In this exclusive feature for Journal Into
FORREST PATTEN interviews the famous American musician
FORREST PATTEN: Frank, tell us how it all began.
FRANK COMSTOCK: When I was eight years old, I just had
to have a trombone. I thought that was the greatest horn
in the world. My folks bought me one and I started to play
in a local marching band in San Diego. Thats where
I learned the horn. During the 1930s and 40s,
most of the junior high schools had some sort of a dance
band. While playing trombone in my schools band, I
asked the teacher if he could come up with some better arrangements
than what we were playing. He said he couldnt at that
time but asked me if Id take a crack at writing something.
I told him I wouldnt know where to begin. So he took
some musical notation paper and on each staff wrote where
the individual instruments would play middle C. That helped
me to transpose the instruments and get them right. And
that was it. I think that was my only legitimate training
or lesson in music arranging. I went home and started copying
all the Basie, Lunceford, and Goodman records that I could.
Little by little, things started coming together and sounding
By the time I graduated from high school at 16, I was making
a few bucks around town and doing pretty good. I went to
high school with two outstanding musicians. One was trumpeter
Uan Rasey and the other was pianist Paul Smith. They are
both masters and have played on just about every date that
I had a small dance band in San Diego for a few months.
Suddenly, I got a message from Uan letting me know that
he had landed a job with the Sonny Dunham band. He told
me to get on the next train because Sonny needed an arranger
and a trombone player. I left for the big time! Ive
been very fortunate in my career in that I have never really
had to "look for work." Its all been by
word-of-mouth. All my life I went from one place to the
next and never had to rely on an agent of any sort.
FP: As an arranger, did the individual bandleaders dictate
how they wanted their charts to be, or were you given a
FC: I was very lucky. I never had a bandleader who told
me what to do or demanded that I write something in a particular
way. They requested an arrangement of a song and seemed
to like what I turned out for them.
FP: Tell us about your time with the Sonny Dunham band.
FC: I liked Sonny very much, although I didnt get
to know him that well. I was with him for six or eight months
both playing and writing. Then one day his manager made
the announcement that the band was going to break up. He
came up and told me that he had another job lined up for
me with the Benny Carter band. He said that Carter didnt
want to spend months writing and wanted to just play his
horn with the big band. This same manager, by the way, also
represented Stan Kenton. Before I joined Benny Carters
band, I did about three or four arrangements for Kenton
which, I believe, he recorded.
Unfortunately, because of the recording ban that was going
on at the time, none of my work with Sonny Dunham was ever
recorded. Benny recorded four or five of my arrangements
a year or so after I left his band and joined Les Brown.
FP: Tell us about your time with the Benny Carter band.
FC: Benny was a super guy who I dearly loved. We had more
fun and laughs in that group. I sat next to J.J. Johnson.
Behind me were Snooky Young and Gerald Wilson from the Lunceford
band. Paul Webster was there, too. It was a great organization.
Not too long after, Benny announced that he was breaking
up the band. About that time, Les Brown brought his band
to town. One of the trumpeters (who had been with Sonny
Dunham) told Les to hire me as I could produce good arrangements.
Because Benny was in the process of dismantling his band,
he told me to "take the job and run!"
FP: So from there, it was on to Les Brown and his Band
FC: Les hired me as an arranger. That was it. However,
right before we left the Hollywood Palladium for a road
trip, one of the trombone players announced that he was
not going any farther than Los Angeles. Les told me to bring
my horn and I ended up playing in the band for a year and
a half until he found another trombone player! In 1944,
I settled into writing arrangements for Les full time. I
was with him practically every day from 1943 through 1995.
FP: Your career seems to have progressed very naturally.
FC: Ive always had great luck. Things just seemed
to fall into place. An example is when Doris Day left Less
band. .She wanted me to come along as her arranger-conductor.
I was still writing for Les, but I went with her because
she was heading back to California. As that was my home,
I was very happy! When Doris went to get her screen test
at Warner Bros., she took one of my arrangements. Ray Heindorf
liked it and I began writing vocal and dance scores for
her pictures. One of Heindorfs best friends was Jack
Webb and thats how I got to work for a number of his
shows. Webb then introduced me to Lowell Frank, one of the
top recording mixers at Columbia. And thats how it
FP: All of the greats that you have worked with over the
years must have felt that you had the "Midas touch"
when it came to creating top quality arrangements.
FC: I have to be honest with you. I never once wrote an
arrangement that I really liked. Everything that I wrote,
when I heard it, I always felt that it could be better.
It was never really tough for me. I just wanted to do it
another way, only better.
FP: Who are some of your favorite arrangers?
FC: Bob Farnon would be one of my super number one guys.
I also like Billy May and Bill Finegan. Theres also
Eddie Sauter and Neal Hefti. These are good old pals and
arranger friends that I like very much. Sy Oliver is the
"Robert Farnon of swing" because just about every
band had a "Sy Oliver" flavor to it somehow. He
was the leader of that sound. Les Brown had a trumpeter,
Wes Hensel, who wrote some beautiful things for Les. Had
he not played such beautiful trumpet, he might have been
known as a fine arranger. When you talk about the studio
people, theres Eddie Powell who, working for Alfred
Newman, must have orchestrated just about everything Twentieth
Century Fox turned out in the last 100 years! Herbie Spencer
was another beautiful writer that I loved. Ralph Burns,
who worked with Woody Hermans band in the mid 40s,
is another favorite. Fletcher Henderson was an early inspiration.
There are many others that Im leaving out. Ive
appreciated the fine work that they all did.
FP: What about classical composers?
FC: I couldnt continue without mentioning Igor Stravinsky,
Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and Richard Strauss. I listened
to them constantly and, hopefully, something rubbed off.
FP: How did you discover the music of Robert Farnon?
FC: Gene Puerling (who Ill talk more about later)
and I were working on the first of maybe ten or twelve albums
that we did together. He brought some tapes over to the
house that we listened to for hours and just flipped over
them. As I recall, the two albums were TWO CIGARETTES IN
THE DARK and FLIRTATION WALK. I think Gene and I both learned
some things from listening that day. As far as Bobs
writing is concerned, I think the best thing he did for
everybody (where they all benefited from him) was to say
"Do what you want to do. Open up the chords. Add some
more fat chords. Do anything you want." There was a
period in the studios where things were so rigid that you
couldnt add a flat note. Bobs writing said "Hey,
come on. Lets do something!" Even with a dance
band like Les Browns where I didnt have the
strings or the woodwinds, I think that we pushed the envelope
quite a bit in those days. I can only thank Bob over and
over for the idea of "doing what you want to and itll
come out well." I think that philosophy has benefited
a lot of people.
FP: Were you responsible for the "sound" of the
Les Brown band?
FC: I guess that something must have rubbed off after 60
years of writing for that band. The sound that he did acquire
at one time was my idea. Les said that he wanted a "sound"
so that when ever anyone heard it, theyd know that
it was the Les Brown band (like the Glenn Miller sound with
the clarinet lead). So I came up with the simple idea of
having the trumpets in four-part harmony play in "harmon
mutes." And underneath them (an octave lower) using
the same notes, the trombone players were playing with either
a hand over the bell or maybe a soft felt mute. Underneath
that, I had a guitar playing the melody again, and it was
a real nice sound. In later years, Les cut the band down
a bit. He cut one trombone player and the guitarist. The
sound never quite worked after that.
It was easy to write for. Through the years, Les and I
had many arguments about tempos; but other than that, we
had no problems about writing. I dont think he ever
once said that "you have to write this sound or this
chord or whatever." He would ask for an arrangement
of something like "Blue Skies," and I would write
it. I never really had anything in mind. I just started
to write and whatever came out was it. When I first joined
the band, he also asked me to write an improved arrangement
of his theme "Leap Frog." Les had been using an
old stock arrangement that was written for three trumpets
and two trombones plus three or four saxes. Since he had
four trumpets, four trombones, and five or six saxes, half
of the guys were faking it and trying to find the right
notes. I took the original arrangement, put a few little
"bumps" and "kicks" here and there and
orchestrated it (as opposed to arranging it) so he could
play it with his big band of eight brass and five saxes.
FP: Do you have any favorite Les Brown arrangements or
FC: Theres a recent CD "The Best Of The Capitol
Years" with a lot of great stuff on it. Theres
also the old Coral LP set "Les BrownLive At The
Palladium" which was done in 1953. The band didnt
know they were being recorded so things were really loose.
You can hear the guys pounding their feet and laughing.
Its a great record worth listening to (if you can
ever find it!). As I listen to all of these re-issued old
LPs containing tunes from Less band during the
40s, 50s and 60s (on CD), I think of my
old arrangements and wonder how the hell did I write half
that stuff. I couldnt even start to find the chords
FP: You mentioned Doris Day. What was it like working with
FC: Shes an old pal of mine, really. When she joined
Less band, she brought her son Terry (who was a few
years old at the time) with her on the road. She also brought
her mother to take care of Terry while she was working.
One night, Terry went whipping out the front door of the
hotel with Mom Day chasing him. Everything was icy on the
sidewalk and Mom Day ended up slipping and breaking her
leg. The only guy in the band who was free at night and
didnt have to be on the bandstand was the arranger!
And guess who I had to baby sit every night? He was a little
devil, but lots of fun. Were still friends. Id
have to chase him all over the hotel, up and down the stairwells.
We had a ball. I think thats how Doris and I became
such good friends because I saw her a lot. And writing her
songs and arrangements was part of the story, too. Weve
been good friends for years. When she went for a screen
test, shed take my arrangements with her. Then Id
get hired on. I cant remember exactly how many pictures
I did with her and, although it wasnt her fault, I
know that it took six or seven years before I actually got
a screen credit. Thats part of the Hollywood mystique.
Doris was a part of my "laughing gang."
FP: Your "laughing gang"?
FC: When I had a record date, I just wanted to enjoy and
have fun. I made great efforts to find the players who were
all laughers. We had a ball. I think thats a good
secret for a lot of show business experience. Theres
so much pressure and you have a lot of idiots yelling at
you. Its just nice to have a bunch of guys around
you who can laugh and roll with the jokes. My late wife
Joanie and I used to spend a lot of time with Doris at her
place up in Carmel. Wed get laughing about the old
days. I still talk to Doris every couple of weeks or so.
Every time we talk she says "I wish we were back on
the road, Frank. We had so much fun." I keep telling
her "Yeah, we had a lot of fun but we were both 19
or 20 years old then. Theres a big difference."
I think well remain friends until we die.
FP: Tell us about Gene Puerling and the Hi-Los.
FC: That was one of the happiest periods in my life. They
were something else and fun to work with. Gene has such
a great sense of humor. We joked about everything. I think
if Gene and I were honest, we both pushed the envelope trying
to top each other! Hed write something and Id
think Ive got to get in there somehow. Id write
a line that was a little harder or wilder. On every date
wed have fun doing all those kinds of things. About
three or four years ago, I called Gene to wish him a Merry
Christmas. He said "You made my day. Ive only
had two phone calls today. One was from Bob Farnon and youre
the other one!" I cant say enough about Gene.
I feel that hes the top vocal arranger of all time.
I dont know of anybody else who had the nerve to write
what he did.
FP: How about some of the other artists that youve
FC: Rosemary Clooney. I did her TV show and the Hi-Los
were singing on there, as well. Every week we had to do
several numbers. I also did an album with the Hi-Los
called RING AROUND ROSIE. It had some nice stuff on it.
She was a nice girl. I didnt get to know her too well.
Frankie Laine. I knew Frankie before he made it big. He
was singing in a little nightclub on Vine Street in Hollywood.
After he became well known and had recorded some rather
wild things, he decided that he wanted to do a "pretty"
album. We did a couple together. One was TORCHIN and
the other was YOU ARE MY LOVE, both for Columbia. He was
always off on tour somewhere so we never became "bosom
buddies" as they say. Norman Luboff. He was my pal.
He used to call me "Smiley." We worked on a lot
of shows together. When he started making vocal albums of
pop songs, hed call me in to write the rhythm and
horn parts. Dick and Ted Nash played fill-in solos between
the choruses. We lost track of each other after a while.
I know hes no longer with us. That happens. Margaret
Whiting was Bob Hopes singer for many years. I did
her work on Bobs television show plus several outside
projects. She was a good singer and a nice gal. I knew Andy
Williams from Doris Days old radio show before she
joined Less band. While she was on radio in Cincinnati,
Ohio, she was backed by the Williams Brothers. Andy was
just a young kid. I think I did a record date with him some
years later. Hed call every other week or so when
he needed a little extra something for his TV show. Thats
the same story for the Carol Burnett Show. Her husband,
Joe Hamilton, was an old friend of mine. He sang with Six
Hits And A Miss. Hed always call when they wanted
a big production number or something like that.
FP: We cant forget your work on the Bob Hope Show.
FC: I started writing for his show in 1947 (when Les Brown
became his bandleader) and quit in 1964. That was quite
a job. We never knew where we were going to be half the
time. It might be a bus, a boat, a train, or a plane. I
remember that we once did a tour of 90 towns in 60 days!
I finally had to quit because I was getting so much studio
FP: How were you able to balance all of those shows with
your arranging assignments?
FC: When you look at my bio, youll see all of these
different shows that I worked on. Of course, in many cases,
it wasnt every day or every week. Most of the big
musical shows had staff arrangers who would get swamped
and would call. People like me, Billy May, and others would
end up working all night on those shows just to help out,
with no credits. I want to emphasize that all of my arranging
assignments were just another job. Many of us would work
with our fellow arrangers to help them finish a project.
I also used to do a lot of ghost writing for Andre Previn.
FP: Tell us about some of your work in the movies.
FC: At Warner Bros., Norman Luboff was known as the "vocal
man" and I was known as the "hot man." In
the old days of radio, television, and studios, you really
got pigeon-holed. They wouldnt let you do anything
that wasnt in your "style." I remember when
I started working there (thanks to Doris) they let me do
all sorts of things in addition to her projects. However,
I wasnt allowed to write any "dramatic"
cues. Because I had written for Benny Carter and Les Brown,
they considered that "hot" music. Therefore, I
became their "hot man". So if anybody sang or
danced in a picture, I was the guy whod get the job.
That lasted for years and years. Ironically, after Id
been working for Jack Webb for some years, I had a shot
at doing another picture. I talked to somebody and they
said "we cant hire you because all you do is
dramatic stuff." Give me a break! What can you do about
that? Everything is a challenge in the movies because theres
always so much going on. Where they add sound effects like
car screeches and other elements, youve got to be
careful with the music that youre not stepping on
FP: Im going to mention just a few of your films
and have you fill in some background. Lets start with
the all-time classic SOME LIKE IT HOT.
FC: Somebody called me and asked me to do a few numbers.
I said "fine." You know, young guys have to get
the work where they can. I did two or three songs for Marilyn
Monroe. One was "I Want To Be Loved By You." I
just walked in, did it, and walked on to the next project.
FP: THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY.
FC: I did several orchestrations for Dmitri Tiomkin on
some of his movie theme records. I guess he liked them because
he asked me to do a couple of orchestrations (including
the main title) for THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY. I also did
the arrangement for another Tiomkin theme, GIANT.
FP: THE MUSIC MAN.
FC: Gus Levene and I were both doing orchestrations for
musicals like that. We both got a screen credit. My big
number was "Marion The Librarian." It was tough.
It seemed as though it went on for 70 days. When you see
a picture like that, youve got to realize that the
arranger has to sit down and watch the dancers for a week,
six months or whatever. So when they kick on certain beats,
twirl on this beat, and jump up the stairs---those actions
have to be put on beats somewhere. You then have to go home
and write something that sounds like the music that youre
supposed to be arranging that still captures the "tricks"
(choreography) that the dancers do. I did several other
numbers for that picture, as well.
FP: CALAMITY JANE.
FC: That was the first screen credit I ever got in my life
for orchestrating. I think I did almost everything for that
picture. In fact, the last time that my wife and I went
to see Doris Day, she greeted us at the airport singing
one of the songs from the movie. We had a good laugh over
FP: THE DESERT SONG.
FC: That was a tremendous effort for Norman Luboff and
me. We had to work and work to get everybody lined up. We
had some people there who were not professional singers.
We had to cut bars and slice notes to get it to sound right.
That was another case where I went in, did what I was asked
to do, and then moved on to something else.
FP: FINIANS RAINBOW.
FC: Gus Levene and I shared that credit, too. I did five
or six tunes. I think I was the last guy who ever wrote
a dance number for Fred Astaire. He was so gracious and
kind that I couldnt believe it. He gave me a nice
compliment. He told me that this was the only dance arrangement
that he had done where he didnt have to change a single
note on it. That was a very flattering comment to me because
I always prided myself on getting every beat and every note
right where it should be.
FP: WHERES CHARLEY?
FC: I was called in by Ray Heindorf who told me that I
had to go down and look at that picture in Room 12 and "fix
it up." To this day, I really cant recall what
I did. I was quite embarrassed because I had been asked
to "fix up" something that Bob Farnon had done
in London! My only thought on that is maybe the dance numbers
were elongated or that Ray Bolger, the star, had changed
some of his dance steps. I know I did a couple of numbers,
but couldnt tell which ones they were. I dont
think that film ever had wide distribution. I talked to
Bob (Farnon) about it one day and he really didnt
remember that much about it either!
FP: Frank, in addition to being an arranger, youve
also done some composing. Tell us about some of those pieces
that we might recognize.
FC: I wrote the original theme for Jay Wards TV cartoon
series ROCKY AND HIS FRIENDS. I also wrote the segment themes
for "Fractured Fairytales," "Bullwinkles
Corner," and "Mr. Peabodys Improbable History."
Those cues were sent to Mexico where they were recorded
by a small orchestra conducted by Fred Steiner. If anybody
looks at those cartoons, theyll notice that there
really isnt any "scoring" to the pictures.
Thered be the "main title" and then wed
play the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" theme. When that
faded out, theyd go into their cartoon segment for
three to five minutes. When that finished, wed do
a quick reprise of the theme for a quick play-off. Then
wed play a theme for another segment of the show.
Because there was no scoring to picture, I think thats
what made it so good. You didnt have a set of notes
emphasizing every bit of action. A couple of years after
we got going, somebody got to Jay Ward, the producer of
the show, and told him "Frank Comstock is making all
the money on the music because he owns it. You gave it to
him and told him to go publish it." He didnt
think about that at the time. He found out, though, that
if he owned the music, he might make fifty cents out of
a dollar. So he hired Fred Steiner to write four new themes
to replace the cues I had written. From that point on, youd
hear a combination of Freds pieces along with my pieces.
I think that the music editors still liked what I had written,
so they never really took my cues out of the show. Dennis
Farnon also wrote quite a few tracks for Steiner and Jay,
as well. It was a hip show that adults could enjoy because
the humor really went over the heads of most kids. I hate
to say it, but I did pilots for about 20 or 30 shows that
never made it on the air. Hopefully, it was because of the
script or something and not because of the music!
FP: And, of course, there was this fellow named Jack Webb.
FC: I really enjoyed working for him. We had a lot of fun
together. When we were both single, we used to travel around
to all the clubs listening to the big bands. He was a great
lover of jazz. It was always a challenge doing his shows.
You always wonder how you could make something sound better
or find a new chord. For PETE KELLYS BLUES, I did
the dramatic scoring. Matty Matlock, who was a clarinetist
in Bob Crosbys band, did the small band jazz things.
That band had people like Dick Cathcart, Morty Korb, and
Ray Sherman playing in it. It was fun to do. For DRAGNET,
Jack Webb wanted to pep up the theme that he had been using
for years. I really couldnt change the melody, so
I ended up putting a real wild chord in every hit of the
melody. I added a ninth and a sixth and all these other
"blue" or "hot" notes. I put in a French
horn counter melody and it ended up sounding pretty good.
You couldnt do very much musically on a show like
that because it was so stylized. For ADAM 12, I got to write
just about anything I wanted to and it was a lot of fun.
As in the case of all the other things I did for Jack, hed
tell me to go down to the stage, see the picture, and write
some music for it. There were never any demands or anything
like that. The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) helped
a lot because they sent out a sheet explaining all of their
radio calls. When I was reading a script and came across
a "Code 3 or Code 4," that meant that things were
pretty settled and you didnt have to rush to get to
the scene. I would know right away that I didnt have
to write screaming chase music or something like that. If
it was a "Code 1," then Id have to write
something with a little more excitement to it. I did have
some help on that show since we did it for eight years.
Every now and again, the music editor would tell me that
I wouldnt have to write anything for a certain cue
because he had a pretty sizeable library of tracks to pull
from when he needed, lets say, a two-second segment
or something. That was a big help! Composer John Williams
had it right when he said, "In TV, they dont
want it good
.they want it tomorrow." Anyone whos
ever worked in the system will know exactly what I mean.
FP: You also worked with the late Axel Stordahl on Ernest
Borgnines ABC-TV series McHALES NAVY.
FC: Axel was a good friend of mine. He was doing the HIT
PARADE show on radio with Frank Sinatra. After Doris Day
left Les Brown, she became the female vocalist on the show
and continued using my arrangements. When Axel got the "McHale"
show (he wrote the theme and incidental cues), he called
me in one day to help him with something. Not long after,
he passed away. The studio then asked me to finish the series
and that lasted a couple of more years until the show was
FP: Tell us about HAPPY DAYS and LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY.
FC: They were something else. My friend Pete King got the
job and asked me to help him during the first season. They
had something like 60-to-80 tunes from the 1950s (which
they got clearances on) that needed to be re-recorded (without
the original artists) for use within the shows. I think
they ended up using most of that stuff in the malt shop
scenes where youd hear it coming out of the jukebox.
Our job was to take the original 1950s record and
copy it note for note. Besides the clearance issue, we did
it in order to get a cleaner sound without all of the pops
and clicks from the original records. So we took the old
records and made new versions of them. Wed bring in
some good players and some vocal impressionists. Wed
have them do Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole, or Johnny Mathis.
It saved the studio a lot of money! At the end of the first
season, Pete King came down with spinal meningitis. He recovered
from it, but he became stone deaf. He couldnt hear
a thing. As much as the studio tried to compensate on his
behalf, he gave up the shows soon after. He asked me to
continue and the studio wanted me to, as well. It was rather
sad because Pete and I had done so many shows and movies
together. It got to a point where we wrote so much alike
that nobody could tell the difference.
FP: One of our RFS members, Ron Hare, has described your
approach as "happy music" or a "happy sound."
FC: Thats the way Ive always felt about everything.
I hate to have any kind of dissension and I love to write
swinging, happy music. Even on ballads, you can find a spot
to throw in a little double-time to give it a little pep
or cuteness. I used to write music without any conscious
awareness of what I was doing. Somebody would say that they
needed an arrangement and Id start writing. Whatever
came out came out. As I mentioned earlier, I always liked
working with guys who came in with an "up" attitude.
Its tough enough going into a record or movie date,
sitting there and trying to play everything perfectly. If
youve got some fun-loving guys who are doing their
best, it will come out just great. We had a fun time doing
it. I hired people like Pete Candoli, Dalton Smith, and
Uan Rasey. Alvin Stoller used to break us up when hed
drop his drumsticks. Hed do this when we had to do
another take. Do you realize that almost every great studio
recording musician came from the dance band days? I guess
you had to be in a dance band to develop a sense of humor
like that because we had some pretty tough times in those
FP: Frank, I know that a number of our readers would be
interested in hearing about some of the recordings that
featured the Frank Comstock orchestra.
FC: My first solo album was A YOUNG MANS FANCY where
I tried to write nice, happy, chuckling kind of music. It
was produced by my friend Paul Weston who was, at the time,
A&R man for Columbia Records on the west coast. We were
originally going to call it COMSTOCKS LODE, named
after one of the greatest mining discoveries of all time.
Dear Mitch Miller in New York shot it down because he didnt
know what it meant. He insisted that if I had written and
recorded it in New York, it would have been a much better
album. You can imagine that Paul and I just about blew our
stacks. We continued to do what we wanted to do out here.
In fact, Miller went so far as to say that the album was
never really released---it escaped! We did a couple of other
albums and Paul always gave me carte blanche. He told me
to write what I wanted and go with it. I did an awful lot
with Columbia and their artists (writing background accompaniments).
I cant thank him enough for being the kind of man
FP: For Warner Bros., you did an unusual concept album
with an outer space approach. You had the regular orchestra
augmented with some rather unique electronic effects. Tell
us about PROJECT COMSTOCK.
FC: The outer space album was really a ball to do. We had
one electric organ and several repeating amps that they
were starting to use with woodwinds. For example, a flute
player might play a short phrase and it would repeat constantly
until he would play the next phrase. It would do the same
thing. We employed a few little tricks like that. We didnt
have any synthesizers back then. When I wrote the scores
on paper, Id take the last note and put it first and
vice versa. The bottom line there is when somebody played
that note, there was no attack and it came out backwards.
Think about it. Any note, whether soft or loud, has an attack
on it. In this case, the accents were all in the back. We
recorded them that way, and played the tape back three or
four times faster making the trombones sound like trumpets.
The stereo era was just beginning and the labels were trying
to come up with crazy sounds to help demonstrate the new
left/right effect. We were playing nice songs that everybody
knew, but we also threw in some pretty far-out items. I
think that Lowell Frank, the engineer, went mad trying to
find all of the parts as we cut them apart and pasted them
back together again. The album must have sold three copies.
FP: You also got to work with Warren Barker while at Warner
FC: Wed been old friends for years. I never knew
why he quit in the middle of his career. He moved to Northern
California and opened a cattle ranch. While he was in Hollywood,
we did quite a few things together. Warner Bros. assigned
us to do an album of TV Themes. Neither of us really wanted
to do it. We flipped a coin to see who would lose! We each
got six songs to arrange. When we came back, we actually
ended up having a lot of fun because we had a really great
band. There were five trumpets, five trombones, five saxes,
three or four percussion, and harp. It was wild. Some people
asked me how I ever got back into Disneyland after arranging
"The Mickey Mouse Club March." Warren and I used
the same band. He conducted his six pieces one night and
I conducted my six pieces the next night.
FP: Of all the things youve done, do you have a favorite
FC: Thats really hard to say. I was never really
thrilled with anything that I wrote. I always wished that
I had done something else with bar 12 or whatever. I always
felt that I could do better on everything. Im really
a shy guy who finds it hard to take compliments from people.
Thats the kind of attitude Ive always had. I
scared my darling, late wife in bed one night. I sat up
all of a sudden and yelled "I should have written a
Bb for the third trumpet on bar 12" on whatever tune
it was. The arrangement I was referring to was something
that I had written maybe 20 years before! I dont know
why I thought of it then. What can I say? Maybe all musicians
FP: Earlier, you talked about Paul Weston. How about some
of the other musical greats youve worked with.
FC: Billy May is one of the funniest arrangers of all time.
A great arranger, but funny. He called me once and said
"Hey, Bill Finegan is in trouble. Hes got a record
date tonight and he forgot about it." So Billy May,
Skip Martin and I all sat down and wrote at least two tunes
apiece. Bill Finegan had his record date that night without
any problems. Another time, Billy May really got me laughing
when he said "Lets go to the Arrangers
Society meeting. Ill introduce you to all of the young
guys who dont know that you can write for brass and
saxes at the same time."
FP: Will your scores ever become available for the new
generation to study?
FC: I dont have much to show. The producers and the
studios own everything that you write. So when I wrote an
arrangement for somebody, the studio got it. They could
publish it, whatever. The only things I have are the arrangements
I did on my two albums for Columbia (A YOUNG MANS
FANCY and PATTERNS). I dont know whod want to
copy that sound now. If you want to work, then youve
got to give the studios the rights to publish and sell your
FP: Your philosophy, then, has been to always be happy
and to keep moving forward.
FC: Maybe it was my upbringing or the greatness of my parents,
but Ive always had to be doing something. When I was
not working on a picture, Id be out building a model
railroad. Ive built three over the years. I love to
work with tools. When I felt that I couldnt write
up to my standards anymore, I simply quit and took up painting.
I dont know if my art is up to anybodys standards,
but Im having fun doing it. My motto is: Ive
got to do better the next time, but enjoy yourself while
FRANK COMSTOCK: A SELECTED DISCOGRAPHY
---Frank Comstock and His Orchestra
1. Jazz Lab -- Starlite 7003, 2. A Young
Man's Fancy -- Columbia CL 7003, 3. Patterns -- Columbia
CS 8003, 4. Project Comstock: Music From Outer Space
-- Warner Bros. 1463, 5. TV Guide Top Television Themes
(6 tracks) -- Warner Bros. 1290, 6. Real Gusto --
Mark 56 #513, 7. Dipsy Doodle Disco -- Mark 56 #816
---The Hi-Los w/ orch. arr. & conducted by Frank Comstock, 1.
Listen! To The Hi-Los -- Starlite 7006, 2. The Hi-Los
On Hand -- Starlite 7007, 3. The Hi-Los Under Glass
-- Starlite 7005, 4. Suddenly It's The Hi-Los -- Columbia
CL 952, 5. Now Hear This -- Columbia CL 1023, 6.
Ring Around Rosie (w/ Rosemary Clooney) -- Columbia CL 1023,
7. Love Nest -- Columbia CL 1121
---Les Brown And His Band Of Renown / arr. by Frank
1. Dance With Les Brown -- Columbia CL 539,
2. That Sound Of Renown -- Coral 57030, 3. College
Classics -- Capitol T-657, 4. Concert At The Palladium
(2 volumes) -- Coral 57000/57001, 5. All-Weather Music
-- Jasmine 1019, 6. The Best Of Les Brown (6 tracks)
-- MCA 2-4070,
---Frankie Laine w/ orch. arr. & conducted by Frank
1. Torchin' -- Columbia CL 8024, 2. You
Are My Love -- Columbia CL 8119 ---Doris Day w/ arr. by
Frank Comstock, 1. Personal Christmas Collection
(4 tracks) -- CBS Sony LGY 64153 (CD), 2. Lullaby
Of Broadway (4 tracks) -- Columbia B-235
---Ray Heindorf w/ arr. by Frank Comstock
1. Top Film Themes Of '64 (7 tracks) -- Warner
Bros. WB 1535, 2. Finian's Rainbow (Sound track) (6
tracks) -- Warner Bros. WB BS2550
Footnote from FORREST PATTEN: Gene Puerling describes
Frank Comstock as the greatest arranger in the world who
was fun to work with. He added that Frank knew how to balance
his orchestral parts with the demanding vocal group arrangements.
This is high praise coming from one musical legend to another.
As you read the above interview, you will have seen that
the idea of "fun" seems to be a recurring theme.
When you meet Frank Comstock, its like youre
spending time with an old friend. Hes a very modest,
almost shy man who was never quite satisfied with his final
product. He always wanted to do better. Heres a guy
who has worked with some of the biggest names in the music
business, arranged for countless movies and television programs,
recorded several instrumental albums, and has composed some
very memorable pieces. Hes a very down-to-earth individual
who really appreciates the opportunities that life has offered.
Putting quality arrangements together is something that
comes very naturally to him. Its a God-given talent.
Today, Frank lives in Hunington Beach, California and will
reach the age of 80 on September 20. He still keeps in touch
with many of his musical friends and associates. He also
is enjoying another artistic outlet --- painting. In December,
2001, Frank became a member of the Robert Farnon Society.
To cover every important milestone in Frank Comstocks
career would require a separate volume on its own. For this
exclusive interview, we touched upon some highlights of
a very special musical journey.