A few lights . . .
. . . at the end of the nation's extended, economic-downturn tunnel are beginning to emerge for the Jan Garber Orchestra.
For instance, according to an "upbeat" Howard Schneider, "word now has it that the Mississippi Queen Riverboat . . . with rumored new buyers . . . might be booking bin-name bands again come 2003."
'Gabbings' readers who have sailed on earlier riverboat cruises are being urged by Howard to indicate their ongoing interest in coming aboard to the company. (Potential new 'sailers' are encouraged to do the same, through the company address available from Howard.)
"The big bands, including our own, remain a tough sell," according to Howard. With an eye toward 'Gabbings' subscribers and other Garber fans, he's encouraging anyone and everyone with leads to possible dance engagements to contact him ASAP. His address: Howard Schneider, 1026 Hillside Drive, Kewaskum WI 53040. Phone: 262-626-1600. Fax: 262-626-6789.
Meanwhile, here's the updated 2002 appearance schedule for the JG Band:
Free concert, Milwaukee (WI), 929 North Water St., 12 noon, August 9; Indiana Roof, Indianapolis (IN), August 25, 5:00-9:00 p.m.; Catalina-Mexico Fiesta Music Cruise, Los Angeles (CA), September 2-6; Dubuque (IA) County Fairgrounds, September 8, 5:00-9:00 p.m.; Col Ballroom, Davenport (IA), September 14 (dinner-dance with the Ken Paulsen Orchestra); Lakeside Ballroom, Guttenburg (IA), November 10, 2:00-6:00 p.m.
Veteran JG sideman Billy Hearn dies
The loss of Billy Hearn, longtime Garber trombonist who launched his JG career in the early 1950s and remained until Jan's retirement in 1971, has just been revealed. Billy's passing some months ago came after he spent some time in a care facility in his hometown of Waco, Texas. The sad news reached 'Gabbings' from another longtime Waco resident . . . Frank Bettencourt . . . who teamed with Billy in the Garber trombone section for more than a decade. Billy was one of three JG sidemen recruited by Wayne King following Jan's retirement. He joined trumpeter Bill Kleeb and sax/clarinet mainstay Don Korinek on the King Band, remaining with 'The Waltz King' until retirement.
As part of his ongoing effort to authenticate and enrich the JG Band's current musical library, leader Howard Schneider has recently acquired some 30 additional charts . . . including medleys . . . from longtime Garber arranger Frank Bettencourt. "The Garber book now totals somewhere between 150 and 200 songs," Howard reports, including some earlier arrivals among Frank's efforts.
One category of music remains notably absent from the Garber Band's library: Christmas music! For possible help from 'Gabbings' readers, here are a couple of inquiries. Question 1: Does anyone recall the 1949 Capitol album (released on three 45rpm discs) titled 'Under The Christmas Tree'? Featured are six of the best-known holiday songs, along with JG vocals by Bob Grabeau and Ernie Mathias. If anyone does have a copy of this album, would you be willing to loan it to Howard Schneider . . . or share it with a cassette or CD copy? Question 2: Would anyone with a copy of 'Christmas Dance Party', released by Jan on a Decca LP in the late 50s/early 60s, be willing to loan it . . . or share with a cassette or CD copy? Anyone's willingness to help Howard strengthen the JG Band's holiday offerings through these recordings will be hugely appreciated. (There are some Capitol Transcriptions out there, too.) If you can help the cause, please contact the 'Gabbings' editor ASAP.
Still in the Christmas arena, Howard is now in the process of adding this 1943 song . . . 'A Merry Christmas' . . . to the JG Band's holiday-season musical repertoire. The tune contains words and music by Charles Lyon, possibly composed from his VA hospital bed. While hospitalized, 'Charlie' was befriended by correspondence and mother-aided gifts from a young schoolgirl named Barbara Ann Hykes, who in turn later received the song's original piano manuscript as a gift from Charlie. After years of uncertainty, Barbara was recently put in touch with Howard in an effort to get the song possibly revived by Christmas, 2002. Stay tuned.
Folks, this issue of 'Gabbings' . . . as you've all probably long-since noticed . . . is late, late, late. Heightened care-providing responsibilities at home have simply prevented the recent publication of 'Gabbings' in its usual timely manner. The editor regrets this, and offers a sincere apology to everyone. With this ongoing situation in mind, a revised formula for future dues payments might be forthcoming.
One of Jan Garber's nieces has passed away in Pennsylvania. Irene Garber Shellington, a native of Norristown and one of the two daughters of Jan's brother Michael, died on February 28. She was 80. Irene, honored in 1975 by West Chester State College with a 'Distinguished Alumni Award', was long prominent in educational circles as a Reading instructor on television, and author of numerous Language Arts materials. Both Irene and her sister, Helen Garber Friedman, were 'Gabbings' boosters for many years, and vigorous supporters of any and all efforts to promote and perpetuate memories of their dear 'Uncle Jan'. (According to Helen, it was their dad who originally taught Jan the fundamentals of the violin.) The Garber family consisted of seven boys . . . including Jan . . . and two girls.
Just a reminder: the Garber Band really needs to keep busy. Anyone with leads, ideas or suggestions for booking the JG group is urgently requested to contact leader Howard Schneider right away. Hesitate not! His phone number once again: 262-626-1600. No area of the country is being ruled out for appearances. The single most important requirement is being able to schedule sufficient engagements on a single tour to make each trip profitable.
CPR: dance band revivalist
In this case, the 'CPR' treatment stands for 'Cecil Philip Ramer'. And his lifetime specialty . . . reviving and booking the 'sweet' dance bands . . . has helped keep the sounds of ballroom music alive and available for well over 60 years. Cecil, shown above with his wife Frances opposite longtime Garber Band stars Bill Kleeb and Frank Bettencourt, started booking sweet bands as a high school student in his native Corinth, Mississippi. He's kept a hand in the music business ever since (with time out for 'Ole Miss schooling and extensive Army service in WWII and Korea), finally launching his solo agency on a full-time basis in 1973. Step one: a six-year tour of the country pulling a trailer, making booking contacts and building a trust among bandleaders that has sustained Cecil's dance-band business to this day. In the 1980s, he launched a Sunday series of monthly dances at the famed Hotel Peabody in Memphis. This promotion lasted 11 years before moving to the Sheraton Hotel Casino in Tunica (MS). It continues today, with Cecil remaining fully in charge at age 80 and in semi-retirement. Need a 'jazz' band or a 'swing' band? Don't bother calling Cecil Ramer. He's been dealing strictly in the 'sweet' stuff for decades . . . pleasing a very large bunch of people in the process (including bandleaders, of course).
A prominent authority on dance bands, both in Chicago and throughout the nation, is recovering at home following a serious heart attack on February 28. Chuck Sengstock has penned liner notes for 'Hindsight' Records; been a longtime member of 'The Browsers' big-band broadcast group; authored a book on jazz music in early South Chicago; and is nearing completion of a comprehensive history of dance bands on the Windy City scene over the years. (Chuck's photo of famed JG saxophonist Freddie Large and Chicago's Teddy Lee graced these 'Gabbings' pages in the Spring of 1998.) Chuck expects another surgical procedure sometime in July. To send get-well greetings to one of the nicest guys around, Chuck's address is: 2784 Canterbury Drive, Northbrook IL 60062.
A long prominent bandleader and one of the nation's vocal legends are no longer with us . . .
Chuck Foster. Overflow audiences and sold-out ballrooms seemed to accompany 'Music In The Foster Fashion' wherever it appeared . . . and that was just about everywhere . . . for the better part of a half century. Chuck launched his band on the West Coast in 1937, divided its time between there and Chicago for many years, and branched out frequently to the leading hotels and ballrooms in Memphis; St. Louis; New Orleans; New York City; and elsewhere. Married for at least several decades to one of his band's former vocalists, Delores Marshall, he's also survived by three daughters. Chuck Foster, in his late 80s, died last December 12 after a lengthy illness. He lived in Encino, California.
Peggy Lee. Her term of show-business singing endearment lasted more than 50 years, and endured despite a troubled childhood, four broken marriages and a near lifetime of serious health problems. She recorded hit songs as a teenager with the Benny Goodman Band, later wrote songs for a Disney movie and starred on Broadway . . . all the while relying on her sultry, cool voice to also keep her a favorite on radio, records and later television. She recorded more than 600 songs (and wrote many others), with more than a few of them . . . including 'Fever' and 'Is That All There Is' becoming standards. Peggy Lee, at the age of 81,died on January 21 in her Los Angeles area home. (Thanks to Peggy Walker and Joe/Kathleen Meneghetti for their illustrative and informational help in compiling the Chuck Foster story, and again to Peggy Walker for her photo of Peggy Lee.)