“Invitation” (1963) Buddy Morrow

“Invitation”

Composed by Bronislaw Kaper; arranged by Walt Stuart.

Recorded by Buddy Morrow and His Orchestra in New York in 1963.

The Story:  Bronislaw Kaper (shown at left in the 1950s) was born on February 5, 1902 in Warsaw, Poland. He died on April 25, 1983 in Los Angeles, California. Kaper displayed musical talent at age six, being drawn to the piano his family acquired then. His inclination to music led him to study (in Warsaw) both piano and composition, while also taking courses in law to satisfy his father. At twenty-one he graduated from The Chopin Music School, and then went to Berlin to further his musical education.

In the 1920s, post World War I Berlin was a hotbed of musical and other cultural activity. To support himself during this period, Kaper began writing songs for various cabarets. Later he worked in Berlin as an arranger and a composer for both stage and film productions. While involved in this, Kaper met the young Austrian composer Walter Jurmann. The two decided to work as a team, first in Berlin and then, after the Nazis took power in Germany in 1933, in Paris.The emergence of sound film created a major market for their talents. In Paris, they composed music for films directed by persons who had fled Fascism in Germany.

In 1935, M-G-M executive Louis B. Mayer was on vacation in Paris and happened to hear one of Kaper and Jurmann’s songs. Mayer offered them a contract, and Kaper and Jurmann soon found themselves working at M-G-M in Hollywood, principally as a songwriting team. One of their first efforts for M-G-M was the title song for the film San Francisco (1936). This song became a popular hit in the late 1930s. Kaper and Jurmann also wrote the pop-novelty song “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” for the 1937 M-G-M Marx Brothers film A Day at the Races. This also became a pop hit. (At right: Walter Jurmann at the piano; Bronislaw Kaper standing next to him; director Robert Z. Leonard; actress Luise Rainer-at M-G-M, 1937.)

Despite Kaper’s success as a song writer for films, he aspired to write complete film scores, and certainly had the musical training and background to do it. In the 1940s he wrote the music for dramatic films such as Gaslight (1944), Green Dolphin Street (1947) and Act of Violence (1949). This last film, a disturbing thriller directed by Fred Zinneman, shows how sophisticated and daring Kaper’s music could be.

Drawing on his knowledge of modern composition, he was surprisingly successful at incorporating dissonant, abstract sounds into his film scores despite the conservative tastes that prevailed in Hollywood in the post World War II era. It should be noted that Kaper, who composed at the piano, did not orchestrate his compositions. After he wrote something at the piano, he would take what he’d written to one of the many gifted orchestrators on staff at M-G-M, and they would discuss how to expand on the basic piano music to enhance whatever was going on on the screen. (This practice was hardly unusual in the golden age of Hollywood film making.) (1)

In the 1950s Kaper was given more opportunities to show his range. He created edgy, modern scores for films like Them! (1954) and rich, romantic scores for films like The Brothers Karamazov (1958), while still turning out catchy melodies for musicals like Lili (1953), from which the hit “Hi Lili, Hi Lo” came. By the end of the 1950s, it was clear that the Hollywood studio system of film production was in decline, and that the days of in-house music departments at the film studios were over. After Kaper left MGM, he went on working as a freelance film composer. One of his last major film assignments was Lord Jim (1965), an adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel. To complement the epic scope of the film, Kaper used not only a large symphony orchestra but, also many instruments indigenous to the story’s Asian setting. Like most Hollywood composers of the studio era, Kaper found himself working on fewer movies during the sixties. His last credit on a theatrical film release was A Flea in Her Ear (1968). Though he was later hired to work on The Salzburg Connection (1972), his score was not used in the film.

Kaper died at his home in Los Angeles in 1983.

Kaper’s music for the song “Invitation,” with a lyric by Paul Francis Webster, was originally used in the M-G-M film A Life of Her Own (1950), which starred Lana Turner and Ray Milland. Though “Invitation” slowly developed into an underground favorite of jazz musicians in the very early 1950s, it became a jazz standard only after being used as the theme in the 1952 M-G-M film Invitation. “Invitation” is considered Kaper’s second best known song after “On Green Dolphin Street,” which was first presented in the 1947 M-G-M film On Green Dolphin Street, which was originally titled simply Green Dolphin Street. (2)

The music: This recording of “Invitation” was made in 1963 by Buddy Morrow and His Orchestra as a part of an eight-tune session of radio transcriptions. The melody, which is memorably haunting, is played by Morrow on his trombone (pictured at right), and the arrangement, by Walt Stuart, is first-rate. What you hear in this performance, is great music played by a modern big band.

Unfortunately, no personnel or other discographical information was included with the various commercial releases of this recording, first on LP, and later on CD. If any visitor to swingandbeyond.com has any of this information, please leave it in the comment section below. Swing fans everywhere will be grateful.

(1) One of the most brilliant of these film music orchestrators was Conrad Salinger. Here is a link to a wonderful piece about Salinger: https://jackcampey.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/my-top-5-past-orchestrators-conrad-salinger/

(2) The story of Bronislaw Kaper told above is derived from the Bibliography The Film Music of Bronislaw Kaper, notes by Tony Thomas, Delos Records, (1975);  Variety, obituary of Bronlslaw Kaper, May 4, 1983; Interview with arranger Pete Rugolo by Casey Maddren, conducted in 1998

The recording presented in this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Here is a link to the theatrical trailer for the 1950 M-G-M film A Life of Her Own, which was the first film to use Bronislaw Kaper’s evocative melody “Invitation.”

The melody became something of an underground hit as a result of its use in that film. M-G-M then used it again in the film Invitation, in 1952. Here is a link to the opening credits for that film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxbaEOEqUQ0

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3 Comments

    • No Bengt, “All God’s Chillun Got Rhythm” was not published until 1936-7. The Lunceford recording you are thinking of is “Chillun, Get Up!” It was recorded by Jimmie Lunceford for Decca on November 7,1934.

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