One of the earliest listings for Studio & Artists Recorders in the Los Angeles telephone book yellow pages is from 1941. The address given is 6107 Sunset Boulevard, and services offered included airchex-complete recording facilities. Listings remained the same in subsequent editions of the yellow pages through 1946. The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS Radio) was located at 6121 Sunset Boulevard. The entire block was known as CBS Columbia Square and 6107 was in the structure on the right at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Gower Street.
Lewis Norman Finston (born 1894) had two brothers who were also living in Los Angeles in the 1940s. Arthur was a violinist and a member of AFM Local No. 47. Nathaniel Finston (born 1892) composer, conductor, author, producer, and chairman of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (1938-1944, and a board member 1941-1944), was educated at the City College of New York. He was a violinist and later concertmaster of the Russian Symphony, and assistant concertmaster of the Boston Opera Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic and the New York Symphony between 1907 and 1917. He conducted the Capitol Theatre and Rialto theatre orchestras in New York and the Tivoli and Uptown theatre orchestras in Chicago between 1917 and 1925. Nat Finston moved to Hollywood in 1928 and set up the first film music department at Paramount-Publix Studios. He moved to MGM Studios in 1935 where he held a similar position as head of the Music Department. While he was at MGM his brother, Lewis, functioned as the MGM orchestra manager and operated Studio & Artists Recorders in the CBS Columbia Square complex.
Sarco Records Company was established by Lewis Finston in early 1946 when he released several recordings by the Vivien Garry Quartet and Bando Carioca featuring Jose Oliveira and Nestor Amaral as 78 rpm singles. Prior to establishing the Sarco Records label all of Finston’s productions had been individual recordings, acetate disks, for private parties and no commercial recordings had been produced. A notice in the December 1939 issue of Tempo magazine noted that Alex Compinsky, former cellist with the Los Angeles Symphony was joining Lew Finston at Studio & Artists Music Shop on November 25th for the Wednesday night musicale in the plant’s recording studio.
The circumstances that resulted in the first recording session are unknown. The AFM contract for the December 15, 1945, session notes Vivien Garry as leader with her husband, Arv Garrison on guitar; George Handelman (Handy), piano; and Roy Hall, drums. Wages for the three hour session came to $150.00. The studio listed on the contract is Master Recording Co at 6107 Sunset Boulevard, not Studio & Artists Recorders. There was a recording studio called Master Recorders located at 6926 Melrose Avenue. Another detail that remains unknown. Possibly Finston did not possess a commercial recording license from AFM.
The career of Vivien and Arv received a boost from Leonard Feather while they were playing an extended engagement at Kelly’s Stable in New York City. Feather’s column in Esquire magazine, Jazz Is Where You Find It, singled out the Vivien Garry Trio in his June 1945 column.
“The fabulous success of the King Cole Trio, now grabbing $3,000 a week on theater dates, has inevitably given rise to a flurry of piano-guitar-bass groups all over the country. Many of them copy Cole’s material sedulously. Others, like Herman Chitison’s trio, have fingers and minds of their own. The most remarkable unit I’ve heard lately along these lines is the Vivien Garry Trio. This Detroit lady has three powerful attributes: a bass fiddle, which she plays as well as many of the top male bassmen; a wonderful voice, making her the best white girl singer around New York; and a husband, Arv Garrison, whose guitar work is in a class with Oscar Moore’s. This couple and their pianist, a young war veteran named Teddy Kaye, combine to make music that’s more personal and charming than anything an eighteen-piece band could offer. Their version of “How High The Moon” will send you moon-high.”
Feather befriended the couple and invited them to his penthouse apartment in Greenwich Village for gatherings of musician friends. Feather was also instrumental in getting the trio their first recording session with Guild Records. Garry recalled that they captured four sides during the session but only two were released on Guild 124, “Altitude” and “Relax Jack.”
Feather gave the trio another plug in his November 1945 column. “On records – Of the small groups, the Vivien Garry Trio, with its amusing “Relax Jack” and the great guitar of Arv Garrison on “Altitude” (Guild), contend for honors with he similar King Cole Trio in a now slightly over-familiar vein on “I’m A Shy Guy” (Capitol).
The trio traveled to the West Coast after their engagement at Kelly’s Stable ended, and opened at Florentine Gardens in the ZanziBar Room in August of 1945. Hollywood was home to the King Cole Trio where a room was named after Cole at the Trocadero. Other piano-guitar-bass trios active at clubs around Hollywood included Teddy Bunn’s Aristo Cats, the Red Callender Trio, and Johnny Moore’s 3 Blazers. Dozens of night spots and bars regularly featured entertainment in Hollywood. Streets of Paris, Susie Q, Radio Room, Billy Berg’s, Slapsy Maxie’s, The Round-Up, The Hangover, and Florentine Gardens were some of the more prominent.
George Handy’s reputation was on the rise. The March 1, 1944, issue of Down Beat reported that Handy’s arranging and piano work in Herbie Fields band at Nola was turning heads. “Over at Nola, it was fun digging the new Herbie Fields band in rehearsal. Maybe the musicians try harder with their hair down than they do in public, but anyway the performances put on during two days attendance were little short of amazing. For power, fluid drive and all the other critical stock-in-trade words, this dynamic outfit has it.”
“Using the weird notations of pianist George Handy, the band wallops its way through involved, odd, original, sometimes rough, arrangements that are more than welcome after the riff clichés that most bands feature these days.” The Fields band broke up after the Nola engagement.
Handy was tapped by Boyd Raeburn after the Fields band folded. Barry Ulanov wrote about the Raeburn engagement at the Commodore Hotel in the June 1944 issue of Metronome.
“After listening to Raeburn on the air, out of the Lincoln and Commodore hotels, and in person at the Commodore, I’m more than convinced of this band’s remarkable qualities. In the first place, the conception is so right. Boyd, previously the leader of a pleasant swing crew in the 1935 Goodman groove, is hip today to what’s good today. Result is a library of arrangements that not only jump, but create rich sound out of poor commercial tunes, make standards over, create their own lively, strange figures. With a flock of arrangers, all in the exotic kick, searching for the most singular and original sounds possible, Boyd has added another great talent to his stall, George Handy. Handy is the boy who wrote so much fine stuff for the defunct Herbie Fields band, the one which drew such raves from us in rehearsal. He’s also a brilliant young pianist.”
Jack McKinney wrote about the Raeburn Commodore engagement and move to the West Coast in his liner notes for the Savoy reissue, Boyd Raeburn Jewells.
“Handy joined at the Commodore Hotel in New York in May 1944 and stayed until the end of a road trip in the Midwest in the fall. The band was touring theaters in a show headed by singer-comedienne Betty Hutton, and Hutton and Handy found much in common. When the tour was over both headed for Hollywood, where Handy got a soft job at Paramount “writing dumb music for dumb movies.” The money was great, but after six months Handy was terribly bored. As the fates would have it, Raeburn called in June 1945 and said he needed Handy more than ever. The band was playing a summer engagement at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, but internal dissension was strong against straw boss Bothwell, actually involving a fight with the band’s other alto saxophonist, Lenny Green, and the players voted Bothwell out. Raeburn hated to lose his friend and featured soloist, but Bothwell left determined to start his own band, as he did that fall.
Raeburn closed at the Palace Hotel in late August 1945 and toured down the coast of California, arriving in Los Angeles to record for Ben Pollack’s new Jewel label in the middle of October. Actually, that first day belonged largely to Handy, for his compositions, arrangements, piano, and even his voice were recorded. “Tonsilectomy” (the spelling is Handy’s, who should have known better if only from his father’s thriving medical practice in Brooklyn) is a swinging opus featuring solos by McKusick, tenor saxophonist Frankie Socolow, and trumpeter Tommy Allison. McKusick is listed as co-author, and he remembers well the genesis of the piece:
I practiced daily when George and I had an apartment in Hollywood, and he picked that little riff from something I had played. That’s why my name is on the thing.
McKusick’s style has changed over the years, but he is justly proud of his performances, as he is of his solo on “Yerxa,” which again features short sequences by Socolow and Allison. Raeburn announced “Yerxa” on broadcasts as the elegy movement from the “Jitterbug Suite,” but Handy recalls that as fodder from press agents. There is no such suite. Handy has dialogue with himself at the start of “Rip Van Winkle,” a ditty that Ben Pollack hoped would hit the pop charts.”
Vivien Garry self published her autobiography, The Blues in “B” Flat, using her married name at the time, Vivien Marytn. Her recollection of the Sarco date was brief.
“George Handy, a fine arranger and pianist, wrote a tune called, “Where You At?” Lou Finston wanted to record it on the Sarco label but couldn’t afford to pay two pianists, so he asked Arv and me to record with George on piano. Though we felt bad about Wini being left out, we had to do it to get the trio on records again. We added Roy Hall on drums, a wide eyed young kid who played very well. Along with George’s tune, we used a tune I wrote called “I’ve Got To, That’s All” and added an instrumental for piano and guitar played on the chord structure of “How High The Moon.” We called it “Hopscotch” and on the remaining side I sang an old standard ballad called “I Surrender Dear.” Almost all recordings paid union scale with no royalties involved. But we were more than eager to record, no matter what it paid, for we were aware that the only way to get known was to be heard through the record medium and radio.”
Vivien’s recollection of Wini is confusing as Wini Beatty did not become the pianist with the trio until after Vivien and Arv transferred their AFM memberships from Local No. 15 in Toledo to Local No. 47 in Los Angeles and began working at the Susie Q in 1946. The pianist that came west with Vivien and Arv was Teddy Kaye. Kaye returned to New York in early 1946 and Wini Beatty became pianist in the trio. Beatty was active in Hollywood in the fall of 1945 and most likely crossed paths with Vivien and Arv at that time. She was a regular at Streets of Paris where she was recorded for Ted Yerxa’s Lamplighter label and worked with Frankie Laine. Viven’s memory was also at fault when she stated that the other tunes recorded at Guild were “Walk It Off” and “Tonsilectomy.” Vivien’s memory might have been correct regarding “Walk It Off” as the tune was part of the repertoire of the trio, but the latter tune by George Handy received its initial recording at the October 15, 1945, Boyd Raeburn recording session for Ben Pollack’s Jewel label.
Boyd Raeburn, bass saxophone; Tommy Allison, Alan Jeffreys, Johnny Napton, Dale Pierce; trumpets; Jack Carman, Ollie Wilson, Si Zentner, trombones; Leonard Green, Hal McKusick, alto saxophones; Stuart Anderson, Frank Socolo, tenor saxophones; Guy McReynold, baritone saxophone; George Handy, piano, arranger, vocals; Hayden Cause, guitar; Ed Miheli, bass; Jackie Mills, drums; and David Allyn, Ginnie Powell, vocals.
Four tunes were recorded at the session and became initial releases for Jewel. “Tonsilectomy” and “Forgetful” were released on Jewel GN10000. “Rip Van Winkle” and “Yerxa” (named in honor of Ted Yerxa) were released on GN10001.
“Interesting music, this. At least part of it. George Handy’s piano and arrangements, alto by Hal McKusick, Frank Socolow’s tenor and Tommy Allison’s trumpet are the soloists along with singers Ginny Powell (on “Rip”) and Dave Allyn, whose baritone impresses neatly throughout the amnesiac ballad. Raeburn makes his debut with these on the Jewel label— the first he and his men etched on the west coast. Handy’s daring experiments in complex harmonies make for uncommercial and pleasing listening on “Tonsilectomy” and “Yerxa,” both instruments, but reveal a weak B. R. rhythm section in comparison lo the group’s other sections. Fourth side is almost pure Ellingtonia, at slow tempo, with muted brass and McKusick’s alto languidly supplying some of the finest—most tasteful—music of the month. JEWEL 5002-5003.”
The Jewel release numbers given in Dexter’s review might have caused some confusion at the retail record shops as the release numbers noted “JEWEL 5002-5003” refer to matrix details as seen above on test pressing labels. (Images courtesy the Bill Emery Collection.)
“The full force of this brilliant band is at last beginning to reach records. These sides are excellent examples of arranger-composer George Handy’s ingenuity and skill and particular ability and taste in his use of resources larger than those of jazz in jazz forms.
Dave Allyn sings Handy’s own tune, “Forgetful,” with baritonal expertness, sustaining pitch over fetching but challengingly difficult backgrounds. Ginnie Powell manages similarly with “Rip Van Winkle,” which is more Handy, which George introduces himself with some amusing dialogue.
“Tonsilectomy” is not eventful for its musical figures but rather for what Handy does with them, fitting muted trumpet and tenor solos into a bright band background, getting a simple jump effect from what is after all complex scoring. More complex, but not at all confused, is “Yerxa” (Elegy Movement from the Jitterbug Suite, according to the subtitle), credited to Hal McKusick as well as George. Here Hal’s alto, Frankie Socolow’s tenor and the writing share the abundant glory of a slow, tender, gorgeously scored and played piece. Boyd and George and Hal are to be congratulated. (Jewel 223-4/5-6)”
The Jewel release numbers given in the Metronome review (above) might have caused some confusion at the retail record shops as the release numbers noted “Jewel 223-4/5-6” refer to matrix details.
The release numbers for Lew Finston’s first singles on Sarco confirm that he was a novice in the business. Established record companies routinely sent advance information to The Billboard about their upcoming releases. There was no charge for these listings and it provided a service to record retailers that kept them on top of what was happening in the music business. Finston was aware of the practice of sending review copies of records to the trade magazines for review in their pages.
The first review of Finston’s initial Vivien Garry Quartet sides was published in the March 11, 1946, issue of Down Beat. The review referenced the matrix numbers of the four tunes, 101 through 104. The record industry standard was to assign a single number to a record release and identify each side with an A or B designation. The release number was prominent on the label. Finston gave his first 78 single release two numbers, “Hopscotch” was 1001 and “Where You At?” was assigned 1002. When Finston released subsequent pressings the release number was changed to M-101 A for “Hopscotch” and M-101 B for “Where You At?” Finston’s second 78 single released continued the numbering series, “I Surrender Dear” as Sarco 1003 and “I’ve Got To, That’s All” as Sarco 1004. Subsequent pressings of this release used M-102 A/B.
Finston’s first two releases noted above were not listed in The Billboard’s Advance Record Releases columns prior to the March 11, 1946, review in Down Beat, and they were not listed with other Sarco releases in the June 29, 1946, edition of The Billboard where the Advance Record Releases column noted the forthcoming release of Sarco 103, “Tonsilectomy” – “These Foolish Things” – Vivien Garry Quartet-George Handy; Sarco 104, “Rip Van Winkle” – “Stick Around” – Vivien Garry Quartet-George Handy.
It is not known if Finston continued his initial numbering sequence with his third 78 single on Sarco. Copies of this third release have proved to be elusive. The author had been looking for a copy of “Tonsilectomy” and “These Foolish Things” that was listed in The Billboard’s Advance Record Releases as Sarco 103 for 30 years until a copy surfaced on Ebay in 2022. Finston assigned SA-103 A/B to this pressing. If Finston followed his initial practice first pressings might have been labeled as Sarco 1005 for “Tonsilectomy” and 1006 for “These Foolish Things.”
The author’s copy has matrix numbers SA-318 and A-4137 on the SA-103 A side; and SA-319 and A-4138 on the SA-103 B side.
The Advance Record Release column from the June 29, 1946, issue of The Billboard listing a fourth 78 single with the Vivien Garry Quartet as Sarco 104, “Rip Van Winkle” and “Stick Around” poses a quandary regarding its existence. The author contacted Don Schlitten regarding the Sarco releases with the Vivien Garry Quartet. Schlitten reissued the three Sarco 78 singles displayed above on his Onyx label in the 1970’s as part of a collection documenting bebop in California, Central Avenue Breakdown; Volume 1, ONYX 212. He had never heard of a fourth single with the Vivien Garry Quartet. A search of the music trade journals of the 1940’s, Metronome, Down Beat, The Billboard, and Cash Box came up empty, no mention of Sarco 104. The Vivien Garry Trio kept “Rip Van Winkle” in their repertoire and it was captured from a broadcast remote from Club Morocco when the trio appeared there in May 1946 with Wini Beatty on piano who joins Vivien on the vocal.
“Rip Van Winkle” was recorded by Ella Mae Morse for Capitol Records with the Billy May orchestra. The September 25, 1945, session was released later that fall backed by “Buzz Me” from the same session. Finston might have had second thoughts about issuing a tune that competed with the industry giant. Sarco continued the numbering series with the release of the Bando Carioca sessions beginning with Sarco 105.
The co-leaders of Bando Carioca, José Oliveiera and Nestor Amaral, were members of Bando da Lua that accompanied Carmen Miranda in Hollywood films, concert performances, and her Decca Records recordings.
Michel Ruppli’s six volume, The Decca Label (Greenwood Press, 1996), does not identify individual members of Bando da Lua on sessions for Decca. Bando Carioca accompanied Ethel Smith on her numerous recordings for the Decca label, also not detailed in the Decca discography. It is possible that several musicians who were part of the Bando da Lua ensemble were also members of Bando Carioca. Instruments heard on the Decca recordings accompanying Carmen Miranda and Ethel Smith include guitars, atouche (a round shaker), mandolin, tambourine, pandeiro, omele, surdo drum, and upright bass.
The Advance Record Release column from the June 29, 1946, issue of The Billboard listed Finston’s Latin-American singles that concluded his venture into the retail record business. Sarco 105, “Tico-Tico” – “Vuelve” – Nestor Amaral-José Oliveira-Bando Carioca; Sarco 106, “Baia” – “Noa Chore” – Nestor Amaral-José Oliveira-Bando Carioca; Sarco 107, “Para Que Sufras” – “Sandalia De Prata” – Nestor Amaral-José Oliveira-Bando Carioca; and Sarco 108, “Jucatada – (Little Joe)” – “Holiday For Strings” – Nestor Amaral-José Oliveira-Bando Carioca. The September 21, 1946, issue of The Billboard noted that the four singles by Bando Carioca was now available as an album, Samba Bolero Album, Sarco 20.
Lew Finston relocated from the CBS Columbia Square location to the next block to the east on Sunset Boulevard sometime in the late 1940’s or early 1950’s. The logo seen in his yellow pages ad was used on labels as well as a script version without the disc logo. The new building was described as the Sunset Arts Building.
The author would like to thank Nick Rossi who graciously shared images of his Sarco 78s that were the initial releases with the 1000 numbers. Nick also contributed much of the research regarding the Vivien Garry Trio as we worked on the recent Fresh Sound Records release featuring the artistry of Arv Garrison. Nick’s authoritative liner notes for this release document the brief but dazzling career of this guitarist.
david yorkin says
Thank you! So love your granular research into the obscure LA scene of that period, as well as your hyperlinks to all that fine music.