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Glen Gray & The Casa Loma Orchestra

Looked at today, Glen Gray seems a strange, almost otherworldly musical figure -- the photographs of a slim, elegant-looking gentleman with a mustache, in white tie and black dinner jacket, baton held awkwardly in his right hand, evoke another time and place, not only from our own age but also from any setting and image that we normally associate with jazz. He wasn't much of a bandleader, barely able to look like he was keeping time; and as a musician -- specifically a reedman -- he was adequate, but no threat to Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, or Jimmy Dorsey.

And yet, Gray and the band he led, called the Casa Loma Orchestra, ran with the best of them. In the years before Benny Goodman came to define swing music, Gray and his orchestra were among the top swing outfits in the country, and even after the ascent of Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Harry James, and others, Gray still had the allegiance of a major part of the listening public, and the members of his group could hold their heads up in any of that company. And Gray's reputation lasted well past the big-band era, so that in the late '50s he was still fulfilling a lingering demand for the Casa Loma Orchestra's work.

This improbable figure on the bandstand -- a leader who needed training to look like he was even following the band his name fronted, forget about actually keeping the beat -- was born Glen Gray Knoblauch on June 7, 1906, in Roanoka, IL. The whole Knoblauch family was musical, but never aspired to anything beyond amateur status until Glen came along. He took up the piccolo as a boy, and subsequently turned to the clarinet and the saxophone, and while still in his teens organized his first band, a quintet called Spike's Jazz Orchestra. Gray attended Wesleyan College for a short time, but he was too intrigued by music to be distracted by academia for long, and by age 20 had left college. He headed for Detroit, where, with his ability on the alto sax, he became part of Jean Goldkette's stable of artists.

In the late '20s, Goldkette was the big noise in the city's band music community, running a bunch of orchestras using his name, the ranks of which included Bix Beiderbecke, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Frankie Trumbauer, Jimmy Dorsey, Tommy Dorsey, and Pee Wee Russell. Knoblauch wasn't in the same league with any of these as a player, but he absorbed a lot of the music around him and saw what went into making a good, memorable band. Fate took a hand when he and his good friend, trombonist Pee Wee Hunt, were hired as part of a septet called Goldkette's Orange Blossoms, under trumpet man Hank Biagini, that was booked to play a new Toronto hotel called the Casa Loma. They played an eight-month gig there but the place was so huge (it's been described as a castle) that even the band's popularity couldn't pull in enough people to keep it from closing. They returned to Detroit in time to find Goldkette rapidly approaching a state of insolvency. Luckily, the band had a few prospects, mostly thanks to Cork O'Keefe, the agent who'd booked them into the Casa Loma. He got them enough work to keep going, including an extended engagement at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City. And, as the Goldkette Orange Blossoms were history, they became the Casa Loma Orchestra -- the name not only sounded good, and slightly exotic, but it was also memorable. And they did well enough at that Roseland gig to get heard and signed up by a scout for OKeh Records. All of this took place in the summer and early fall of 1929, just as the American economy was about to dive into the Great Depression. (Indeed, among the songs that Gray and company recorded at their first session -- which took place on the day of the stock market crash in October of 1929 -- was, rather ironically, "Happy Days Are Here Again.")

Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra might've died in those first six months after the market crash, but they had two important advantages over a lot of the competition. For starters, they were talented, and they knew where their strength lay, in the precision of their playing -- any number of bands had a better beat and could handle blues more deftly, but as a dance band they found that their exacting ensemble work had an audience that would pay to hear them, even in the coming hard times, as it turned out. The second edge they had came in their organization -- starting in early 1930, the Casa Loma Orchestra became a corporation, with each member owning an equal share and with Gray acting as president. But as most bands needed a name in front of them -- or, at least, one person's name with whom the public could identify -- Gray's was the logical one, even though he preferred sitting in the sax section, didn't sing, and scarcely knew how to keep time. In fact, Gray was an amazingly anonymous musical presence within the band -- even their charts were the work of someone else, guitarist Gene Gifford, who pioneered the field of detailed full-band arrangements in jazz. But his name -- shortened to Glen Gray -- was resonant, and he lent it to that role in the enterprise.

The band's unique organization kept it together across the 1930s, each member payed a weekly salary and all sharing equally in the profits -- when times were hard it meant that they had something they could rely on, and when they got good everyone was well taken care of. And when corners had to be cut in everyone's interest, especially in the early months, they were all in the same boat -- at the start, the members resided at a hotel where rooms were a dollar a day. Other bands frequently had a problem holding onto their best people as money and recognition became issues along with success, but all of the Casa Lomans were well taken care of by the standards of the time, and appreciated the gig that they had. New members were added as needed, and these included Grady Watts on trumpet and Clarence Hutchenrider on clarinet. They also scored a coup when O'Keefe took control of the Glen Island Casino, just outside of New York City in New Rochelle, and installed the band there for a season -- they were a huge hit, and their success transcended word-of-mouth when CBS, through O'Keefe's efforts, began a weekly radio broadcast from the casino featuring the Casa Lomans, who were suddenly famous across the country. Radio was king in those days -- even bigger than records -- and that translated into even bigger exposure when the Casa Loma Orchestra was selected as the first resident band for the Camel Caravan show. In an era when the Dorseys and Benny Goodman were all competing for audiences, the Casa Loma Orchestra was ranked as one of the top big bands in the United States, occupying a narrow middle ground between "sweet" bands such as those led by Hal Kemp and the more jazz-focused bands of Goodman. Gifford's arrangements gave them credibility with jazz listeners, while their pop sides, sung by Kenny Sargent and extremely syrupy by the standards of the time, generated the big record sales and heavy airplay. And that balance worked for almost six full years.

The orchestra's peak came in 1936, after which their reputation -- and that of Gray -- declined in jazz circles, mostly owing to Gene Gifford's departure. Evidently the guitarist/arranger had wearied of his hot arrangements being shunted aside in favor of the ballads that their record company preferred. Ironically, not only were they deprived of his services, but other arrangers were soon building on the foundation Gifford had provided, and other bands were passing the Casa Loma Orchestra in popularity, at least among jazz aficionados. Pop audiences still appreciated their work, however, as did those looking for good dance music, and Gray went along with it, mostly for the financial security, and he also moved out from the sax section to take up the baton, albeit extremely awkwardly, when promoters insisted that the man whose name fronted the band be more visible. Gray wasn't a great bandleader, by any means, though he was a fine businessman, and he held the group together across the next six years. And, ironically -- considering his awkwardness at the podium -- he became a star in the role of leader.

It was the onset of World War II that finally did in the Casa Loma Orchestra. Their corporate structure saw to it that everyone was taken care of financially through the Great Depression, which accounted for their amazing stability in lineup for over a decade, but by 1942 the members were all older and tiring of the travel involved. The original corporation was dissolved, although Gray -- who was now a major name before the public -- kept a version of the Casa Loma Orchestra alive until 1947 using hired players. By that time, his 20 years in the business wearied him, and the onset of diabetes weakened him further, and he dissolved the band. He tried for a comeback in 1950, but by then the big-band era was long past -- some studio recordings followed for Decca and later for Capitol, well into the 1950s, various alumni and a group of handpicked new members working with Gray, but these were nostalgia-oriented productions, breaking no new ground; they were intended to take advantage of various new technologies, including hi-fi and stereo, without advancing the group's work. The Casa Loma Orchestra's history ended in 1963 with Gray's death at age 57.

Today, he's mostly remembered as a presence at the podium, and a name. But some of the names who passed through his band, including Bobby Hackett, Sonny Dunham, Herb Ellis, and Red Nichols, are highly notable. And it's a measure of just how well remembered he was as late as the end of the 1980s, a quarter century after his death and more than four decades after his heyday, that a volume on Gray was included in Columbia Records' big-band best-of CD reissue series, alongside the likes of Count Basie and Benny Goodman; and Time-Life also saw fit in the 1990s to issue a 21-track CD of his work. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography


Track List: Mostly 1939

1. For You (Feat. Kenny Sargent)

2. Sassin' The Boss

3. Day In - Day Out (Feat. Kenny Sargent)

4. Sing Something Simple (Feat. Pee Wee Hunt)

5. Through (How Can You Say We're Through?) (Feat. Kenny Sargent)

6. A Lover's Lullaby (Twilight Reverie)

7. Tumbling Tumbleweeds (Feat. Kenny Sargent)

8. Clementine (From New Orleans) (Feat. Pee Wee Hunt)

9. It's Funny To Everyone But Me

10. Sometimes I'm Happy

11. Under A Blanket Of Blue (Feat. Kenny Sargent)

12. Love Grows On The White-Oak Tree (Feat. Pee Wee Hunt)

13. Melancholy Mood (Feat. Keny Sargent)

14. Memories Of You (Feat. Sonny Dunham)

15. Breeze (Blow My Baby Back To Me)

16. If I Had My Way (Feat. Kenny Sargent)

17. Rachmaninoff's Prelude In C-Sharp Minor

18. The Hour Of Parting


Track List: The Uncollected Glen Gray And The Casa Loma Orchestra 1944-46, Vol. 2

1. Sitting On A Third Rail

2. Blue Rhapsody (Feat. Fat's Daniel)

3. Don't Take Your Love From Me (Feat. Eugenie Baird & Red Nichols)

4. Fifth Avenue Sax

5. From The Blue (Feat. Ray Grien)

6. Flat Third Jive

7. Dancing On The Ceiling

8. Featuring The Boys (Feat. Red Nichols)

9. Maybe (Feat. Bobby Hackett)

10. The Lion And The Mouse

11. I Don't Care Who Knows It (Feat. Skip Nelson & Bobby Hackett)

12. Who Ray

13. After You've Gone (Feat. Bobby Hackett)

14. Savage (Feat. Bobby Hackett)

15. If I Love Again (Feat. Bobby Hackett)

16. Hold The Phone


Track List: Jazz Band Greats

1. After Hours

2. Chinatown, My Chinatown

3. Symphony In Riffs

4. Black Jazz

5. Woodchopper's Ball

6. Contrasts

7. Walkin' The Dog

8. Ol' Man River

9. Copenhagen

10. A String Of Pearls

11. Cherokee

12. Begin The Beguine

13. Song Of India

14. Blues On Parade

15. Take The "A" Train

16. South Rampart Street Parade

17. Huckleberry Duck

18. In The Mood

19. Snowfall

20. Limehouse Blues

21. Can't We Be Friends

22. The Prisoner's Song

23. Linger Awhile

24. Maniac's Ball

25. Boogie Woogie

26. Tippin' In

27. El Rancho Grande

28. Tenderly

29. Moten Swing

30. Flying Home

31. One O'Clock Jump

32. Star Dreams

33. Study In Brown

34. Stompin' Around

35. Jumpin' At The Woodside

36. The Elks' Parade

37. White Star Stomp

38. Boogie Woogie On St. Louis Blues

39. Wolverine Blues

40. 720 In The Books


Track List: Swingin' Decade

1. Apple Honey

2. Midnight Sun

3. Mission To Moscow

4. Harlem Nocturne

5. Jack The Bear

6. The Champ

7. Blues Rhapsody

8. Malibu

9. Opus No. 1

10. Sherwood's Forest

11. Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'

12. Intermission Riff


Track List: Zig Zag

1. Blackberry Jam

2. Come And Get It

3. Under A Blanket Of Blue

4. Sunrise Serenade

6. Always

7. I Never Knew

8. Limehouse Blues

9. Breeze (Blow My Baby Back To Me)

12. My Heart Tells Me

14. Maybe

16. No Name Jive (Parts 1 & 2)

18. Prelude In C Sharp Minor

19. Who Ray

20. After You've Gone


Track List: More Sounds Of The Great Swing Bands


Track List: Swinging Sounds Of The Great Bands

1. Bugle Call Rag

3. Take The "A" Train

4. Intermission Riff

5. Night Train

6. South Rampart Street Parade

8. New No Name Jive

9. Back Bay Shuffle

10. Tippin' In

12. Moten Swing

13. Cherokee

14. Jumpin' At The Woodside

15. Study In Brown

16. In The Mood

17. 720 In The Books

18. Woodchopper's Ball

19. Flying Home

20. The Elk's Parade


Track List: The Continental

1. Who's Sorry Now?

2. I May Be Wrong

3. Should I

4. The Continental

5. Ballin' The Jack

6. Song Of The Islands

7. Night And Day

8. Can't We Be Friends

9. Blue Room

10. The Man I Love

11. Sunny Disposish

12. Dixieland Band

13. Basin Street Blues

14. Linger Awhile

15. Chinatown, My Chinatown

16. Blue Again


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Reminds me of my parents god bless them
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dragonlady60 8 8
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Wasn't this song in the movie mask with Jim Carey ?
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I'm 92 yrs old and still love to dance to this music.
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Oh how this music brings back memories of another time, (not like today} when music was music.
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Check out Purple Moonlight ... excellent arrangement! This is on YouTube.
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:-) :) :-):-) !! ❤️
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This is so Great!! I always want to dance!! I guess from my parents era it was called "Swing". Anyway I love it!!
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Luv this era...such fun music
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I love the music from this era. My dad played these records when I was a child and it brings back great memories.
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I was born in the early 90s but for some reason love this music. Didn't hear it until just a few years ago and fell in love with it. Anything late 30s to mid 40s and I usually enjoy. I may have been born in the wrong era.
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Cherokee..Gl e n Gray's music gives one chilly bumps, WOW!
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jimvollmer36 5
Love Casa Loma Stomp
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If I'm not mistaken Glen Gray made a recording of Memories of you featuring a fabulous trumpet player named Sonny Dunham. I'd like to hear that version again.
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If I'm not mistaken, Glen Gay made a recording of Memories of you featuring Sonny Dunham of trumpet. Fabulous player. I'd like to hear it again. Thank you!
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I grew up in the 40s and I guess it brings memories of the war and all this country had to do to win and defeat the axis. many of my family went into the military, some never came home.the music helped build the moral of every one
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not from the era but still love the sound of the big bands
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Many thanks..chan g e s the day for better :)
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Senior Weiner
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garammasala1 9 6 8
Love it and I agree with so many here, most of today's music is awful!
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Musicianship at its best,,,fanta s t i c !
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My kind of music Thanks
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ahh....memor i e s . . . t h e meadowbrook in nj
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True Music to my ears!!!
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Red tube
Red tube
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No name Jive will live forever!
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his no name jive the best swing number ever
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Listen to these excellent musicians
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Love this........ .
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I am glad to be able to have the life with this kind of music to remember it very lovinglingly . The music of today if thats what they call it now, is not my cup of tea.
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What a long and varied musical history!!! That Toronto hotel sounds fabulous for the times! A long but interesting chronology!
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Glen Gray's music makes a powerful statement... m m m m m m m !
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What happen to this type of music? We need more of this music today.
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i like this song

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Im 26 i love this type of. Jazz
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Glen of the all-time greats!
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Don't make music like this anymore. Great style and rhythm
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where did those years go?
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This is music !
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Great Musician
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webersf i also like ellington but also enjoy louis armstrong
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this is the best music to grow up to
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Mmmmm...grea t !
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It just does not get any better!
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Leap of my all-time favorites. WOW!
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always enjoyed the Casa Loma Orchestra even though I generely prefer say Basie or Ellington
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Much enjoy Glen Gray; remember him from WW2. More please.
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I am an old WW2 and Korean Marine veteran,84, and remember & emkpu Glen Grey. More, please...
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His style is great!
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When I was growing up, Glen's music was the sweetest there was, and great to dance with your best girl. Glen Island Casino, and Frank
Daley's Medowbrook on the Newark-Ponpt o n Turnpike was great music stations at nite.
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