“Indian Love Call”
Composed by: music by Rudolph Friml; lyric by Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein II. Arranged by Artie Shaw.
Recorded by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra for Bluebird on July 24, 1938 in New York.
Artie Shaw, clarinet, directing: John Best, first trumpet; Chuck Peterson and Claude Bowen, trumpets; George Arus, first trombone; Harry Rodgers and Ted Vesely, trombones; Les Robinson, first alto saxophone; Hank Freeman, alto saxophone; Tony Pastor and Ronnie Perry, tenor saxophones; Les Burness, piano; Al Avola, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Cliff Leeman, drums; Vocal by Tony Pastor.
Antonio Pestritto (1907-1969), who became known professionally as Tony Pastor, was the oldest of six children of Gaetano Pestritto and Carmelina Vinci, immigrants of Melilli, Sicily, whose families had settled in Middletown, Connecticut at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. By mid-century, approximately sixty percent of Middletown’s residents were of Italian heritage, with many being descendants of Sicilians from Melilli. Gaetano Pestritto and Carmelina Vinci married in January 1907. Antonio was born on October 27 of that year.
The Pestritto family traveled to Melilli for a visit in 1910. While in Melilli, Antonio would entertain himself by playing in an uncle’s tobacco shop. One day his uncle carved a small wooden flute for him on which the youngster quickly learned to play a few simple tunes. During the return voyage to the United States, ship passengers were delighted as the three year-old pranced about on the main deck tooting his flute and singing. It appears that Antonio was a born entertainer. (Above right: a promotional photo of Tony Pastor when he was the leader of his own band – 1941.)
After the Pestritto family returned to Middletown, five additional children were born. Antonio was quite industrious and from an early age helped add to the family income by taking on various after-school jobs such as selling newspapers, shining shoes, working in local theaters, setting up pins in the local YMCA bowling alley and delivering Italian bread for Marino’s Bakery. He quit high school at age 16 to become a carpenter’s helper for Angelo Bellebuono, a local builder. Much to the dismay of his father, Antonio held that job for only a few months before being fired. Mr. Bellebuono informed his parents that their son’s talents were suited for music, not the building trade. He cited how nervous the boy, lost in his thoughts, made him as he hummed and whistled almost constantly, and “kept time” with his hammer and saw as he worked on roofs and sides the of buildings. He was concerned about the boy’s safety. Despite the fact that Mr. Bellebuono fired Antonio, he found it impossible not to like him.
Another, and perhaps less likable trait was Antonio’s divided loyalty. On a number of occasions he failed to show up for work with Mr. Bellebuono preferring instead to play the used C Melody saxophone his mother, without informing her husband, had purchased for him with borrowed money. Antonio’s perceptive and sympathetic mother paid $90.00 – a large sum in those days – for the white nickel-plated instrument, and he honked on it at every opportunity, trying to figure out how it worked. His brother James (Chip) later recalled the times Antonio took the instrument to Papala’s pool hall on Main Street, where he would go a quiet place on the second floor to practice in order not to be heard by his father or others. Eventually, Antonio told his father he wanted to learn music. Gaetano Pestritto was a hard-working man who earned about $6.00 a week and who, knowing of no local musicians who earned good salaries, had little appreciation for his son’s aspirations in music. His view was that Antonio should learn a “real” trade in order to become successful in America. Nevertheless, Antonio continued to sneak out of the Pestritto house to practice. Fortunately, the rest of the family covered for him so that his father did not find out where he was. They sensed that Antonio was making rapid improvement playing the saxophone. (Above left: Carmelina Pestritto and her son, Tony Pastor – 1960.)
As Antonio began to circulate among non-Italians in Middletown, he became known as Tony Pestritto. Although his parents spoke Italian in their home, and Tony was well-acquainted with that language, he and his siblings, in order to fit into their community, spoke only un-accented and idiomatic American English when they interacted with the people of Middletown.
After his termination as a carpenter’s apprentice, Tony work briefly in a factory, but more importantly began “jobbing around” with local musicians. Jim Annino, leader of a local pick-up band, used him often, offering him ham and cheese sandwiches as pay at first. But Tony advanced quickly. Over the next two years (1924-1925), he earned enough money as a musician and singer to repay his mother for the money she had borrowed to buy his first saxophone. She took that money and bought an alto saxophone for Tony, who by then was slowly becoming a professional musician. He continued to play engagements in and around Middletown, and turned his earnings over to his mother.
During this same time period, Tony began to study music in Middletown with Luciano Pandolfini, a graduate of a Sicilian musical conservatory. That study lasted for two years and gave Tony a very solid musical foundation. At the same time that he was studying with Pandolfini, Tony was also an ardent fan of live music performances. He travelled around Connecticut and Rhode Island to watch and listen to as many local bands as possible. Gradually, he was asked to play with some of them. The Connecticut beach towns on the Long Island Sound coast had numerous night clubs and road houses where Tony served his apprenticeship and a singer and saxophonist. They included the Mohegan Hotel in New London, the Pine Grove in Niantic, and the Sound View in Old Lyme.
Hartford, the capital of Connecticut, and a medium sized city, offered greater opportunities for local musicians. Tony began subbing into various bands in Hartford, including one led by Johnny Cavallaro. One night when Tony was in the Cavallaro band, a young saxophone player named Art Arshawsky (Shaw) auditioned for the band. Unfortunately, his music reading skills were not adequate to get him the job. Soon they were however, and he and Tony Pestritto became fast friends.
Tony was fortunate to come to the attention of Worthy Hills, a Niantic druggist/entrepreuner, who heard him playing and singing with different groups in and around Hartford. Hills hired Tony to work with the orchestra that performed at the his own venue, the Club Worthy, in Hartford. Tony was now (in 1927) nineteen years old, and earning $75.00 a week. Even Gaetano Pestritto was impressed by this, and understood that his son had talents that were valuable.
Working with the Worthy Hills band was Tony’s first big break. The next one came when the well-known bandleader Irving Aaronson became interested in him. After hearing Tony perform in the Club Worthy, Aaronson offered him a job to play and sing in his band in New York City, and earn $115 weekly doing it. Pestritto turned the job offer down because his mother was ill at that time and would soon have to undergo surgery, a very risky procedure in 1927. He asked Aaronson to keep him in mind however. Fortunately, her surgery was successful and she quickly recovered. Tony then obtained his mother’s permission to go to New York, where he hoped to join Aaronson. Carrying with him only his instruments, a small handbag and Irving Aaronson’s business card, he went by train to the big city, telephoned Aaronson, and was hired immediately at $115.00 per week. Before his first performance with the Aaronson band, Aaronson took Tony to a haberdashery in Manhattan where he bought his first suit. Tony kept only what he needed to live on from his weekly salary, and sent the rest to his mother. Tony Pestritto made his first recordings with Irving Aaronson on September 28, 1928 in New York. He was just shy of his 21st birthday. (Above left: Irving Aaronson engages in a publicity stunt with some of his sidemen: They serenade their leader who is behind bars as a part of the opening of the new police station in Cleveland – April 26, 1926. The trumpeter is Charlie Trotta, who later assisted both Tony Pestritto and Art Shaw to get into the highly successful Aaronson band.)
Irving Aaronson and his band probably in 1929. Aaronson is on the far right. Tony Pestritto is in front of him. The man in the chair at the left is Chummy MacGregor. The dark-haired trumpeter is Charlie Trotta. This photo was taken shortly before Toots Mondello and Art Shaw joined the Aaronson band.
In addition to performing in Manhattan, the Aaronson band went on tour throughout the country. It was as later described by Art Shaw, an “entertaining” band where the music was presented with a good bit of singing, comedy bits and dancing. Tony Pestritto fit into this band perfectly. Among the places Pestritto went with them was Hollywood, in the summer of 1929. It was there that he encountered Art Shaw again. (Shaw, shown at right in 1930). Pestritto and another Connecticut musician who was then in the Aaronson band and knew Shaw from Hartford, trumpeter Charlie Trotta, would devise a plan to get Shaw into the Aaronson band. Within a few months, Shaw did indeed join the Aaronson band.(*) Other young musicians Pestritto (and Shaw) met in the Aaronson band who would find success during the swing era were alto saxophonist Nuncio “Toots” Mondello, pianist J. Chalmers “Chummy” MacGregor, and saxophonist Arthur Quenzer.
The late 1920s was the period of emergence of big bands as popular entertainment units. In addition, it was the dawn of the age of radio and of popular recordings. The American public was listening to the music of Paul Whiteman, Isham Jones, Rudy Vallee and Irving Aaronson, among many others. In the late 1920s, the dance band business was booming. Tony Pestritto worked with Aaronson for more than two years, made very good money by the standards of the day, and saved it.
In 1930 as what would eventually become known as the Great Depression deepened, Pestritto left the Aaronson band and returned to Hartford. Previously, he had met a young woman there, Dorothy Petrossi, and had fallen in love with her. They became engaged. Because of his desire to be close to her he shifted his base of operations to the Hartford area where, with the help of Dorothy’s father, he purchased a building that had housed a convalescent home. With ideas formed when he was in Hollywood with the Aaronson band, Tony remodeled the building and turned it into a nightclub that he called Club Hollywood. He was in essence, the producer of the entertainment at Club Hollywood, in addition to being the star and bandleader of the various floor shows he presented there.
From its inception in 1931, Club Hollywood became one of the finest entertainment spots in central Connecticut, attracting people from a wide geographic area, including many vaudeville stars who appeared at the State Theater in Hartford, who would stop at Club Hollywood to catch Tony’s performances. Small aircraft flew in dignitaries and landed guests in a field behind the club. Middletown’s professionals, especially doctors and lawyers, frequented the establishment. The popularity of the club spread to the point where radio station WTIC broadcast the Friday night performances. Club Hollywood was also a major attraction for football fans who would stop by after watching the Yale football games on Saturday afternoons. In sum, despite the Depression, the years 1931-1933 were good ones for the club and for Tony Pestritto.
In 1932 he and Dorothy married, hosting a grand reception in the club. (Above right: Dorothy Petrossi Pastor in 1960.) As the Depression dragged on however, and perhaps as the novelty of Club Hollywood wore off, business there gradually declined. Eventually, the building was foreclosed upon by the bank that held its mortgage and sold.
With this turn in his fortunes, Tony returned to working in bands led by others, including Smith Ballew, Joe Venuti and Vincent Lopez. Tony stayed with Lopez, who was a fixture at the Hotel Taft in New York City, for two years. He also toured with him, during which time he was a featured singer and saxophonist. While appearing with the Lopez band in New Orleans as they were preparing for a radio broadcast, the announcer had trouble pronouncing the name “Pestritto.” After mispronouncing it several times and ways, Tony told the announcer to announce him as Tony Pastor. It was a name that had been implanted in his memory when as a lad of thirteen, working in Middletown’s Grand Theater, he revealed his aspirations for a show business career to a visiting vaudeville comedian. The comedian advised him to change his name because he would never make it with the name “Pestritto.”(1) The name Tony Pastor became the one used by Tony Pestritto and his family from that point on.(2)
In the summer of 1936 Tony left the Lopez band to join Art Shaw, who was then in Manhattan organizing his first band. Its instrumentation included a string quartet plus a small jazz band. As this early Shaw band went through different stages of development in an attempt to establish a unique identity, it became clear that the most attractive features of the band’s presentation were Shaw’s solo clarinet, and the singing of Tony Pastor. Nevertheless, that band, despite those features and solid musicianship all around, was not commercially successful.
Members of Art Shaw’s string quartet band – late 1936: center L-R: Antonio Pestritto (Tony Pastor); Rubin “Zeke” Zarchy; Aniello Castaldo (Lee Castle); and Muni Zudekoff (Buddy Morrow). In back is drummer George Wettling. In front: left, violinist/arranger Generoso Graziano (Jerry Gray) and cellist Bill Schumann.
In early 1937, Shaw decided to reorganize the band, using the standard swing band instrumentation of five brass, four reeds and four rhythm, plus a girl singer. Pastor, clearly a valuable member of the previous Shaw ensemble, remained with the new band as a featured, audience-pleasing singer and as a capable tenor saxophone soloist and impeccable section player. The new band debuted in March of 1937.
The slog through 1937 and into 1938 with this new band, billed as Art Shaw and His New Music, was grueling. Almost non-stop one-night stands, endless traveling, a recording contract with Brunswick that produced some fair to good records, but nevertheless was terminated at the end of 1937. After Shaw’s contract with Brunswick Records ended, there was a lean period lasting until the Shaw band opened at the Roseland-State Ballroom in Boston on March 15, 1938. Fortunately, Shaw’s management secured for him and his band a recording date for Thesaurus Transcription Service on February 15, 1938. Twenty tunes were recorded on that date, and in addition to providing a good snapshot of the band’s repertoire and musical capabilities then, it provided eating money for Shaw and his band, which still included Tony Pastor.
Probably June-July 1938: The transition from Art to Artie Shaw had begun. The girl vocalist to Shaw’s right is Patty Morgan.(3) Front row L-R: Les Burness, Al Avola, Tony Pastor, Les Robinson, Ronny Perry, Hank Freeman; middle: Harry Rodgers, George Arus, Ted Vesely; back: Sid Weiss; John Best, Claude Bowen, Chuck Peterson.
The story of how Art Shaw and His New Music metamorphosed into the ultra-successful band known as Artie Shaw and His Orchestra is told in the post here at swingandbeyond.com that explores the musical relationship between Shaw and another vocalist, Billie Holiday. A link to that post can be found at endnote (4).
The music: “Indian Love Call” (first published as “The Call“) is a popular song from Rose Marie, a 1924 operetta-style Broadway musical, with music by Rudolf Friml and Herbert Stothart, and book and lyrics by Otto Harbach and Oscar Hammerstein,II. Originally written for the popular singer/actress Mary Ellis, the song achieved continuing popularity by being performed and recorded by many artists. It has been called Friml’s best-remembered song.
When Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald performed the song as a duet in the 1936 M-G-M film version of Rose Marie, it was a hit that remained a signature song for those two singers throughout their careers. As featured in the 1936 film version, Nelson Eddy as Sergeant Bruce, and Jeanette MacDonald as Rose Marie, are alone by a lakeside campfire. They hear a distant and haunting call across the lake, which Bruce tells her is “just an Indian.” They listen and hear in the distance a mysterious feminine voice make its reply. The rest of the scene has been summarized thus: “It is an old Indian legend, he tells her. Years ago two lovers from different tribes met here. Their families were enemies, sort of a Romeo and Juliet affair. They were discovered and sentenced to die, but their spirits still live. When a lover gives the call, their spirits echo it, sending it on until it reaches the one he loves. Rose Marie is moved by the beauty of it. She stands at the edge of the lake and gives the haunting call. Sergeant Bruce takes it up and sings the classic ‘Indian Love Call’.”(5)
It is my informed speculation that Art Shaw saw the 1936 film version of Rose Marie, and decided to use “Indian Love Call,” which was performed in the film as an earnestly sentimental duet aria, as the basis for a swing version of the song. He understood that he could not present the song in any fashion remotely like the film version, lest he and his band be laughed off the bandstand whenever they played it. So he juiced up the rhythm and added a bit of swing era novelty in the form of the band members chanting “cheeps-cheeps” at various places in the arrangement as a way of swinging and satirizing the film version of the song. The use of band members performing chorus-like chants was not unusual in the swing era. It often signified that whatever song was being performed at that moment should not be taken too seriously. What is curious, especially in light of how perfectly Tony Pastor’s vocal worked on Shaw’s later Bluebird recording of “Indian Love Call,” is that Shaw first conceived the arrangement as an instrumental, and recorded it that way as a part of the Thesaurus Transcription recording session of February 15, 1938.
“Indian Love Call”
Arrangement by Art Shaw.
Recorded by Art Shaw and His Orchestra for Thesaurus Transcription Service on February 15, 1938 in New York.
Art Shaw, clarinet, directing: Chuck Peterson, Max Kaminsky and Norman Ayres, trumpets; George Arus and Harry Rodgers, trombones; Les Robinson, first alto saxophone; Hank Freeman, alto saxophone; Tony Pastor and Fred Petry, tenor saxophones; Les Burness, piano; Al Avola, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Cliff Leeman, drums.
The tempo of this performance is faster than the one Shaw fans are so familiar with from the classic Bluebird recording. The band, well-warmed after having already recording 18 other selections, tears into this arrangement with gusto. The solos, by Shaw on clarinet, playing the written parts, and then by Tony Pastor of tenor saxophone and Max Kaminsky playing jazz, and the spirited, surging ensembles reveal that the Shaw band was already on par with the best swing bands then playing. Mention should also be made of drummer Cliff Leeman’s work throughout this performance. It is excellent.
This recording, which was a part of the twenty tune Thesaurus Transcription session of February 15, 1938, provides a glimpse of what was happening musically in the Art Shaw band as 1938 began. Clearly, the band was playing well and with spirit. Musically, the band was ready to break through to major success. Shaw himself realized this, and was frustrated that major success was not happening. Indeed, minor success was not really happening. There were weeks then when the band’s income was less than its expenses. The story of why that was so involved business considerations, not musical ones. To greatly oversimplify the matter, Shaw slowly came to realize that he had the wrong booking agent, Music Corporation of America (MCA), and that so long as Benny Goodman was their premier clarinet-playing bandleader, he was going to be second banana. After some tortuous machinations and negotiations at the end of 1937, Shaw freed himself from MCA and signed with General Amusement Corporation (GAC). The people at GAC told him that they would build his name in such a way that he would not only compete with Benny Goodman, he would topple him from his throne as the “King of Swing.” This, and Shaw’s involvement with the New England band booker Si Shribman, ensured that his band would continue to operate from mid-March into June of 1938. The unique singer Billie Holiday was also a part of this master plan.(4)
Art Shaw and his band at the Roseland-State Ballroom in Boston – spring 1938. Musicians visible to Shaw’s left are: Fred Petry, Les Robinson, Harry Rodgers, Al Avola, Sid Weiss, Les Burness and Cliff Leeman.
Tony Pastor was an excellent instrumentalist, and that was an essential prerequisite for him to be a member of Art Shaw’s band, and more specifically of Shaw’s saxophone section. As one-fourth of Shaw’s saxophone section, Pastor had to perform up the the very high standards Shaw set for that quartet, which in 1938 also included Les Robinson on lead alto, Hank Freeman on alto and baritone, and Ronny Perry on tenor. The unity and blend that saxophone section achieved and demonstrated in many recordings made by the Shaw band in the second half of 1938, was often astonishing. This did not happen by accident. Shaw himself was a superb lead alto player long before he was a clarinet virtuoso, and he lavished a huge amount of attention on the saxophone section of his 1937-1939 band, and of every other band he ever led after that. Musicians and knowledgeable fans noticed and appreciated this. But from a commercial standpoint, though this was a definite plus, it was not as important as the fact that Tony Pastor was a dynamic, audience-pleasing singer and entertainer. Shaw understood this very well because he watched how Pastor would charm audiences night after night, even audiences that were indifferent to the swing and jazz solos of himself and other band members. At some point during the first half of 1938, it dawned on Shaw that he should put “Indian Love Call” and Tony Pastor’s singing together. (Above right – an extraordinary saxophone section. L-R: Tony Pastor, Les Robinson, Ronnie Perry and Hank Freeman.)
When Shaw finally signed a contract to record for Victor’s Bluebird label in July of 1938, and planned the music that he would be recording on his first Bluebird date on July 24, 1938, his hopes for a big hit were pinned to “Indian Love Call,” which by then had settled into a vocal feature for Tony Pastor. Audiences loved everything about this arrangement, especially Tony Pastor’s singing. Shaw’s arrangement is a very colorful one, indeed it is one of his best, and it received an exuberant performance by his band.
By the summer of 1938, it was clear to Art Shaw and his handlers that his band really was on the cusp of major success. No one wanted that success more than Art Shaw. Here is how he described his state of mind then: “I used to lie awake night after night figuring out ways and means of going on …with this band that had become an obsession with me. I worried and schemed, planned and connived. I fought with agents, quit agencies, signed-up with others and fought with those agents. I argued with musicians, dance hall managers, dance promoters –even dancers. …I was a wild man, a crazy man. I cajoled when I couldn’t browbeat. I browbeat when I couldn’t cajole..” (6) (Above left: Art Shaw in July of 1938.)
The Bluebird recording of Art Shaw’s “Indian Love Call” represents exactly what he thought, based on his previous two years of experience leading bands, audiences wanted: an enthusiastic performance by a well-prepared band; a melody that people recognized; a healthy dose of his clarinet, and the jubilant singing of Tony Pastor. “Everybody around the Victor studio thought we had a hit record. As it turned out, the Victor people were quite wrong. ‘Indian Love Call’ had an enormous sale: but that wasn’t because it was a hit. It just happened to be “…on the other side the record that contained ‘Begin the Beguine,’ …one of the biggest single instrumental hit records ever made.” (7)
After Artie Shaw left his band in November of 1939, Tony Pastor, who was already in discussions with the GAC booking agency about starting his own band, did so. His band was always musically solid, though he tended to lean heavily into a repertoire of novelty songs simply because they fit his personality as a singer/entertainer, and sold records. Nevertheless, Pastor was able to achieve enough success with that formula to continue leading bands successfully through the 1940s and well into the 1950s. He was always identified with “Indian Love Call,” performed it with his bands nightly, and made at least two very good recordings of it, the one presented below at the end of 1947, and another in 1959.
The version presented below, which was made by a band of swing era veteran Manhattan studio musicians, and a few of Pastor’s sidemen, is top-grade swing. I don’t know who arranged it, but whoever did knew his business. Tony’s singing, as always, sparkles.
“Indian Love Call”
Recorded by Tony Pastor and His Orchestra for Columbia on December 29, 1947 in New York.
Tony Pastor, vocal, directing: Carl “Tiger” Poole, first trumpet; Melvin “Red” Solomon, Charlie Trotta and Ray Trotta, trumpets; Will Bradley, Buddy Morrow and Billy Pritchard, trombones; Hymie Shertzer, first also saxophone; Bill Stegmeyer, alto saxophone; Art Drellinger and Wolfe Tannenbaum (Tayne), tenor saxophones; Ernesto “Ernie” Caceres, baritone saxophone; Les Burness, piano; Carmen Mastren, guitar; Bob Haggart, bass; Bunny Shawker, drums.
The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.
Notes and links:
(*) To say that Art Shaw did not have the personality to fit into the “entertaining” Aaronson band would be an understatement. When he tried to sing on an arrangement of “Dinah” that he had written to showcase his singing, Irving Aaronson was not impressed. When he heard Shaw singing it at a rehearsal, his response was: “Jesus Christ! That kid’s got the personality of a dead lox. “The Trouble With Cinderella by Artie Shaw (1952), 172. Hereafter Shaw.
(1) The other Tony Pastor, Antonio Pastor, known professionally as Tony Pastor (May 28, 1837 – August 26, 1908), was an American impresario, variety performer and theatre owner who became one of the founding forces behind American vaudeville in the mid-to late nineteenth century. He was sometimes referred to as the “Dean of Vaudeville.” The strongest elements of his entertainments were an almost jingoistic brand of American patriotism and a strong commitment to attracting a “mixed-gender” audience, the latter being something revolutionary in the male-oriented variety halls of the mid-century. Although he was a performer and producer, Pastor is best known for “cleaning up” bawdy variety acts and presenting a clean and family friendly genre called vaudeville.
(2) The details of Tony Pestritto/Pastor’s early life and career that appear in this post are derived from the article called Tony Pastor – An Italian-American Contribution to The Big Band Era, by Leon Vinci and Salvatore J. LaGumina, which appeared in the journal Italian Americana, spring/summer 1983, pages 13-25.
(3) Billie Holiday, who was a featured performer with the Shaw band through much of 1938, was not shown in this picture. Patty Morgan, who is, was apparently the regular girl singer with the Shaw band for a period of time in 1938. She followed Anita/Nita Bradley and preceded Helen Forrest.
(4) Here is a link to the post here at swingandbeyond.com that explores the musical collaboration between Art Shaw and Billie Holiday: https://swingandbeyond.com/2020/09/19/any-old-time-1938-artie-shaw-and-billie-holiday/
(5) the summary of the origins and initial popularity of “Indian Love Call” come from the Wikipedia post on it.
(6) Shaw, 297-298.
(7) Shaw, 298-299.