complete loss of his voice, was an unqualified success and Al was seen back on the bandstand and in the recording studios.

       The closing years of the thirties found him appearing throughout the country in night clubs and on the variety stage as a soloist and occasionally as a double act with fellow vocalist Jimmy Mesene as “The radio stars with two guitars’. As far as his voice is concerned there is considerable recorded evidence in support of the theory that it was even better after the operation than before,having taken on a richer and more mellow tone. With the advent of the fateful forties, Al had reached the zenith of his profession and was in demand for every media of entertainment.

         With Al Bowlly’s untimely death the world of show-business lost one of it’s greatest artists, a man with a voice and personality which were to prove irreplaceable, and an entertainer who is warmly remembered by countless thousands throughout the world.