“The Commando’s Serenade”
Composed and arranged by Dave Matthews.
Recorded by Hal McIntyre and His Orchestra for World Transcriptions on or about April 1, 1942 in New York.
Hal McIntrye, first alto saxophone, directing: Louis Mucci, first trumpet; Steady Nelson, Billy Robbins and Clarence Willard, trumpets; Jimmy Emmert, Howard Gibeling and Vic Hamen, trombones; Gene Kinsey, alto saxophone; Johnny Hayes and Dick Rollins, tenor saxophones; Bob Poland, baritone saxophone; Danny Hurd, piano; Jack Lathrop, guitar; Eddie Safranski, bass; Vic Hamen, drums.
The story: Hal McIntyre (1914-1959) was known as an alto saxophonist, though he was also a capable jazz clarinetist. McIntyre led his own territory band in and around New Britain, Connecticut in 1936. Through the Manhattan musicians’ grapevine, Glenn Miller heard about him and went to New Britain to meet McIntrye and listen to his band. Miller decided that he wanted McIntyre right then and there, and McIntyre soon joined Miller as Glenn assembled his first band. McIntyre played first alto saxophone and occasional jazz clarinet with the 1937 Miller band.
McIntyre’s experience leading his own band was something that Miller drew on. McIntyre, in addition to being a fine musician, was increasingly the man Miller used as an intermediary between himself and the musicians in his band. This layer of insulation between a bandleader and his sidemen is very often a useful filter for the many gripes, frustrations and grievances that invariably develop in a band that works and in a very real sense lives together, especially while touring. McIntyre proved very quickly that he was adept at mediating these issues and reducing greatly the amount of time Miller himself had to spend dealing with them. Miller took note, and their relationship became closer.
The 1937 Miller band failed to find an audience, and Glenn reluctantly disbanded in early 1938. Soon thereafter, he began organizing a new band. The first musician he chose for that band was Hal McIntyre. McIntyre resumed his musical role as the band’s first alto saxophonist, but his outings on jazz clarinet became far fewer, probably a decision by Glenn to cede that to Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw, and concentrate his band’s music elsewhere. In this new band, McIntrye’s role as Miller’s lieutenant grew substantially. “…He had a brilliant memory for the names of employers and patrons. Until he left to form his own outfit (in the autumn of 1941), with Glenn’s blessings and backing, he remained Glenn’s major contact with music publishers, and was primarily responsible for programming the various sustaining radio broadcasts that emanated from the hotels and ballrooms where the band was playing.” (1)
This photo was taken in July 1941 while the Glenn Miller band was playing an engagement at Eastwood Gardens near Detroit, Michigan. L-R: Chummy MacGregor, Glenn Miller and Hal McIntrye. McIntyre enjoyed a close relationship with Miller.
When Hal McIntrye started his new band in the autumn of 1941, he well understood that he needed an arranger who could work with him to create a musical identity for the band. The man he selected was veteran saxophonist/arranger Dave Matthews. Matthews had assisted trumpeter Harry James is getting his new band off the ground in 1939. Although Matthews was born in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, his family moved to McAlester, Oklahoma when he was a child, and he grew up there. By his teens, Matthews was living in Chicago, where his mother taught at the Chicago Music College. Matthews studied there for five years, and began his career as a professional musician in 1930. He worked in a series of territory bands in the early 1930s, and joined drummer Ben Pollack’s band in 1935. It was in this band that he met Harry James. James left Pollack in early 1937 to join Benny Goodman, and in the spring of 1938, Harry advocated on Matthews’s behalf with BG to get him into the Goodman band. (At right: L-R: Harry James, Frank Sinatra and Dave Matthews. This photo was taken in 1939 soon after Harry James organized his first band.)
By the time Dave Matthews was working with Hal McIntyre, he was deeply into a Duke Ellington phase. One of his first creations for the new McIntyre band was an original composition/arrangement called “The Commando’s Serenade.” The opening bars, featuring the Jimmie Blanton-like bass playing of Eddie Safranski, and the oo-ah plunger-muted brass, are definitely Dukish.
The music: There is no doubt that Dave Matthews composed and arranged “The Commando’s Serenade” as a vehicle for his tenor saxophone playing. Indeed, the McIntyre band recorded the tune with Dave Matthews taking the tenor saxophone solo on February 2, 1942.(2) Shortly after, Matthews left McIntyre, and joined Woody Herman. The recording of “The Commando’s Serenade” presented with this post was recorded shortly after Matthews left. The tenor saxophone solo on this recording, which is very much in the Matthews mode (which was derived from Coleman Hawkins), was played by Johnny Hayes.
Here is some background, which was graciously provided to me by historians Rob Ronzello and Karl Pearson: “The tenor soloist sounds a lot like Dave Matthews but I think it’s Johnny Hayes who had a very similar approach on the horn. Hayes was the tenor soloist – and a good one – from the time he joined the McIntyre band going forward. We don’t really know the dates of these (World Transcription) sessions, but it was sometime around the time that Matthews left the band. The (music trade) magazines reported he was in poor health but would stay on as arranger. However, he was soon gone from the McIntyre band entirely and ended up with Woody Herman. I have a copy of the Mutual Music published chart for “The Commando’s Serenade,” and (it contains) the Matthews tenor solo transcribed note for note. Maybe Hayes even had a copy of it (when this recording was made)! So if it’s not Matthews it’s Hayes, and certainly not Rollins. If I were to guess I’d say it’s Hayes who had probably just joined the band in place of Matthews.”
If one listens to the Victor recording of “The Commando’s Serenade,” it is clear that the tenor saxophone solo played on the later World Transcription recording of the tune, though completely in the same mood as the original Dave Matthews solo, is nevertheless different, and quite good. (Dave Matthews is pictured above left in the mid-1940s.)
“The Commando’s Serenade”
Composed and arranged by Dave Matthews. original Matthews arrangement revised by Lew Quadling.
Recorded by Frankie Carle and His Orchestra for Dot in 1968 in Hollywood.
Frankie Carle, piano; Lew Quadling directing: (probable personnel): Shorty Sherock, Cappy Lewis, Graham Young, Uan Rasey trumpets; Dick Nash, Milt Bernhart, Lloyd Ulyate, tenor trombones; George Roberts, bass trombone; Arthur “Skeets” Herfurt, first alto saxophone; Wilbur Schwartz, alto saxophone and clarinet; Georgie Auld and Donald H. “Don” Raffell, tenor saxophones; Chuck Gentry, baritone saxophone; Bob Bain, guitar; Ray Brown, bass; Alvin Stoller, drums.
The story continues: Pianist Francesco Nunzio Carlone (1903-2001), (shown at left in 1968), known professionally as Frankie Carle, worked through a succession of bands in the 1920s and 1930s, including that of New England bandleader Mal Hallett. His hit composition “Sunrise Serenade,” written in 1938, raised his public profile considerably, as did his stint with the tremendously popular bandleader/showman Horace Heidt’s organization, which lasted from 1939 to 1944. In 1944 Carle formed his own middle-of-the-road dance band, which he led with success until 1955. From then until the 1980s, Carle worked in many musical settings. He was able to choose his work because he had prudently invested the money he had made over the previous decades as a sideman and bandleader.
In 1968, Frankie Carle was contacted by producer Tommy Mack (a former Glenn Miller trombonist), who was then employed by Dot Records in Hollywood, specializing in putting together recording projects that usually involved big, swing-oriented bands. The concept Mack devised was to use Carle’s name as titular leader of a band of top-flight studio musicians, and then record the music of the classic bands from the swing era. Mack was trying to replicate the success bandleader Glen Gray had had at Capitol Records doing this same thing in the late 1950s and early 1960s. But Mack wanted to deviate slightly from the Gray/Capitol formula. Whereas Gray’s modus operandi was to record “note-for-note” recreations, having the musicians play exactly what was on the original recordings, Mack wanted to use the original recordings only as a point of departure, and allow veteran big band arranger Lew Quadling the liberty to revise certain parts of the classic arrangements, and also to allow the soloists to improvise. Carle, who was a capable pianist, would also have a number of solos to play within these revised arrangements. The project produced two LPs of music that is beautifully performed and highly listenable.
Producer Tommy Mack also wanted to record music from the swing era that had not already been recreated as a part of the Glen Gray/Capitol series. Hal McIntyre’s evocative “The Commando’s Serenade” is one such tune.
The music: Lew Quadling’s reimagining of “The Commando’s Serenade” retains the general outline of McIntyre’s original recording, but there are quite a few different touches as well. The Harmon-muted trumpets heard at the beginning of the performance are new, as is Frankie Carle’s melodic yet gently swinging piano solo. The bass lines, originally played by Eddie Safranski, are reinvigorated by the great bassist Ray Brown. Quadling’s deft deployment of the bass trombone in the ensembles is also noteworthy. The major new feature however is the tenor saxophone solo played by Georgie Auld. (Shown at right.) While Auld began his solo paying respect to the Dave Matthews original, he quickly moved his playing into new and expressive directions.
The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(1) Glenn Miller and His Orchestra, by George T. Simon (1974), 112.
(2) Here is a link to the original Hal McIntyre Victor recording of “The Commando’s Serenade,” which was made on February 2, 1942 and features the tenor saxophone solo of Dave Matthews: https://adp.library.ucsb.edu/index.php/matrix/detail/200054072/BS-071807-The_commandos_serenade
Here is a link to one of the ultimate swing era tenor saxophone solos, Coleman Hawkins’s on “Body and Soul”: https://swingandbeyond.com/2016/11/01/body-and-soul-1939-coleman-hawkins/