My uncle, Hawley Ades, died March 26, 2008, at the age of 99, three months shy of his 100th birthday. His name will mean something to RAG readers familiar with Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, for Hawley was one of Waring's principal arrangers from 1937 until his retirement in 1975. Waring's Shawnee Press published so many of Hawley's choral arrangements, particularly popular with high school and community groups, that Waring would introduce Hawley on concert tours by saying, quite accurately, that "more people play and sing his arrangements than those of any other arranger in history."
But for most readers, the more interesting part of Hawley's career would be his pre-Waring work as a freelance musician gigging around New York in the late `20s and early 1930s. I enjoyed Hawley's stories from those years, relating to some obscure and some prominent musicians, so let me share them with you. How many people alive in 2008, for example, could vividly recall hearing Bix Biederbecke at Roseland in 1926?
Hawley was born in Wichita, Kans., in 1908. Both of his parents were professional musicians. His mother, Mary Findley Ades, was a concert pianist and his father, Lucius, a choral director. Around 1922, Oscar Seagle, a fairly well-known baritone, gave a concert in Wichita at which Hawley's mother pinch-hit for Seagle's regular accompanist. Seagle was impressed and offered her a job as an accompanist at his summer Music Camp in Schroon Lake, N.Y. (which is still going strong in 2008). So, the family, including Hawley's sister, my mother-to-be Christine, moved east in 1922.
Hawley had demonstrated considerable talent on the piano from an early age and believed that one reason his mother moved East was to provide him with greater opportunities to develop a career in music. No doubt she thought he would be a classical pianist, but soon his interest drifted toward popular music and jazz. Hawley cited three specific exposures that led him in that direction. First, in 1922 in Glens Falls, where the family lived in the winter, he saw a road company of the pioneering Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake musical Shuffle Along, with a lively pit band. Later that year, Paul Whiteman's band gave a concert in town. Hawley was particularly impressed by reed player Ross Gorman, he of the famous opening clarinet glissando (debuted two years later) in Rhapsody in Blue, "and what looked like 18 instruments on a rack in front of him." The third decisive non-classical impact came in 1926, when Hawley saw on Broadway the Gershwin musical, Oh Kay. In our last visit in March 2008, Hawley still remembered being very taken by Gertrude Lawrence's rendition of "Someone to Watch Over Me."
Hawley's own debut as a performer occurred in 1922, playing for a dance at the local high school with a three-piece band consisting of his piano, drums and flute. He remembered, "I think we knew only two tunes, Yes, We Have No Bananas' and Barney Google,' which we alternated incessantly, for Lord knows how long."
In 1925 Hawley entered Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. There he joined a small band, the Rutgers Jazz Bandits, led by one Harold "Scrappy" Lambert. Lambert later teamed with the banjoist in the band, Billy Hillpot, to form a duo sometimes billed as the Smith Brothers ("Trade" and "Mark"). After graduation they had their own radio show and also performed with Ben Bernie's orchestra. Lambert developed a prolific solo career as a singer, making hundreds of records in the late `20s and early `30s with all manner of bands.
Hawley took over the leadership of the Bandits when Lambert graduated, probably in 1926. The band did some touring around college campuses in the Northeast and tended to feature Hal Kemp-like arrangements. Hawley also remembered writing an arrangement of the famous 1927 Beiderbecke-Trumbauer piece, "Singin' the Blues." Hawley turned down, as had Lambert before him, the efforts of Rutgers student Ozzie Nelson to sing with the Bandits. Of course, after graduation Ozzie Nelson went on to great success as a bandleader. When Hawley ran into him during his Irving Berlin days, Nelson was gracious, notwithstanding his Rutgers turndown.
One musician who did impress Hawley at Rutgers was pianist Walter Gross, whose band he heard at a fraternity party. Gross's most notable claim to fame was as composer of the song "Tenderly," which he wrote in the 1940s.
Hawley and his fellow musicians made a habit of going to Roseland in Manhattan to hear the famous bands of the time. For the 75 cent admission, you heard a lot of music. Hawley's first Roseland visit was on October 12, 1926, to see the opening of the Jean Goldkette band, featuring Frank Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke, and its epic "Battle of the Bands" with Fletcher Henderson's orchestra. Hawley confirmed the reported contemporary verdict that the Goldkette band prevailed. Hawley's letter to me, written 72 years later (in 1998), is worth quoting.
He wrote, "How we got started going to Roseland to hear the bands, I can't remember, but the first one was Jean Goldkette, and from that moment on I was hooked -- we all were. Frank Trumbauer led the band, standing up and playing beautiful C-melody sax, and Bix was in the brass, blowing like I had never heard before and could hardly believe... I'll never forget the impression he made on me."