Listening to the George Roumanis Big Band as it reinvigorates these spellbinding pages from the Great American Song Book, it’s hard to believe that their author has faded into an undeserved obscurity and is rarely given the sort of praise showered on Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Rodgers and other icons of Tin Pan Alley. Yet Harry Warren, the dean of Hollywood film composers, wrote every one of these memorable songs and many more, and during the years 1935–50 had no less than 42 of his compositions among the Top 10 on the popular radio program, “Your Hit Parade.” The songwriter next in line was no less than Irving Berlin with 33. Warren earned three Academy Awards (for “Lullaby of Broadway,” “You’ll Never Know,” “On the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe”) and was nominated on eight other occasions. Harry Warren was without a doubt one of America’s most brilliant and prolific writers of popular music, one whose greatness has stood the test of time, even though most people who play or hum his wondrous melodies haven’t a clue as to who wrote them. The composer himself is partly to blame for this, as he lived quietly and shunned the glare of publicity; on the other hand, America’s failure to acknowledge Warren’s genius and honor his memory is indefensible. What is needed, among other things, are more reminders such as this one by Roumanis who once arranged for some of the bands that played Warren’s music including Tommy Dorsey, Ralph Flanagan, Charlie Spivak and Count Basie. The Roumanis ensemble performs eighteen of Warren’s most popular songs, and I daresay there are few lovers of good music who haven’t heard most of them, and some who can even recite from memory the lyrics (Warren worked with a number of superb wordsmiths including Mack Gordon, Al Dubin and Johnny Mercer). Roumanis, who has recruited a number of his sidemen from the splendid armed forces bands in and around the nation’s capital, has dressed these perennial favorites in a handsome new wardrobe that is more suited to contemporary tastes than the Swing Era from whence they came. I suppose one can call this nouveau swing, but it’s a notch above much of the music broadcast under that banner. Solos are brief but productive, and the ensemble gives each chart a pleasurable ride. For comparison’s sake, think Flanagan, Ray Anthony, Ralph Marterie, Ted Heath or the brothers Elgart. As most selections clock in at between three and four minutes, there’s room for four or five more on the disc, but rather than quibble about that let’s be thankful for what is there. This is a treasure chest of fabulous music by one of Hollywood’s most important (but sadly overlooked) songwriters, smartly played by George Roumanis and his big band. Thanks, guys!
Track listing: Chattanooga Choo Choo; Lullaby of Broadway; You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby; Forty–Second Street; I Only Have Eyes for You; Lulu’s Back in Town; The More I See You; I Had the Craziest Dream; Jeepers Creepers; The Boulevard of Broken Dreams; September in the Rain; You’ll Never Know; Shuffle Off to Buffalo; Serenade in Blue; I’ve Got a Gal in Kalamazoo; At Last; You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me; We’re in the Money (58:28).
George Roumanis, leader; Tom Williams, Jimmy Lay, trumpet; Pete BarenBregge, alto sax; Chris Vadala, Jack Wolfe, tenor sax; Tim Price, baritone sax; Dave Steinmeyer, Rick Lillard, trombone; Lee Gause, bass trombone; John Fluck, piano; Dave Wundrow, bass; Leonard Cuddy, drums. Other personnel unlisted.
Contact: Pinch Hit Records, 4001 Pacific Coast Hwy, Suite 104, Torrance, CA 90505 (web site, www.pinchhit.com; e