“The Man That Got Away” (1966) Ted Heath/Ralph Dollimore with Johnny Edwards and Bob Efford

“The Man That Got Away”

Composed by: Harold Arlen, music; Ira Gershwin, lyric. Arranged by Ralph Dollimore.

Recorded by Ted Heath and His Music for Decca in London in June of 1966.

Ted Heath And His Music Conducted by Ralph Dollimore: Bobby Pratt, first trumpet; Bert Ezard, Eddie Blair and Duncan Campbell, trumpets; Johnny Edwards, Keith Christie, Ted Barker and Ken Goldie, trombones; Ronnie Chamberlain, first alto saxophone; Derek Walton, alto saxophone; Bob Efford and Henry McKenzie, tenor saxophones; Ken Kiddier, baritone saxophone; Derek Warne, piano; Ike Issacs, guitar; Johnny Hawksworth, bass; Ronnie Verrell, drums; Kenny Clare, vibraphone.

The story:

As we become older, and live life with all of its joys and sorrows, if we survive long enough, we inevitably reach a point from which we begin to reflect on what happened in our lives, when, how, and most importantly, with whom. We are social animals. Relationships with other human beings, it seems to me, are at the core of our human existence.

I have been incredibly lucky in my life to have met and become involved with some truly extraordinary people. But inevitably as we get older, we experience the loss of people in our lives. Very often, these losses are painful. I have found that when I reflect on the loss of a person who, for whatever reason, was important to me, I often cannot fill the void created by that person’s permanent absence from my life. I hear myself saying to no one in particular, “dammit, why did he/she have to leave so soon”? Much of this pertains to people who have departed by death.

But what about the people who have not died, but are estranged, or are simply separated from us? Human relationships are often fraught with difficulty and challenge. People who were once close sometimes find themselves on divergent paths. In my life, there have been many people who for myriad reasons are, regrettably, separated from me. The men and women who got away.

“The Man That Got Away” is a torch song written as a vehicle for Judy Garland for the 1954 Warner Brothers film version of A Star is Born. The music was composed by Harold Arlen and the lyric by Ira Gershwin. Arlen and Gershwin would collaborate on songs to be written for A Star is Born during afternoons at Gershwin’s Beverly Hills mansion. Arlen would work seated at Gershwin’s grand piano, while Gershwin would work seated at a card table. Arlen had already provided Ms. Garland with the career-defining songs “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, and “Get Happy” from Summer Stock. “The Man That Got Away” quickly evolved into another Judy Garland essential.

In 1954 “The Man That Got Away”  was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. In 2004, Judy Garland’s performance of the song was selected by the American Film Institute as the eleventh greatest song in American cinema history.(1)

Judy Garland is often referenced as an example the kind of spirit-crushing exploitation of actors that took place in Hollywood during its studio system period, roughly from the 1930s through the 1950s. The exploitation of adult actors by the film studios during that time was often extreme. But many of those adults (certainly not all) had developed the psychological defense mechanisms to protect themselves, at least in part, from the ravages of prolonged exposure to the emotionally corrosive exploitation that success in Hollywood films often brought about. But Judy Garland began her career at M-G-M at age thirteen, when her dream was to become a movie star. She had no defense mechanisms.(2) She did what she was told, performed as directed, was worked and soon overworked on film after film, and began coming apart at the seams. Drugs were administered to keep her going, as by the mid-1940s she had become one of M-G-M’s most popular stars. By the time she left M-G-M in 1950, she had a serious substance abuse problem, was physically and emotionally exhausted, and was suicidal. (Above right: Judy Garland, Buddy Ebsen and Deanna Durbin on the M-G-M lot, June 1936.)

The music:

English bandleader Ted Heath (1902-1969) led a great big band in the United Kingdom from the late 1940s well into the 1960s. Heath recorded over 100 LPs and sold tens of millions of records in his career. Like all leaders of big bands, especially successful ones, Heath worked as hard as it was possible to work with his band over many years. While Heath was appearing with his band in Cardiff, Wales, on his 62nd birthday, March 30, 1964, he suffered a cerebral thrombosis onstage and collapsed. Thereafter, he did not appear with his band, which continued to make records. On these recording sessions, the band, still billed as Ted Heath and His Music, would be directed by an arranger, usually the one who had written the charts that were being recorded. In the case of the recording presented with this post, that was arranger Ralph Dollimore. (Below left – Ralph Dollimore.)

It appears that the band that made this recording was largely the same as the great Ted Heath band of the late 1950s and early 1960s, before Heath’s disabling illness. However, two long-time Heath sidemen were no longer in the ranks: lead alto saxophonist Leslie Gilbert, and lead trombonist Don Lusher. Gilbert’s chair was taken by Ronnie Chamberlain, and I think that the new lead trombonist was Johnny Edwards, who is heard in this performance playing the lovely descending solo in the introduction. (Below right: trombonist Johnny Edwards.)

The first chorus main melody exposition is handled by the unison open trumpets, played softly, underlined by warm open trombones. At the end of this sequence, as the trumpets go into harmony, tenor saxophonist Bob Efford begins to play a soft obbligato. The next tract of melody is played by the open trombones, against saxophone section chords. As this sequence is about to end, the saxophone quintet increases its volume while playing descending notes. The open brass then allude to the main melody.

Mr. Efford returns with more obbligato, this time played against trumpets and trombones being played open but into cup mutes each musician is holding in front of his instrument’s bell. As the dynamic level of the music moves up, the brass players set down their mutes and play open and hot. (Hear their shakes at the end of this sequence.) Trombonist Edwards returns, now playing the secondary melody. He is joined by his trombone sectionmates (a felicitous Dollimore arranging touch), as drummer Ronnie Verrell intensifies his snare drum rolls. (Above left: Bob Efford.)

Bob Efford returns, playing an upward-moving melodic fragment, backed only by bass, drums and vibraphone. Then the entire ensemble joins in for a small crescendo. As the dynamic level recedes, Efford improvises a bit, being backed at first by the open trombones and rhythm. The open brass then come in forcefully, leading to the climax of the performance. (Above right: composer Harold Arlen – His melodies were deeply steeped in jazz.)

The volume of the ensemble falls away, leaving only the five saxophones, playing the melody quietly, then the softly played open brass, supported by the strong playing of bassist Johnny Hawksworth, and the whispering drums of Ronnie Verrell.

This is a sophisticated arrangement of a great song, indeed a celebration of its melody, played with panache by a virtuoso ensemble.

The recording presented with this post was digitally remastered by Mike Zirpolo.

Notes and links:

(1) The information presented above about the song “The Man That Got Away” was extracted from the Wikipedia post on it.

(2) Here is a link to a terrific website dedicated to Judy Garland’s early years at M-G-M: https://www.thejudyroom.com/judy-garland-1936-1938/

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