Thursday, September 13, 2007

Yuleblog Memo

Dear readers of the yuleblog,

For the past few months, my somewhat usual schedule has been turned up, down, and every which way but Saturday. This can be attributed to a great number of reasons (stay-at-home dad duties, school activities with the kids, involved with several theater productions, travelling between Chicago and Cincinnati to watch the Cubs play great baseball) that has pulled my focus away from the computer.

In late March, I reached my peak and was posting two reviews a day. Since the beginning of April, my daily output here has trickled to an anemic one post a week.

How bad has it gotten? We've now reached mid-September - the month I usually have reserved to create and produce my annual Christmas CD for family and friends for the past nine years - and I'm two weeks behind in that regard as well.

I still have about 100+ albums that I downloaded last year that I haven't reviewed (or even burned and added to my permanent collection). I have approximately 40 Christmas albums that I had planned on sharing out for the 2007 holiday downloading season. To date, I have exactly three of them transferred.

It's been extremely frustrating and disappointing. The time I used to have to dedicate to my Christmas music obsession is no longer there in great quantity.

After careful consideration, I've come to a conclusion concerning the future of the yuleblog.

I'm not quitting the yuleblog. Not by a long shot.

I'm going to try my best with my ever changing daily schedule to sign on and post something here - a review, a link, maybe a brand new album post when I have them ready.

BTW, I have several of the albums I made available online last year available again. Check out my first, second, and third Christmas in July posts for the links.

Last year, I asked any and all Christmas music enthusiasts that create annual Christmas CDs to send me an extra copy. I'm still undecided whether or not if I will be asking this year - it all depends on how my winter schedule plays itself out. When I make a decision, I'll post it here.

A half hour ago, we hit midnight here in Fort Wayne. Today is my tenth wedding anniversary.

To celebrate, my wife and I are taking a trip to a place that neither of us have been to before - New York City. It's been nearly a full year since we've been away for some adult time away from the kids and we're looking forward to it.

Don't look for anything new here until October. If the Cubs get into the playoffs, we get extra baseball in October and being a die hard Cub fan, I'll gladly trade off the time!

This whole blog has been an immense labour of love and I've enjoyed all the joy, pain, sweat, and frustration involved putting it together.

I thank you for reading this far and continuing to visit us at the yuleblog.


Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A Sammy Kaye Two-Play!

At first glance of this album cover, the gentlemen seated on the couch looks more like a high school principal or shop teacher than a world renowned orchestra leader.

Nevertheless, these two fantastic offerings were presented last year at Ernie (not Bert)'s blog within a two day span of time.

I juggled my schedule of downloads around a tad bit to feature both on the same day. Today is Mr. Swing And Sway Day!

The first album, "Christmas Day With Sammy Kaye", was offered on November 25, 2006. It was originally released at Christmas, 1960 by Decca Records.

The second "album" (pictured to the right) is actually a collection of 45 singles from 1951 and boxed up in a festive cover entitled "Christmas Serenade" by Columbia Records.

Not bad for a guy who received a degree in civil engineering while playing in small time bands throughout college.

After Sammy left college with his degree, he found his true calling in music. He quickly began his own orchestra and began his recording career just as the Big Band era was beginning.

Riding the wave of popularity brought on by Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw, and others, the "sweet" sound of Kaye's orchestra was ringing up jukeboxes and cash registers across the country. The famous trade publication Variety was the first to issue the moniker "Swing And Sway With Sammy Kaye" - for a time, "Swing And Sway" was the actual name of the orchestra!

Kaye was a shrewd businessman and found new ways to promote the orchestra; radio, movies, and live concerts. One night, Kaye quickly thought of a fun promotion called "So You Want To Lead A Band?", inviting an audience member to come onstage and take a crack at leading a song. The promotion stayed with the act.

Around 1950, Kaye signed on with Columbia Records and saw the potential in a new medium called television. Sammy quickly negotiated a TV contract and began his television show. It wasn't a big hit and "The Sammy Kaye Show" left the airwaves in the summer of 1951. It was during that same summer that Kaye began recording Christmas songs for his "Christmas Serenade".

Whenever I post a yuleblog entry here, I listen to the songs or album for the first time as I type. And while listening to these Sammy Kaye songs, I am struck by the strange mixture of styles I've picked up on. Several songs are eerily reminiscent of Fred Waring while others could be mistaken for Guy Lombardo.

However, when Sammy reaches into his bag of tricks and presents some fun arrangements on the pop songs ("Frosty", "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", etc.), the music leaps from the speakers and you find yourself tapping your toes and smiling - very warm stuff. There's something guaranteed to make you smile on one of these 11 songs from 1951.

The following Christmas, Sammy released another single: "All Around The Christmas Tree / Santa, Santa, Santa Claus" (Columbia 39894) was his last holiday offering for nearly a decade.

A few years later (maybe?), Columbia collected the best of all these singles and issued a FULL LP called "I Want To Wish You A Merry Christmas". By this time, Sammy was still fronting his orchestra, playing across the country and around the world. Columbia and Kaye parted ways and Decca Records snapped him up for their label.

This brings us to 1960 when Kaye released his second Christmas offering called "Christmas Day With". The production values over time had improved and it sounds like, upon first listen, that Kaye and Co. are here in the room with me.

However, the "sweet" sound of Sammy is in full bloom and tends to drag much of the Christmas music on this album. The standard carols are treated with such care and reverence that there's not much room for any fun.

When the first song on your album is "White Christmas" and given a tempo not much faster than a funeral, you're in for a long ride. "Twas The Night Before Christmas" could have been fun but the arrangement features one solo voice with very little accents from the orchestra or choir. "Christmas Child (Loo, Loo, Loo)" is a pretty song but again nothing memorable. Two extended medleys and "Silent Night" round out side one.

Side two has some energy from note one, as evidenced by "It's Beginning To Look Like Christmas" - a fun version indeed. "Rudolph" has pretty much the same arrangement as on the 1951 single (choir starts, orchestra finishes), just reversed (orchestra starts, choir finishes). "Silver Bells" is quite solemn while Leroy Anderson's "Sleigh Ride" is one of the standout tracks on the album - a hint of things to come for Sammy Kaye.

"Let It Snow" somehow works with the Swing And Sway sound - quite nice actually. The final song, "(Joyeux Noel, Buona Natale, Feliz Navidad) A Merry Christmas (To You)" is a wonderful waltz around the world at Christmas time and you'll find your head bobbing with the tempo.

This album suffered from the Sammy Kaye "sweet" sound at times. Upon hearing other album releases at the start of the 1960s, Decca Records and Sammy himself thought so too. Kaye hired Charles Albertine, the man responsible for reinventing Les and Larry Elgart's sound throughout the 1950s, and gave him carte blanche. What followed was considered by some Sammy Kaye's very best work, extending his recording career by almost a decade.

Sammy Kaye began focusing on live performances and toured everywhere with his beloved orchestra throughout the 1970s. In 1979, a young bandleader named Roger Thorne was the opening act for Sammy Kaye. Sammy was rather impressed with Thorne and asked him to join his orchestra which he did.

Over the next several years, Kaye taught Thorne all about the music and business side of leading an orchestra as they continued to tour. With his health declining due to cancer, Sammy decided to hand the baton to Thorne in 1986 and retire.

The following year, Sammy Kaye succumbed to cancer. However, Roger Thorne is still leading the Sammy Kaye Orchestra and the famous "Swing And Sway" sound continues on...

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