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Glen Gray

The Casa Loma Orchestra was an American swing band active from 1927 to 1963. It did not tour after 1950 but continued to record as a studio group.

It began its existence in 1927 as the Orange Blossoms, one of several Detroit-area groups that came out of the Jean Goldkette office. It was a co-operative organization, fronted for the first few years by violinist Hank Biagini, although the eventual leader, saxophonist Glen Gray (1900-1963) was from the very beginning "first among equals." The band had adopted the Casa Loma name by the time of its first recordings in 1929, shortly after it played an Eight month engagement at Casa Loma in Toronto, which was then operating as a hotel. The band never actually played the Casa Loma under that name, as it appeared there under its original name of the Orange Blossoms.

From 1929 until the rapid multiplication in the number of swing bands from 1935 on, the Casa Loma Orchestra was one of the top North American dance bands, featuring trombonist Pee Wee Hunt, trumpeter Frank L. Ryerson, trumpeter Sonny Dunham, clarinetist Clarence Hutchenrider, drummer Tony Briglia and singer Kenny Sargent. Arrangements were by Gene Gifford, who also composed much of the band's book, Spud Murphy, Larry Wagner, Salvador "Tutti" Camarata and Horace Henderson.

Contents

Radio

Their mid-1930s appearances on the long run radio comedy-variety program, the Camel Caravan (introduced with their theme, "Smoke Rings") increased their popularity. Interestingly enough, Glen preferred not to conduct the band in the early years, playing in the saxophone section while violinist Mel Jenssen acted as conductor. In 1937, the band overwhelmingly "voted" in favor of Glen leading the orchestra, and Gray finally accepted the job.

Hits included "Casa Loma Stomp," "No Name Jive" and "Maniac's Ball". Part of the reason for the band's decline is that other big bands included in their books hard-swinging numbers emulating the hot Casa Loma style. In the late 1930s Gray took top billing, and by the mid-1940s (as the other original players left) Gray would come to own the band and the Casa Loma name. For a time, during this period, the band featured guitarist Herb Ellis, trumpeter Bobby Hackett, pianist Nick Denucci and cornetist Red Nichols. By 1950, the Casa Loma band had ceased touring, Gray retired to Massachusetts, and the later recordings on Capitol (beginning with 1956's Glen Gray in Hi-Fi, and continuing through the Sounds of the Great Bands series) were done by studio musicians in Hollywood (with several of Glen's "alumni" occasionally featured). Jazz historian George A. Borgman is currently researching and writing a book about Glen Gray and the orchestra.

Recordings

The band debuted on OKeh in October 1929 and stayed until 1930, when they signed with Brunswick until 1934. They briefly recorded for Victor in 1933. In late 1934, they followed Jack Kapp to the newly formed Decca and stayed well into the LP era, when they signed with Capitol.

Most of the OKeh's and many of the Brunswick's were out-and-out jazz (albeit very rehearsed) and remain highly collectable.

References

  • The Mississippi Rag, "Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra." George A. Borgman, October 2006, pages 1–10.

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