French bandleader Ray Ventura has rightly been compared with England's Jack Hylton; during the 1920s and '30s both men succeeded in popularizing jazz and U.S. dance music in their respective countries by purveying accessible foxtrots sprinkled with real jazz solos and peppered with pop and novelty vocals. The younger Ventura was born in Paris on April 16, 1908. Beginning in 1924 he played piano in a group called the Collegiate Five; in 1928 this band began recording for Columbia as the Collegians, and the following year they began operating as Ray Ventura's Collegians, steadily cutting records for a succession of labels as their popularity crested throughout the 1930s. The orchestra's star soloists were trumpeter Philippe Brun, trombonist Guy Paquinet, and saxophonist/clarinetist Alix Combelle. Other key players were Belgian trumpeter Gus Deloof, U.S. multi-instrumentalist Spencer Clark and Django Reinhardt's brilliant string bassist Louis Vola. After Nazi Germany invaded France in 1940, Ventura (who was endangered because of his Jewish ancestry) dissolved his orchestra and relocated to Lyon, where he sent out a call for his Collegians to reassemble for a tour of Southern France. The new band, now fortified with trumpeter Pierre Allier, trombonist Eugene d'Hellemes and saxophonist Andre Ekyan, gave a farewell performance in Cahors then squeezed across the Spanish border and into Madrid. Arrangements were made for the entire orchestra to head for Cadiz and board an ocean liner bound for Rio de Janeiro, where they disembarked on December 24 1941.
Booked into the Casino da Urca, Ray Ventura et ses Collegiens gradually won over the public, especially after vocalist Henri Salvador did his impersonation of Popeye the Sailor Man. The band stayed on for several months, then toured inland and southwards toward Montevideo, Uruguay, where they opened in June 1942. The following month they made for the heart of Buenos Aires and began serenading patrons at various nightclubs and theaters along the Avenue Corrientes, including the prestigious Tabaris Cabaret between Suipacha and Esmeralda. Throughout the remainder of 1942 Ventura's Collegians made numerous recordings for the Odeon label, but then work dried up and the group came apart at the seams. Several members immediately found employment with Argentine jazz groups, and Vola formed his own recording ensemble along the lines of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France. Never one to stand around waiting for things to happen, Ventura formed yet another band, combining musicians and repertoire from Europe and the Americas, and recommenced recording for Odeon. After gigging once again in Rio de Janeiro, the band disintegrated and Ventura returned to Europe via North America. The next time he led an ensemble, it was performing a mixture of old hits, U.S. pop, and jazz standards and Latin American dance tunes.
Ventura, who ultimately became a theatrical producer, composer, and screenwriter, had begun to appear in motion pictures with and without his orchestra in the late 1930s; he starred in Feux de Joie, Tourbillon de Paris and Mademoiselle S'Amuse, then directed La Memoire d'un Heros. In 1951 he starred in Nous Irons a Monte Carlo, then produced and acted in Monte Carlo Baby in 1953. In 1964 he produced Rolf Haedrich's thriller Stop Train 349. Ray Ventura passed away in Palma de Majorca, Spain on March 30, 1979. ~ arwulf arwulf