This article was published in the IAJRC (International Association of Jazz Record Collectors) journal in 1982. It fills in some blanks regarding Earle Spencer’s activity after leaving California.
A FORGOTTEN BAND OF THE LATE 1940S
John S. Lewis
Geographically and politically there are two Kansas Cities, but musically the town to the west exists only as a kind of appendage to Kansas City, Missouri, though several musicians actually lived and worked in Kansas City, Kansas. The Missouri River makes a broad bend at Kansas City, and from the Missouri the Kaw River (the local name for what Rand McNally calls the Kansas River) branches off to the west. From the Kansas side of the A. S. B. Bridge, which crosses the Missouri at that point, one can see the high bluffs on the Missouri side. Beyond the bluffs is downtown Kansas City. By 1952, some of the tenements built on the bluffs had been replaced by fancy high-rise apartments easily visible from the Kansas side. Running north and south to the east of the high risers, and roughly perpendicular to the Missouri River after it makes the bend and heads east, was Pennsylvania Avenue. Three blocks south on the east side of Pennsylvania was a small brick building painted an incredibly ugly shade of pink. The sign in front read LOCAL 627, A. F. of M. Across the street on the west side of the avenue was a huge, rambling house painted battleship grey. It too had a sign: ROOMS. Naturally, the rooming house catered to transient musicians, and so it made sense that the manager of the rooming house was himself a musician. He was Earle Spencer.
When I first met Earle Spencer in 1952, he was living in the huge rooming house together with his wife, his young son, and his mother. Besides managing the rooming house, Earle worked for the Santa Fe Railroad, but only three years previous to our 1952 meeting, he had led one of the most musically successful progressive jazz bands of the post-World War Two era.
I met Earle Spencer under rather fortuitous circumstances. From 1949 to 1952 I attended Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, a hundred miles or more to the west of KC. It was a largely unhip environment; once a campus organization spent a large piece of change to book Raymond Scott’s band, but for $300 less they could have had Count Basie. The annual social event was the Military Ball, and the committee that selected the bands usually opted for Jan Garber or Art Kassel. If they could have afforded him, they probably would have brought in Guy Lombardo.
But there was always a coterie of jazz lovers around the campus; in the mid- and late-1940s it was a very small coterie. If the campus itself was largely unhip then, Fort Riley was nearby and once in a while some good bands would be booked into the Junction City Municipal Auditorium, eighteen miles west of Manhattan. That’s where I caught Dizzy Gillespie’s big band when it was at the top of its form in 1948. Aside from Junction City we few jazz lovers in Manhattan had another escape hatch. North of Manhattan, and close to the Nebraska line, was the little town of Marysville. Because a large proportion of that town’s population was of central European origin, Marysville had a dancing tradition, and like towns in Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, Marysville was a regular stop for the few big bands that were still scuffling in the late-1940s. I recall hearing Charlie Barnet’s bop band there in 1949. Barnet featured a phalanx of high-note trumpeters named Ray Wetzel, Doc Severinson, and Maynard Ferguson.
But Manhattan itself was pretty far removed from the center of action until the very end of the 1940s when a broadly-based student committee began looking for real bands, not the mickey-mouse groups favored by the Military Ball. We began to get Les Brown and Gene Krupa instead of Art Kassel. As the 1950s came we were welcoming Woody Herman and Stan Kenton.
In the early 1950s, though, Kansas City was a kind of jazz mecca. The all-night jam session was still common in Kansas City, though it had disappeared almost everywhere else. Jay McShann worked out of KC. He never made it to Manhattan while I was there (he did later), but occasionally Jay played Lawrence or Topeka. Julia Lee and Baby Lovitt were fixtures at Milton’s on Troost Avenue and later at the Cuban Room. But I was under 21 in 1949 and had to wait a few years before I could hear them, legally at least.
If we were too young for Milton’s, we could go to the Pla-Mor even if we were under age, and in June of 1949, I hitchhiked in four installments from Manhattan to Kansas City to catch Woody Herman’s Second Herd. “That’s a long way to go to hear a band,” Slats Levy, Woody’s pianist, commented when I told him how I had got to the Pla-Mor. I was nineteen years old then. In my senior year at Kansas State, 1951-52, I ran into another outspoken jazz fan, John Fish. Having completed most of my major requirements, I was taking courses in my minor, Speech. A good way to get minor credit was to work for the campus radio station. John, a speech major, and I got together and soon we were doing a jazz show on the air. When Stan Kenton played the campus we did an interview show with him and afterwards caught his band on several occasions, mostly in Kansas City.
After my graduation in 1952, I had a service obligation for two years, but from time to time I came home on leave. In those days, Stan Kenton frequently played Kansas City and on at least two occasions, while I was in the army, I managed to catch Stan’s band there. When I came back from Korea in 1954, John Fish was still around. I was no longer interested in doing a jazz show, but by that time things at K-State were quite hip. They have remained so ever since; K-State still is a hotbed for jazz.
It must have been in my senior year at Kansas State that John and I caught Stan’s band at the huge Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City. It was Stan’s first time in the cavernous hall, a fine place for basketball or a political convention but ghastly for music. On that occasion John and I were backstage when the band opened up, and I never will forget the look of utter incredulity on the faces of Stan’s trumpet section when they played the opening bars of “Artistry in Rhythm” and no echo came back. Stan’s own comment was that the band felt honored; it had never played Grand Canyon before.
I believe Earle Spencer’s Black & White 78s had been my discovery, not John’s, but I soon played the records for John Fish, who became as enthusiastic as I about them. Because we had recognized in Earle’s records an affinity for Stan Kenton’s Artistry in Rhythm style, when Stan played KC that time John said, “Why don’t we ask Stan about Earle Spencer?” It was naturally a shot in the dark, but when we asked Stan about Earle Spencer he announced that not only had he heard of him, he expected Earle to show up that very night! Neither John or I had any notion that Earle was living in Kansas City then. But Earle did in fact make his promised appearance and Stan introduced us to Earle Spencer.
We were a bit surprised at Earle’s youth. Although the few reference works that mention him list Earle’s birthdate as 1925, Earle told me later that he had been born in 1926. At the time of our meeting, Earle was barely past his mid-twenties. We had expected him to be an older man.
Earle had formed his first adult band in 1946, before he was old enough to vote, after a medical discharge from the navy. As John and I had suspected, Earle was strongly influenced by the Stan Kenton band of the mid-1940’s. His first professional band (before entering the navy, Earle had fronted a few school bands) was formed in Los Angeles. Like Stan Kenton, who was nearly fifteen years older, Earle had been born in Kansas in Welborn, just north of Kansas City, Kansas, but, like Stan, had moved as a youngster to Southern California. The 1946 band had toured and made several sides for Black & White. After making a tour of the midwest, the band returned to California and was booked into the Casino Gardens where it had a few airshots. Some of these were eventually issued on the British First Heard label, the only air checks of the band that I have heard. Some of the Black & White masters fell into the hands of a rack label called Tops and were issued first on two ten-inch LPs, later on a single twelve-inch LP. Earle did not receive a penny of royalties from Tops but was not overly concerned about that. Always hoping to start another band, he regarded the Tops records as potentially good publicity.
I managed to locate a few of the 78s sometime before 1952; later, early in 1953,1 found a few more at Seymour’s Record Shop in Chicago. A Manhattan record store managed to turn up the two Tops ten-inch LPs. I bought my copies in the spring of 1952. It was in the fall of 1955 that I found a copy of the twelve-inch LP on a drug store rack in Lawrence, Kansas. The price tag is still on the cover; I paid $1.49 for the brand new LP.
That was the last time I saw an Earle Spencer in a record rack until 1977 or thereabouts when two Black & White 78s turned up on an auction list. I bid what I thought they were worth only to be told that an Australian collector had topped my bids by about $8 or $10. Later, another dealer offered a pair of Spencer B&Ws. This time I bid slightly higher than before, but I was determined not to reach for the bidding stratosphere. Apparently this dealer had no affluent Australian customers because I won the pair. I discovered the First Heard LP in a Forth Worth store in 1979, the first Earle Spencer LP I had seen in a record bin since 1955.
Clearly, the Black & Whites were not distributed In the U.K., and apparently English and other Commonwealth collectors were unfamiliar with Earle Spencer when the First Heard LP was issued in 1974. That may explain why the Australian collector had made such hairy bids for the pair of B&Ws that I had tried to bid on. Recently I have queried a few dealer-collectors about Earle’s 78s. Most of them know nothing about the Spencer band. Earle also made a few sides, apparently with one of his later bands, for Decca, but none of these was ever released, and I don’t believe even Earle had any test pressings. The upshot is that the Spencer bands, which lasted from 1946 to 1949, are not documented very well. Only the 1946 crew recorded very extensively, and the personnel of that band is not fully known.Thanks to a long article in Down Beat, it is possible to know who most of the people in the 1948 band were, but that band exists on only one issued record. The earlier 1947 band, undocumented on record, might have been the most interesting of all. It was in the process of organizing right at the moment that Stan Kenton decided to chuck the band business in favor of psychiatry. As a result, several of Kenton’s sidemen, including Buddy Childers and Milt Bernhart, went with Spencer. I have also been told that Art Pepper once played in Earle’s band, but I do not recall Earle ever mentioning Art. Later. Spencer and Kenton did a turnabout; when Stan started organizing his “Progressiver Jazz” crew late in 1947, Earle disbanded. That was one reason why Stan was able to get so many of his old sidemen back. They were at liberty after Earle had broken up his group.
My interest in Earle’s band was reawakened not long ago by an appeal from Doug Collar in the pages of the IAJRC Journal tor information about the Spencer band. I wrote Doug, and we soon exchanged information about Earle. I remembered a Down Beat article on Spencer which allowed Doug to trace it down. He sent me a Xerox copy. Much of the information I provide in this article comes from Doug’s research. According to Doug, I was the only person he heard from who actually had known Earle. Since I remember some of the things Earle said about the band and its records, I decided to set the material down because it might otherwise be forgotten. Readers should realize that I have not seen nor heard from Earle in more than 25 years. Undoubtedly, I have forgotten much, and of course I may have garbled some of what I do remember. Furthermore, I do not have much of a chronological memory; it is more impressionable than chronological. Although I do remember where I was when I heard Earle say one thing or another about the band, I am incapable of ordering the material, at this late date, in chronological shape. I met and visited with Earle on several occasions between 1952 and 1954, but I might easily confuse a 1954 meeting with a 1952 one.
All attempts to trace Earle Spencer have proved unsuccessful, and Doug Collar has tried through various AF of M locals. Neither he nor I knows whether Earle is living or dead. The last time I saw Earle Spencer was late in 1954, about October or November, I would guess. Earle’s marriage had broken up; he was leaving Kansas City for New York to try once again to get a band started. John Fish and I were living in Manhattan in the same apartment house. John had recently married and occupied the top floor of a rambling house near the campus. I had been demobbed from the army, and my mother and I were living in an apartment just below John’s.
I recall that the weather was warm enough for shirt-sleeves after dark. Earle had a late-model grey Cadillac. On the back seat were stacks of the ten-inch Tops records which he was going to use for publicity purposes. We talked for a bit standing outside in the early evening. Then Earle hopped into the car to head for New York. I never saw nor heard from him again. I saw John Fish in 1972, but we did not talk about Earle. Possibly John heard something from him, but I doubt that he did. Earle never wrote letters.
The first time I visited Earle at his house on Pennsylvania Avenue was at night, so I did not get much of a chance to see the neighborhood then. Later, I came to realize it was a shabby part of Kansas City. That first night, we hopped into Earle’s car to get a few six packs and drove past the old Reno Club near downtown. Once Count Basie’s haven, the Reno had long ago gone commercial. Earle pointed toward it and said, “I could take a sextet into that place and make all kinds of money, but there’s one thing I won’t do. I won’t prostitute my music.” At the time, Earle was not in music at all. He had a day job as a fireman for the Santa Fe and managed the rooming house. But he was still trying to break into the band business.
― John S. Lewis
Special note – The February 7, 1949 contract, shown. above, does not list the arranger, Dexter Culbertson, for “Oh! You Beautiful Doll” – a tune that Earle Spencer included in this session with the hope that it would attract a pop following. Later in life Culbertson was known as Dane Dexter. He is best known in the jazz world as leading a session while serving in the Navy that included John Coltrane. My dear late friend, Bill Emery, penned the note on the sleeve of his copy shown above. ― James A. Harrod
Fresh Sound Records reissued the Earle Spencer Orchestra Black & White recordings on compact disk in 2001. The extensive research to document the recording sessions relied on the AFM contracts reproduced above.
Robert Earle Spencer was born in 1926, in Welborn, Kansas, first studied trombone at Northeast high school, Kansas City, formed his first band in Los Angeles at 14 and later had several other teenage outfits. He also took the band’s male vocals but admitted: “I never gave Sinatra or Laine much trouble”. In Earle’s opinion, it was Stan Kenton who had the tightest band and he liked the way Rugolo arranged. Earle picked his first trombonist, Dick Kenney, as his favorite soloist on that instrument. He married Marlene before joining the Navy in 1944, and was discharged early summer 1946 after having been confined to a navy hospital for 15 months with rheumatic fever, forcing him to quit the trombone.
Once settled in Los Angeles, and studying trombone all over again, Earle’s ambition was to be a bandleader, a topflight arranger-composer and to form an orchestra that would be able to perform his new and advanced ideas. Earle was a tall handsome man and he dreamed to one day emulate Stan Kenton. He joined forces with Bill Gillett, a 26 year-old talented arranger and fellow Rugolo fan, who played piano and worked in both radio and recording studios. As soon as they put together a songbook of standards and originals, they called a few students and studio musicians and started rehearsing together. The band never actually existed outside of the rehearsal rooms, yet managed to receive attention among the Hollywood jazz scene that summer, which led to their first official engagements as a relief band at the Casino Gardens Ballroom in Ocean Park, California. These first band appearances also caused quite a stir at Hollywood and Vine.
The echoes of those early shows, soon arrived at the ears of Ralph Bass, the A&R director for the Black & White record company at 4910 Santa Monica Blvd., one of the most active in the Los Angeles area. Bass, attracted by Earle’s modern big band concept, decided to sign Spencer to record some sides for his label. Spencer recruited a crew of top studio and radio men for his first Black & White recording session, which took place on August 16, 1946 at Hollywood’s Radio Recorders, under Bass’s supervision. This band featured some fine soloists, such as altoist Les Robinson, tenorist Ralph Lee, trumpeter Paul Lopez, pianist Tommy Todd, bassist Red Callender, drummer Jackie Mills and guitarist Jack Marshall. They recorded “Concerto for Guitar,” “Bolero in Boogie,” and “Production on Melody,” three tunes that show the kind of progressivism that the band was expounding. Altoist Les Robinson, featured throughout “Soft and Warm” blowing not unlike the title would suggest. Along with these four tracks, Paul Nelson’s vocal arrangement of the standard “Lover Man” was also recorded, sung by Annette Warren, which remains unreleased. In the same session it is quite probable the band also recorded “Earle Meets Stan” – the right title for Frank Erickson’s original, which was also left unreleased on Black & White, but appeared much later under the name of another unissued tune entitled “Spenceria” on a 10″ record released by the Tops label (L 948) in 1955.
According to Earle, he met the young arranger when Nelson was only 17 years old during the Casino Gardens Ballroom engagements after Nelson had hitchhiked from Phoenix to Los Angeles to audition his score of “Lover Man.” Earle said some time later, “The arrangement wasn’t too bad”, although he regretted not being able to record it, “mainly because we had no girl singer at the time. So Nelson thumbed his way back to Arizona, where he was attending Arizona State Teachers college, in his third year as a music major. Later on, Paul sent more scores, we got a girl to sing, found “Lover Man” was really fine, and finally received from him “Polychronic Suite,” in three parts, which we are still using. We hired him. He is the most talented young musician I’ve seen”.
Again, Spencer’s band, with a few changes, went to Radio Recorders, on September 5th and 6th. For the first time an outstanding black soloist (the great Al Killian, formerly with Charlie Barnet’s big band) replaced Paul Lopez in the trumpet section, and was responsible for all the exciting solos on these sessions. The main pianist on these dates was Milt Raskin, featured on “E.S. Boogie” Part I and II, “Rhapsody in Boogie” Part I and II. At that time Milt was one of the busiest pianists in town, with two radio slots, recording dates, transcriptions and casual jobbing in between. On the first date the lead altoist was Arthur “Skeets” Herfurt, being replaced by Les Robinson on the tunes recorded on the 6th, on which two French horns, James McGee and Richard G. Hofmann were added to the exciting brass section. Also heard on these dates were tenorist Herb Stewart, guitarist Tony Rizzi, pianist Paul Francis Polena, trombonist Ollie Wilson, and vocalist Bob Hayward singing on the pleasant “Amber Moon.” Along with the available material from the September 5th, the aforementioned unreleased track “Spenceria” was also recorded. Paul Francis Polena and Harry Paul Wham were the chief arrangers for these two recording dates.
When the first record by the new Earle Spencer orchestra came out featuring “Bolero in Boogie” and “Production on Melody,” Black & White 795, the band was already a real sensation in Los Angeles. On October 19th, a fourth session followed and again several changes appeared in the line-up. Frank Beach and Mike Bryan on the trumpet section replaced Salko and Jones; Ralph Lee, Don Lodice were on tenor saxes and Hy Mandell on baritone. In the rhythm section, Tony Rizzi remained on guitar and Morty Corb on bass while Artie Shapiro replaced Red Callender as second bass player; Hal Schaefer played piano, a young player, just 20 years old (who had already played with some big name artists, such as Ina Ray Hutton, Benny Carter, Harry James and Boyd Raeburn) and the illustrious veteran Sam Weiss on drums, who had just arrived in California after moving out of the New York scene This group recorded the Kenton-slanted “Gangbusters” and “Piano Interlude” and probably Nelson’s then-unreleased ‘Polychronic Suite” On “Five Guitars in Flight!,” is a setting for a guitar quintet led by the composer Arv Garrison (from Vivian Garry Trio), joined by Tony Rizzi, Barney Kessel, Gene Sargent and black guitarist Irving Ashby.
In November 1946, Spencer showed off his band again at Tommy Dorsey’s ‘Swing Shift Sessions’ at the Casino Gardens (12:30 to 4:00 a.m. Sunday). Kermit Bierkamp, manager of the Casino introduced Earle Spencer’s orchestra as the “New Band Sensation of the Year.” The young bandleader, described his orchestra as “futuristic and progressive yet keeping a danceable beat”. From its early Black & White recordings the avid Kenton disciple Earle Spencer attracted attention from devotes of “progressive music”. At the end of the year, Spencer’s band was voted by readers in both divisions of Down Beat polls, being placed number 11 in the list of swing bands; and number 25 of sweet bands.
In January 1947, the orchestra was dropped by the Thompson & Gillett marketing team publicity due to unfavorable publicity surrounding the band. Spencer’s crew tried to get a date as relief band at Avodon Ballroom with a barrage of phone calls and box office attacks asking about the band’s date. The Avodon officials became suspicious and decided against hiring Spencer, filling the spot with Billie Rogers’s new sextet instead. In February 1947, Edward (“Gabe”) Gabel, for several years personal aide to Stan Kenton, left Kenton to become the young bandleader’s personal manager, with Kenton and his manager Carlos Gastel’s blessings. Gastel was personally interested in Spencer and gave all his support to a drive to get the youngster and his band on the road to fame. All denied that any financial tie-up was involved. Gastel concentrated his efforts on Spencer’s records and, by March 1947, twelve of the sides recorded for Black & White had been released.
From the September sessions, an ambitious 3 record-album, Progressions In Boogie, Black & White 62, was released. Spencer said in the liner notes: “The purpose of this album is to illustrate the advancement in boogie, from the early stages to what future ideas are now in the making. On “E.S. Boogie,” Part I is boogie as it was probably conceived in its very beginning. Part II shows how it has advanced from piano styling to what we might call boogie blues. “Spencerian Theory,” Part I & II establishes a melody, which is used on both sides, somewhat in the form of semi-classical boogie. “Rhapsody in Boogie,” Part I shows boogie as it is being played today. Part II is our version of how this same boogie melody will be played in years to come.”
“The piano work on “Spencerian Theory” is played by Paul Polena, and is our first chance to let the public hear this new and exciting pianist. The melody on this album was also conceived by Paul, and whatever assistance that I have rendered him was done for the purpose of creating something sensational and new in the progressions of music. We have chosen boogie as subject because so many varied forms of this type of music have been created.”
The arrangers who participated in the writing of the six sides of this album include Bill Gillett, “E.S. Boogie” Part I and II; Frank Erickson, “Spencerian Theory,” Part I and II; and Harry Paul Wham, “Rhapsody in Boogie,” Part I and II. Contemporary critics were divided on the means of those studio recordings, the same critic deploring the “trumpet screeching” whilst praising the “good trombone unisons.” Also some critics said that Spencer’s music was too pretentious and based on too many elements which Kenton had already exploited. However, most recognized the genuine talent of the band, one of the most powerful, invariably playing ensemble figures at fortissimo with the drummer Jackie Mills’ strongly executed drum accents punching the rhythm out, at times so startlingly thunderous that the sound would swamp the recording apparatus levels.
In early October 1947 the band played its first date outside Los Angeles. The band’s opening night at San Francisco’s Edgewater Beach dance hall was fog bound, but the rest of the days were good. Earle reportedly outdrew Woody Herman and Jan Garber, by 700 heads. The Edgewater show gave Spencer several airings on NBC and Mutual, with the latter being a coast-to-coast broadcast. Among the new men in the band was 22 year-old tenorist Tommy Makagon, who also played clarinet. He had been with Spencer’s first kid band, when both were 16 years old, but the war brought about their separation. Tommy worked combo jobs around L.A. before joining Spencer in September 1947. Another newcomer to the band was Howard Phillips, a 19 year-old baritone, whose favorite soloist in his instrument was Leo Parker. The rest of the personnel included in the trumpet section lead Tony Facciuto, ex-Kenton player Johnny Anderson, plus Bill Steers and Keith Williams; Jr. Durward Morsh, Ollie Wilson, Chuck Gales, Earle Spencer, trombones; Matt Utal, Bob Gillette, alto saxes; Carter England, tenor sax; Steve Perlow, baritone sax; Bob Clarke, piano; Dave Sperling, bass; Walt Eleffson, guitar; Bobby White, drums; Walter Silva and Earle Spencer, vocals; Jr. Durward Morsh, Bill Gillett, Morty Corb and Paul Nelson, arrangers. The band then returned to Los Angeles, opening at the Million Dollar Theater.
Earle Spencer, after signing with the General Artists Corporation, finally managed to take his band out of California. In summer 1948, he reorganized yet another young band. Among the new men were lead-alto Rubin Leon, and solo-altoist Anthony Ortega, 20, a Charlie Parker fan, both also double on clarinet; Others were Tony Facciuto, Jon Nielson, Jerry Munson, trumpets; Dick Kenney, Earl Hamlin, Carl Arvidson, trombones; Tommy Makagon, Stan Heaney, tenor saxes; Neil Cunningham, piano (who played with Georgie Auld, Al Donhaue, and whose favorite pianist was Joe Albany); Jess Harris, bass, who had not played with any other bands before coming to Spencer; and Frank Isola, drums, who had been playing with Bobby Sherwood and who was a fan of Don Lamond. Dick Schumm, was the business manager. “There are good, young, and sincere musicians,” Earle claimed, “who should get a chance to climb to success but who are hampered by antics of the fakers”. In July at Fort Worth’s Casino Ballroom, Texas, according to manager Bob Smith, Spencer did the best two weeks in that dancery’s last three-year history. In Salt Lake City, when Rainbow Randevu was standing, the band draw the best crowds, during any given four week period, in five years. But after these successful engagements Spencer’s crew disbanded once again in 1948.
Dissatisfied with the “tread lightly” tactics of local bookers, Earle, and new personal manager Ray Hatfield, a 45-year old clarinetist, hit the road to find a series of dates in the Pacific north-west. Hatfield decided to stick around to see if someone other than Carlos Gastel could build a young band. In November Earle re-formed the band with an impressive roster of young players. For the first time Earle told the press, “I’m satisfied with all the men in the band”. Earle’s arranging staff featured Paul Nelson, Bill Gillett, and Frank Erickson. The band did a string of one-niters from San Francisco to Vancouver, B.C. and back again.
The band members for this West Coast tour were Tony Facciuto, lead trumpet; Jerry Munson, Bob Crocker and Johnny Chick, trumpets; Johnny Mandel, Carl Arvidson, Earl Hamlin, trombones; Woody Gordon, Bob Lively, alto saxes; Tommy Makagon, Stan Heaney tenor saxes; Howard Phillips, baritone sax; Shannon Fletcher, piano; Buddy Jones, bass; Roy Hall, drums; Jerry Hexemer and Toni Aubin (married to Howard Phillips) vocals; Lefty Gregg, band boy, and Spencer, trombone and vocals.
In December 1948, Stan Kenton, the pianist who created “progressive jazz”, fired all members of his band in New York. Rumors said Stan had definitely quit the music business to study medicine. Soon after, in February 1949, Earle landed six of the ex-Kentonites for his own band. The newcomers included Buddy Childers, Art Pepper, Harry Betts, Harry Forbes, and Laurindo Almeida. They all were with the band for the recording on February 7, 1949. During the session four tracks were recorded: “Oh! You Beautiful Doll,” “Jazzbo” (a tune dedicated to the popular radio announcer Al “Jazzbo” Collins), “Box Lunch” (At the Factory), and “Sunday Afternoon,” sung by the band’s vocalist Toni Aubin, in a style very close to the one of June Christy. The fine bop solos from this recording session came from trumpeter Buddy Childers.
In the spring of 1950, Earle Spencer, who wouldn’t give up his one-off local spots, appeared with a newly formed orchestra: eight brass, five saxes, three rhythm and girl singer. Although the band contained most of the necessary ingredients (fine arrangements and excellent soloists) to make it to the top, once again without a large agency to sustain the interest created, the band’s days were numbered, being the most short-lived recording band ever to have played ‘on the road’. We believe that Earle’s band deserved to make it-but that’s really a matter of opinion.
― Jordi Pujol