• Interview with Henry Charles Smith

    Nowicke: That would help a lot. Now, how about some of the small ensemble recordings you did, like the "Torchy Jones."

    Smith: Oh, right. Well, yes, funny you should ask. We made a number of recordings, and actually all of them, save the Torchy Jones have been reissued by Sony on C.D.s. Let's see if I can remember them, this may be out of order. There was one called The Glorious Sound of Brass, with early, early pieces, Pezel, Holborne, Reiche, and people like that -- with basically a sextet (we made it a sextet by adding Dee Stewart frequently on euphonium). Then some pieces were enhanced by several other players. The two most famous ones are the Festival of Carols in Brass, and that went great guns, and still does. We still get a friendly reminder around the first of February of those recordings -- and that's out on a C.D.

    Nowicke: I grew up with those.

    Smith: That's right, and you still hear them in airports and shopping centers. In fact my wife was shopping in Dayton's a couple of years ago and one of the cuts from the Christmas album was playing, and my wife said to the clerk, "That's my husband playing on that recording," and the clerk said, "Well, I'm very happy for you, but I get so tired of hearing that 12 hours a day." [laughs]

    Then, of course, the other famous one was the Gabrieli recording which we did with the Chicago, Cleveland, and Philadelphia brass. That was done, on, if I recall, about 1968 on Good Friday and Saturday. We had tried to schedule it for a number of years, but as you can imagine, to find a couple of days when all of those people from all those orchestras were available...

    It happened that because it was Easter weekend, all of the orchestras were doing choral works (not to include the Verdi Requiem which involves a lot of brass) they were probably doing Mozart and Bach. So we were able to get these people together on a Good Friday and then the Saturday before Easter. We had one recording session Friday afternoon, if I recall, and then two on Saturday. In some cases we were greeting old friends, in other cases, we all knew of each other, but it was like a reunion anyway, because brass players are friendly types. So we sat down, and the tape rolled, and we didn't rehearse, and we didn't even tune in any formal way, but we all warmed up in the same space. By the time we were ready to record, we were all playing at the same center of pitch.

    That recording, of course, to the musicologist and the purist -- they don't like it, because it's big, round, rich and robust sound. It's 20th century rendition of Gabrieli and the instruments that Gabrieli would have heard wouldn't have sounded much like that at all. But the sound is scrumptious and it won us the Grammy for the best classical record of 1969. So, we were very happy with that.

    Then we made two recordings with a slightly enlarged Philadelphia Brass Ensemble with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. One was a festival of hymns, and the other was a Christmas album with some arrangements by Arthur Harris for both of those. Actually those are still available. The Christmas one was called Joy to the World, and I've forgotten the name of the other one. Still, those records are available on C.D. and cassette.

    The final one that we did, Gil Johnson, and Mason Jones, and Torchinsky and I each recorded the Hindemith sonatas with Glenn Gould. We did it in the ballroom of Eaton's department store in Toronto and we recorded at night (he liked to record at night). Mason did the two sonatas, the horn sonata and the Eb horn sonata. We did them three or four months apart -- we weren't all there at once. I was there, it was late May or early June, and Glenn Gould picked me up in his old Cadillac, with an overcoat and a scarf on, and it was warm evening. He was eccentric, but I think he was an honest eccentric because he was absolutely a genius and he just saw the world and music differently than the rest of us -- and for good reasons of his own. You can't fault that. I found him very delightful to work with. He had played with the Orchestra several times, so we knew each other a little bit. One of the wonderful, neat things that happened before the recording, about a month before we got together, he called me late one night, and for about an hour and fifteen minutes over the phone we sang the Hindemith trombone sonata to each other, so we kind of had a rehearsal over the telephone. It was wonderful, it was very productive. So when we got together it was as if we'd already had a very good rehearsal on it. He has his own unique way of recording and editing, and actually we recorded the Hindemith Sonata, a 14 minute piece. We recorded eight hours one night, and six hours the next night. But when we were finished, all the decisions had been made about which edits and where the splicing would happen. It was wonderful, it was just a thrilling experience.

    All of those sonatas are on the slow side, because of Glenn Gould. He insisted, and in each case we let him prevail. In the case of the Hindemith trombone sonata [sings] -- all the dotted rhythms (which so often come out like so much machine gun fire) he felt that he needed to have room to move around and do some expressive rhythmic and dynamic things, and at a fast tempo he was unable to do that. He said, "Now, I can play it as fast as you like..but I just...." So, he persuaded me, and so they are probably the slowest recordings, which made them a little harder to play. [laughs] It's easier to go fast on some of those things.

    Then the other one you referred to, the "Torchy Jones Quintet" we masqueraded, not very seriously, as Gil Johnson, Sy Rosenfeld, Mason Jones, Hank Smith, and "Torchy Jones" was Torchinsky's name. A man named Frank Hunter did the arrangements, and it was basically the brass quintet plus a rhythm section of three, a drum, a bass, and a guitar, if I recall. There recently has been a limited pressing, a kind of a private pressing of a few C.D.s, so there are a few C.D.s around of that. [laughs] It still sounds very well to my ear. It's nice playing, it's relaxed playing and the arrangements were just tailored to us. We had a contract to make multiple records of this sort with Columbia records and Ormandy got wind of it and thought it was beneath our dignity and had the project cancelled, so we only made one recording and shortly after it was out it was withdrawn from the market. We felt that the boss had something to do with that, and probably our mistake was not asking him to conduct. [laughs] He would have been fine with it then, probably, but it's one of those things. So, it's kind of a collector's item. I do recommend it, it's good listening.

    Nowicke: I notice that you had it listed on your albums. One small form of rebellion against Mr. Ormandy.

    Smith: It's a nice record.

    Nowicke: I have a heard an illegal tape dub of that from somebody who has the record.

    Smith: At this point, you know, how illegal can it be after all these years?

    Nowicke: Abe Torchinsky told me about surprising Mr. Ormandy a little after you won the Grammy for your quintet album. Going to the rehearsal and he didn't know what was happening.

    Smith: I don't remember that.

    Nowicke: Somebody came in to take photographs. He hadn't caught wind of it and he was afraid it was going to be another jazz record. Since you'd won something he couldn't really complain very much.

    Smith: That probably all happened after I left, because I left the Philadelphia Orchestra just at the time we made the record, but then before the award I had departed. So I probably missed this event that you are speaking of.

    Nowicke: He also said that you had made some very nice publicity pictures for the jazz album that were going to go into Life, maybe, until Ormandy had your record pulled.

    Smith: Of course I don't want to give the wrong impression about my feelings about Ormandy, because I really owe my career to him. [laughs] He chose me.
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