Peter Catesby Peter Cates

Richard Himber

Richard Himber

A two LP set, Richard Himber and his Ritz-Carlton Hotel Orchestra Featuring Joey Nash (RCA Bluebird, AXM-5520, released 1975) contains 32 recordings from the 1934-35 years of 78s that were originally released on the ten-inch discs of that decade by RCA Victor’s subsidiary 35 cent Bluebird label.

Prior to the establishment of this Orchestra, Richard Himber (1899-1966) had been a violinist for Sophie Tucker’s hotel jazz band and then in charge of bookings for Rudy Vallee (whose own megahit of the 1920s, Stein Song, helped put his alma mater, the University of Maine/Orono, on the nationwide map).

Joey Nash (?-2000) was Himber’s lead singer from 1933 to 1935. Himber also hired such musicians as Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Bunny Berrigan for the Ritz engagements.

The records feature some very beautifully arranged performances in which sophisticated rhythms are blended with sweet melodic textures and solo instrumental details from the harp, strings, woodwinds, etc. Joey Nash had a consistently appealing tenor voice and knew how to put a song across. Himber’s Orchestra was basically hired by hotel management to play music for its patrons to dance to but many of them preferred to simply listen.

Some very fascinating liner notes were provided for the 1975 re-issue by Joey Nash on the trials and tribulations that he observed and personally experienced before the Orchestra hit paydirt.

A few details:

– Himber was a bit of a con man promoting pipe dreams of stardom, classy hotel bookings and nightly radio broadcasts nationwide , meanwhile paying nothing.
– Its first broadcasts from the Essex House had the players housed in a rancid basement storage room for old hotel furnishings and assorted trash.
– A saxophone player busted Himber’s nose in a moment of arrogance.
– Other musicians received summons for alimony.
– One violinist brought his German shepherd to work where it chewed up a songbook and howled on a nationwide duet with the clarinettist.
– A musician was attacked by the angry father of his pregnant girlfriend.
– When the Ritz broadcasts became a success, the orchestra was earning $4,000 weekly.

Among the Great American Songbook classics on the album are Stars Fell on Alabama, Tea for Two, What a Difference a Day Made, Avalon and Winter Wonderland.

In later years, Himber had a traveling band giving free outdoor concerts on a flatbed truck and got sponsorship from Pepsi Cola. During one of these concerts in 1966, he collapsed from a heart attack and died a few hours later at the age of 67.

Himber once stated, “Remember that vanity rules the world.”

The above recordings can be heard via YouTube.


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