“The Beaumont Ride”
Composed by Ray Conniff and Harry James; arranged by Ray Conniff.
Recorded by Harry James and His Orchestra for Columbia on December 19, 1945 in Los Angeles.
Harry James, trumpet, directing: Jimmy Campbell, Red Berkin, James Grimes, Jim Troutman, trumpets; Vic Hamann, Ray Heath, Chuck Preble, trombones; Juan Tizol, valve trombone; Willie Smith, first alto saxophone; Eddie Rosa, alto saxophone; Corky Corcoran and Stuart Bruner, tenor saxophones; George Davis, baritone saxophone; Arnold Rosenberg (Ross), piano; Hayden Causey, guitar; Ed Mihelich, bass; Nick Fatool, drums.
By the time this recording was made, Harry James (1916-1983), though only 29 years old, was at the peak of his career. His first big hit record, a shmaltzy rendition of “You Made Me Love You,” was issued in 1941. He achieved a major commercial milestone in the autumn of 1942, when he replaced Glenn Miller on his Chesterfield sponsored network radio show. Of equal importance in the advancement of Harry James’s career was the fact that he was classified 4-F, and exempted from military service during World War II. This enabled him to reap large financial rewards with his band during the War when many bandleaders were off the scene in military service, and the wartime economy in the U.S. was in overdrive.
Through World War II James led a band that was first and foremost a commercial entity that played music that was attractive to a wide audience. This band had a string section and featured the fine vocalist Helen Forrest. Wartime travel restrictions limited touring for the James band, but due to their great popularity, they were featured in several Hollywood films, and consequently were based in Los Angeles for the duration of the War. (The James band did go east during the War for a few specific engagements. But most of the time then they were headquartered in Los Angeles.)
James’s personal life took on a glamorous cast when he and Hollywood actress Betty Grable married in 1943. They had worked together on the Fox film Springtime in the Rockies in 1942. Ms. Grable was one of Hollywood’s most successful screen stars through the 1940s. She was largely responsible for the continuing solvency of the Twentieth Century Fox film studio through that decade. She was also one of the highest paid stars in Hollywood then. Between the money she was earning and the money James was earning in the middle 1940s, they were able to live like Hollywood royalty. They purchased a palatial house on Doheny Drive in Beverly Hills but were unable to spend very much time there. They were too busy working. (At right: Harry James and Betty Grable – 1944.)
As the money poured in, Harry and Betty gradually became a part of Hollywood’s upper-crust horsey set, spending a lot of time and money at horse races. Eventually, they joined the ranks of serious horse people, buying, training and racing horses, and maintaining their own stable. These activities cost a lot of money, but in the middle forties, Grable and James were making a lot of money. As time went on, yet more money was spent at various race tracks (and elsewhere) gambling. This particular vice would become a very costly and chronic addiction for Harry James. (At left: Harry James in the mid-1940s. Notice the sport shirt with horses depicted. The radio next to him was probably tuned to a horse race broadcast.)
It was also during this time that James’s consumption of alcohol progressed from the heavy stage to the point where he had to drink to get through the day. By 1945, he was a functioning alcoholic. What astonished his musical colleagues was how well Harry functioned while under the influence. This pattern would continue for the remainder of James’s life.
The late summer and autumn of 1945 were heady times for everyone in the U.S. World War II was over and the wartime economic boom continued. Millions of young men were returning home from overseas military deployments, some after having been away for four years. Money was plentiful. It was a giddy time for Americans celebrating victories in the War. The top echelon bandleaders who had remained on the home front during the War had enjoyed enormous financial success. Quite a few bands, including Harry James’s, had sizable string sections. (Many of the musicians who played stringed instruments in Harry James’s mid-1940s band settled in Hollywood at the end of 1946 to do studio work over the next several decades.) It seemed like the best of times for big bands, their musicians, and the dancing public.
The musical orientation of James’s band as 1945 ended was very much pop-mainstream. Harry had a boy and a girl vocalist (Buddy DeVito and Kitty Kallen) who were very talented and able to put song lyrics over with mainstream dancers, who were the main consumers of James’s music. In fact, James’s biggest record in 1945, “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” was a vocal feature for Ms. Kallen.
Jazz purists had long before given up on James, feeling with some justification that the fiery jazz trumpeter who had enlivened so many Benny Goodman performances in 1937 and 1938, and then went on to lead a very swinging (but not so successful) band in 1939 and 1940, had by 1941 gone over to permanently join the dark forces of “commercialism.” The truth is that though James definitely weighted his presentations through the years of World War II in the direction of commercially acceptable pop music, he never abandoned jazz completely. Based on James’s playing on “The Beaumont Ride,” Harry had kept his jazz chops very warm since 1940.(1)
In early 1945, while working as a trombonist and arranger for Artie Shaw, Ray Conniff was drafted into the Army. Almost immediately, he was assigned to work at Armed Forces Radio. He performed a wide variety of duties there, including playing and arranging for Meredith Willson and Walter Schumann. Exactly how he and Harry James connected is not clear, but they did in late 1945. James was well aware of Conniff’s arranging from Ray’s many charts and original jazz compositions for Shaw, dating back to 1940. One of the first originals Conniff submitted to James was the romping showcase for Harry’s jazz trumpet, “The Beaumont Ride.”
“The Beaumont Ride” is a clever refashioning of Conniff’s earlier feature for Artie Shaw’s jazz clarinet and Roy Eldridge’s jazz trumpet, “Lucky Number.”(2) That title alone would have appealed to the gambler Harry James. But James had to have something that was his own showcase, so Conniff moved things around a bit in “Lucky Number” and came up with a new original, which Harry named in honor of one of his race horses, and as a nod to his hometown in Texas.(3) (At right: Ray Conniff thinking : “How can I transform Artie’s ‘Lucky Number” into Harry’s “The Beaumont Ride'”?)
“The Beaumont Ride” is driven by a strong 4/4 beat as it comes out of the starting gate, with drummer Nick Fatool, who was subbing into the James band (as Harry was between drummers), leading the rhythmic charge. Fatool had by 1945 settled into what would be a very successful decades long career as a Los Angeles free-lance studio musician who could step into just about any situation and play well.
The open trumpets carry the melodic statement through the first sixteen bars, with the reeds and trombones adding rhythmic kicks to spur the trumpets along. The saxophones, led by the dynamic Willie Smith, who led Jimmie Lunceford’s reeds for many years before he joined James, take over on the bridge. The last eight bars of the first chorus return to the principal melody, but end with a brass catapult which launches Harry into a spectacular downward cascading passage that begins his open trumpet solo, which begins the second chorus.
In this sixteen bar solo, James swaggers in the best tradition of Louis Armstrong, Bunny Berigan and Roy Eldridge, and plays some very tasty jazz. Listen to how Conniff thins out the instrumental background behind James to allow his trumpet sound and swing to be savored without distraction. Once again, the saxophones surge through the bridge, followed by a sparkling eight-bar piano solo by Arnold Ross, played with just guitar, bass and drums as a percolating rhythmic cushion.
The next chorus begins with Harry, his trumpet now straight-muted, swinging away against the continuing strong rhythm, at first with saxophones behind him; they are then augmented by softly played open brass. The dynamically contrasting sequence that follows has the open brass shouting and Fatool adding some snare drum explosions, as the trombones and saxophones join in the revelry.
The next segment has James back with his acrid-toned muted trumpet as the ensemble falls silent, except for the driving rhythm. Then the horns quietly at first, then building, add to the rhythm as the ensemble returns for the explosive finale, with James’s now open trumpet scattering screeching high-notes over the fortissimo ensemble.
Harry liked Conniff’s writing very much. The two men had a productive on-again-off-again relationship covering the next seven years, with many Conniff arrangements coming into the James band book.
The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(1) The story of how Harry James started his band in 1939 is included in an earlier post here at swingandbeyond.com which features one of Harry’s earliest jazz successes with his own band: Here is a link:
(2) It is possible that Artie Shaw’s recording of “Lucky Number” had not been issued by Victor before James’s recording of “The Beaumont Ride” was issued by Columbia, even though “Lucky Number” had been recorded six months earlier. Shaw and Victor came to an acrimonious parting of the ways in August of 1945, and after that Victor was slow to issue a number of his 1945 recordings.
(3) A future post here at swingandbeyond.com of Artie Shaw’s “Lucky Number” is now being developed.
Here are links to some of Harry James’s early performances with Benny Goodman:
Below under “related” are links to some of Ray Conniff’s arrangements and compositions for Artie Shaw.
Regarding Artie Shaw’s Lucky Number” two European CD sets that I own both say that it was not released. Yet, Discogs gives a release of September 1946 and includes a photo of the record.
Mosaic’s “Classic Artie Shaw Bluebird and Victor Sessions” seven cd boxed set includes two issued recordings of “Lucky Number”, one recorded on June 8, 1945 and eventually released on an LP and the other recorded on June 14, 1945, which was initially issued on a 78 rpm. The Mosaic discography also lists two unissued masters of “Lucky Number”, recorded on June 9 and June 13, 1945 respectively.
another fascinating and instructive write up. As always, thank you, Mike. It seems that during this period James always had the guitar and string bass well recorded, and the swing that they provide is infectious.
In my opinion, the James band was at its peak in this period, in terms of the quality of its musicians. While I do understand Harry’s hard-core jazz fans’ disappointment at the commercial and schmaltzy trend that was ushered in by the phenomenal success of “You Made Me Love You,” I feel there is ample evidence that he remained a wonderful jazz player, despite the change in focus reflected by his recordings after May of ’41. The band, after all, had been scrambling prior to the take-off of YMMLY, and I’m not sure how many “purists” (who enjoyed eating, anyway) would have refused to play what sold simply to maintain their purist status. Too, Harry, like any bandleader, was answerable to a record label whose chief, if not only, consideration was hit material.
As to Conniff, his writing, which had shown great originality and flair even in his early days with Bunny, had matured in an extremely impressive way by the time of “The Beaumont Ride,” a hard-swinging number, with a harmonic nod here and there to bop. I must assume that it was, as in Harry’s case, a desire to be financially secure that allowed the talented Conniff to go from beautiful writing like “The Beaumont Ride,” for the James band, and “Just Kiddin’ Around,” for the the Shaw crew, as well as the very different arrangements of “September Song,” for the two orchestras (both are marvelous but I prefer the very noirish one for Shaw’s magnificent ’45 outfit) to the vapid Tupperware or fondue party type of music he came to be associated with in the ’50’s as a bandleader.