My New York
by Mel Heimer
I don’t know about the rest of you, but the way I’ve been feeling lately, I’d be just as happy never to hear a man or woman sing again.
I was sitting down over a late-afternoon cigaret yesterday with Dan Terry, a personable, easy-going Pennsylvanian and onetime Marine, who owns what I guess can be called the hottest new dance band in the business. Dan has a fine band, which rolls and rumbles along in the Count Basie style (and you don’t hardly see them no more), but being the hottest new outfit in the business is no great compliment. There aren’t six dance bands making coffee money these days.
Dan, who looks like Dan Dailey or Joan Crawford’s ex-husband, Phil Terry (maybe he is Dan Dailey or Phil Terry), put it to me bluntly: “Aren’t you just a little weary of singers? Haven’t you had it up to here, with vocal groups? Tell me honestly, don’t you sometimes feel you’ve got swooning crooners and limpid-voiced dame singers coming out of your ears?”
He was right. Perry Como, Vic Damone, Sinatra, Rosie Clooney, Eddie Fisher, Kay Starr-they’re lovely people, but there are so many of them right now, I can’t tell them apart. I guess the human voice in song is all right . . . but enough is enough. Won’t somebody bring back the bands?
That’s what’s irritating Dan Terry these days. Nobody now is interested in building up the big swing bands the way Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller and the Dorseys were built up in the late 1930s.
Nobody’s selling them, is what I mean,” Dan mourned to me. “I don’t care how good a band is, it’s got to be given a glamor build-up to go over big. I blame the booking agencies myself.
“All the bookers do for bands these days is take phone orders. ‘You want a band,’ they’ll say to a ballroom operator. ‘All right, I got so-and-so at such-and-such a price. Too high? Well, then, there’s this other guy at this price . . .’ And so on.”
Dan’s frustration is not all detatched and clinical. He is hurting personally, both from a financial and artistic standpoint. He blew into Birdland, the Times Square cavern of jazz, and flattened the cash customers a few weeks ago.
The theatrical weekly, Variety, gave the Terry band its biggest rave review in 10 years. Down Beat, the trade magazine, said that this was one you had to hear. Dan, who came east from California to start his band, figured he had it made.
“So what?” he said tiredly. “I got a few weeks booked at the Savoy up in Harlem, a return deal at Birdland-and that’s all. Where do we go from here?
“Look, my guys will stick together even in rough going, because all of us are excited about the kind of music we are making, but it’s tough on them. I got good men. They could make a happy living on record dates. What have I done for them lately?”
The one thing that may keep Terry’s band together is his all-important conviction that the business can come back. “People aren’t going to stop dancing,” he said. “I think this thing could happen again, just like with Goodman and Miller 15 years ago. However, the agencies got to get behind us. They must sell the bands with that little halo of glamor around them. The music isn’t enough. It’s never been enough.”
It didn’t cost Dan Terry 50, 60 thousand to put his band together, the way some claim it does. He signed up 17 other guys and he picked up arrangements here and there. “I put the band together for two cents,” he says with a grin. Two cents, however, isn’t going to keep it together.
Dan’s phone has been ringing day and night lately. Guys from the band wondering what’s next. It burns Dan up and it burns me up, too. If it’ll help any, I think I’ll start boycotting singers. Won’t be hard to do at all.