was one of the true greats of the American Recording
Industry of the 20th century, and he is credited
with having been a pioneer of mood music albums.
He was around for a long time, so it is hardly surprising
that his talent was employed in several different aspects
during his highly successful career. Many top singers owe
a great deal to him for the perfect backings he provided to
their songs, often resulting in hit recordings. He also achieved
considerable fame in his later life as Jonathan Edwards,
the pianist who had difficulty keeping to the right tempo
in those excruciatingly funny parodies of off-key singers
so brilliantly portrayed by his wife, Jo Stafford, as Darlene.
orchestra leaders are figureheads, replying upon the talents
of others: Paul Westons success was entirely of his
own making. When you hear his orchestra you are hearing Paul
Weston. He was responsible for the notes on the music manuscripts
that his musicians performed with such magical results.
did Paul Weston achieve his pre-eminence in the USA, and what
are the influences that determine how a career will succeed
in what, by any yardstick, must be regarded as a risky profession?
all began way back on 12 March 1912, when Paul Wetstein (later
to become Weston) was born in Springfield, Massachusetts.
He grew up in Pittsfield, Mass. and graduated from Dartmouth
College in 1933. Pauls own instrument was the piano,
although his particular favourites were saxes and clarinets.
As a very young man he had decided to study arranging after
an horrific train accident had almost killed him, needing
to find something to occupy him whilst undergoing a long convalescence.
It proved to be the turning point in his career, especially
as he had previously failed an audition to join a dance band
as a clarinet player. (Later he joined the same band on piano
The Green Serenaders at Dartmouth and toured
South America and the Caribbean playing with them on a cruise
still doing some graduate work at Columbia University, in
1934 he sold some arrangements to the Joe Haymes Orchestra.
These were heard by Rudy Vallee, who engaged him to arrange
for his Fleischman Hour on radio; around this time Weston
also contributed arrangements to the Phil Harris Orchestra.
When Tommy Dorsey took over the Haymes orchestra in 1935,
he hired Paul Weston as his chief arranger. This association
lasted five years, during which time the Dorsey band produced
some of its most memorable recordings, including the legendary
Song of India, Stardust and Night and Day. While
with Dorsey, Weston met his future wife, Jo Stafford, who
was then a member of the Pied Pipers vocal group; they eventually
married in 1952.
leaving Dorsey he worked with Bob Crosby and the young Dinah
Shore. At Crosbys invitation he went to Hollywood in
1940, and the following year he did his first film arranging
for the Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire movie "Holiday Inn".
Other films quickly followed, and while at Paramount he met
songwriter Johnny Mercer, who in 1942 was in the process of
forming Capitol Records in partnership with record-store owner
Glenn Wallichs and composer Buddy de Sylva.
in 1943 Weston joined the staff at Capitol, where he recorded
with their growing roster of singers, including Jo Stafford.
At the same time he was working extensively on radio in shows
including "The Johnny Mercer Music Shop" and "The
Jo Stafford Chesterfield Supper Club". His own "Paul
Weston Show" was heard on CBS Radio in 1951 and 1952,
and he appeared regularly on television with the "Jo
Stafford Show" in 1954. In 1957 he joined NBC TV for
five years. Thereafter he was picked by many top stars as
their musical director.
1950 Weston had left Capitol for Columbia Records, where he
built upon his previous successes with mood music 78s, by
producing a series of LPs that soon accumulated healthy sales.
Despite this, in 1958 he was sacked by Mitch Miller and returned
to Capitol where some of his earlier big sellers were re-recorded
in stereo. As a freelance he also backed Ella Fitzgerald on
her Irving Berlin Songbook for Verve.
was no mean composer, and he collaborated on several big hits,
among them Day by Day, I Should Care, Shrimp Boats, Autumn
in Rome, Gandy Dancers Ball and When April Comes
Again. His standing among his peers can be judged by the
fact that he was a founder member and first president of the
National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), the
organisation which began awarding Grammys in 1958.
the benefit of hindsight it is possible to split Westons
career into several segments. Initially he gained recognition
through his arranging, and he combined this with his conducting
skills to good effect on the many vocal records he made, especially
with his wife Jo Stafford. She enjoyed considerable success
as a straight singer, but in her later career
it was her spoof performance as a poor amateur hopeful with
an equally useless accompanist (Jo with Paul on piano as Jonathan
and Darlene Edwards) that amused record buyers and even won
them a Grammy. Weston also distinguished himself in films,
and was a regular on US radio and television. But internationally
it was his mood albums that made him famous. Unlike
some of his contemporaries, he liked to use the whole orchestra,
not just a few sections. "All I did was add strings to
a dance band" he once explained. "The reason it
still swung was because I used good jazz musicians."
These included soloists of the highest calibre, like Ziggy
Elman, Eddie Miller, Paul Smith and Barney Kessel. He sometimes
resisted the temptation to amplify the strings, by having
the rest of the band play softly during important string passages,
resulting in a chamber-music quality that went right to the
heart of his kind of music.
Weston (the son of Paul and Jo Stafford) can remember seeing
his father working at home on scores, sitting at the piano
with a pencil in his mouth. At the time the family was living
in Beverly Hills, where they had moved in 1957, and like all
busy musicians, Paul was frequently facing deadlines. In the
days before faxes and photocopying this meant rushing scores
by car to his copyists (Clyde Balsley and Jack Collins) in
Hollywood. In 1980 the Westons sold their home and settled
in Century City, a suburb of Los Angeles.
the podium Paul could be a hard taskmaster, expecting high
standards from his musicians. He would clap his hands when
it was necessary to bring them to order. Away from work he
was quite different relaxed and good company. When
constructing his scores he would always take special care
with his introductions, and the links between the main theme
and its subsequent reprise.
Weston regularly employed a loyal coterie of musicians who
were present on many of his recordings. The trumpets would
be led by Conrad Gozzo, with Zeke Zarchy, Ziggy Elman and
Don Fagerquist on hand for solos. Bill Schaeffer and Joe Howard
were regulars in the trombone section, and Babe Russin could
always be seen on saxes, often ably supported by Ted Nash,
Freddy Stulce and Lenny Hartman. Paul Smith was a fixture
on piano, and Nick Fatool and Alvin Stoller handled the drums.
Jack Ryan was on bass, with George Van Eps (a true genius
of the seven string) on guitar. At one time each chair in
the violin section was the concertmaster of a leading motion
picture studio orchestra. As recognition of their admiration
for Paul Weston, they would often just take turns at sitting
in the first chair. Many of the names on this list will be
recognised as leading instrumentalists who had met and worked
with Paul during the big band era, and who subsequently migrated
to the studio session scene in Los Angeles.
1971 the Trustees of the National Academy of Recording Arts
and Sciences gave its Trustees Award to Paul Weston. The citation
read in part: "To Paul Weston, whose dedication, wisdom
and strength led it (the Academy) through its earliest years,
and whose inspiration and dedication ever since, has contributed
so greatly to the Recording Academys development, acceptance
and respect throughout the world." Paul Weston died on
20 September 1996, at Santa Monica, California, aged 84.