Swing and swing redux: “Pompton Turnpike” (1940) Charlie Barnet, and Billy Maxted (1967)
Composed by Will Osborne and Dick Rogers; arranged by Billy May.
Recorded by Charlie Barnet and His Orchestra for Bluebird on July 19, 1940 in New York.
Charlie Barnet, soprano saxophone, directing: Sam Skolnick,Lyman Vunk,Bernie Privin and Billy May, trumpets; Don Ruppersberg, Bill Robertson, Claude Murphy, trombones; Gene Kinsey and Leo White, alto saxophones; Kurt Bloom, tenor saxophone; James Lamare, baritone saxophone; Bill Miller, piano; Bus Etri, guitar; Phil Stephens, bass; Cliff Leeman, drums.
The story: Charles Daly Barnet (1914-1991) was the only child of wealthy, indulgent parents. He was rebellious from an early age, became a professional musician while in his teens, and was a bandleader by the time he was 20, largely because his parents’ money subsidized his many adventures and misadventures in the entertainment business through the 1930s. But Barnet was remarkably tenacious throughout the ’30s, leading marginal bands until 1939, when he first began to achieve a measure of popular success. As a saxophonist, Barnet was quite capable, though his jazz playing was never better than average. But as a bandleader, he was excellent, and from the late 1930s through the 1940s his bands were always first-rate, with fine arrangements and soloists.
A major turning point in the history of Barnet band was when Charlie hired trumpeter/arranger Billy May in early 1939. As May began contributing more arrangements to the Barnet book, the band began to achieve more of a musical identity. His arrangement on “Cherokee” provided Barnet with his first hit record in the summer of 1939. Many more May arrangements entered the Barnet repertoire until he was lured away from Barnet in the fall of 1940 by a big money offer from Glenn Miller. One of the most famous of May’s arrangements for Barnet was on a fairly remote tune, “Pompton Turnpike,” written by singer Dick Rogers (not the famous composer), and middle-of-the-road swing era bandleader Will Osborne.
The music: Barnet’s well-known liking for the music of Duke Ellington and Count Basie was reflected in much of May’s writing for the Barnet band. Here May uses the four man saxophone section (especially Jimmy Lamare on baritone), in conjunction with Barnet’s soprano, and the oo-ah brass to suggest Ducal sonorities. All choirs in the band play with unity and bite. Despite the reputation the Barnet band had for non-stop partying, this was a highly disciplined ensemble. Nevertheless, the humor of both Barnet and May pervade this performance, something that a number of critics during the swing era didn’t get.The solos are played in dialog fashion by Barnet on soprano sax and Billy May echoing Barnet with a plunger mute near the bell of his trumpet. Knowing the propensities these two protagonists had for hijinx, the humorous cast to the solos here is perfectly in-character.
Here is a bit of background about the place this composition commemorates: “The Meadowbrook Country Club is unique in that, it is the only major dance spot in metropolitan New York that is owned and operated by musicians. This all-year round club is operated by ‘Vince’ Dailey one of the youngest operators in the business. Vince buys not only the music but all the other necessities for the ‘Brook.’ Bandleaders find this spot convenient not only for building up their New Jersey reps but for a shot at the several CBS coast-to-coast wires emanating from there. Frank Dailey, who has one of the leading swing bands, is the president of a corporation of five members of his first band who own the Meadowbrook. His latest band is built around Joe Mooney, arranger, who plays a swinging piano and accordion and Louise Wallace (formerly of the Wallace Sisters) whose vocal style is a cross between Ella Fitzgerald and a Billie Holiday. Casa Loma holds the house record for one-nighters for a date in 1934. At present, Dailey is back on his own bandstand. December and January will bring a flock of names to the Meadowbrook among them Red Norvo and Mildred Bailey.”[i]
“Frank Dailey was born in 1901 and attended Seton Hall College in South Orange, New Jersey, studying to be a priest. While in school, he organized a 5-piece group, which he led on violin, but in 1918 his father’s death caused him to drop out of school, though he continued to lead a band, which he enlarged to 9 pieces in 1923. From then until 1925, he played at a spot in Cedar Grove, New Jersey called Four Towers across the road from the Pavilion Royal, later renamed the Meadowbrook. This place opened and closed many times, before being taken over by Dailey in 1930 and featuring his band until late 1936–early 1937. The band included at one time or another drummer Buddy Schutz; Ralph Muzzillo, trumpet; Bud Freeman, tenor sax; Paul Tanner, trombone; and vocalists Connie Haines, Dolly Dawn and Edythe Wright. In 1937, Dailey started to bring in name bands, using his own group as relief band, and he made it a point to attract a younger crowd. He had no cover charge: ‘a young fella with $2.00 could come with his gal and have a good time there all evening.’ The spot had a Mutual wire and bands got lots of airtime. It switched to a CBS wire in 1940. (Note: Late 1939 Glenn Miller and early 1940 Tommy Dorsey broadcasts from the Meadowbrook were carried over NBC. Benny Goodman’s remotes from there in 1941 were over Mutual. Later, CBS broadcast remotes from there, including ones of Woody Herman’s ‘First Herd.’) The ‘Matinee at Meadowbrook’ radio show started in 1938. Dailey had a mailing list of over 23,000, with about 5,000 being added and dropped each year, and he continued to poll his customers to see what they wanted. He had only a small staff, which included his two brothers, Vince and Cliff. The spot now (1941) holds 1,700 up from a capacity of about 800 when he took it over, and has a beautiful outdoor garden with tables for dining on hot summer nights.”[ii]
[i] Orchestra World: December 1937.
[ii] Billboard: August 30, 1941.
Composed by Dick Rogers and Will Osborne; arranged by Billy Maxted.
Recorded by Billy Maxted and His Manhattan Jazz Band for Liberty in 1967.
Billy Maxted, piano, directing: Bob Yance and Dave Culp, trumpets; Richy Nelson, trombone; Joe Barafuldi, clarinet; Ron Nespo, bass, John “Baron” Von Ohlen, drums.
The story: Pianist Billy Maxted (1917-2001) studied at the Juilliard School of Music in the mid-1930s, then played and arranged for the Red Nichols big band during 1937-1940. He worked briefly with Ben Pollack and Teddy Powell, and played with Will Bradley (1941-1942), sitting in the chair formerly held by Freddie Slack. After serving in the Navy, he provided arrangements for Benny Goodman and Claude Thornhill, and co-led a band with vocalist Ray Eberle (1947-1948). In the late 1940s Maxted led his own Dixieland group (the Manhattan Jazz Band) featuring his Bob Zurke-inspired stride and boogie-woogie piano and his inventive arrangements. Maxted worked frequently as the resident pianist at Nick’s in Greenwich Village during 1949-1960. In the 1950s he recorded for MGM, Brunswick (a rare trio date), Cadence, and Seeco. His sidemen included trumpeter Chuck Forsyth, trombonist Lee Gifford, either Sol Pace or Dan Tracey(Traisci) on clarinet, and (by 1958) bass saxophonist Johnny Dengler. During 1961-1963, Maxted recorded three albums for the forgotten K&H label, but his best-known albums are two for Liberty in 1966-67. In addition, he appeared on records by Pee Wee Erwin, Bob Crosby, and Red Nichols. Not much was heard from the pianist after the late ’60s; Maxted had moved to Florida earlier in the decade, and he died in Fort Lauderdale on October 11, 2001.(*)
Maxted, especially starting around 1960, looked like a tough-guy character actor who might have appeared in Warner Brothers gangster movies with Jimmy Cagney, George Raft and Humphrey Bogart. But this tough-looking exterior covered a very talented musical spirit, which will immediately become apparent when you listen to Maxted’s version of “Pompton Turnpike.” In the mid-1960s, Maxted signed a contract with Liberty Records, which yielded two LP disks. This recording comes from the second of them, Satin Doll – Billy Maxted’s Manhattan Jazz Band Plays Big Band Hits. This is a wonderful record that includes several big band blockbusters (like “Eager Beaver,” “A String of Pearls,” “Satin Doll,” and “I’ve Heard That Song before,” along with tunes that are not often played in new arrangements, like “Nightmare,” “Shiny Stockings,” and “Snowfall.” He even included a lovely version of Hal Kemp’s “When the Summer is Gone (How I’ll Miss You).”
The music: Maxted begins his arrangement of “Pompton Turnpike” with a vamping introduction, which includes his piano, Ron Nespo’s bass, and John Von Ohlen’s drums. Then the Maxted wind ensemble, consisting of two trumpets, a clarinet, and a trombone set forth the insinuating melody in close harmony. Maxted eschewed placing any solos in his arrangement, sensing perhaps that Charlie Barnet and Billy May had pretty much exhausted the possibilities in that area on this tune. His arrangement, played beautifully by his small band, is a perfectly balanced whole. Notice the splendid drumming of John Von Ohlen.
I saw drummer Von Ohlen perform on a number of occasions. “The Baron,” as he is known in the jazz community, was playing superbly every time I saw him. Von Ohlen is a part of a jazz drumming tradition that started with Dave Tough, and was carried on by Shelly Manne and Mel Lewis among many others. They all had the uncanny ability to swing any band they were in. I talked with John on a couple of occasions. Once I mentioned Billy Maxted’s band to him, and he surprised me by saying “that was one of the best bands I ever played in.” He then asked me how I knew about his association with Maxted. I told him that I had the Satin Doll album. “Oh, you’re the one…” he joked, obliquely referring to the small sales of most jazz albums in the late 1960s. Von Ohlen also played with Woody Herman and Stan Kenton.
(*) This short bio is taken from the one that appears on Wikipedia that was written by Scott Yanow.
The recordings presented in this post have been transferred and digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.