|From "Ted FioRito and His Orchestra: Never Been Blue" (1922-1942)|
|TransAtlantic Radio 0021 (CD)|
In 1919, the shellac had barely dried on the earliest recorded jazz, when, at 18, Ted FioRito entered the studio, as pianist, with some of the biggest names in music. These included Earl Oliver, Tom Brown, Rudy Wiedoeft, Alcide Nunez, Joe Green and, his brother, George Hamilton Green. Within a year later, in 1920, young FioRito's name began to circulate as an up-and-coming composer, with works recorded by the popular bands of Art Hickman and Harry Yerkes. Still not old enough to vote, in September of 1922, FioRito achieved songwriting acclaim when Al Jolson recorded one of the great anthems of the 1920s, "Toot Toot Tootsie, Goo'bye." It was during this same year that Ted FioRito became co-leader of his first band.
Over the years, there have been many fine, musicians, composers and bandleaders, but seldom have all three been embodied in the person of one man as fully as they were in Ted FioRito. Throughout his long, musical career, Ted FioRito remained the "complete" artist, performing, composing and leading a band that became one of the most recognized on radio and film.
Ted FioRito's career, in music, began in the recording studios of Columbia, in New York, as pianist with the bands of Harry Yerkes. From 1919 to 1920, FioRito recorded for Yerkes' Novelty Five, Yerkes' Jazarimba Orchestra and the Happy Six. In 1921, he moved to Chicago to join Dan Russo's band and, by the spring of 1922, was co-leader of Russo and FioRito's Oriole Orchestra. That same year, the Russo-FioRito band opened the Oriole Terrace, in Detroit. To coincide with the event, the band was renamed the Oriole Terrace Orchestra. This band made its first recordings, in May 1922, starting with the FioRito composition, "Soothing."
In 1924, the band returned to Chicago for an engagement at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, where they made their first remote radio broadcast, on March 29. Little more than a year later, in August 1925, the band opened Chicago's new Uptown Theatre. Then, in July 1926, the Russo-FioRito band opened the famous Aragon Ballroom. From here and the equally prominent Trianon Ballroom, the band made frequent broadcasts that were relayed to radio stations nationally.
In 1928, Dan Russo left the band, and Ted FioRito took over as sole leader. Throughout the ensuing year, the band performed in numerous locations, in the midwest, including St. Louis, Kansas City and Cincinnati. The band made its first recording, sans Russo, in August 1929 (with Ted Lewis on clarinet and vocal). In a mouthful typical of the era, they were originally billed as Ted Fio Rito and His Edgewater Beach Hotel Orchestra. That same year, the band spread its sound westward with an engagement at San Francisco's Mark Hopkins Hotel (filling in for the Anson Weeks orchestra) and generated wider recognition with syndicated and network radio programs. In Chicago, the band recorded for the "Brunswick Brevities" radio program, and in New York, they were the featured band for NBC's "Skelly Gasoline Show."
During those desperate years, of the 1930s, known as the Great Depression, most bandleaders and musicians struggled for bookings that typically amounted to little more than a string of one-nighters, in the most remote locations. While few could even dream of breaking into a recording industry left decimated by the crash of 1929, Ted FioRito led his band into the studios, in every year, of the decade, but one. At the same time, FioRito continued to get engagements in the country's most coveted venues, while breaking new ground with his band's numerous appearances in the movies.
In 1930, Ted FioRito and His Orchestra did a number of recording sessions, with Victor, as well as doing two sides for the Hit-of-the-Week label. In the following year (1931), the band played the Palomar and the Plantation Ballroom, in Los Angeles. While there, the band is said to have made its first movie appearance, though the title of the film is still unknown. In 1932, FioRito took his band to San Francisco, where they played an engagement at the St. Francis Hotel and began recording for Brunswick. It was during this time that Ted FioRito reorganized his band. Among other changes to the personnel, he introduced the "Debutantes" vocal trio and brought in guitarist, Muzzy Marcellino and, bassist, Candy Candido, both of whom would become equally known for their vocals. This was also the year that future pin-up, Betty Grable joined the band. Though she made no recordings with the band, she did appear briefly, as a vocalist with FioRito, in the 1933 film, "The Sweetheart Of Sigma Chi" (Monogram).
In 1934, Ted FioRito made appearances on the "Old Gold" and "Hollywood Hotel" radio shows. In that year, as well as the next, he and his band continued to record prolifically for the Brunswick label, while appearing in many more films. These included "Twenty Million Sweethearts" (Warner Bros. 1934) with Dick Powell, Ginger Rogers and The Mills Brothers; "Broadway Gondolier" (Warner Bros. 1935) with Dick Powell and The Mills Brothers; "Every Night At Eight (Paramount 1935) with Alice Faye and Frances Langford; and "Star Night At The Cocoanut Grove" (MGM 1935). It was no coincidence that the band appeared in this last film, as they had been playing the Cocoanut Grove, since 1934. [In addition to his many film appearances, Ted FioRito composed music for several movies, including "The Broadway Hoofer" (Columbia 1929), "Double Cross Roads" (Fox 1930), "Blondie Of The Follies" (MGM 1932), "Young And Beautiful" (Mascot 1934), "Here Comes The Band" (MGM 1935) and "Song Of The Saddle" (Warner Bros. 1936). He also wrote the theme music for the silent film, "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" (1928).]
In 1936, the FioRito band moved to the Decca label and recorded, on a number of dates, in New York and Chicago. They also toured the east and midwest, including engagements in Philadelphia's Penn Athletic Club and Chicago's Congress Hotel and Morrison Hotel.
In the following year (1937), Ted FioRito's band began weekly broadcasts on NBC's "Frigidaire Frolics" radio program. The show aired weekly, each Friday night, throughout the 1937-38 broadcast season.
While continuing to write and record, in 1938 and 1939, FioRito began experimenting with the band's sound. By 1940, the band was clearly incorporating more swing into its recordings. In 1941, FioRito hired a new and young vocalist by the name of June Haver. Both she and the band appeared in the Universal short, "Skyline Serenade" (1941). It was also during this time that FioRito began billing the band as "Ted FioRito and His Musical Pilots," a gimmick that had the musicians and their leader sporting the uniforms of aviators.
In 1942, the band made its last commercial recordings. Somewhat ironically, it was not until their very last session that the band recorded its own theme song, "Rio Rita," plus a number of FioRito favorites that, previously, had not been covered in the band's recordings. These included "Charley, My Boy," "King For A Day" and "No! No! Nora."
Though the band never returned to the recording studio, after 1942, they continued to tour and make numerous film appearances, including spots in "Rhythm Parade" (Monogram 1942), "Chasing The Blues" (1942), "The Magic Of Magnolias" (1942), "Melody Parade" (Monogram 1943), "Silver Skates" (Monogram 1943), and the self-titled, "Ted Fio Rito And His Orchestra" (1949). In addition, Ted FioRito was featured in the Paramount film, "Out Of This World" (1945), with Ray Noble, Carmen Cavallaro and other pianists. During the war years, the band also did a number of radio broadcasts from the Florentine Gardens (Hollywood, August 1942), Fort Dix, New Jersey (November 1943) and the naval air station at Banana River, Florida (August 1945).
In 1950, Ted FioRito took his band to Las Vegas for an engagement that would last more than five years. They opened at the Hotel El Rancho Vegas, on November 21, 1950, and played their last night, on June 26, 1956.
Towards the end of the 1950s, FioRito moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, where he opened his own night club. The Black Sheep Club, as it was called, remained in business until 1962, when FioRito organized a new band. This new group, a combo of five to six members, continued to play at venues, in California and Nevada, until the year of FioRito's death.
At the height of his career, Ted FioRito was one of the most familiar names in music. If he is not so easily recalled, today, as some of his contemporaries, it is not due to a lack of influence, on music, but perhaps because of it. Indeed, such wide-ranging talents, as FioRito possessed, defy the tidy, all-inclusive labels that our collective memory seems to prefer. Nevertheless, it was in no small measure that Ted FioRito's music reached so many people, in so many ways. As a musician, bandleader and composer, his contributions, to music, extended well beyond his studio recordings and live performances, to radio, film and even television. While his music gave us many memorable hits, it also gave us many memorable talents, such as Ted Lewis, Nick Lucas, Dick Powell, Russ Morgan and an impressive line-up of future stars, whose early careers were nurtured in FioRito's band. Among others, these included David Rose, Louis Bellson, Buddy DeFranco, Doc Severinson, Betty Grable, June Haver, Kay Swingle, Lucille Ball, Ruth Lee and Leif Erickson.
Ted FioRito was born Theodore Salvatore Fiorito, December 20, 1900, in Newark, New Jersey. He died of a heart attack, July 22, 1971, in Scottsdale, Arizona.
|~ Jeff Hopkins|
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