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History of Indian Summer

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In 1904, Victor Herbert resigned as leader of the Pittsburgh Symphony to form the Victor Herbert Orchestra. He was determined to take a run at commercial success by performing operettas in New York. The operetta predated the musical and was immensely popular in the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. Operettas were much shorter than operas and more contemporary and whimsical in theme, tone and character. Spoken dialogue often was mixed in with singing, and acting skills were required. By contrast, early musicals of the period were mostly singing and dancing. 

After Herbert formed his orchestra, he landed lengthy multi-year summer residences at Philadelphia's Willow Grove Park. The early amusement park was located slightly out of town. Concert admission was free, but the only way to get there was to travel on the trolley operated by the Philadelphia Traction and Rapid Transit Co. The company had created the park to generate fares for its trolley line. As a result, the venue became a hot spot for modern music. Up to 15,000 people could gather on the park's sprawling lawns while several thousand could find seats in the concert pavilion in front of the large band shell.

Herbert loved a huge audience and enjoyed that Thursday evenings in the summer were “Herbert Day" at the park's pavilion. Herbert performed his new songs there. It was at this park in 1919, writes Neil Gould in Victor Herbert: A Theatrical Life, that Herbert first performed Indian Summer: An American Idyll, with its English horn solo.

Here's a close approximation of what the song sounded like when performed with the English horn solo...



In 1939, 15 years after Herbert died in 1924 and 25 years after Indian Summer's debut, a lyric was written by Al Dubin. Singer Barry Winton introduced the song on the radio. Then Tommy Dorsey with singer Jack Leonard recorded the song in '39, and the Dorsey 78 became a #1 hit, remaining on the chart for 16 weeks.

The song soon became a jazz standard. Here are my favorite versions...

Here's Glenn Miller with Ray Eberle in 1940...



Here's Billy Butterfield in 1946...



Here's Stan Getz in 1949...



Here's alto saxophonist Lee Konitz and guitarist Billy Bauer in 1951...



Here's organist Wild Bill Davis in 1953...



Here are the Hi-Lo's in 1956...



Here's Duke Ellington with Russell Procope on alto saxophone in 1956...



Here's Lucky Thompson in Paris in 1956...



Here's Sarah Vaughan in 1985...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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