my grandfather’s orchestra.

My grandfather was a musician.  He played a Cordovox, which was like a wacky electronic accordion that was a combination of a traditional accordion and an organ that got hooked up to some sort of cabinet.  It also had a pedal that somehow modified the sound of the thing and enabled him to increase and decrease the volume.  It was, essentially, a polka instrument, being played masterfully by an old Italian man who never took a music lesson in his life, but loved jazz. He was pretty outstanding.

He played this polka instrument, but he played jazz standards with it.  He also played contemporary pop songs from the 50s and 60s, like “Girl From Ipanema” and “Satin Doll.”  He played in a band, and held weekly jam sessions at his house.  Someone told me that he’d played with Buddy Rich.  He played with jazz guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli as well.  He was, by all accounts, really good – and really cool.

When they held these weekly jazz sessions in his basement, they would record the sessions to a reel-to-reel tape deck that he owned.  After he passed away in 1979 or so, my keyboard playing uncle took possession of the tapes and had 8-track tapes made for all his brothers.  My uncle was also an amazing musician (still is), who played the B3 in a number of bar bands in the 70s and 80s.  Over time, these tapes disappeared, and obviously so did the 8-track format, and my uncle was the only person who still had the music, because he had the original tapes.

One weekend, Sandy and I joined my father at my uncle’s house for some sort of family party.  At the party, my uncle was playing the reel tapes of my grandfather’s jam sessions.

Now, this was early 1995.  At that time, there was this ridiculous trend in indie rock toward “lounge music” – indie kids dressing in suits and drinking martinis, playing schmaltzy old music like Esquivel and schmaltzy new loungey music like the Coctails.  Lounge bands were popping up everywhere, and labels were pointing people in the direction of catalog titles that had been dead for 30 years.  Bar/None engineered a coup by releasing old Esquivel music – which was so square it was hip, almost Spike Jones in its craziness but still swanky as hell.

And here I am, at my uncle’s house, listening to tapes of my grandfather playing with his band, authentic lounge music on a nutty instrument, circa 1968 or so.  All standards, all real.

On the way home, I asked my dad if he thought my uncle would be interested in my turning the tapes into CDs for everyone in the family, and maybe releasing one on Dromedary.

“Why the hell would you put that out?  You have a heavy metal company,” he said.

“It’s not heavy metal, Dad,” I said.  “It’s indie rock.  And believe it or not, that kind of music is really popular right now.”  I tried explaining the lounge music trend, but he didn’t get it.  

Sandy and I talked about it, and I decided I was simply going to call it “My Grandfather’s Orchestra.”  It wasn’t really an orchestra – it was, at best, a five-piece band, and sometimes less.  But I thought “My Grandfather’s Orchestra” had a ring to it – and there were lots of tapes, so if it was successful, I figured I could release two or three more CDs.

I thought it was so cool that I was going to put out a song about having sex with a watermelon, and then put out “The Girl From Ipanema.”  It was so ridiculous it was comical.

My father, of course, thought it was a cool idea, partially because everyone in the family would get CDs of the music, and partially because his dad would have a record out.  

I wasn’t sure how I would deal with the money.  I didn’t think there would be much, but I didn’t want anyone in my family thinking I was trying to profit from my grandfather’s music – and keep all the profits to myself.  Also, the music wasn’t original music, so there would be royalties and permissions to think of – I could hide “Second Violin” at the end of the cuppa joe CD, but I couldn’t hide an entire CD’s worth of cover tunes.

But I considered those things to be minor things that could be worked out.  Maybe I’d take the money from the CD sales and have a big family party.  Maybe I’d give it to my dad and his brothers.  I didn’t think there would be much – maybe a few hundred CDs in total.

So I put My Grandfather’s Orchestra in the back of my mind as a CD I’d like to put out in late ’95, around the time the baby was going to come, because it wouldn’t take much effort or promotion, but would still be a Dromedary release to keep us on the radar while we were learning how to be parents of a newborn.  It’s not like he was going to tour, or bitch that his records weren’t in stores.  

Hell, I thought, maybe I’ll release it by mailorder only, and circumvent the distribution component altogether.  A record like this gives me all sorts of options.

I made a mental note to go to a lounge show at a cocktail bar.  If I could convince someone to go with me.

Which I never could.

~ by Al on August 15, 2009.

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