of 1933, pianist, composer, arranger and bandleader Johnny Green
(1908-1989), one of the youngest and brightest composers of New
York's "Tin Pan Alley" telephoned his young bride, Carol
Falk, at their smart East Side Manhattan apartment, to ask if she
could be able to sail for London with only one week's notice. On
the 29th, Carol, Johnny and Johnny's grandmother set sail on the
Olympic at the request of performer-producer Jack Buchanan, who
was then a household name in British entertainment.
24-year-old Green to create the music for his newest musical comedy,
Mr. Whittington that was to star the producer with the popular
Elsie Randolph. Johnny Green's track record for popular songs (Body
and Soul, Out of Nowhere, I Cover the Waterfront, etc.) greatly
overshadowed the memory of his forgotten Broadway show, produced
by famous cartoonist Peter Arno with financier Jock Whitney, called
Here Goes The Bride (46th Street Theater, November 3, 1931:
7 performances). Green compared Buchanan's assignment to that of
the Gershwins being hired by Aarons & Freedley to write Funny
Face, and he enthusiastically prepared the music, some already
completed with lyrics by the dependable Edward Heyman, and others
which would be written with British writers such as James Dyrenforth
(A Garden in the Rain) and Douglas Furber, who would have
a tremendous hit in the late 1930s with the show Me and My Girl.
Jack Buchanan met the three Greens at the dock and the welcome mat
was rolled out for them. After settling in the deluxe Grosvenor
House on Park Lane, Johnny was in the recording studios of the Columbia
Graphophone Co., under the auspices of his American chum, Carroll
Gibbons, who was to become one of England's most productive musical
figures for three decades. Originally from Clinton, Massachusetts,
and five years Johnny's senior, "Gibby" had worked extensively
on the London music scene since his arrival in 1924 with the brassless
Boston Orchestra that played at the Hotel Savoy. Gibbons later became
the co-leader of the Savoy Orpheans and the leader of the New Mayfair
Orchestra (preceding the legendary Ray Noble) for the Gramophone
Company, Ltd., makers of "His Master's Voice" records.
Gibbons made some return trips to America, but ultimately settled
in England and took exclusive leadership of the Savoy Hotel Orpheans,
recording hundreds of popular songs between June, 1932 and his sudden
death (coronary thrombosis) on May 10, 1954. As a composer, Gibbons'
most popular songs were A Garden in the Rain (1928) and his
radio signature On The Air (1932) which was appropriated
by American bandleaders Rudy Vallée (1933) and Lud Gluskin
(1936). Gibbons' piano novelties, such as Bubbling Over and
Moonbeam Dance also achieved some success in Britain.
first sessions at the London studios of Columbia Records (part of
the huge E.M.I. Corporation), he had best been known as an arranger,
composer and pianist with the orchestras of Buddy Rogers and Guy
Lombardo. It was with Lombardo's brother, Carmen, that he co-wrote
the highly successful Coquette early in 1928. In the early
thirties he frequently worked as piano accompanist to such singers
as Ethel Merman, Gertrude Lawrence and Gertrude Niesen, and it was
in 1933 with Niesen that his name first appeared as a pianist on
a record label (Columbia 2759-D). That year he recorded two of his
songs with Paul Whiteman's specialty pianist/singer Ramona
(RCA-Victor 24384). Before sailing for England, Green's own dance
orchestra (yet to make records) could be heard on the radio, and
he had appeared in a number of musical "short subject"
films for Paramount Pictures. His affiliation with Paramount also
led to composing the theme song heard at the beginning of Betty
Boop cartoons (available today on videocassette). The recording
experience Green was to gain in London would act as a training ground
for his imminent rise to recording artist and later, Academy Award-winning
film conductor Green's first British recording session coincided
exactly with his twenty-fifth birthday (October 10, 1933) on which
he recorded (English Columbia DB 1262) a most brilliant piano medley
of his songs, from his first, Coquette (copyrighted when
he was nineteen) up through the song that would become his most
popular tune of that year, I Cover the Waterfront. About
eight months later he would record a similar medley (Brunswick 6920)
in New York City, adding a few measures of his newly copyrighted
I Wanna Be Loved and Easy Come Easy Go. It was apparent
that Johnny Green's successful streak was linked with Green's first
marriage to Carol Falk (April 29, 1930), who had persuaded Johnny
(against his father's wishes) to leave the bonds of Wall Street
for the unpredictable highs and lows of the music business. One
of Green's few attempts at lyric writing produced a minor hit called
Living In Dreams, written shortly after his marriage. It
is also of significance to note that of all of the melodies Green
composed during his long career, the ones that would become "standards"
were the ones written with lyrics by Edward Heyman (1907-1981),
with the possible exception of Coquette (lyrics by Gus Kahn)
and I'm Yours (lyrics by E.Y. Harburg). Another hit, Out
Of Nowhere was published with a spousal dedication ("To
C.F.G.") above the title.
Johnny's very first solo records seem interesting to us today as
musical and historical treasures, in 1933 his song titles were vastly
better known than his name, and so the Green medley record was issued
with the provocative title "HE WROTE BODY AND SOUL." Although
the wording certainly clarified what was on the disk, this limited
association would irritate Green for the rest of his career. Many
years later Green confided how he longed to be remembered with names
such as Henry Mancini and John Williams, instead of writers associated
with "Tin Pan Alley." For reasons best left to conjecture,
his composing productivity would never again equal those successes
of the early 1930s.
London session (DB 1255) he paid tribute to another of Britain's
highest talents, Ray Noble, with a sensuous interpretation of Noble's
Love Locked Out (written with Max Kester), and to Edward
Heyman and Vernon Duke with an intricate arrangement of This
Is Romance played with a creative dash rarely shown by solo
and at one time he and his wife, Carol owned three in their fashionable
Manhattan apartment at 430 East 86th Street (near Carl Schurz Park).
In Carnegie Hall on January 15, 1933, Paul Whiteman's Concert Orchestra
introduced Green's Night Club (Six Impressions for Orchestra
with Three Pianos). Green was at piano "one," and
Roy Bargy and Ramona (already associated with Whiteman) performed
at the other two. The following month the concert was repeated with
the same artists on a Sunday evening in Boston's Symphony Hall.
In London the suite was conducted by Stanford Robinson, with Green
and Carroll Gibbons on pianos I and II, and the third was played
by the regular pianist with the British Broadcasting Corporation.
with "multiple pianos" would make his stay in London much
more interesting as well as lucrative: With Carroll Gibbons and
a small group called the Boy Friends, Green recorded over a dozen
clever arrangements of popular songs of the season for the English
Columbia company. Their repertoire ranged from Bernice Petkere's
contemplative Close Your Eyes (DB 1263) to medleys from contemporary
musical films, including Sitting Pretty by Mack Gordon and
Harry Revel (DB 1326), Warner Bros.' Footlight Parade (DB
1303), Aunt Sally (DB 1309), Cole Porter's British show Nymph
Errant(DB 1297) and, of course, Green's own musicals Mr.
Whittington (DB 1314) and Big Business (DB 1368). The
recording highlight of Green's British period was a twelve-inch
disk (DX 566) of Gibbons and Green's two brilliant pianos accompanying
Whittington stars Jack Buchanan and Elsie Randolph with the
Savoy Hotel Orpheans, performing selections from the show.
Photographed in the studio of Columbia
(Abbey Road, Hayes-Middlesex) are (left-to-right) Carroll Gibbons,
John W. Green, and the stars of Mr. Whittington, Elsie Randolph
and Jack Buchanan. Song-and-dance man Jack Buchanan was also the
producer of the show. Date of session: December 20, 1933.
Johnny and Carol Green had left England, several more of his recordings
would be released, including Two Friends in Harmony (DB 1333),
on which the listener actually hears the voices of Carroll Gibbons
and John W. Green (his favored billing at that time) as they pretend,
in a puckish way, to berate each other's song-writing abilities.
About this release, The Gramophone wrote: "These two friends
say some very rude things to each other and take liberties with
each other's tunes, but the result is so charming that my only regret
is that Johnny Green has left us, only temporarily I hope."
known as the "Boy Friends" (a name that might be seriously
misinterpreted today) was a small group of London musicians carefully
picked from the Savoy Hotel Orpheans, which usually included this
personnel: Gibbons (piano and occasionally celeste), directing Lloyd
Shakespeare (trumpet), George Melachrino (clarinet and occasionally
violin), Bert Thomas (guitar) and Jack Evetts (string bass) Several
of these musicians were also well known "side men" with
Ray Noble's recording orchestra.
piano styles were well matched, to say the least. Green's Broadway
and dance band experience gave him a solid rhythmic foundation and
a flair for ornamentation that was flashy without being technical.
Carroll Gibbons' daily job at Columbia studios and the B.B.C. was
to invent new ways of adding interest to the standard popular songs
as they were released from the publishers and recorded by his orchestra.
At His Master's Voice or Columbia Studios, Gibbons accompanied all
the great English pop stars of the 1920s and '30s, from Elsie Carlisle
to Noël Coward. The Gibbons & Green pianos blended in a
style that was far from the mathematical predictability of Green's
early idols, Phil Ohman & Victor Arden (the undisputed top American
duo-piano team of the 1920s), and their playing did not resemble
the impressionistic complexity of the famous European team of Jacques
Fray and Mario Braggiotti. Instead, Gibbons and Green presented
an attractive, compatible musical package that required little concentration
from the listener. While listening to their recordings, one could
possibly feel that tapping one's toes too much might cause one to
miss some clever musical nuance!
of British discographer Brian Rust, "It doesn't blare or shriek,
of course, nor does it mumble. It is essentially civilized music
with a character all its own...This is not wallpaper music for a
cocktail lounge, with just a piano tinkling away endlessly, decorously,
perhaps with an almost imperceptible guitar and bass somewhere far
back; this is music for relaxing, for dreaming if you like, but
above all, for listening."*
in February, 1934, Carol and Johnny Green returned to their luxury
apartment on East 86th Street. Carol reminisced that those exciting
five months in London were not all fun and games, but much hard,
creative work for Johnny, who not only created the entire score
to Mr. Whittington but also wrote (with lyricist James Dyrenforth)
the first original radio musical for the B.B.C. Entitled Big
Business, it produced several attractive tunes including Repeal
the Blues, Not Bad, An Hour Ago This Minute, and What
Now. Fortunately for us, these songs were widely recorded in
England so that we may marvel at them in the twenty-first century.
In Johnny Green's own words, "That was a very, very glamorous
have not been re-issued in their entirety, a few sides appeared
on the EMI World records LPs of the 1970s. Currently Vocalion issues
Carroll Gibbons and His Savoy Hotel Orpheans. Vocalion 6030 is called
Dinner at Eight after the song by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy
McHugh. Vocalists include Al Bowlly, Harry Bentley, Les Allen and
Jack Plant. Vocalion CDs are available from Worlds
Record in California.
©1980 World Records Ltd. "Carroll Gibbons & The Boyfriends" SH 360)
Mintun is a piano player, singer
and music historian. When he isn't holding court at New York's Bemmelman's
Bar in the historic Carlyle Hotel, he is recording his acclaimed
compact discs, rubbing elbows at the Ritz or helping to copy edit
MrLucky. You'd be wise to visit his website.