Eddie Dunstedter, We Hardly Knew Ye...
Three years ago, The King of Jingaling at FaLaLaLaLa.com offered one of the greatest Christmas albums of all time. Two years ago, I downloaded not one but two fantastic albums from our friend Ernie (not Bert) (which were re-offered last year). These three albums were recorded by the late, great Eddie Dunstedter and I never reviewed these albums at the yuleblog.
I promised Ernie that these albums would be the first ones to get the yuleblog treatment after my return from acting. However... the almighty Google keeps referring to Ernie's posts when you enter the name of Eddie Dunstedter and there is surprisingly little about the man online for research.
The few online facts that I found? Dunstedter discovered the vocal group The Merry Macs back in 1926, was the musical director of several radio shows back in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and has one movie credit to his name - the music score for the 1953 schlock horror movie "Donovan's Brain" (with future First Lady Nancy Davis nee Reagan in the cast).
He had a very long recording career either as a featured organ player or with albums of his own (spanning from the 1930s to the 1960s). In the late 1950s, Dunstedter was signed by Capitol Records and recorded several pipe organ albums ("Pipes And Power", "Where Dreams Come True", "Pipe Organ Favorites").
Throughout the summer of 1959, Dunstedter was entrenched in the famous Capitol Studios building in Hollywood to record his first Christmas album - "The Bells Of Christmas".
We've had our fair share of Christmas organ and chime albums here at the yuleblog - some really great, some really awful. Most of the Christmas standards are covered on this album in a quiet, reverent way. At times Dunstedter's organ playing is so subtle, you hardly know it's there as the chimes take center stage.
Standout tracks include two medleys ("It Came Upon The Midnight Clear - O Little Town Of Bethlehem - Away In A Manger" and "Deck The Halls - Joy To The World"), a stand alone version of "Greensleeves", and "The March Of The Three Kings" takes on such a magnificence when heard on the mighty cathedral organ.
Released in both mono and "Full Dimensional Stereo" at Christmas, 1959, Dunstedter could have been content knowing his first Christmas album was a success. After several years of other releases, Capitol and Dunstedter thought the time was right for yet another Christmas album.
Throughout the summer of 1963, Dunstedter was yet again at the famous Capitol Studios building in Hollywood, busy arranging and recording his second Christmas album "The Bells Of Christmas Chime Again"
For this album, Eddie chose several standards and a few contemporary songs and gave it the same subtle approach as in the first "Bells Of Christmas" album. At times, it sounds like Dunstedter is playing a synthesizer rather than a huge cathedral organ.
Tracks of note on this album include "Angels We Have Heard On High", "Winter Wonderland", "Ring Christmas Bells" aka "Carol Of The Bells", "The Christmas Song", and "Happy Holiday" - all of which sound amazing on the cathedral organ. However, the standout track on this album is "In The Clock Store", a fabulously fun trip complete with clock noises that conjures up images of Santa's workshop.
Dunstedter had outdone the first album - a rare feat, especially in music. Capitol thought so too and was all set to push the album at Christmas, 1963. A month earlier, in Dallas, Texas, three shots rang out. The country's mood was so somber over the loss of President Kennedy that Christmas music was looked on as trivial.
Capitol went ahead and released the album. It sat on shelves untouched. Two months later (February, 1964), four lads from Liverpool came to America and the whole music landscape changed again. Dunstedter wanted one more chance at a Christmas album and spent the summer of 1965 recording "Christmas Candy".
If you read the liners on "Christmas Candy", it tells you that Dunstedter wanted to record jolly fare with this album. From the first track to the last, he gives you a sumptuous bossa nova feast of sounds that are indeed light but plenty filling to the ears.
If you've heard the "Christmas Cocktails" albums at all, you'll have heard several of these tracks before ("I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus - Jingle Bells Bossa Nova" and "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! - Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer").
Seek out the non-cocktails tracks like "Silver Bells", the title track "Christmas Candy", "I'll Be Home For Christmas", and "Winter Wonderland" for some real good sound!
This album is a must in any Christmas music enthusiasts collection.
Some time after the release of this album at Christmas, 1965, Eddie Dunstedter said goodbye to Hollywood and took a teaching position at The MacPhail Center of Music in Minneapolis. Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, he taught many a new organ player his special bag of tricks and sent them on their merry way before his death in 1974.
This yuleblog entry took some time because I wanted to hopefully do justice to Dunstedter's career. I tried to track down several books through my public library that had info on Eddie (which turned out to be very little) and even called the MacPhail Center of Music (it's called summer for a reason).
In any case, if anyone has additional info on the life and career of Dunstedter, please feel free to leave a comment and I'll be happy to post updates.