Frankie Carle had one of the longest careers in big-band music, from the '30s right up through the '80s, more than a half-century of making music, and even more amazing a record given his current lack of representation in the CD bins. Carle began his career as a pianist, taught by his uncle Nicholas Colangelo. At age 13, he landed a gig in his uncle's orchestra, playing for $1 a week; by 1920, he was already leading his own short-lived group. He participated in his first recording sessions -- at Victor -- in 1925 as a member of Edwin J. McEnelley's band, which he joined in 1921. Carle's first important gig was as a member of Mal Hallett's band, where he got to work with drumming legend Gene Krupa, saxman Toots Mondello, and trombonists Jack Jenny and Jack Teagarden. Although the Hallett band never achieved major success before its breakup in 1937, it did provide Carle with experience and gainful employment, after which he spent a period leading his own band, playing in New England and recording for Decca. Carle officially joined up with Horace Heidt in July 1939, and it was as a member of his Musical Knights, a band with a huge national following on radio, that Carle became much better known. By the early '40s, he felt the time was right to start his own band.
However, in 1941, Carle suddenly found himself in demand from several quarters. Eddy Duchin, who had just been drafted into the Navy, offered Carle the leadership of his band in his absence for a cut of the profits. This led to a bidding war, with Heidt offering Carle $1000 a week plus a five-percent cut of the gross to remain with his outfit; Carle wound up staying on as musical director. About two years later, Heidt decided to exit the music business, and helped Carle form his own band, which debuted in 1944.
His signature tune was "Sunrise Serenade," which had been a hit for Glenn Miller after Carle co-authored it in 1938; he recorded his own version for Columbia in 1945. A sponsor, in the shape of Old Gold cigarettes, was quick in coming, and Carle had a national radio show. Carle's repertory ranged far and wide, from big-band revivals of Stephen Foster numbers like "Swanee River" to contemporary subjects such as "I'm Going to See My Baby," a 1944 release that referred to the anticipated Allied victory in World War II. Their sound had a lot going for it -- in addition to Carle's formidable and highly melodic approach to the piano, there was vocalist Phyllis Lynne, who could evoke simmering passions or wide-eyed innocent romance. Lynne was succeeded by Marjorie Hughes (Carle's own daughter), and resident male vocalist Paul Allen also made a good impression on the public during the mid-'40s. The Carle orchestra had a clean, crisp sound, the trumpets, trombones, and the piano well-delineated; arrangers included ex-Horace Heidt alumnus Frank DeVol. Carle's work, like most of the best pop outfits of the period, incorporated elements of jazz, even though it was principally a dance or "sweet" (i.e. pop) band.
Their music was sparked by Carles bravura piano style. The big-band era ended, but Carle's career didn't. He didn't chart any records after the '40s, but he was still touring and playing concerts in the '80s, 40 years after he left Horace Heidt's band, and 70 years after he started in the business. Carle was the most senior of surviving big-band leaders until he passed away in early 2001 at the age of 97. ~ Bruce Eder