Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Rainbow Sound of Bianco, His Harp And Orchestra - Joy To The World

Not only was this album downloaded at Ernie (not Bert)'s blog late last year but it holds the distinction for having the longest title of ANY Christmas album reviewed here!

Woe to the poor guy who had to give the stage announcement whenever Bianco played a concert!

Late last month, Ernie stated in a post at his blog that Bianco was one of his top three harpists of all time. The other two are Robert Maxwell and a Marxist named Harpo. Maxwell or Harpo were the only harpists I thought I knew existed, the rest were anonymous pluckers of the golden strings.

So let's spend some time finding Bianco (not Nemo).

Born Eugene Capobianco in 1927, he began studying the harp as a boy under the tutelage of his father Fillippo, himself a successful harpist from the old country in Italy, and Marcel Grandjany, an early star of the classical harp.

Gene studyed at Juilliard and after graduation played the classical harp circuit for several years. However, his love for jazz drove him to experiment with the harp as a jazz instrument (radical idea!). Bianco began playing nightclubs and jazz spots throughout New York and was spotted by someone from NBC Television. This led to an offer of a job playing in the studio band of a comedian by the name of Ernie Kovacs.

(For those of you not familiar with Ernie Kovacs, I demand that you click on the link above and learn about one of my personal heroes. This was the man who inspired "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In" and "Saturday Night Live". David Letterman and Conan O'Brien owe their careers to Kovacs.)

One of the signature pieces of Ernie Kovacs was "The Nairobi Trio", a three ape band that mimed to a recording of "Solfeggio" by Robert Maxwell. Several times on Ernie's TV show, the studio band performed this song LIVE and Ernie preferred Bianco's playing of the harp better! This is probably because Bianco was complemented with some great talent, including a guitar player by the name of Mundell Lowe.

Bianco invited Lowe to create a jazz combo. Together with the help of percussionist Joe Venuto, they recorded two albums on the obscure Major Records label which were critical successes. RCA Records noticed and signed Bianco & Co. to a three record contract on the Camden label. The first album was "Stringin' The Standards", the second album was "Harp, Skip, And Jum...P", both featuring the combination of electric guitar and harp in tight harmonized solos of Bianco & Lowe which are now a standard feature of many pop orchestrations.

RCA quickly cashed out the contract Bianco signed because they had a grand idea for him. Using their new partnership with the Reader's Digest Record Club, RCA signed Bianco to a six record contract, pushing him to record the lush, easy listening music that only Reader's Digest listeners could stomach. RCA rechristened him "The Rainbow Sound of Bianco, His Harp And Orchestra" and the album you see above was album number one.

This is what heaven sounds like at Christmas time... harp playing, choir of angels singing, the archangel Gabriel and his trumpet leading the orchestra in full blown lush. Too lush actually.

I wish I could say I love this album but I can't. When Bianco lets loose as in "Jingle Bells" or his medley of "Sleigh Ride / We Wish You A Merry Christmas", it's quite fun and sounds fantastic. The rest of the album should be listened to only after a prescription from a doctor. Too much sugar can cause diabetes and should be strictly monitored.

Bianco, to his credit, gave RCA six full albums of lush stuff like this and chose NOT to resign with them. He preferred the jazz sound of the harp (now that would be an interesting Christmas album) and freelanced on dozens of many jazz recordings. He then moved into the recording booth as a musical coordinator and contractor, finding studio musicians for the likes of Stevie Nicks, Mary J. Blige, and even the late Ray Charles! His pace has slow as of late, but he's still involved in the music biz!

So now the big three of harps are Bianco, Harpo, and Maxwell - sounds like a law firm.

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...



Ernie said...

Now that you mention it, I do remember the label on this LP said something about Reader's Digest. I didn't think anything of it, though. This record is on my list of recording to re-rip this year. I found a stereo copy, and I think it will be a great improvement over the mono copy I shared last year. And now I'll have to hunt down those early jazz-harp LPs, too.

CaptainOT said...

There were a few copies of "Harp, Skip, and Jum...P" at eBay when I did my research.

Looking forward to the stereo copy!