Monday, June 27, 2016

On the House

Willis Conover shills for Miller beer on "The International Hour: American Jazz" in 1963. Conover was the CBS program's host. Unknown photographer

How many of us know what it means to labor in the vineyards for most (or all) of our lives, unacknowledged and uncredited? I don't know about you, but I sometimes feel that way. Not that I've accomplished anything terribly remarkable in my time on terra firma, but still it's nice to get a nod every now and again. 

Sorry to be a whiner, but this month's Gems offering was created by jazz guys who made a career out of the music without ever getting much in return. They all made a living (probably), and they got to do what they loved every day (or night). But nobody got rich and nobody got famous. They did get to make one record, though. That's something.

You've heard of Willis Conover, the legendary jazz host of Voice of America, emcee of the Newport Jazz Festival and interviewer. In 1951, several local musicians – drummer Joe Timer, tenor man Ben Lary and pianist Jack Holliday – approached Conover in Washington, D.C., (where he was based) and pitched the idea that the DJ front a jazz orchestra that they wanted to put together. Conover agreed, and the result was THE Orchestra, caps intended.

Trombonist Earl Swope
Assembled from D.C. musicians who had played in the bands of such luminaries as Boyd Raeburn, Woody Herman, Gene Krupa, Tommy Dorsey, Charlie Barnet and many more, the 15-piece band boasted solid musicianship, excellent arrangements and a wealth of good (if unknown) soloists. 

Players whose names you might recognize include the Swope brothers, Robbie and Earl, on trombones, baritonist Jack Nimetz and trumpet player Marky Markowitz. Bill Potts, Timer and others did the arrangements. Conover acted as the band's emcee, manager and publicist.

So here's an excellent big band, late out of the gate, that worked around the D.C. area, made this record and then passed unacknowledged into history. There are, fortunately, several amateur live recordings as well, one with Dizzy and another that featured Charlie Parker, that were eventually issued on Elektra (both excellent). But that's it.

So Gems is doing its bit to get the word out about these gents. The music on this album (a generous 45 minutes worth) is thoughtful, well-played and swinging. The record itself came our way in box of contents at an auction, a collection that also included some nice Woody Herman, Claude Thornhill and Nat Pierce's big band at the Savoy. But this one was the gem in the lot. I hope you think so, too. As always, dubbed right from the vinyl with hardy any cleaning necessary.

Willis Conover's House of Sounds
THE Orchestra, Brunswick BL 54003

Bob Carey, Ed Leddy, Marky Markowitz, Charlie Walp, tp; Dan Spiker, Earl Swope, Rob Swope, tbn; Jim Riley, as; Ben Lary, Jim Parker, Angelo Tompros, ts; Jack Nimitz, bar; Jack Holliday, p; Merton Oliver, b; Joe Timer (Theimer), d, cond. 
New York, NY; December 30, 1955

1. I've Got You Under My Skin 
2. One For Kenny (Joe Timer)
3. The Song Is You 
4. Pill Box (Bill Potts)
5. Light Green (Bill Potts)
6. Flamingo
7. Something to Remember You by/Taking a Change on Love/Blue Room
8. Sheriff Crane (Jack Holliday)
9. Playground (Bill Potts)
10. Tiger
11. Moonlight in Vermont
12. Willis (Bill Potts)

Find it here:


  1. Absolutely new to me. It is always exciting to discover a hidden gem , congratulations.
    Thank you so much for sharing it.

    1. Happy to oblige, Doctor! I hope you find other interesting items here on Gems.

  2. thanks for bringing back the orchestra! may i give you a link for the willis connover Archive where you can find more unissued live recordings of this superbe orchestra and other gems of jazz, here:

    Keep boppin´

    1. As always, Marcel, you a source for great info! Thanks for the link. I and the visitors to Gems will definitely check it out.

  3. Many thanks for this posting, and to Marcel for sharing the UNT link. I'll be sharing this posting on the Willis Conover page on Facebook:

    Out of curiosity, where did you find the photo? Conover had many beer company sponsors over the years: Ballantine Ale was a major sponsor of his in Washington, DC before he joined the VOA. His early 1960s program on WCBS (of which the UNT site has examples) was sponsored in part by Rheingold beer, for whom Tony Bennett and Nat "King" Cole made commercials.

    1. That's great, Maristella! Thanks for passing along the music. The pic comes from the Getty Archive, the source for many music photos. Google them and you'll easily find their site. Their images, for those unlike Gems who don't purloin them, are quite pricey. More than AP, in my experience. I guess Willis was a beer man, because he seemed to make the rounds of brands.

  4. Afternoon,

    How do I contact you regarding a Jazz project I'd like to run past you!?


    1. You can reach me at, Kieran. I look forward to hearing from you.

  5. kieran at

  6. kieran at