Now, before I go into a couple of my bonny’s more recent musical missteps that have done their part to annoy the hell out of me, I think it’s only fair to share the best clips available of John Wilson’s own 24-year-old orchestra—cannily named, as I have mentioned, the John Wilson Orchestra—which, out of over 200(!) on YouTube in nine years, come down to about three, maybe four of those clips spread out through 2009-2017.
So in no particular order: This is from their 2012 show “Broadway Sounds” at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall in London, which seats 5200, with standing room for 1300 on the ground floor (tickets for which go for only 6L and for which people camp out overnight at the box office like it was goddamn Winterland). This is pertinent, because it seems like the JWO only does its best work when it can blast the roof off a barn.
I had the old Ben Bagley recording and the 1983 Broadway revival recording (conducted by John Mauceri) of the Rodgers & Hart show On Your Toes—which of course includes the climactic ballet “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue”—but both producer Bagley as well as musical theater preservationist Mauceri put on disc the 1936 Robert Russell Bennett orchestration rather than the 1954 one by Don Walker. Our John, being John (I’m starting to get into his “ear”), chose the Walker score to play in Albert Hall, and for once he was entirely right.
Je l’ai cherchée partout j’ai fait le tour du monde
De Venise à Java de Manille à Angkor
De Jeanne à Victoria de Vénus en Joconde
Je ne l’ai pas trouvée et je la cherche encore
Je ne connais rien de lui et pourtant je le vois
J’ai inventé son nom j’ai entendu sa voix
J’ai dessiné son corps et j’ai peint son visage
Son portrait et l’amour ne font plus qu’une image
Cleansing my aural memory of John Wilson’s recording of Legrand’s “Chanson de Maxence” (in English clumsily rendered as “You Must Believe in Spring” or some such) in his awful 2000 album, Orchestral Jazz. Bonny John conducts his eponymous orchestra in an arrangement by Richard Rodney Bennett, who had absolutely no feel for this song. With such a strong melody (reminiscent of Fauré) and strong lyrics, all it needs is a strong emotive singer and a backup piano. I note with some distress John himself did some other arrangements in this album, particularly for “Miss Otis Regrets”. With no lyrics! What the hell good is such a hilarious song without the words???
John and the JWO are okay, but just okay. I suppose when he was 28 my bonny boy’s loftiest ambition was to be the next Ray Noble.
Co-composer Blaine once said that he’d been glancing at a picture book he’d found at the Beverly Hills Public Library, landed on a page about early streetcars captioned “Clang, Clang, Clang, Went the Trolley”, and bang was off to the races. The song’s unusual structure, which Martin based on 19th century tunes, was a showcase for Garland’s strong voice. “The Trolley Song” was nominated for a 1944 Academy Award for Best Original Song.
Orchestrator for this song—as well as the entire MGM Judy Garland musical Meet Me in St Louis—was Conrad Salinger. “He had a very individual, sophisticated sense of harmony,” said our John in a 2013 interview. “It was those very subtle and exclusive touches that he gave to those numbers that set him apart… Little touches of instrumentation, like alto flutes and French horns, that gave those pictures a sound world all their own. His specialty was that high-class production number, the theatrical presentation of a popular song, or a balletic development of a number. In the hands of Salinger, you could be listening to Debussy or Ravel. He’s never going to be a household name, but that doesn’t diminish his stature.”
Orchestrator/arranger/conductor Jack Campey pointed to this clip highlighting Salinger’s orchestration, sans vocals. Cheers, Jack.
Listen to the orchestration—it’s Conrad Salinger’s! Yes, thank you, John, thank you thank you thank you for reconstructing his lost score and folding it into the repertoire.
You are the promised kiss of springtime
That makes the lonely winter seem long.
You are the breathless hush of evening
That trembles on the brink of a lovely song.
You are the angel glow that lights a star,
The dearest things I know are what you are.
High culture and nothing less. The most beautiful song ever written, sung in the classiest concert in the world, conducted by the sweetest musical theater restorer/preservationist who ever lived (John McGlinn, who died too young at 55), hosted by the most glamorous hostess in New York, Kitty Carlisle Hart. Orchestration of this Jerome Kern classic by Robert Russell Bennett. Milton Babbitt, that champion of musical theater and Stephen Sondheim’s teacher, wrote an analysis of this song having to do with tritones and inverted fifths which I was never able to entirely grasp, but you’re welcome to take a crack at it here.
John Wilson shimmying like a brazen hussy at 4:00. This is the moment I fell in love with him, that lovely luscious moment I laid eyes on him and thought, Baby, have I got your number…
The indication “burlesque strip style” was actually written on the music right around this point. Both Ramin and Ginzler cut their teeth writing swing arrangements; lead trumpet in the original Gypsy pit was Dick Perry, late of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Solo trumpet Mike Lovatt here lays it down fine. Some people obviously know something about burlycue. Composer Jule Styne was pleased with this orchestration. Once again, the BBC Proms 2012.