Scarce HAL KEMP Big Band Jazz AUTOGRAPH Died '40 Age 36
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Sold Date: 07/31/2008
Channel: Online Auction
Category: Books, Paper & Magazines
HAL KEMP was among the most popular bandleaders of the 1930s, scoring a long string of dance band hits. He was also an extremely lucky, and extremely talented musician, in the right place at the right time throughout his career, until a night in December of 1940 when his luck ran out. Born in Alabama in 1905, he became focused on music early in life and put together his first band in 1919, at around the same time he entered high school. An alto sax player and clarinetist, he ended up leading the Carolina Club Orchestra-âe" the band of the University of North Carolina-âe" as a student, all of nineteen years old. The band recorded for Okeh Records and toured Europe during summers; famed leader Fred Waring thought so highly of the group that he gave them financial support as well as musical advice. A booking on a transatlantic ocean liner led them to make their recording bow in London (w visiting American bands were a hot commodity, even then). The cruise itself was as much a lark as a professional stepping stone for the student band, whose members all figured to be doing something else professionally. But then fate played a hand: on the return trip, they were lucky enough to have the Prince of Wales (later the abdicated Edward VIII) as a fellow passenger who was a music enthusiast and drummer, and he sat in with them; in those days, the United States had such an inferiority complex that anything the British royals did was news-âe" the Carolina Club Orchestra didn't know it, but every day they were at sea they were getting mentioned in the press in every major city in America, and the capper was when the prince (who may have understood jazz better than he did politics-- he was later an admirer of Hitler) praised their music. Upon docking, Kemp and company found offers waiting for them, and agents eager to represent them. In 1927, once the little matter of finishing his education was completed, Kemp turned leadership of the Carolina Club Orchestra over to fellow UNC student Kay Kyser and formed a professional jazz orchestra of his own whose ranks included Skinnay Ennis, Bunny Berigan, and John Scott Trotter. Among the future bandleaders who got a start with the Kemp orchestra were Russ Case and Claude Thornhill; the group was a jazz outfit plain and simple and earned a good living at it. They cut sides like the ballad "Alone" (written for the Marx Brothers movie A Night at the Opera ), sung by Maxine Gray, but then could turn around two months later and deliver "The Music Goes 'Round and 'Round" sung in a hotter style by Saxie Dowell and featuring just enough virtuosity to remind listeners what superb jazz players they were. Skinnay Ennis was the orchestra's most popular singer. Also the drummer, he would step away from his kit and take the mike, leaving no one to cover for him on drums while he sang. His singing style was shy and breathless, and he quickly became popular with female audiences. Skinnay's style and limitations dictated the group's sound: he couldn't hold a note very long, which meant that the trumpets covered for him with staccato fills, and the reeds massed their sound within megaphones, giving their records a very distinctive sound. Hal Mooney came aboard as arranger, and they hung on, but the rise of swing music also began squeezing the band, as the groups led by Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Artie Shaw, among others, soon started capturing most of the press and the imagination of the public. Kemp made some film appearances that helped sustain his following, and the addition of the singing group The Smoothies added new variety to their sound, but inevitably the tide ran against the group. Kemp saw his bookings and record sales decline, and by the end of '30s was in the process of trying to decide whether to adopt a swing sound during the approaching new year. He was still a young man and had a long future to look forward to, and he'd almost completely altered the band's lineup between 1938 and 1940; Nan Wynn and future actress Janet Blair were the female vocalists. While dri...
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