Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Orchestrating Lantz

Carl Stalling didn’t do all the musical work on his own at Warners Bros. He had Milt Franklyn as an orchestrator for many years. Before him, Bernie Brown and Norm Spencer had Norm Spencer, Jr. Over at MGM, Scott Bradley had Paul Marquard (as well as Dave Snell as a musical adviser on the Captain and the Kids shorts). So who handled arrangements at the Walter Lantz studio?

The answer is sort of provided in Variety. Here’s a blurb in the weekly version that’s a repeat from Daily Variety of November 16, 1954.

Keith Williams was a drummer with a number of different bands, including Bobby Sherwood’s in 1947. He served as president of the American Society of Music Arrangers and president of the Musicians Union local 47. Here’s part of his obit from the Long Beach Press Telegram.

KEITH ROLLINS WILLIAMS July 25, 1924-December 27, 2008 Keith was born in Garfield, Utah. At the age of two he moved to California. He went to John H. Francis Polytechnic High School, and attended Occidental College, obtaining his Bachelor of Arts in music. After completing a tour of duty in the Air Force in 1945, he organized his own 14-piece dance band, which played extensively in and around the South West.
Throughout his career he studied under leaders in his field - writing, conducting, arranging and creating 12-tone compositions. Upon disbanding the dance group he became Staff Orchestrator for Walter Lantz cartoons. moving on to become Staff Composer for Gene Autry Range Writer Productions for TV. A change of pace saw him take over the chores of Capitol Producer - Capitol Writer for the TV show "Melody Time" on KTTV, as well as executive producer for TV Unlimited Productions. During his multifaceted career, Keith arranged, orchestrated and composed for no less than 28 full length motion pictures, 42 cartoons and 7 commercial films. His best known work was as Musical Director and Conductor for Charles Chaplin's film, "Limelight".
Keith's desire to again form a big band returned. He organized a new 17-piece band labeled "The Dazzling Sound", recording for Liberty Records, an album which was considered one of the All Time Best Selling Albums. The orchestra was listed in the 1957 Disc Jockey Poll as one of America's top ten "most promising Orchestras". During this time, he traveled with Johnny Mathis and the "Hi-Lo's".
Other highlights in his career were were serving as Arranger and Copysit Representative and President of the Musician's Union Local-47, as well as President of the California Copywrite [sic] Conference. In the meantime, Keith earned his Master's degree in music at CSUN. He went on to teach music in both private and public school systems, retiring from LAUSD in 1988.

If you’re interested in the Liberty recording, check out this blog.

It’d be interesting to learn which composer Williams worked with at Lantz. Darrell Calker in the ‘40s went from swing to classical, as well comic compositions with those peek-a-boo reeds he loved. He took the latter with him when he wrote music for the Columbia cartoons in the mid-‘40s (he was also composing for features at the same time). Clarence Wheeler’s music at Lantz in the early ‘50s is comparatively sparse; one cartoon features little more than an electric organ.

One thing neither Calker, Wheeler nor Williams did was write the Lantz studio’s number one hit. “The Woody Woodpecker Song” was penned by two guys in the orchestra Calker used for the cartoons. However, Lantz apparently wasn’t doing as well as Hugh Harman and Rudy Ising at their studio a decade earlier. They had their own lyricist. Variety again.

I haven’t found much about Myers. He copyrighted a song in 1931 while he was living in Cleveland. I wonder if he’s responsible for these lyrics in the 1934 H-I short “The Discontented Canary” (sung by the Rhythmettes?):

Once a canary, his love did bemoan
Locked in an old cage to live all alone
While out in the wild world he wanted to roam
And fly with the birds in the trees.

Now the bird that we sing of was lonesome
He wanted to fly in the breeze
But all he could do was to lead (?) and to sing
And swing on his flying trapeze.

Scott Bradley gets the sole credit for the compositions in this cartoon. Given his classical aspirations, I suspect he’d be glad to have someone else claim the lyrics as theirs.’

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