Ted Heath not only survived the so-called "Big Band Era" -
he prolonged it. Along with
his contemporaries such as Ellington, Basie, Brown and Herman, he continued his
international popularity through concerts and recordings, even though the
"dance band" per se had lost its widespread appeal and venues. In fact, all of those mentioned had
been leaders for ten-or-more years before Heath started his own band in 1945.
He was born Edward Heath in Wandsworth, a section of London,
in 1902. He reportedly was a
trombone prodigy and was busking with his instrument while still very young.
As early as 1936 the Heath trombone was already an
ubiquitous presence in the British dance bands. In that year, Hilton Schleman, in his book Rhythm on Record,
cited Heath's participation as a sideman-arranger in the combinations of
Ambrose, Lew Davis, Bert Firman, The Four Bright Sparks, Jack Hylton, Howard
Jacobs, Syd Lipton, The Rhythm Rascals, and Jay Wilbur.
During WWII he played with Geraldo's radio band, and then in
1945 - when the dance band industry was beset with competition from new forms
of musical entertainment and TV - he formed a band which rose to immense
success against the odds, actually prolonging the popularity of the full dance
unit, especially in Great Britain.
During the band's existence it was very popular on radio and
for its many personal appearances.
Frequent gigs during the 1950s were its concerts at London's
Palladium. It even made it across
the Atlantic to make two tours of the US, which were unusual in that the entire
combination was present.
Previously, Jack Hylton and Ray Noble were compelled to use American
musicians. In 1948, the Heath band
commenced releasing recordings on the London label, a subsidiary of British
Decca, which sold very well in the States. Particularly appealing were those LPs which presented a
single composer's works, i.e., "Kern for Moderns"; "Rodgers for Moderns"; etc.
Critically listening to this compilation of Ted Heath and
his Music, one recalls the sounds of the very best American swing bands: Tommy Dorsey, Les Brown, Glenn Miller,
Stan Kenton, Jimmy Dorsey, and many others. But the arrangements do not copy, but rather hint - or
embellish - by creating a melange of sounds and styles. Looking at the list of songs, even a
true swing band aficionado cannot predict how a particular selection will sound
from its title.
Here are some instances. That Heath was a trombone expert shows in the marvelous
trombone choir-effect which was a Tommy Dorsey specialty. Les Brown's arrangement style is
represented by the full-range unison sound each instrumental section in-turn
displays. Occasionally Glenn
Miller's special colouring of the woodwinds, with the clarinet doubling above
the saxophones, can be heard.
Dynamics were Kenton's specialty: Heath employs them liberally. And who could forget Jimmy Dorsey's
tasteful use of the solo alto saxophone, which Heath very frequently uses. And there are also whimsical touches to
The songs on this album range from classic pop ballads to
up-tempo swingers and also include rhythm and mood numbers composed for concert
For example, the opening and closing tracks show inspiration
from earlier Glenn Miller recordings.
Blue Skies March is reminiscent of Miller's quasi-martial arrangement of
"St Louis Blues". The closer,
Colonel Bogey (featured in the
movie Bridge on the River Kwai), again evokes Miller in style and tempo: this
time "American Patrol". Other
Milleresque moments include the woodwinds' voicing on the melody of With a Song
in my Heart (Track 2) and the whimsical co-option of Miller's introduction to
"Chattanooga Choo-Choo" for Heath's own composition Night Train to Scotland
And speaking of whimsy, note the several counter-melodies in
Blue Skies March which are quoted from other compositions such as "Stormy
Heath also was fortunate to have exceptional section leaders
who could impart strong solos. My
Silent Love (Track 8) is indeed reminiscent of Harry James especially in the
first chorus. Harlem Nocturne
(Track 6) contains passages which resemble Jimmy Dorsey's alto saxophone solos.
Sidewalks of Cuba (Track 9) is treated unlike its
Latin-sounding title, recalling the stylings of Stan Kenton, or perhaps, Woody
Button Up Your Overcoat (Track 12) is pure Les Brown - at
least in the first chorus - and invokes Brown's arrangement of "Back in Your
Own Backyard", a contemporary 1920s composition.
Compositions, likely intended for concert presentation, are
represented by Roumanian Roundabout and Obsession (Tracks 14 and 19), among
Heath passed away in 1969, but his band survived - like
Basie, Kenton, Miller, Brown, etc. - in various incarnations: the so-called
"ghost bands". In fact, many of
Heath's original musicians gathered together to re-create "His Music" into the
Paul Roth, 2003
Hilton R.Schleman, Rhythm on Record, Melody Maker Ltd.,
Roger D. Kinkle, The Complete Encyclopedia of Popular Music
and Jazz 1900-1950, Arlington House, New Rochelle, NY, 1974.
The Big Bands Database Plus
Paul Roth, a Florida-based musicologist-archivist,
specializes in the dance band culture, especially the American and British
combinations of the 1930s. His
personal archive includes over 25,000 selections many of which are on his
7,000-or-so 78s. He produced and
hosted "big band" shows on Washington, DC radio in the 1980s and on Florida
radio and TV in the 1990s. He
lectures on the history of the popular song and is currently writing a series
of essays, which he hopes to publish as a book on the "commercial" dance
band. To this end he has been
taping interviews with bandleaders, vocalists, etc. for over twenty years. Roth is a retired engineer and
academician. He is also an amateur