“And the Angels Sing”
Composed by Ziggy Elman (music) and Johnny Mercer (lyric); arranged by Abe Osser.
Recorded by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra for Victor on February 1, 1939 in New York.
Benny Goodman, directing: Harry Aaron Finkelman (Ziggy Elman), first and solo trumpet; Chris Griffin and Irving Goodman, trumpets; Sterling “Red” Ballard and Vernon Brown, trombones; Hymie Shertzer, first alto saxophone; Ernani “Noni” Bernardi, alto saxophone; Arthur Rollini and Jerry Jerome, tenor saxophones; Jess Stacy, piano; Ben Heller, guitar; Harry Goodman, bass; Adolph “Buddy” Schutz, drums; Martha Tilton, vocal.
Ziggy Elman (1914-1968) was a great trumpet player. He arrived in the Benny Goodman band in September of 1936, when they were playing at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey. He was a natural musician who could seemingly pick up any instrument and play it. When Benny was recording the pastiche “Bach Goes to Town,” for some reason he needed someone to play an extra clarinet part. Ziggy put down his trumpet and played the extra clarinet part. Later, when Ziggy was with Tommy Dorsey, he and Tommy would trade instruments onstage, much to the delight of audiences. Beyond that, in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Elman could on occasion deliver some very convincing jazz as a part of his brash, colorful trumpet playing.
Elman’s trumpet style was rooted in Klezmer music. Klezmer music is defined as: “a musical tradition which parallels Hasidic and Ashkenazic Judaism. Around the fifteenth century, a tradition of secular (non liturgical) Jewish music was developed by musicians called klezmorim. They drew on devotional traditions extending back to biblical times. The repertoire is largely dance songs for weddings and other celebrations. Due to the Ashkenazi lineage of this music, the lyrics, terminology, and song titles are typically in Yiddish.”
Harry Aaron Finkelman was born in Philadelphia, but his family settled in Atlantic City, New Jersey when he was four. His father was a violinist, and may have been a cantor, who had hoped his son would play violin. Although young Harry did learn to play the violin, he preferred brass instruments. He began playing at Jewish weddings and in nightclubs at age 15. On July 6, 1932 he made his first recordings, with Alex Bartha and his Hotel Traymore Orchestra, playing trumpet and trombone. Bartha was a bandleader whose work was centered in Atlantic City. Elman worked with him for at least four years.
In early September of 1936, Benny Goodman was looking for a jazz trumpet soloist. Through the first eight months of 1936 for various reasons, a number of the men who had occupied that chair in the Goodman band had left Benny’s employ at the very time his early success was cresting. The Goodman band had landed a sponsored CBS network radio show, The Camel Caravan, on which they first appeared on June 30, 1936. They also had appeared in their first Hollywood feature film, Paramount’s The Big Broadcast of 1937, working on that project during July and August of 1936. The trumpet players who covered the jazz chair did not have what Benny was looking for, which was something along the lines of what his new tenor saxophone soloist, Vido Musso, brought to the band: brash exuberance.
Benny Goodman and his band at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, New Jersey – September 1936. L-R: Chris Griffin, Harry Finkelman (Ziggy Elman), Gene Krupa, Red Ballard, Hymie Shertzer, Bill DePew, Helen Ward, BG, Murray McEachern, Zeke Zarchy, Vido Musso, Arthur Rollini, Harry Goodman, Jess Stacy. Guitarist Allan Reuss is not in this picture.
The Goodman band played at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City in early September of 1936. The house band at that venue, which served as the relief band while Goodman was there, was Alex Bartha’s. In that band was a young man that Benny later recalled jumping around from instrument to instrument, playing all of them well. This was 22 year old Harry Finkelman. It appears that Finkelman was asked to sit-in with the Goodman band, and did well. Benny immediately hired him, and put Sterling Bose, who had been playing jazz trumpet for BG, on notice.
It is very important that we recognize the importance of network radio to the genesis, development and flourishing of the music that has become identified with the swing era. Network radio took the music of the bands of the swing era to every part of the USA, indeed, around the world. Basically, network radio came into play in two important ways when it presented the music of the swing era. The first, sustaining (unsponsored) broadcasts, usually from a dance hall, ballroom of other such venue where bands appeared. They were informal, and usually projected a fair representation of what it was like to actually be at the venue from which the broadcast emanated. The second way bands were presented were on sponsored radio shows. These were much more formal, having scripted “segments,” various “themes” (some might call them gimmicks), an ad agency, network liaison and sponsor to be pleased, in addition to the listening audience. There was unrelenting pressure to keep these shows “fresh.” But the money these shows paid was very good, and listening audiences in the millions were not unusual.
In the case of Benny Goodman’s Camel Caravan radio show, from the time he started to appear on it (summer of 1936), until he departed (end of 1939), it underwent several changes of format and at least one change in broadcast time. Benny went from a somewhat passive (in terms of production) though brilliant performer on this program in 1936, to a very active participant in creating the show’s content, musical and otherwise, as the years passed. In a very real sense, he became an important producer/co-producer of his radio show. As such, he was always on the lookout for new material that would fit within the concept of his Camel Caravan radio show. That meant whatever was presented had to be interesting to his listening audience that was comprised almost exclusively of people under the age of 30.
Benny Goodman and his band broadcast a Camel Caravan radio show – possibly on June 13, 1939, from the stage of CBS Playhouse No. 3, located at 1697 Broadway at 53rd in Manhattan.
The people who listened to Benny Goodman’s Camel Caravan obviously liked music that in a general sense could be defined as “swing” music. This music included standards, pop tunes and novelties that were arranged by musicians who were thoroughly conversant with the swing idiom. It also included original compositions that were designed to show off the swinging potential of his virtuoso clarinet playing, and the talent of his band and soloists. Again, the primary objective was to present a program that had variety.
The arrival of trumpeter Ziggy Elman in the Goodman band in September of 1936 resulted in the many musical benefits for the band that could be expected from a top-flight instrumentalist. But as time went on, it came to Benny’s attention that in addition to being a talented swing style musician, Elman possessed other musical qualities that were extremely unusual. From time to time, he would burst into a bit of Klezmer music on his trumpet, something he was very talented at playing. The musicians in the Goodman band accepted this somewhat offbeat music as a part of Ziggy’s extroverted personality.
Benny began employing Ziggy Elman’s geshrai (Yiddish for scream, wail or cry) trumpet stylings in his cover version of the Andrews Sisters’ big 1937 hit record “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” in December of 1937. BG recorded this tune as a two-sided Victor record on December 21 and 29, 1937, with the BG Quartet being augmented by his band singer Martha Tilton’s voice and Ziggy’s trumpet. These two sides have always sounded to me like they were put together as a musical delicatessen sandwich: rye bread with pastrami. The tune is the rye bread, the meat is Ziggy’s trumpet playing. Benny was so happy with this musical combination that he presented it as a part of his famous Carnegie Hall Concert on January 16, 1938, but played by the full Goodman band with Ms. Tilton and Ziggy being featured.
Fast-forward to late 1938. Benny’s star trumpeter Harry James would be leaving the Goodman band in January of 1939 to start his own band. Consequently, Ziggy Elman’s role in the Goodman band would be expanded. As an inducement to Ziggy to remain with the Goodman band, Benny facilitated a one-year recording contract for Ziggy with Victor’s Bluebird label. Ziggy went to work with Benny’s lead alto saxophonist Ernani “Noni” Bernardi (shown at right), who was a capable arranger (he was responsible for the initial arrangement of Tommy Dorsey’s theme song, “Getting Sentimental Over You”), to create the music that would be recorded. Ziggy’s first recording date for Bluebird was December 28, 1938. The members of that recording band (it never existed outside of the recording studio) were mostly sidemen in the Goodman band. One of the first tunes they recorded was “Fralich in Swing,” based on a 1918 recording of “Der Shtiller Bulgar” (“The Quiet Bulgar”) by Abe Schwartz.(1)
“Fralich in Swing”
Composed by Ziggy Elman; arranged by Ernani “Noni” Bernardi.
Recorded by Ziggy Elman and His Orchestra for RCA Bluebird on December 28, 1938 in New York.
Ziggy Elman, trumpet, directing: Ernani “Noni” Bernardi, first alto saxophone; Dave Matthews, alto saxophone; Arthur Rollini and Jerry Jerome, tenor saxophones; Jess Stacy, piano; Ben Heller, guitar; Harry Goodman, bass; Al Kendis (2), drums.
The story continues:
Benny Goodman and Johnny Mercer – early 1939 at a Camel Caravan rehearsal. The man in the background is CBS announcer Dan Seymour.
During the first half of 1939, singer and lyricist Johnny Mercer was featured on the Camel Caravan radio show with the Goodman band. As a part of what Mercer did on the show, he wrote special lyrics for various songs. On one show, Goodman challenged Mercer, who was known for usually being a fast writer, to write lyrics for Ziggy Elman’s tune “Fralich in Swing” in one week. Two weeks later, Mercer brought in a lyric for the tune, now recast as “And the Angels Sing.” Goodman had arranger Abe Osser write an arrangement for the new song, to feature Martha Tilton (shown below) on the first chorus, and Ziggy Elman’s trumpet playing on the second. The recording quickly became a #1 hit. It was Goodman’s largest selling record on the Victor label. What is ironic about this is that Benny does not play a note on this recording.
The recording contract that Ziggy Elman got at the end of 1938 worked out well for all concerned. Ziggy remained with the BG band, anchored the brass section by often playing lead, a pls well as playing many inspired solos. As a result, the Goodman band remained musically stable. Ziggy’s recordings for Bluebird were musically satisfying, and increased his name recognition in the world of swing. In at least one instance, one of those recordings, “Fralich in Swing,” led directly to a very lucrative hit recording for both Benny and Ziggy, “And the Angels Sing.” Benny did not take any composer royalty in the song (that was split between Ziggy Elman and Johnny Mercer), but of course he did get the performer’s royalty from the hit record. Benny’s plan to keep Ziggy happy and in his band worked out very well for all concerned.
The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Links and notes:
(1) Some of the information included in this post was derived from the Wikipedia post on Ziggy Elman.
(2) Al Kendis was a drummer Ziggy Elman worked with in Atlantic City in the Alex Bartha band.
Here is a link to one of Johnny Mercer’s clever creations, sung by Johnny himself and played by Benny Goodman and his band:
Here is a link to one of the great blockbusters of the swing era, Tommy Dorsey’s “Well, Git It,” on which Ziggy engages in an exciting trumpet duel with Chuck Peterson: https://swingandbeyond.com/2019/06/07/well-git-it-1942-tommy-dorsey-with-ziggy-elman-and-chuck-peterson/
And another great TD swing romper with a great Elman solo, “Loose Lid Special”: https://swingandbeyond.com/2016/03/25/76/
And here is Ziggy in a mellower mood with the TD band playing a soulful solo on Sy Oliver’s great arrangement of “Swanee River”: