Fridays with Rudy: Vagabond Dreams Come True, pt. 8

In Chapter Eight of Rudy Vallée’s 1930 memoir, Vagabond Dreams Come True, Rudy finally takes a break from pontificating about his theories of dance orchestra stewardship and relates tales of the early days of his band of eight in New York City.

Chapter VIII

Success—But Not Over Night

OUR first broadcast from The Heigh-Ho in February, 1928, brought about twelve letters.
WABC was a small station, with radius confined to New York but it was a station of beautiful quality and power and has since become the key station of the gigantic Columbia Broadcasting System.
None of our write-ups has ever given credit where it belonged; even at the risk of injuring feelings I must pay due tribute and express my gratitude to stations WABC and WOR and WMCA which were responsible for the tremendous outburst we received February, 1929, at Keith’s 81st Street Theatre in New York City. When we began at station WABC, our band was only a small speck on New York’s horizon. But the enthusiasm which my surprised eyes read in those first letters affected me like magic. Still, the full realization of our powers did not dawn on me until about a month of broadcasting had elapsed.
Station WABC had a schedule that was far from full and they needed us to fill three or four gaps a week, sometimes for half an hour, sometimes an hour. At first we had a definite schedule, then it would vary and at any moment during the evening we might expect a call from the studio to jump into the breach when some artist had failed to appear.
To make my programs more co-ordinated, like a well-oiled machine, I realized that each man must know exactly what was going to happen. Here, more than ever, we were handicapped because obviously the directions could not be spoken and since I was playing the saxophone I was not free to indicate the routine by pantomime. So I conceived the idea of giving each man a typewritten program of the numbers.
Since we were on the air as often as four or five times a week I realized too that every program must be different from the others, as much as possible, with repeats only when the number was very popular and frequently requested. I secured a hectograph, or duplicating machine, and a typewriter, and in my own home-made fashion, with two fingers, typed out the programs, staying in to do so while the boys went out to eat between dinner and supper sessions.
Sometimes I spend as much as one hour just deciding which would be the best tunes to play, typing out the program and duplicating seven or eight copies of it. But I found that my efforts were well reward by a much smoother program.
The boys often wondered why I was so exacting and apparently unreasonable in my demands that every program be well-nigh perfect. If a mistake was unavoidable, I said nothing, but if the offender was day-dreaming, stupid, or heedless, the resulting error was brought to his attention immediately after the broadcast, and if it was really noticeable he would probably hear about it the rest of the evening.
But today I think the boys appreciate what my high ideals have brought us. I read the fan mail; they did not, although I invited them to do so.
I began to see what was happening.
One of my boys suggested that we were on the air too many times a week, but he did not see my theory which was this: I believed that by being on the air as often as four or five times a week, which is unusual in radio circles, eventually nearly every radio fan would stumble across us when moving the dials, and that our odd quality of tone and style would hold their attention, and that by having each program completely varied and different, carefully chosen and rendered, we would not become monotonous if one listened in every time we were on. Our terrific success has shown my conclusions to be completely justified. Our fan mail increased daily and my letters, which nearly all complimented us in superlative terms, bore witness to the fact there was something in the nature of our music that was different and that held the attention.
The speck on the horizon had begun to loom larger.

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Fridays with Rudy: Vagabond Dreams Come True, pt. 7

In Chapter Seven of Rudy Vallée’s 1930 memoir, Vagabond Dreams Come True, Rudy undertakes what he terms the “difficult and delicate task” of explaining his success, especially in the field of radio broadcasting.

Chapter VII

Radio Brings Us Out

I have been confronted by difficult and delicate tasks in the course of my life, but this is perhaps the most unusual and difficult that I have yet faced. With the feeling that there is a need for one definite explanation from an authentic source as to just how eight young men could achieve, in these days of a bored and blasé show world, the sensational success that seems to have been ours, I am going to give my idea of it all.
As I said in my foreword, everyone seem to have felt the urge to offer an opinion, an explanation, as to our past, and present and even a prophecy as to our future.

Being one of those that they have theorized about, I feel that I should, even at the risk of destroying some of the romance about us, offer my own theory as to the reason for this so-called phenomenal success.
The reason that this task is so dangerous for me is simply that it is very risky for one who is still active in his artistic profession to attempt a sincere explanation as to the reason for his being a success.
Can you imagine just how difficult it would be for, let us say, John Barrymore, to offer an explanation for his unquestioned success, by stating that he believes it is due to his profile, his six feet and several inches, the masculinity of his frame, his ability to make passionate love, the richness and romance in his voice combined with a charm, personality and acting ability that came to him as family traits?
It has been just as difficult for me to answer when various interviewers have asked me: “To what do you attribute your success?”
Of course I’m not forgetting that our success is due in a great measure to the efforts of the seven boys who began with me and who are still with me. They have contributed greatly in the beauty of their tone and rhythm to the attractiveness of our programs and presentations. And we were later on extremely fortunate in having as my manager Edwin Scheuing, a young man whose coolness and level-headed business ability has secured for me all these present wonderful engagements at almost unheard of salaries. I am sure that no one could have “sold” us better than he. It is an undeniable fact, however, that a general is credited with the victory, and perhaps rightly so, in the case where the factors and strategies which were first born in his mind, and later carried out on the field by the men, brought the desired victory.
I consider Paul Whiteman the fore-runner and creator of a style of dance music hat has been rightly termed symphonized syncopation. His was the first mind to apply the principles of a symphony orchestra to his instrumentation and style of music; he was the first to split the chorus up into phrases, some of which were played by the saxes, suddenly followed by the brass for several more phrases and then by the strings. He was really the first to use several violins, several saxophones and a full team of brass.
The furore that his first records and early personal appearances made was richly deserved. The sign of his double chin has become the world over, symbolic of a certain type of dance music; his orchestra has become an institution just as famed as many of our symphony orchestras; and today, practically ten years from the time he first came to New York almost penniless, and completely unknown in the East, he is held in high esteem by the great public which speaks for itself. Nothing could endure the way Whiteman and his work have endured unless there were good, sound, sterling worth in it. My hat is off to him!
I believe I can honestly and rightly feel a personal pride and satisfaction in our success since I also, like Whiteman, had carried in my head for several years an idea for the presentation of dance music with song which first found expression through my little group of eight men in January, 1928.
Therefore, I feel I am not egotistical when I confine most of this explanation for our sudden rise to myself and my ideas. And yet in the explanation I do not want to destroy any of that beautiful halo of romance that so many have built around us and our music.
Probably the proper time for a very cold-blooded, matter-of-fact, and absolutely precise analysis of the reasons and events back of the furore that we have created will be when we have completely retired from our present labors and activities.

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The underlying factor for the tremendous appreciation that we seem to enjoy at present is what I would term psychological reaction to music or, in case the word psychological should frighten you from reading further—let us say simply the way music affects human beings.

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