Though his prognostications about the future of dance music (see below) left something to be desired, violinist and orchestra leader Jan Garber was very popular indeed in 1935, when this profile was first published in Popular Songs magazine.
Though Garber and his orchestra are not nearly as well remembered today as other band leaders and their outfits, it’s interesting and not a little surprising to note that there’s still a Jan Garber orchestra operating today. One isn’t, perhaps, surprised to learn that there are officially sanctioned, latter-day Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, and Tommy Dorsey orchestras still out there touring the country, causing toes to tap from coast to coast, but the Jan Garber Orchestra?
That comes as something of a surprise, if a pleasant one. Speaking of surprises, read to the end of this profile, and you’ll find some choice Jan Garber cuts awaiting you.
SHORT, stocky Jan Garber, director of one of the country’s most popular dance organizations, is not a chap afraid to be accused of going around circles, because he has his own career mapped out and is deliberately heading back to the type of music he played for 15 years as violin soloist with the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra.
“A dance band cannot hold its popularity forever,” says Jan, “and I want to be prepared to do something worth while when my dance band days are over.”
This explains why Jan has been taking violin lessons from Czerwonky of the Chicago Conservatory of Music for the last two years. He plans to be ready for the concert stage in 5 or 10 years, even though his experience with popular music has occupied much of his time during the last 12 years.
Let it not be supposed that Jan Garber looks down upon popular music. Not at all. He takes keen interest in keeping his orchestra on its toes and has all the members of the band gather at his home each week to listen to a recording of his previous broadcast. “Hearing ourselves as others hear us helps us get together on ideas for new band arrangements and lets us keep a constant check on ourselves,” is the way Garber explains it.
For the same reason Jan Garber likes to play up to his audience in Chicago’s Trianon ballroom, where his contract will keep him for the next three years with the exception of summer engagements. On the dance floor, he jokes and laughs with everyone, not only because it’s good business but because he gets a kick out of it.
Asked to explain what he thinks of the future of popular songs, Jan said, “The day of the primitive, the appeal to the muscles alone, is gone. Today I try to emphasize precision rhythm and simplicity in arrangement. I judge what the public wants by college boys and girls on dance floors where I play. They convince me that sentimental tunes will always have a place in music, and that the mad, hectic type of music which followed the World War will not come again.”
“Precision in rhythm and simplcity in arrangement” is indeed the key to Garber’s popularity. Three years ago his orchestra, then playing at Cleveland, was slipping in spite of all Jan could do.
A friend tipped Jan off that a bunch of Canadian youngsters were playing at a small roadhouse near Cleveland and were making quite with a hit with a special kind of rhythm. He went to hear them, was delighted and offered to take over the whole band. Freddie Large, the director, accepted eagerly and Jan got them an engagement at the Hotel Netherlands Plaza in Cincinnati.
That engagement was the beginning of a new kind of fame during which Jan changed his style of music from red hot jazz to the dreamy and melodious brand of music which his followers demand today.
The composition of Garber’s present band is interesting in that it includes only one of his old players, Rudy Rudisill, bald-headed pianist, who has been associated with Jan for 15 years dating back to the time in Washington when Jan got fired for staying on his honeymoon one day too long and organized a band of his own.
All of Garber’s boys admit that the director pays them well, but they all will tell you that nothing less than perfection pleases the energetic little maestro. Yet he allows Janice, his six-year-old daughter, to run around backstage during his programs. He spends a great deal of his time at home practicing on the violin, accompanied by his wife.