“The Folks Who Live on the Hill”
Composed by Jerome Kern; arranged by Johnny Keating.
Recorded by Ted Heath and His Music for Decca in London, England in 1956.
Ted Heath, directing: Bobby Pratt, first trumpet; Bert Ezard, Duncan Campbell and Eddie Blair; trumpets; Don Lusher, first trombone; Wally Smith, Jimmy Coombs and Ric Kennedy, trombones; Leslie Gilbert, first alto saxophone; Roy Willox, alto saxophone; Henry MacKenzie and Danny Moss, tenor saxophones; George Hunter, baritone saxophone; Frank Horrox, piano; Ike Isaacs, guitar; Johnny Hawksworth, bass; Ronnie Verrell, drums.
The Story: Ted Heath was an English trombonist who had a long career as a sideman playing with many British bands prior to and during World War II, before he became the leader of his own band. George Edward “Ted” Heath (1902–1969) led what is widely considered Britain’s greatest and most successful post-World War II big band, recording more than 100 albums, which sold over 20 million copies.
Heath served a lenghty apprenticeship as a sideman with various British dance bands from the 1920s well into the 1940s. These included Bert Firman [1924–1925]; Jack Hylton‘s Kit-Cat Band [1925–1927]; Jack Hylton Orchestra [1927-1930, stage presentations and some recordings]; Ambrose [1928–1936]; Sydney Lipton [1936–1939]; Geraldo [1939–1944]. By the 1930s, Heath was one of the top trombonists in Great Britain.
In Geraldo’s orchestra, Heath played numerous concerts and broadcasts during World War II in the Middle East theater of operations for the Allied Forces based there. In 1941, Geraldo asked his band members to submit a favorite tune to include in their broadcasts. Heath had composed a song “That Lovely Weekend,” setting to music a poem his wife Moira had written for him on a rare weekend they spent together among his extensive war travels. Heath suggested “That Lovely Weekend” to Geraldo and it was orchestrated, with Dorothy Carless on vocal, and became an immediate wartime hit. The royalties from this song and another of his compositions, “Gonna Love That Guy,” provided Heath the money to form his own band.
Heath was inspired by Glenn Miller and his Army Air Force Band (shown at right), which he heard on occasion when that band was in England in 1944. Heath admired the immaculate precision of the Miller ensemble and felt confident that he could emulate Miller’s success with his own orchestra.He spoke with Miller at length about forming his own band, and Miller gave him a considerable amount of practical advice about how to effectively and profitably operate a big band.
Shortly after speaking with Miller, Heath talked Douglas Lawrence, the Dance Music Organizer for the BBC’s Variety Department, into supporting a new big band with a broadcasting contract. Lawrence was skeptical as Heath wanted a much larger and more jazz oriented band than anyone had seen in Britain before. This band would follow the then-current American model, and featured 5 saxophones, 4 trombones, 4 trumpets, piano, guitar, bass and drums. The new Ted Heath Band, originally presented as a British “All Star Band” playing only radio dates, was first heard on a BBC broadcast in late 1944. In 1945, the BBC decreed that only permanent, touring bands could appear on BBC radio. Consequently, the permanent standing band called Ted Heath and his Music was organized in mid-1945.
Heath worked quite effectively throughout the late 1940s to constantly improve his band’s music, and to secure better engagements. Great popularity followed, and Heath’s Band and his musicians were regular poll winners in the Melody Maker and the New Musical Express – Britain’s leading music newspapers. Subsequently Heath was asked to perform at two Royal Command Performances in front of King George VI in 1948 and 1949.
In 1947 Heath persuaded impresario Val Parnell, uncle of the band’s star drummer Jack Parnell, to allow him to hire the London Palladium for alternating Sundays for his Sunday Night Swing Sessions. The band caused a sensation and eventually played 110 Sunday concerts, ending in August 1955, consolidating the band’s popular appeal from the late 1940s. These concerts allowed the band to play much more in a jazz idiom than it could in ballrooms. In addition to the Palladium Sunday night concerts, the band appeared regularly at the Hammersmith Palais and toured the United Kingdom on a weekly basis.
In April 1956 Ted Heath arranged his first American tour. This was a reciprocal agreement between Heath and Stan Kenton, who would tour Britain at the same time as Heath toured the United States. The tour was the result of a negotiated agreement betewwn the British Musicians’ Union and the American Federation of Musicians, which broke a 20-year union deadlock. Heath contracted to play a tour that included Nat King Cole, June Christy and the Four Freshmen that consisted of 43 concerts in 30 cities (primarily the southern states) in 31 days (7,000 miles) climaxing in a Carnegie Hall concert on May 1, 1956. On the way to this performance, the band’s instrument truck was delayed by bad weather. The instruments finally arrived just minutes before the curtain rose. The band had no time to warm up, they simply went onstage and played. At the end of the concert, there were so many encore calls that Nat King Cole (who was backstage, but not on the bill), had to come out on stage and ask the audience to leave.
During the tour, Nat King Cole was attacked on stage in Birmingham, Alabama by a group of white segregationists. Heath was so appalled he nearly cancelled the remainder of the tour but was persuaded by Cole to continue. They remained firm friends until Cole died in 1965 and collaborated musically on many occasions. Heath later successfully toured the US again and also toured Australia and Europe.
The 1950s was the most popular period for Ted Heath and His Music during which dozens of recordings were made. In 1958 alone, nine albums were recorded by the Heath band. (Heath and his band are shown in the photo at right in the 1950s. The alto saxophonist Leslie Gilbert is seated in the center of the five man saxophone section.) Ted Heath became a household name throughout the UK, Europe, Australasia and the US. He won the New Musical Express Poll for Best Band/Orchestra each year from 1952 to 1961. Heath was asked to perform two more Royal Command Performances, one for King George VI in 1951, and one for Queen Elizabeth II in 1954.
The music: The song “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” was composed by Jerome Kern, with a sentimental lyric by Oscar Hammerstein II in 1937 for the Paramount film High, Wide and Handsome. It has a six bar bridge instead of the customary eight bars. It has become a favorite of cabaret singers over the years. In this version by Ted Heath, all of the singing is done by Heath’s lead alto saxophonist Leslie Gilbert on his instrument.
Leslie Gilbert (Born: Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, March 29, 1915. Died Canterbury, Kent, England, December 08, 1979, shown at left in the mid-1950s), came from a musical family. His father played piano, his brother trumpet. Gilbert started playing violin when he was eight years old. At 15 he moved to reed instruments, but in the early 1930s he continued playing gigs as a jazz violinist. Following a move to London in the mid-1930s, he began working almost exclusively as an alto saxophonist who doubled on clarinet.He continued in the reed sections of several different bands and in the orchestra of the BBC prior to military service in World War II. It was during this time that Gilbert emerged as one of the top first alto saxophone players in Great Britain. In addition, he was a capable jazz soloist whose style was at first modeled on those of Jimmy Dorsey and Johnny Hodges. As the 1950s progressed, his jazz playing also began to show traces of the influence of Lee Konitz and Paul Desmond.
Gilbert joined Ted Heath’s new band in 1945 after the conclusion of World War II. The opportunities available to Heath in post-war Great Britain were enough to keep Gilbert very busy for the next fifteen-plus years.These included many radio and television broadcasts, touring, as well as the many recordings on the London (Decca) label. After that, Gilbert free-lanced in London.
This performance showcases Leslie Gilbert’s virtuoso melodic alto saxophone playing, and it begins with an arresting introductory cadenza played by him in the low, tenor range of his alto saxophone, then moving up into his middle register. Gilbert floats on into the main melody of “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” and covers the entire range of his alto saxophone as this melodic tour-de-force unfolds. Johnny Keating’s slowly building arrangement provides the perfect setting for Gilbert’s passionate lyricism.
Much of the information for this post was derived from the Wikipedia post on Ted Heath, and from the book The Greatest Swing Band in the World …The Ted Heath Story (1993), by Tony Parker.
The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.