For anyone who was part of that era, the decade from 1936 to 1945, the sound of a particular band, the memory of a passage in a song, or the mention of a meaningful name can light up the whole picture again in glowing colors.
It was a time when the late-night air was filled with music – live music. Radio networks began their nightly rounds of “remote” broadcasts at 10 or even 11 p.m., and for hours you could hear a different band every half hour, coming right into your living room from one after another of America's great dance floors.
It was a time when the first, instantly recognizable notes of a theme song surging out of a radio could excite anticipation of incredible pleasures to come, But identity for a band meant more than just a recognizable theme.
It meant having a style. It might be the swing-band style of Benny Goodman or the clarinet-led reed sound of Glenn Miller or the or the staccato trumpets of Hal Kemp, or the shuffle rhythm of Jan Savitt, or the bubbles and glissando of Shep Fields' Rippling Rhythm.
A bands singers could add qualities of their own – Skinnay Ennis' breathless intimacy with Hal Kemp's band (and later with his own; the earnest quaver of Carmen Lombardo's vibrator with brother Guy's Royal Canadians; the relaxed easygoing singing of young Perry Como with Ted Weems, the wistful appeal of Frank Sinatra, first with Harry James and then with Tommy Dorsey.
It was a time when young America thought nothing of driving 100 or 150 miles to hear a favorite band in person, even when casual listeners knew who played trumpet with Benny Goodman and who Glenn Miller's saxophonists were.
And those who treasured more esoteric knowledge could exclaim knowingly to each other about the delights of the wandering baritone saxophone that wove its way through Ozzie Nelson's arrangements.
My parents loved Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians. They on occasion drove to Kingsport to attend his show. Another favorite spot was on Princeton Avenue known as the Country Kitchen Their favorite song was “Please, Lend a Little Ear to My Pleas.” The Lombardo sound was a regular in our household until Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, The Diamonds and the Platters rolled around, but that is another story.
Reach Bob Cox at [email protected] or go to www.bcyesteryear.com.