“Alone Together” (1939) Artie Shaw/(1957) Les and Larry Elgart

“Alone Together”

Composed by Arthur Schwartz; arranged by Jerry Gray.

Recorded by Artie Shaw and His Orchestra for Bluebird on January 31, 1939 in New York.

Artie Shaw, clarinet, directing: John Best, first trumpet; Chuck Peterson and Bernie Privin, trumpets; George Arus, first trombone; Harry Rodgers and Les Jenkins, trombones; Les Robinson, first alto saxophone; Hank Freeman, alto saxophone; Tony Pastor and Georgie Auld, tenor saxophones; Bob Kitsis, piano; Al Avola, guitar; Sid Weiss, bass; Buddy Rich, drums.

The story: The winter of 1938-1939 had to have been an exciting time for Artie Shaw and the members of his band. Through the year 1938, they had worked hard and had begun to see that the successes they were having were, by the start of autumn, beginning to compound at a dizzying rate. The band’s music and level of performance had steadily improved throughout 1938, but everyone connected to the band knew that good music alone did not necessarily equate with widespread popular success. In-person, the band was always greeted with cheers, especially when the unique and gifted singer Billie Holiday sang with them. She not only stimulated audiences – she very much stimulated Shaw and his sidemen to take their music to a higher level. (At right: Billie Holiday singing with Artie Shaw’s band – summer 1938. She helped to infuse a strong jazz spirit into the Shaw band.)

For a complicated set of reasons, Billie left the Shaw band in late 1938, just as they were beginning to reach a level of great commercial success. Her replacement, the musicianly singer Helen Forrest, did not excite audiences as Ms. Holiday had, at least not in her first months with the Shaw band, despite her excellence as a vocalist. As Shaw became aware of the new opportunities being presented to him as 1938 wound down and 1939 began, he strengthened his band, adding two dynamic performers, both of whom had begun to be noticed as sidemen with Bunny Berigan’s hard-swinging band: the tenor saxophonist Georgie Auld, and the drummer Buddy Rich.

The Shaw band had been a formidable performing unit throughout 1938. Still, success in the marketplace was slow in coming to them. Their recording of “Begin the Beguine,” made on July 24, 1938, and released several weeks later, provided the impetus to move the Shaw band way up in popular success. Almost immediately after that record hit the market, Victor executives began to notice very brisk sales of it. By the end of 1938, it was well on its way to becoming a blockbuster hit. This development, coupled with a long residency at the Blue Room of Hotel Lincoln in Manhattan (October 28, 1938 to February 2, 1939), which included many nationwide NBC radio sustaining (unsponsored) broadcasts, made swing fans across the U.S. aware of Artie Shaw and His Orchestra. These broadcasts reinforced Shaw’s name in the swing marketplace, which was also being promoted via a weekly CBS radio show sponsored by Old Gold cigarettes called Melody and Madness, which starred comedian Robert Benchley, and featured the Shaw band.

So strong were sales of Shaw’s Bluebird recording of Cole Porter’s show tune “Begin the Beguine,” that an unusual thing happened. The record producers at Victor/Bluebird (I think Steve Sholes had his hand in this project) decided to put together a five-record (10-inch 78rpm) album of classic show tunes, recorded by Artie Shaw. This was one of the earliest “concept albums” that later, in the LP era, became so popular.

Here is one of the earliest trade paper blurbs about this project: “’Begin the Beguine’ and ‘Indian Love Call’ have become so identified with Artie Shaw’s swingo style, that RCA Victor is issuing an entire album of similar swing arrangements of musical comedy excerpts. The 10 sides on five 10 inchers include: ‘Carioca,’ ‘My Bill,’ ‘Donkey Serenade,’ ‘My Heart Stood Still,’ ‘Lover Come Back to Me,’ ‘Rosalie,’ ‘Zigeuner,’ ‘Supper Time,’ ‘The Man I Love’ and ‘Vilia’.”(1) Here is a slightly longer story about this album: ARTIE SHAW’S BLUEBIRD ALBUM – Reviewed by Guy Sykes:  “Artie Shaw this and Artie Shaw that, and who is this musical mushroom. They say he’s carving Goodman and Dorsey on the popularity contests and being paid more than you can imagine for one-night stands. Well, but how does his music measure up? Sure, the crowds rave, and Shaw’s agent walks across Broadway and gets a two grand raise to play a week at the Strand in just the time it took him to cross over. Never mind that. Here’s an album of Shaw. Five records, ten sides of representative hit numbers of ten great composers, as they say, selling at $2.25. It had better be good. And the titles: Carioca & Bill, Donkey Serenade & My Heart Stood Still, Rosalie & Lover Come Back to Me, Supper Time & Zigeuner, Man I Love & Vilia. An arranger’s nightmare.(2) Sure, some of these numbers were hits, but that was long ago. Back from the dead with musical monkey-glands maybe. It really couldn’t be good. But it is good. It’s fine. Not for jam in the raw, or historical evidence, or even collectors. Simply Shaw at his best, and eminently merchandisable. When you go to hear it, play Lover Come Back to Me. Because it’s the best, although the rest are almost as good. A band without celebrated soloists, playing together with an astounding cohesion, and cutting some solid arrangements as they’ve never been cut. With Tony Pastor’s tenor, a fine piano, and a good trumpet taking what get-off there is, the emphasis falls on the arranging and it can stand it. Beautiful changes and modulations. It may be corny in a few months, but it’s good now, with a fine ensemble impact. Even with vocalists. And commercial in a good sense. Artie crashed through under all the pressure, so all the luck to him. He’ll need it.”(3)

It was becoming clear that by early 1939, Artie Shaw was the new fair-haired boy at Victor/Bluebird Records. Benny Goodman was dismayed: He had never received treatment like that at Victor. But then he had never sold as many records at Victor as Artie Shaw.(3A)

“Alone Together,” the tune presented with this post, had been considered for inclusion in the this very special Shaw-Bluebird album. But for some reason, it didn’t make the cut. However Artie liked it, played it and recorded it (twice for Victor/Bluebird), and this recording of it racked up substantial sales.(4)

By the time the recording of “Alone Together” was made at the end of January or 1939, the Shaw band was about to begin a series (about six weeks long) of appearances in big city theaters where a great deal of money could be made in a hurry. By the end of that tour in mid-March, Shaw had cleared all of the debts he had accrued during the long build-up process that had been needed for his band to become a national favorite, was the sole owner of his band, and had been re-signed by Victor-Bluebird to a very lucrative two-year contract. His appearances on the CBS Old Gold radio show were beginning to crowd out comedian Robert Benchley. In addition, his management team had secured a part for him and his band in a to-be-produced M-G-M feature film. He was finally in the enviable position every swing era bandleader hoped to be in. But events would soon begin to conspire against his continuing success, and they began to negatively affect his high-strung disposition.

Artie Shaw and his band in early 1939 – probably at a rehearsal for their CBS Old Gold Melody and Madness radio show. L-R front: Georgie Auld, Hank Freeman, Les Robinson, Tony Pastor, Sid Weiss, Al Avola, Shaw, Bob Kitsis and Helen Forrest; middle: Harry Rodgers, Les Jenkins, George Arus, Buddy Rich;  back: Chuck Peterson, Bernie Privin, John Best.

The music:

Alone Together” is a song composed by Arthur Schwartz (music) and Howard Dietz (lyric). It was introduced in the 1932 Broadway show Flying Colors by Jean Sargent. I will cite to Alec Wilder’s definitive book on great American Popular Song for a general explanation of the song’s form: “The entire first section is marvelously continuous. It has no feeling of having been pieced together. The section is fourteen instead of the more conventional sixteen measures, and does not sound curtailed. The second section is identical. The third (section) is eight measures, and in it the melody makes a lovely return to the first phrase of the song.”(5)

After a brief and brassy introduction, Jerry Gray’s arrangement on “Alone Together” presents Artie Shaw, playing his clarinet in its low register, at first playing the melody against simple rhythm and humming saxophones. The saxophones then disappear, and we hear only Shaw’s clarinet and the rhythm section. A brief interlude of cup-muted brass adds a simple but effective sonic contrast, after which Shaw returns with more melody. As before, at first he plays against soft saxophones, then only the quiet rhythm. Shaw excelled in creating fetching melodic embellishments, which as here, exalt a lovely melody. The cup-muted brass return to mark the end of the first chorus.(Above right – arranger Jerry Gray in 1939: His arrangements on eight of the ten songs included in Shaw’s album An Album of Popular Music are all masterfully written and present Shaw’s clarinet and band in a variety of moods.)

The first part of the second chorus is given over largely to Shaw’s saxophone quartet of Les Robinson (lead alto), Hank Freeman (alto) and Tony Pastor and Georgie Auld (tenors), their singing sound caressing Arthur Schwartz’s melody. The brass players then remove their mutes to carry a bit of the melody, underlined by the saxophones. As this ensemble passage moves up in register, we hear John Best’s lead trumpet at the top of the sonic pyramid, commanding the music. The saxophones return briefly, backed by the now-open brass, played softly. The open trumpets and trombones then take the music to a higher register, followed by the saxophones yet again, now also moving up in register. (Artie Shaw and his band in a still from the Paramount film Class in Swing.(6) Visible on left front: Georgie Auld, Hank Freeman, Les Robinson, Tony Pastor; back: Sid Weiss’s bass, Buddy Rich, Al Avola; right front: Harry Rodgers and George Arus; back: Bob Kitsis, Chuck Peterson, Bernie Privin and John Best.)

The entire band then plays, their dynamic level increasing, to provide a springboard for Shaw to enter on a high note, from which he descends via a beautifully executed glissando. Trumpeter Bernie Privin emerges from the ensemble for a brief, smoldering trumpet solo. The reeds, now eerily augmented by Shaw’s clarinet, and the open brass then take the performance to a powerful completion of the chorus, followed by a brief quiet coda.

Artie Shaw’s band on the stage of the Strand Theater in Manhattan – February 1939. L-R front: Georgie Auld, Hank Freeman, Les Robinson, Shaw, Tony Pastor, Al Avola; middle: Harry Rodgers, Les Jenkins, George Arus, Bob Kitsis; back: Chuck Peterson, Bernie Privin, John Best, Buddy Rich and Sid Weiss.

***************

“Alone Together”

Composed by Arthur Schwartz; arranged by Bill Finegan.

Recorded by Les and Larry Elgart and Their Orchestra on December 13, 1957 for Columbia in New York.

Ascertaining the personnel for recordings made by Les and Larry Elgart in the 1950s is frustrating. Based on the research I have done, while the Elgart brothers were together in the 1950s, until some point in 1958 when they split, they toured extensively. The musicians they used on tour were talented, often young, without any professional reputation. When the Elgarts came into Manhattan to make records however, they invariably put together bands specifically for recording comprised of New York studio musicians. Often, these bands includes heavies like Bernie Glow on lead trumpet and Ed Shaughnessy on drums. They also often used Turk Van Lake on guitar when making records. Larry Elgart played the lead alto saxophone parts. Les, at least according to Larry’s account in his and his second wife’s book, at times did not play trumpet on these recordings and may not, on occasion, have been present in the studio when they were made.

The instrumentation used on this recording appears to be three trumpets, two tenor trombones, one bass trombone; one alto saxophone, two tenor saxophones, one baritone saxophone, guitar, bass and drums.

Larry Elgart plays a solo on alto saxophone while his brother Les stands-by. This photo probably dates from the middle 1950s.

The music:

The arrangement Bill Finegan wrote for the Elgart band on “Alone Together,” is in many ways the prototype for the arrangement he wrote a bit later for the Elgarts on “Soon,” one of George Gershwin’s most wistful melodies. (See below for a link to that recording here at swingandbeyond.com.) The arrangement here can aptly be described as a kaleidoscope of instrumental sounds which make it abundantly clear that Finegan was a master at creatively deploying the rather limited instrumental colors at his disposal with the Elgarts’ thirteen-piece band. The instrumental sounds one hears in this brilliant performance are difficult to describe because the musical episodes Finegan created are relatively brief and change often, though never abruptly. Perhaps the most profitable way to listen to this performance is simply to follow Finegan’s exposition of the melody. That will enable the listener to achieve and maintain musical orientation as Finegan decorates that melody with a wide variety of instrumental sounds and blends in differing and contrasting registers. (At right: Bill Finegan in the 1950s.)

This is quite simply a superlative arrangement that represents the very best of the swing idiom, brought vividly to life by the Elgart band of talented musicians.

The recordings presented with this post were digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) Variety, February 8, 1939, 33.

(2) Tempo, March 1939, 9.

(3) Eight of the ten songs included in Artie Shaw’s album of show tunes were arranged by the brilliant Jerry Gray. The other two, were arranged by Al Avola (“Rosalie”), and Artie Shaw (“Vilia”).

(3A) Victor had produced an album of five Benny Goodman records in late 1938 called A Swing Session with Benny Goodman. Sales, though respectable, were not large. Shaw’s album quickly outsold Goodman’s in the early months of 1939.

(4) Here is a link to Artie Shaw and his band performing “Alone Together” in a video called Symphony of Swing made on March 10-11, 1939 at the Warner Brothers/Vitaphone studio in Brooklyn, New York. The sound quality is good, as are the video montages that are used throughout the film. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sQ06E3WTrcI

(5) American Popular Song …The Great Innovators – 1900-1950, (1972) by Alec Wilder, 317.

(6) Artie Shaw and his band made the short film Class in Swing at the Paramount Studio in Hollywood in late June of 1939.

Here are more links to music made by Artie Shaw and his great 1939 band:

https://swingandbeyond.com/2017/03/03/vilia-1939-artie-shaw/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2021/04/17/rose-room-artie-shaw-1939-two-versions/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2018/10/13/the-chant-1939-artie-shaw-and-klezmer-music/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2019/06/13/i-surrender-dear-1937-and-1939-artie-shaw/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2017/09/04/buddy-rich-at-100-1939-with-artie-shaw-traffic-jam-shoot-the-rhythm-to-me-john-boy-and-carioca/

And here are two posts that compare the music of Artie Shaw with Benny Goodman in the late 1930s:

https://swingandbeyond.com/2022/08/20/oh-lady-be-good-1937-benny-goodman-1939-artie-shaw/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2023/06/16/i-didnt-know-what-time-it-was-1939-benny-goodman-with-louise-tobin-artie-shaw-with-helen-forrest/

Here are links to more Elgart music:

https://swingandbeyond.com/2021/04/24/april-1959-larry-elgart-al-cohn/

https://swingandbeyond.com/2021/07/07/slaughter-on-tenth-avenue-1960-les-elgart/

Here is a link to a post about another brilliant Bill Finegan arrangement for Les and Larry Elgart:

https://swingandbeyond.com/2016/11/10/reads-and-re-reads/

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4 Comments

  1. I am copying a question from Reinhard Scheer-Hennings here so that it and my reply to it will be preserved as they are relevant to this post.

    Question/comment: As always fascinating Two comments: 1) the movie still – footnote 6 – is not from Warner Brothers’ „Symphony In Swing“, but from Paramount‘s „Class In Swing“. 2) what do you mean when you write that Artie‘s appearances on Melody & Madness were beginning to crowd out Robert Benchley?

    Answer 1: Based on the link above at endnote 4, the video version of “Alone Together” I am referring to is from “Symphony of Swing.” I will change the caption under the movie still.

    Answer 2: To over-simplify – Shaw’s part in the Melody and Madness radio show went from three to four tunes per show in the spring of 1939. The show completed its first 26 week run on CBS on May 14, 1939, during the period of Shaw’s illness. The show then moved to NBC on May 23, 1939, shortly after Shaw returned. Benchley took the summer off and the Shaw band had the show to themselves for a time. Then the King Sisters joined the show as a supporting act, but the majority of the music was provided by Shaw. This lasted until the October 3 show, when Benchley returned. That turned out to be the last Melody and Madness show on which Shaw appeared. Although Shaw had created a public relations problem for himself by giving ill-advised interviews, and as a result was “fired” from the show, another reason he left is that he thought he should be the star of the show by then, not Benchley.

    • Thank you. I agree with Answer 2, but I am still not sure if the term „crowded out“ is accurate. I can add that from the start of the Old Gold Show contemporary papers carried positive reviews of the band‘s performance and were quite lukewarm as far as Benchley‘s comedy routines were concerned. It is not fully clear to me yet whether Benchley’s summer break was really voluntary. There are hints that the show‘s sponsor was unhappy about rumors indicating that Benchley did not always know when to say when and the sponsor wanted to give him time And when he left on 27 June ot was announced that he‘d be back in the fall. I am not 100% sure why the King Sisters were added – possibly because the sponsor felt that the band could bot carry the show on its own – absurd in my view. I don‘t believe that Artie was happy about them joining the show. Rather, that he thought, as you write, he deserved his program as Benny Goodman had since mid-1937. However, I do not think that this was reason for him leaving the show, he needed the exposure on the air. If one reads the various newspapers report from October 1939 it is fairly clear that he was fired – and interestingly, the script for the 10 October 1939 program makes no reference whatsoever to Artie Shaw. Benchley (plus the newly added Jimmy Durante) just carry as if nothing had happened.

      • Reinhard, I have pulled out an old LP from my library, Aircheck #11, “Artie Shaw On The Air” 1974. In the liner notes on the back of the record’s dust jacket, Wayne Knight the producer of the record, quoted Shaw as follows: “When I auditioned for the show, I had a definite musical formula, but it gradually turned into a comedy, which didn’t do the band any good. Besides, it was on a weak network thus killing ratings. And the new (broadcast) schedule called for a west coast show at 11 o’clock on Saturday night, and I couldn’t leave the Penn for that. And so, when I asked for a one week vacation because I was so tired, they wouldn’t give it to me unless I quit the show entirely, so I just quit.”

        I will leave it to you and other Shaw aficionados to fact-check Artie’s statement.

  2. Reinhard, for what it’s worth, Benchley had a serious drinking problem. His time off in the summer of 1939 from the Melody and Madness radio show may have been, in part, to allow him to receive treatment for alcoholism. Nevertheless, he died in 1945 of cirrhosis of the liver.

    In my opinion, the funniest person on the Melody and Madness show while Shaw was featured was Jerry Gray, although he had relatively few lines to deliver.

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