The cruises are new . . .
. . . the water is blue . . . and prospects for the Jan Garber Orchestra in 2003 have just brightened considerably.
With last year's rumored new buyers now a reality, the 'Delta Queen Steamboat Company' has just announced that the JG Band will be featured on half of its riverboat cruises (five) now scheduled for the new year. The list includes:
Although a pair of prominent ballroom venues have apparently bitten the dust for next year (Dubuque IA and Staunton IL), dryland dancers already have a couple of key 2003 dates for their JG calendars:
Osthoff Hotel, Elkhart Lake WI, March 7-8. Advance reservations are required for this exclusive 'Big Band Weekend'. For complete details, call toll-free to: 1-800-876-3399; Indiana Roof, Indianapolis IN, October 19, 5 until 9 p.m.
Looking back on 2002, the "unquestioned highlight of the year" . . . according to JG leader Howard Schneider . . . was the Garber Band's first appearance at the far-famed Casino Ballroom on Catalina Island since 1949. The ballroom, which hosted the JG Orchestra for the first time in 1934 and for subsequent appearances through 1937, was the site of Jan's initial coast-to-coast network radio broadcast during this period. "Catalina and its Casino Ballroom are unique," Howard noted, "with the ballroom's 15,350 square feet of dancing space an awesome sight to see." Negotiations have been underway for another possible cruise-linked Garber appearance at Catalina during the 2003 Labor Day weekend. (For progress reports, call this toll-free number: 1-800-347-6136.)
While again encouraging 'Gabbings' readers to contact him with leads to possible JG bookings, Howard emphasizes that recent, concert-only appearances by the band have proven extremely popular. In addition to 'Garber only' music, these concerts also feature a potpourri of big-band theme songs and other crowd-pleasing numbers in the styles of numerous big bands. At these concert dates, sales of Garber CD's are typically brisk. Here's how to contact Howard: Howard Schneider, 1026 Hillside Drive, Kewaskum WI 53040. Phone: 262-626-1600. Fax: 262-626-6789.
A trio of nationally-renowned musical personalities and a widely respected dance orchestra sideman have departed since the last issue of 'Gabbings' . . .
Kenny Gardner. Starting in 1940, resuming after the war and continuing all the way into 1978 . . . music lovers across the nation never stopped admiring, appreciating and applauding Kenny Gardner. His unprecedented singing career covered nearly 38 years, and he made every song with Guy Lombardo sound special. Neither strikingly handsome nor overly charismatic, Kenny Gardner's quintessential singing carried an aura of style and quality that seemed to place it on a step higher than all the others. Indeed, his vocal efforts were so good they were often taken for granted . . . an ongoing excellence that probably hindered the recognition he deserved. Kenny, who was married to Guy Lombardo's sister Elaine for 59 years (she died in 1999), passed away in Manhasset, New York on July 26 at the age of 89.
Ray Conniff. Since 1956, he's best remembered for the fresh, unique sounds of 'The Ray Conniff Orchestra & Singers'. Heard on more than 100 recordings, including 25 Columbia albums that ranked in the Top 40, the Conniff group also produced 10 gold and two platinum records. Ray's typical early albums included a wordless chorus of four men and four women, and a traditional big-band mix of 18 instruments. In 1960, an expanded chorus also sang words. Ray Conniff's musical career gained momentum in 1937, when he was hired to arrange and play trombone for Bunny Berigan. He later did the same for Bob Crosby and Artie Shaw, and arranged for Harry James briefly after the war before being hired by Columbia Records. At various times during his career, Ray also arranged hit numbers for Johnny Mathis; Rosemary Clooney; Frankie Laine; Johnny Ray; Guy Mitchell; Marty Robbins; The Carpenters; Don Cherry; Simon & Garfunkel; The Fifth Dimension; and Bert Bacharach. Ray won a Grammy Award for his recording of the Dr. Zhivago theme. He died in Mid-October after a fall at the age of 85.
Lionel Hampton. Ranked among the greatest names in jazz history after a crowd-pleasing career of more than seven decades, Lionel Hampton was known as both a vibraphone virtuoso and standout showman. His superb musicianship surfaced initially with Benny Goodman, helping break down the widespread mid 1930s barriers of dance band segregation. Over the years starting in 1940, his never-ending effervescence, showmanship and emotional enthusiasm continued to entertain people of all races from coast to coast. 'Hamp' was one of the most durable of all the nation's bandleaders. He died on August 31 at the age of 94.
Tom Lane. If there was ever such a thing as 'Frequent Fill-In Miles' for dance band musicians, Iowa's Tom Lane would surely have ranked near the top. For the Garber Band's Howard Schneider, Tom was always the top lead alto replacement choice during road engagements. His other dance band playing/traveling credits include Glenn Miller; Tommy Dorsey; Russ Morgan; and Guy Lombardo. Since launching his musical career in 1969, Tom also played for numerous local bands in the Des Moines area; worked with nationally-known entertainment stars in virtually all areas of music; was longtime orchestra manager of the Des Moines Community Playhouse; and conducted private lessons and high school/college workshops. Tom, who passed away at just 52 years of age on October 9, was recently awarded the 'Des Moines Jazz Hall Of Fame Special Achievement Award'.
Fate changes Garber alums' lives forever
For Mr. & Mrs. Bill Davis (Corinne Wyland), their lives since late 1997 have been dimmed by a trio of tragic events. In December of that year, their 35-year-old daughter Martha was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver. Less than a year later . . . in October of 1998 . . . their son John suffered a fatal accident in a house under construction. And less than two years ago, Corinne's brother John, a healthy 72, died in his sleep. The Davis' still have Bill Jr. and his family, who live near them in the Austin (TX) suburb of Cedar Park. Corinne sang with the JG Orchestra during the early-to-mid 1950s. She married saxophonist Bill Davis, a 1952-1956 mainstay in the Garber Band, in 1955. The couple, longtime Texas residents, live at 4609 Lennox Drive, Austin TX 78745. They send along their best regards to everyone.
'Peter The Great'
That's not Pete Pepke's official title. But after 48 years of trooping and touring across the nation and around the world with is trombone, lots of folks are firmly convinced that it should be. "Musicians," Pete told 'Gabbings', "NEVER retire . . . unless the phone quits ringing!" That apparently hasn't quite happened yet, but the renowned jazz slideman reports that "the gigs have recently gone from 30-35 a month on the East Coast to only three in three months." That's possibly because Pete has retreated (not retired) from the world of concerts, recordings, tours and festivals to "a remote, beautiful acreage at the Allegheny National Forest in Warren County PA." Yeah, Pete's still playing at age 66. "But the audiences are getting older; don't go out as often; and don't spend as much. But thanks to Jim Beatty and so many others, my career has been a joy." And may your 'retreat' be likewise, sir!
Two prominent members of Jan Garber's great postwar band, "Memo Bernabei (left) and Frank Bettencourt, returned to Catalina Island on Labor Day for the first time since their 1949 engagement with Jan to greet and enjoy the current Garber Orchestra. Memo and Frank, who hadn't seen each other since the mid-1950s, also found Catalina's unique Casino Ballroom as grand and imposing as ever.
Sweet-band booker, Cecil Ramer, a feature-story figure in the last (May/June) issue of 'Gabbings', reports some disquieting news. His 17-year series of monthly big-band dance productions has been non-renewed beyond December of this year. Cecil's Sunday dances began at the Hotel Peabody in Memphis in 1983. They moved to Tunica (MS) 11 years later, headquartering first at the Sheraton Hotel Casino and, most recently, at Tunica's Hollywood casino & Hotel. Bottom-line reason for the dances' demise (surprise, surprise): dollars. "The Sunday dances may someday reappear," a disappointed Cecil Ramer told 'Gabbings'. "But for right now, they're out of the picture."
Don't look now, but the Guy Lombardo Orchestra also has a newsletter! Published monthly in Richmond (VA) by 'The Guy Lombardo Society', a one-year subscription to 'The Tempo' is $20. The price includes a free CD or cassette, with the latest release titled 'Guy Lombardo's Early Capitol Sessions (1956-1957)'. Joiners can also receive the 112-member Society's two earlier Lombardo CD releases for a minimal packing/shipping charge. The Society was founded in 1995 by Editor Joe Enroughty, who can be reached for a free sample copy of 'The Tempo' at 4310 Fauquier Avenue, Richmond VA 23227. Phone numbers: 804-266-0878, or 804-266-0636. Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Earl: leader by example
Most folks take up the lounge chair long before they reach 85. But a few other long-retired people . . . like Earl Blair . . . stay just as busy and productive as ever. Earl, a longtime Jan Garber fan and dancing devotee if there ever was one, lives in Rouzerville, PA . . . not far from where all the 'big names' used to play. His dancing days were interrupted during World War II, when Earl's 1943-1945 U.S. Navy service (aboard UUSLST 284) ranged all the way from the D-Day landing at Normandy to liberation of the Phillipines. From 1949 to 1980, he was a civilian employee of the Department Of The Army, working at a depot in Pennsylvania helping provide logistical support for both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Earl's long and distinguished career in Scouting began in 1956, and his numerous awards . . . including a 1994 'Silver Beaver Award' and a 2002 'Irving Stoner Lifetime Service Award' . . . rank among Scouting's highest honors. Today, in between numerous other church/community activities, Earl still enjoys music and videos of the "great big bands" of yesteryear, and can be seen dancing with wife Beckie whenever a good group happens to land somewhere in Pennsylvania or nearby Maryland. Way to go, big guy!
A key sideman in Jan's World War II 'swing' band . . . saxophonist Bob Milliken . . . has suffered his second painful fall in as many years. It happened in May, and resulted in lower-back injuries. Bob's wife Betty, now recovered from her last year's knee-replacement surgery, is caring for him. Bob and Betty marked their 61st wedding anniversary on July 28. To reach Bob, write: 221 Allenberry Circle, Pittsburgh PA 15234. (Thanks to Bob's JG pal Stu Bruner for this news update.)
The ongoing honor system for annual 'Gabbings' ($10) dues continues to work well. With 2003 upon us, everyone (except Garber alums/families) is urged to mail their renewals when convenient. 'Wealth' remains an unfamiliar word in the 'Gabbings' balance-sheet vocabulary, but the newsletter remains on fairly sold ground at the moment. Sincere thanks to you all for your ongoing financial help.
Helen Garber Friedman, a niece of Jan Garber who lives in Norristown (PA), reports that "new life" is apparently in store for the storied Sunnybrook Ballroom in nearby Pottstown. The ballroom opened in 1931 . . . hosting all the big bands . . . but faded about 20 years ago when Pottstown's manufacturing base faded. Now, new owners are refurbishing the 18,000-square-foot facility, and sprucing up the premises for all sorts of events. "It all looks very promising," Helen notes.
Well, as another year prepares to bite the dust . . . so much for 2002. Our best efforts, for 'Gabbings' and all its readers, will hopefully continue in 2003. But with family care-giving responsibilities also continuing, planning for more than two issues during the coming year would probably not be prudent at this time. Your understanding, encouragement and ongoing support is deeply appreciated. The warmest of holiday and new year wishes to everyone.