Thursday, August 30, 2007

Eddie Layton - Organ Music For Christmas

From an infamous Kermit Schaefer blooper:

"While our game is being temporarily delayed, let us listen to our organist in the center field stands as he entertains you while diddling on his organ."

Back on November 26, 2006, our friend Ernie posted this one at his blog under the title "Better Layton Than Ever". After downloading this and having the album sit on my hard drive for nearly a year, I'm finally listening to it and writing about it!

And after doing some quick research on Eddie Layton, I'm ready to play ball!

Layton was born in Philadelphia in 1925, studied music as a child, and was studying meteorology in college when World War II broke out. Enlisting in the U.S. Navy, Eddie was assigned to the Naval Air Station in Lindhurst, New Jersey. A chance encounter with a Hammond organ would soon change his life forever.

After World War II, he fell in love with the Hammond organ and soon began studying under the tutelage of the one and only Jesse Crawford (he of the hundreds of budget Christmas albums that clutter vinyl bins everywhere).

Layton was so adapt at playing the Hammond organ that he was able to find effects and little known features on the instrument. This convinced the Hammond Organ Company to retain him as a demonstrator for its stores over the next 50 years!

In the late 1940s - early 1950s, Layton was playing all around New York City as an organist, played at Radio City Music Hall (where he rubbed elbows with George Wright and Dick Liebert),and found a home on the radio in various soap operas of the day on CBS Radio.

Around this time, he began recording for Mercury Records, quickly becoming their star organist. He released a number of albums between 1956 and 1963 covering a wide range of music. If you want to hear some of these tunes, WFMU's 365 Days Project just posted an entry all about Layton.

After leaving Mercury Records, he signed with Epic and chose as his first project this Christmas album you see here before you. Layton carefully chose both traditional and popular Christmas songs - sometimes weaving several into one.

Released for Christmas, 1964, it's a good Christmas organ album - a notch above many of the Christmas organ albums I've gotten in the last two years. Eddie does a masterful job keeping it light, fun, and above all, Christmas-ey.

His medley of "Rudolph / Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" is the standout on the album. Having a mad xylophonist run up and down the scales is a nice touch inbetween some great swirls on the Hammond organ. Other tunes worth a listen include "Let It Snow", "Silver Bells", and his version of "O Holy Night" that's powerful and clocks in just under two minutes!

Layton released several other albums for Epic Records in the mid-1960s when fate knocked at the door. The New York Yankees were under the ownership of CBS and they remembered their house organist. They offered Eddie the prime gig of playing the house organ at Yankee Stadium during home games which he declined at first, having little knowledge of baseball game and driving a car.

The Yankees promised him limo rides to and from his house (for an organist!) and he agreed to a one game tryout in 1967. That one game gig stretched into a career spanning over 36 years, eventually winning him jobs playing for the Knicks and the Rangers. Layton played his last version of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame" on September 28, 2003 with a capacity crowd cheering his name.

Better Layton than ever, indeed!

UP NEXT: What I downloaded on November 25, 2006 at 6:34 PM



Ernie said...

Eddie Layton has long been a blog favorite. That's why I was so excited when I found his Christmas record. I've shared out a copy of his autograph I found on the back of a record (along with a doodle:

Another great doodle:

A great LP cover:

And not one but two tracks from Christmas In July:

Not many people can say they've been featured that much on the blog!


CaptainOT said...

Ernie - Is your middle name Layton by chance?