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Billy Mayerl

Pianist Billy Mayerl was born on May 31, 1902, in London's West End. His talent for the instrument was immediate, and by the age of seven he was studying at Trinity College of Music. By his late teens he was earning decent money tinkling the ivories at dances and silent movie cinemas throughout London and its environs. As a natural showman he enjoyed the attention. However, the gigs also afforded Mayerl plenty of room to improvise, and this would come to influence his own compositional style. In 1922, Mayerl was in residency at a Southampton hotel when he was discovered by bandleader and saxophonist Bert Ralton, who recruited the pianist for his Havana Band at London's Savoy Hotel. Mayerl's charismatic style was a hit. Listeners loved his classically inspired yet flashy style, which incorporated nimble finger runs and fluttery, crowd-pleasing melodies. Between 1923 and 1926, he was a featured soloist for the band's frequent BBC radio performances. The steady work allowed him to marry his sweetheart, fellow pianist Jill Bernini, and also afforded him the opportunity to record some of his own compositions. In addition, he gave the first British performance of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," on October 28, 1925.

After leaving the Savoy band, he continued to perform for the BBC while also touring the country as an entertainer, composing his own material, and developing a series of musical comedies for the theater. He established a correspondence course for instruction in piano and composition, and the school thrived throughout the 1930s. The onslaught of World War II somewhat derailed Mayerl's winning streak, but the pianist stayed in London and worked hard recording and entertaining. After the war, Mayerl took up with the BBC once again, toured successfully throughout Australia and New Zealand, and continued to write music. Over the years, virtuosic pieces such as "Jazzaristrix," "Nimble Fingered Gentleman," "Jasmine," and "Sweet William" had cemented the pianist and composer's reputation. But it was the sunny melody and lighthearted, lightning-fast keyboard work of "Marigold" that made it his signature tune. Upon his death from a heart attack in 1959, "Marigold" remained his most memorable composition. Shellwood remastered and reissued a series of Mayerl during the '90s; in 2003, Naxos issued Original Recordings in two volumes. ~ Johnny Loftus, Rovi
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