Small Immortality

Yesterday’s post about instrumentals of the 1960s touched on some well-known records and a couple of obscurities, although none of the performers is especially famous. In the hope that your thirst for arcane knowledge is similar to mine, I now present what I know about each of them.

With his mentor Martin Denny, vibraphonist Arthur Lyman inspired a whole generation of hipsters, not only with their faux-Polynesian sound but by making recordings that sounded great on the high-end stereo equipment many hipsters were buying in the late 50s. He was discovered in Hawaii by Denny, the pioneer of the exotica genre, and played with him for several years, appearing on Denny’s album Exotica, which topped the charts in 1957, and on the single lifted from it, “Quiet Village,” which made Number 4 two years later . Lyman’s own Taboo moved over two million copies in 1958, but it would be 1961 before Lyman scored his own Top-10 hit, “Yellow Bird,” that summer.

Here’s a bit of video of Denny performing “Quiet Village” on late-50s TV. I can’t tell if that’s Lyman on vibes or not.

Los Indios Tabarajas were a pair of Brazilian classical guitarists, brothers Natalicio and Antenor Lima. They played all over South America in ceremonial costumes and were probably signed to a record deal in the early 40s. Their recording of the Mexican folk song “Maria Elena,” which had been recorded by the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra in 1941, made Number 6 nationally in the fall of 1963.

Walter Wanderley was another Brazilian, a keyboard player who came to the United States at the urging of singer Tony Bennett just as the bossa-nova craze of the early 60s was was beginning to fade. Wanderley had appeared on dozens of albums in Brazil as a sideman and on his own; his first release under the American record deal Bennett helped him to get, Rain Forest, sold a million in two years. The single, “Summer Samba,” was more ubiquitous during the fall of 1966 than its Number 26 chart placing in Billboard would indicate. Its tasty Hammond B3 appealed to fans of pop, jazz, and MOR, and it remains one of the hot-rotation classics of the lounge genre.

Here’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus on her failed sitcom Watching Ellie, singing a bit of “Summer Samba” (and looking just smokin’ hot while doing so).

Horst Jankowski was a German pianist who started as a jazz player. He also earned a paycheck composing songs for the German equivalent of Muzak, and eventually wrote a song known in German as “Eine Schwarzwaldenfahrt,” which translates to English as “A Walk in the Black Forest.” The song became a Number-12 hit in Billboard during the summer of 1965. On later American releases, Jankowski would cover such songs as “Light My Fire,” “Soulful Strut,” and “Shaft,” but never again scored a major American hit.

Although Bill Pursell was from California, he made his mark on music in Nashville as a session pianist with some of the biggest stars in town, including Patsy Cline, Eddy Arnold, and Willie Nelson. He toured with Johnny Cash and played on Sammi Smith’s “Help Me Make it Through the Night.” He later taught music on the college level, and he’s still on the faculty at Belmont University in Nashville. “Our Winter Love” made Number 9 in Billboard in the spring of 1963; a vocal version by the Lettermen made the lower reaches of the Hot 100 four years later.

Spencer Ross is pretty much lost to history, although he was the beneficiary of a fine piece of marketing synergy: In early 1960, Columbia released a single under his name with songs that had been featured in TV productions during the 1959 holiday season. “Tracy’s Theme” would make Number 13 in Billboard and was from a production of The Philadelphia Story, while “Thanksgiving Day Parade” came from a presentation of Miracle on 34th Street. Ross is the bandleader; the sax on “Tracy’s Theme” belongs to one Jimmy Abato, who was—if I have the right Jimmy Abato—once a member of the Paul Whiteman, Glenn Miller, and Tommy Dorsey Orchestras, and played in the New York Philharmonic. As for Ross himself, who knows? There’s a New York sports broadcaster by the same name, and his Wikipedia entry says he’s the Spencer Ross of “Tracy’s Theme.” Could be, but I doubt it.

Nobody lives forever, although scoring a hit record, even a small one, confers a small immortality, even if its only among geeks such as I. And you.

One thought on “Small Immortality

  1. Yah Shure

    I’d bought the 45 of “A Walk In The Black Forest,” but couldn’t figure out why it wore out fairly quickly. It took over twenty years to find the answer, when my mom said that it was one of my dad’s favorites at the time. I’ve often wondered whether or not there were others in my collection that they’d sneak a listen to when I wasn’t around.

    “Summer Samba” was in the organist’s between-innings hot rotation for many years at the Minnesota Twins baseball games at Metropolitan Stadium, where the Mall Of America now stands. I’ll keep my ears open for it the next time I’m there.

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