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(2002 Interview) Hal Turner has performed with and conducted for many famous personalities from the big band era. In this interview, Hal tells us a bit about working with silver-throated bandleader Tex Beneke, the unflappable Ray McKinley, a wild tour with Charlie Barnet and his memories of appearing on the Jackie Gleason Show. hal turnerHe also describes how the original "gloved one" Hildegarde worked an audience, what steps taskmaster Sammy Kaye took to ensure the band wasn't swaying too much on the bandstand and what you might need to know in order to get a $300 tip from Sammy Davis Jr.

{Craig} O.K. Hal, would you tell us a little bit about how you got interested in playing with the big bands?

{Hal} I was born in 1930, (in Chicago), and became quite ill in my early years. During most of that time I was housebound. My dad was a hotel manager so we lived where he worked. There was always a piano available for me to explore. When I became interested in music my mother, who was an amateur actress and pianist, encouraged the pursuit. Later, when we moved into an apartment we bought a piano so I could practice and take lessons. Through treatment my health returned and music became my first love. Since I was too young to go by myself my mom would take me to the downtown theaters to see the popular bands, (in those days you also got a stage show and a movie). Sometime she would take me to a night club or hotel where they might be appearing. I recall seeing several bands at the Chicago and State-Lake theaters. We also went to the Sherman hotel occasionally where they seemed to feature the piano-playing leaders, (Frankie Carle, Carmen Cavallaro, etc.) Fortunately I never lost my passion for music.

{Craig} You played with/sang and arranged for many of the top bandleaders and performers in the country during the 50's and 60's. Would you tell us a bit about some of the folks you worked with?

{Hal} Art Mooney: (my first band), sometimes sweet and sometimes swing. Fondest memory was playing a summer at the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C. Single then, one night I was asked to join a young lady at her table during the break. She turned out to be a congressional secretary and we started dating. Since she had a bit of limited access I spent some of my free time attending luncheons and daytime affairs. I figured, as a citizen, I was getting some of my tax back.

Kai Winding Septet: Though Kai was quite compatible with the other three trombonists, (Wayne Andre, Dick Lieb, and my road roommate, Don Sebesky), he was hell on rhythm sections. Since the pianist's responsibility was to supply good "comp" for the soloists and to play a few solos himself he had no problem with me. But Kai was severe on the bassist and drummer if the time wavered. In the short time I played with Kai we went through several changes at those positions. I loved playing jazz but the genre generated small paychecks. Tex Beneke: The most genial bandleader I ever worked with. He never had a bad word for anybody. If a sideman screwed up he would hear about it but in private and in a soft voice. Sometimes he even helped set up the bandstand. When I worked with him he was using his own name but sometimes the billing would be Music in the Miller Mood ...quite natural, it seemed to me, since he spent so much time with Glenn and, at one time, actually fronted the Glenn Miller Orchestra. One reason for his acceptance among musicians was the fact that he was a great player, and thus, admired by his sidemen. When I was still in Dallas in the 90's he was a guest at a local big band celebration and I was moved by seeing him after all those years but dismayed that time had taken it s toll on him and he could no longer do the one thing that he loved...play the sax. Warren Covington: When Tommy Dorsey died Warren took over the reins of the band and auditions were being held for the road band. His contractor, (name escapes me), knew me from a couple of nondescript recordings I had been a part of. When he called to ask me if I wanted to join the band, I acquiesced. I looked forward to working with the band for two reasons... I knew it was one of the great libraries in the big band field and a lot of fun to play... and I thought I would have an golden opportunity to enhance my arranging skills, (if given the chance). I had been studying privately with a man named Ralph Wilkinson, who was the arranger for the U. S. Steel Hour on TV. My studies with him had advanced my skills beyond my expectations. During the three plus years with the band Warren and I became close friends. We eventually became neighbors in Westbury, (Long Island). I arranged many of the tracks on the records he made while with Decca. After Tea For Two Cha-Cha became a major hit, (it was extemporized at the end of a recording session), we became the Cha-Cha Orchestra so I was writing a lot of Latin charts. It was great being able to learn to write new things and get paid for it. While on the road with him in 1960 we were in Texas flying between one-nighters on American Flyers out of Love Field, Dallas, Texas. I met a stewardess there and we carried on a romance by telephone. Later in the tour we were married in Chicago. Since we were playing the Aragon Ballroom that night my bride spent the evening watching me perform while she sat in one of the balconies to the left of the bandstand. The ballroom owner supplied us with champagne. When that tour ended I left the band, although I wrote some charts for him after that and participated in some of his recordings. Only a few days after leaving the T.D. band I got a call to make a short tour with Charlie Barnet. Once again I saw a great opportunity to learn while playing some great music. Barnet worshipped Duke Ellington and the book was mostly Ellingtonia. It was a dream for a piano player since, unlike other bands where the piano was quite secondary, it was featured prominently in Charlie's book. I had a short but extremely wild tour with Charlie....lots of good jazz, lots of booze and the exhilaration of climbing on to the bandstand every night. The last week or so of the tour his mother even came out with us, riding in the front seat of the bus. I still have a picture of him signed "Hal, the bus is waiting."

That summer, (1960), I did a tour with Ray McKinley fronting the Glenn Miller band. Mac was about as easy-going as Tex was. Nothing ever seemed to rattle him. I had met Lennie Hambro, a talented jazz saxophonist while we were both working as music copyists and he was the one that called me for the job. I didn't want to take it at first but the itinerary was unusual...most of it 2 or 3 nights at the same venue with only a few one-nighters, (and since Mac sang some, he paid well for the pianist). We even had 2 one-week engagements. Since most of the musicians played golf, during one of those weeklong gigs, we had a 72 hole handicap golf tournament along with an awards luncheon! Playing golf for four days and working at night we all slept very well. I still have the second place trophy. Mac won the tournament. Mac suffered from serious ulcers so the road took its toll on him. He took pro-banthine for the ulcer which dried up the saliva so, when he sang, he had to keep a bottle of water on the stand. But, like most musicians in love with the game, he and his stomach endured the rigors of road travel. Incidentally, the pianist I replaced took over the chair from Hank Mancini.

{Craig} Some big band bandleaders are renown for being demanding to work for. Any particularly so?

{Hal} I didn t have quite enough money saved to get off the road and I got a call from Sammy Kaye who was getting ready for another tour. I had to audition for him. When I got to his office we chatted for a while and then he asked me to read some music. I was given one of the band charts and he listened to me play about a chorus-and-a-half of nothing but um-chick ...left hand, right hand, left hand, right, hand etc. ad nauseum. I did not have a great desire to play his kind of music. However, at that time, he and Guy Lombardo had the largest payrolls. I made over twice what I had had been making. He was the epitome of the demanding leader. The first night out we checked into a hotel when we arrived in town so the second night would be a hit-and-run, (play the job, get on the bus and drive to the next town where you would check in on the day sheet). Most of the bands used this system of every-other-day check-in unless the mileage demanded different action. We made good time to the second venue and arrived about five hours before the engagement. It was a ballroom and had a bar that was open during the day. The roadie was setting up the stage and some of the men were setting up their horns. We were going to go find a place to eat after that. Since I had no set-up to do I went over to the bar and ordered a beer. The band manager came over to me and told me I couldn t do that because there was no drinking before or during the job. I mentioned that it was five hours before the job and he said that didn t matter! All the bands had fine systems if you were late for the bus and some if you were late on stage but Sam took that to extremes. We were even fined if he saw the white of your leg between your pants and socks while on the stand...(knee-high socks were a prerequisite). For any specific chair, (piano, 2nd trumpet, drums, etc.), he had one chart that was a ball-buster for that chair, usually a hard solo. If he suspected anyone had been drinking he would call that particular chart out during the set to see if the suspect could make it through!

{Craig} Influential jazz journalist George T. Simon often dismissed Sammy Kaye's music as "Micky Mouse" stuff. Was the band concerned about this label?

{Hal} Sammy Kaye was aware of the Mickey Mouse label on the band but, like Liberace, he laughed all the way to the bank. Schmaltz sells!

{Craig} You played with Sammy Kaye when he performed on the Jackie Gleason show in 1961

{Hal} We did two Jackie Gleason Variety Shows, (1961). The first one featured seven big bands. Four of the gleasonbands flew down to Miami from New York and the other three, having been on the road, met us there. The bands were Sammy Kaye, Duke Ellington, Guy Lombardo, Les & Larry Elgart, Glenn Miller Band led by Buddy DeFranco, Count Basie and Freddy Martin. The bands that flew down from New York were greeted by a fleet of convertibles that drove all the musicians through town to the Auditorium. Gleason never does anything unspectacularly. We were treated like royalty the whole time we were there. Jackie was at the blocking and rehearsal on Friday afternoon and feeling no pain. However, the stage manager told us that when we got ready to tape the next morning everyone better be in the right place and do their job professionally or there would be fire and brimstone from Jackie. I also got to visit with Dean Kincaide, a baritone saxophonist and arranger with Sammy Spear, Jackieÿs pit band. Dean and I had been on the Glenn Miller band together.

Later we did a second J.G. show with Milton Berle and Vickie Carr. I worked on and off with Sammy for about three years until I finally quit the road and began to establish myself in New York. Later on I did some work arranging, copying and booking with an agent who booked, among others, Johnny Long and Charlie Spivak. If I was free I played some of the jobs, mostly within striking distance of New York, (Baltimore, Washington, Connecticut, etc.). That s why they're on my resume. I didn t get to know them very well so I won t elaborate.

{Craig} You played in many of the top venues in New York City like the Waldorf and St. Regis. Do any of the clubs stand out in your memory?

{Hal} The most vivid memory in New York venues was the Maisonette at the St. Regis. I had played there with Peter Duchin when he first started his band. The first year we had two pianos and I also played vibes, conga, (and sometimes relieved the drummer on continuous club dates outside the hotel). Peter didn t have a library although Henri Rene had done some charts for him. After we started at the hotel I became the full-time arranger. The second and third years were played with only one piano and I would front the band when Peter was playing an outside date or on vacation. A literal Whoÿs Who comprised the clientele. Movie stars, international figures and royalty were the rule rather than the exception. Salvador Dali was a mainstay as he lived at the hotel for some time. Peter was there for three years and a couple years after that I went into the Maisonette with my own 10-piece band. Opening night was a big deal...there was even a large table for the press. We played two or three dance sets and there were two shows. That's where I conducted for many acts, (Hildegarde, Sandler & Young, Carmen Cavallaro, Monique Van Vooren, etc.). Cavallaro was the opening act and the press had many stories about the connections. I conducted the band and had once worked with Peter Duchin and Carmen had played the soundtrack of the Eddie Duchin Story. (Peter was Eddie's son).

{Craig} Did you know The Incomparable One, Hildegarde is 96 years old and lives just outside of New York City?

{Hal} Hildegarde was fun to work with, (no, I didn t know she was still alive). She perpetuated her rather hildyfrivolous nature and was always talking to the audience. Sometimes she would get lost in the music and she laughed about it along with the audience. Most of us could never understand how she played piano with opera gloves on, but that was her image. I loved working with Patachou, the French chanteuse, (who had her own club at the Eiffel Tower). She, of course, had music for the band but my favorite part of the show was when she sat on a stool by the piano with just a pin spot and it was just piano and voice. She did both American and French songs and I was almost moved to tears when we did Ne Me Quitte Pas, (If You Go Away). The intimacy of just the two performers was memorable to me. The shows were dropped the third year and we just had dinner and dancing. The summer of 1970 found me playing with a trio at Herb McCarthyÿs in Southampton. The abundance of publicity from the St. Regis probably landed that job for me. The Hamptons, of course, is the summer playground for the glitterati and it lived up to its name.

I did some stints at other hotels but when the showrooms began closing I saw the handwriting on the wall. I New York had been good to me but I was tiring of it so, for about three years, I did mostly club dates while preparing to move...eventually settling on Dallas. I was never out of work in Dallas for almost 25 years...singles, small groups and the big band. When Sammy Davis Jr. was staying at the Mansion on Turtle Creek he walked through the bar after dinner. Most pianists would always play The Candy Man when he showed up, (he supposedly hated the song). When I saw him enter the bar I started to play Night Song from Golden Boy, the play he did on Broadway. Since the song is a bit obscure he had a huge smile on his face and that's when he gave me my biggest tip ever...$300! After too many years I finally decided it was time for Florida.

{Craig} Your resume shows you conducted for Helen O'Connell, Hildegarde and Jimmy Rosselli among others.

{Hal} Most of the names listed with were in NY hotels or, occasionally, on the road with bands. I had conducted for Helen O Connell somewhere along the line. I don t remember the year but when I was still living in NY I got a last-minute call to conduct for her in a club in New Jersey. I don t remember the club but evidently her plans for a conductor went awry. As I remember it was only for a week or so and availability allowed me to do the job. I recall the band was pretty good and we had a successful, if uneventful stand. Jimmy Rosselli came into the Royal Box of the Americana, (now the Sheraton at 7th ave. & fifty-?), when I had the house band there. I won t go into deep detail here but Jimmy, (I believe a NY native and connected), had played all the houses on Long Island and been successful. This was his first crack at a class room and, unfortunately, the reviews were not good. I don't think he went very far after that.

{Craig} Seems I've developed a pattern of asking the folks I've interviewed this question, who was the better clarinetist ...Benny Goodman or Artie Shaw? Artie Shaw.

{Hal} This is, of course, a subjective matter. One of the few regrets I have is not going on a Far East tour with Benny. I got a call to do it but had some things going on in the city. I talked to some of my friends that did go and they had a ball. Jazz is so revered in the Orient, especially Japan, so I guess that s one opportunity that was missed. Who knows...maybe the business that kept me from going led to other things.

{Craig} I understand you have 11 television sets. That's a lot of T.V.'s.

{Hal} Yes, I have 11 TV sets. I also have 8 VCRÿs, (oneÿs a spare). Video is a hobby. I did have about 600-700 videos and finally pared them down to less than 300. Some are probably not available anymore....a few original pilots that are out of print, all the Johnny Carson Anniversary shows, all of the Celebrity Jeopardy shows, etc. I have a few shows with the original and the finale...those are interesting to see how the characters fared after a few years. I also have a few historic sports events. It s a rather eclectic collection. I have recently transferred all my audio cassettes to CD and now am trying to work on the LP s. Shaved from 1500 albums to about 400 I'm only going to save the ones that might not be re-issued. Next is the video collection, (to DVD), when the DVD recorders and the DVD discs drop to a reasonable price.

{Craig} You also have a fascination with puzzles?

{Hal} In college at Northwestern I sold some puzzles to Dell Publishers and to local outlets, (crosswords and a variety of word puzzles). For years that was forgotten but lately I have sold some puzzles to GAMES magazine. It s a lot of fun and supplies you with a serendipitous check now and then. Iÿve tried the New York Times a few times but have not been accepted as yet. It s a cruciverbalist s dream to have the Times publish one of your puzzles....sort of like playing Carnegie Hall....you don t care about the money, just the prestige.

{Craig} Have you got a favorite big band?

{Hal} Tough, but would have to pick the Tommy Dorsey band because of the variety of the library...Ernie Wilkins, Sy Oliver, Eddie Sauter, Axel Stordahl, Paul Weston, Dean Kincaide, Bill Finnegan, etc. Could it get any better than that? Tommy was always looking for the next talent in arranging and I believe, if he were alive today, the band would still be flourishing or at least alive since he would seek out the new talent in that field. One band that stands out in my memory is the Jerry Fielding band. I still have some 10 LP s of his...he had his own band but also did a lot of radio and film scoring.

{Craig} Favorite Male vocalist?

{Hal} Sinatra-Sinatra-Sinatra...nobody comes close. He has the most space in my music collection. If there was a close second it would have to be Nat Cole....Vic Damone, Joe Williams, .....

{Craig} Favorite female vocalist?

{Hal} Female....hard choice.....Diane Schurr, Helen Merrill, Diane Krall, Patachou......so many more.

Hal Turner currently resides in Sun City Center, Florida.
You can contact Hal directly at Orkldr@aol.com

THE REVIEWS
Andrews Sisters - Latin Quarter 1957
Desi Arnaz - w/Diosa Costello 1948
Count Basie - Lincoln 1943
Tony Bennett - Copacabana 1958
Milton Berle - Latin Quarter 1948
Joey Bishop - w/Andy Williams 1959
Ray Bolger - Wizard of Oz Scarecrow, Empire Room 1956
Cab Calloway - Greenwich Inn 1949
Diahann Carroll - Persian Room 1961
Betty Clooney - Waldorf Astoria 1954
Nat King Cole - Copacabana 1958
Perry Como - Versailles 1944
Copacabana - famous night club restaurant is reviewed 1953
Crosby Brothers - Latin Quarter 1961
Xavier Cugat - Waldorf Astoria 1951
Vic Damone - Riviera 1953
Billy Daniels - Copacabana 1952
Sammy Davis Jr. - Copacabana 1959
Phyllis Diller - w/Bobby Short 1958
Nancy Donovan - Copacabana 1952
Jimmy Durante - Copacabana 1951
Billy Eckstine - Copacabana 1951
Duke Ellington - Basin St. East 1961
Eddie Fisher - Empire Room 1959
Judy Garland -Town & Country 1958
Jackie Gleason - La Vie en Rose 1953
Benny Goodman - Empire Room 1956
Dolores Gray - Waldorf Astoria 1954
Buddy Hackett - Copacabana 1956
Connie Haines - Terrace Room 1951
Dick Haymes - Versailles 1956
Horace Heidt - 30th Anniversary 1954
Florence Henderson w/Bill Hayes 1958
Hildegarde - Pierre 1953
Celeste Holm - Plaza 1958
Eddy Howard - Roosevelt 1955
Burl Ives w/Wally Cox - Persian Room
Lisa Kirk - Persion Room 1958
Frankie Laine - Latin Quarter 1955
Julius La Rosa - Romanian 1958
Peggy Lee - Copacabana 1958
Jerry Lewis - Town & Country 1957
Joe E. Lewis - Copacabana 1945
Ted Lewis - Latin Quarter 1953
Liberace - Persian Room 1947
Guy Lombardo - Roosevelt 1957
Vincent Lopez - Grill Room 1954
Tony Martin - Riviera 1953
Martin and Lewis - Copacabana 1950
Ray McKinley - Glenn Miller Band 1957
Mills Brothers - Latin Quarter 1956
Vaughn Monroe - Astor 1955
Constance Moore - St. Regis 1958
Johnnie Ray - Copacabana 1953
Della Reese - Copacabana 1961
Sugar Ray Robinson - French Casino
Dorothy Shay - St. Regis 1961
Frank Sinatra - Wedgewood 1943
Danny Thomas - Copacabana 1949
Sophie Tucker - Latin Quarter 1950
Mae West - Latin Quarter 1956
Julie Wilson - Persian Room 1954
EDITORIALS
Dean Martin - thoughts on Mr. Sauve
Peter Lawford - retrospective
Rise & Fall of the big bands
INTERVIEWS
K Baggelaar- Copacabana author
Don Dellair - cabaret performer
Denny Farrell - big band disc jockey
Hal Turner - Performer/Conductor
B Zickafoose - played in WWII Europe
ASSORTED
Bernie Bierman bio
Sammy Kaye - Roosevelt 1957
Dinah Shore - press release and autograph from the 50's
A Letter about a WWII song
Harbers & Dale - Dance Team
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