Sunday, August 12, 2012


The Supper Club-- when a date on the calendar meant a night on the town in 1950s and '60s Kalamazoo.

This was when parents dressed up and called a babysitter, leaving behind a whiff of perfume and sophistication as they rushed out the door.  Cocktail dresses and dinner jackets were de rigeur for Supper Club members.

The place was the ballroom in one of the hotels on Michigan Avenue in downtown Kalamazoo.  Round tables with white cloths were arranged around the dance floor with three or four couples per table for an evening of dining and dancing.

At the center of it all was the live orchestra that brought out the best dance moves in these young couples-- professionals and parents by day, city slickers on Saturday night.

Bobby Davidson and the big band that bore his name was often the featured orchestra on the Supper Club roster.  This was not just a three-piece combo, but a 15+ member big band with original arrangements by their leader, the diminutive drummer with a toothy grin.  Seeing Bobby Davidson setting up his drum kit  meant the fun had just begun.

Turning back the clock a decade or so, one might have found this same roomful of people in Army or Navy uniforms at a World War II canteen, dancing to a live band playing the music of Glenn Miller.  That era was Bobby's era as well.

When he joined the United States Air Force in 1942, Bobby Davidson signed up for flight training until the powers that be learned of his musical talents.  He stayed on with the dance band at the Aviation Cadet Center in San Antonio, Texas, entertaining the troops until 1945.

After the war, Bobby returned to Kalamazoo (where he had grown up), and formed an all-GI orchestra-- the only one of its kind.  The Bobby Davidson Orchestra grew out of this ensemble and kept Kalamazoo dancing for 46 years.  Bobby booked the band at country clubs, lodges, at Don Neal's, Mr. T-Bone, and the Supper Club.  His dance card was always full!

                                                    Bobby Davidson
                                         -Photo from his Kalamazoo Gazette
                                                 column, March 29, 1960

Bobby wore many musical hats as a member of the community.  What started out as a part-time job of percussion instructor at Western Michigan University in 1952, Bobby went on to develop the Jazz Studies Program, and started the internationally-recognized Jazz Lab Band.  When he retired from Western in 1983 as Assistant Professor Emeritus of Music, the university bestowed on him the title:  "Godfather of Jazz".                          

Bobby Davidson's library of hundreds of his arrangements for jazz band were donated to the WMU School of Music.

Bobby Davidson was also owner and proprietor of Davidson's Music Shoppe at 135 N. Burdick Street on the Kalamazoo Mall in the 1950s and 1960s.  He sold instruments and records and provided studio space for private instruction.  Bobby even had his own column in the Kalamazoo Gazette.  When long-time Kalamazoo Symphony Music Director Herman Felber retired in 1960, Davidson paid tribute:

                               -Kalamazoo Gazette, Tuesday, March 29, 1960 


                                                    -Kalamazoo Gazette ad, September, 1962

In 1962, the Kalamazoo Symphony enlisted the talents of Bobby Davidson and his band to perform a world-premiere with the KSO under the baton of their new Music Director, Gregory Millar.  The concert venue was the top deck of Gilmore Brothers department store parking lot.  The date was September 11, 1962, a chilly moonlit evening that did not deter the crowds from coming to hear Davidson's band, Max Roach (in another world-premiere), and Alice herself as piano soloist in George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

The Peter Phillips composition that featured the Bobby Davidson Big Band, Variations on a Theme of Thelonious Monk, received only polite applause, but the audience's mood changed when Davidson and his men launched into familiar jazz standards that were played as an encore.

    The newness of the jazz and symphonic wedding in Phillips' style is reflected in the
    fact that the audience applauded the concerto politely but cheered later when Bobby
   Davidson's band played night club blues.   

                                                       -Larry Pratt, Kalamazoo Gazette Staff Writer
                                                        Wednesday, September 12, 1962

In the 1970s, Alice and C.H. and their Waite Avenue neighbors got permission from the City of Kalamazoo to close the street for a block party and engaged Bobby and his band for the occasion.  When they arrived, they proceeded to set up their chairs and music stands right in the middle of the street, which proved ideal for dancing!

In 1991, Bobby Davidson was recognized by the community he loved so much, when he was awarded the Community Medals of Arts from the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, for his outstanding contribution to the arts in Kalamazoo.  He shared honors with Alice that year, as well as community theater advocate Tom Small. 

The medal ceremony was held in Bronson Park on July 17, 1991 at a Kalamazoo Symphony Summer Parks Concert, with Maestro Yoshimi Takeda conducting.

       At the Community Medal of Arts ceremony, Bronson Park, July 17, 1991
Left to right:  Jim Shumaker, former KSO trumpeter; Jim Gilmore, committee member; Tom Small, medal recipient; Bobby Davidson, medal recipient; Alice Mullen, medal recipient.

When Bobby Davidson died this year at age 93, Betzler funeral home was the scene of one of the year's best parties, complete with a bar, food and live music.  Saxophonist Ken Morgan, bassist Tom Knific and others formed an excellent jazz combo for the occasion. Harrison Orr, a 17-year member of Bobby Davidson's Big Band sat in and wowed the crowd with stylish clarinet solos of some of the great jazz standards.

R.I.P. Bobby... and thanks for the memories!

Friday, March 2, 2012


     Alice performs at the Kalamazoo Symphony's Designer Showhouse reception, 1990s.
     Her seat mate is Harold "Bud" Hanselman, pianist and KSO supporter.  Bud's wife
     Susan ascends the staircase.  

Kalamazoo has been blessed with the likes of Harold "Bud" Hanselman, a native Kalamazooan (1924-2011).

Bud took time out of his successful career in the paper industry to share his
talents.  Among his many volunteer projects, Harold Hanselman served on
the board of the Gilmore International Keyboard Festival and was an avid
Kalamazoo Symphony supporter.

Being a piano player himself, Bud and Alice would always talk about music whenever they
saw each other at symphony concerts.

Bud shared his enthusiasm for piano playing by providing live music for noontime diners at
Ministry With Community during the final decade of his life.  Thank you, Bud.  What a
difference you made in the lives of so many here in Kalamazoo.


Friday, January 6, 2012


A Book from Alice's Library

                             THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN by David Ewen,
                                             Illustrated by Graham Bernbach;
                           New York, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., ©1943, 211 pages.

This book from Alice's library, THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN, is a vintage hardcover edition with classic 1940s dust jacket, endpapers and illustrations by Graham Bernbach.  It was written by David Ewen, a prolific author of books about musicians and music history. THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN was published in 1943, as part of The Holt Musical Biography Series for Young People.

    Endpapers of this printing of THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN, designed by Graham
    Bernbach, © 1943, Henry Holt and Company, Inc., New York.                                                                                                            
THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN by David Ewen is currently available through Google Books, and on Amazon.

George Gershwin (1898-1937), was recognized as a great talent from the early years of his career.  Endless melodies seemed to flow from his pen.  He was a master of popular song.  Gershwin also had the knack of incorporating the harmonies and rhythms of a new kind of music born in African-American communities in the South that had migrated north to New York City's Harlem.  It was unique to America, and was an irresistible force-- JAZZ.

         "Jazz, in short, was sophisticated, stylized, even cultured ragtime. 
          If the sentimental ballad was primarily for singing, and ragtime 
          for dancing, jazz (in its highest form) was for hearing.  It would 
         bring subtlety and originality to the American popular song."
                                       -David Ewen, THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN, p. 44

Jazz music had taken the world by storm by the 1920s.  Classical composers on both sides of the Atlantic rushed to include jazz idioms in their compositions.  European composers such as Ravel, Stravinsky, and Milhaud incorporated the language of jazz in their own compositions, as well as American composers Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.  We have linked an excellent article from the Boosey & Hawkes music publishers website entitled:  "Jazz on Classical:  Classical on Jazz", (December, 2006).


See also this article from the National Public Radio's Performance Today® website about the influences of jazz on classical music: "The Influence of Jazz", with Professor David Baker, ©1999, Milestones of the Millennium series.


American band leader Paul Whiteman, championed the development of jazz for the mainstream, and felt it was important to recognize jazz as an art form requiring serious consideration and careful preparation.  He was interested in creating a new hybrid-- "symphonic jazz".

In 1923, George Gershwin was asked by Whiteman to compose a large-scale work of this new genre for his own orchestra, The Paul Whiteman Orchestra.  Feeling inadequate and unprepared for such an undertaking, Gershwin told Whiteman he could not fulfill his request.  "No, Paul, I'd better stick to my songs."   -THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN by David Ewen, p. 87.

Some weeks later, Gershwin just happened to see a publicity notice in the New York Tribune announcing that George Gershwin was hard at work on a new composition for the upcoming Paul Whiteman Orchestra concert at Aeolian Hall!  He knew Whiteman meant business and wouldn't take no for an answer.  Above all, he must have realized that Paul Whiteman really believed in him.  Gershwin knew he couldn't not do it!

     Illustration by Graham Bernbach,  
                                                  by David Ewen, p. 148                                        

With the concert date looming, Gershwin had to come up with something in a few weeks' time, but a large-scale work was out of the question.  Without a structure or plan, he decided that a shorter, one-movement piece would fill the bill, a rhapsodic piece for solo piano and orchestra entitled American Rhapsody, which he later re-named Rhapsody in Blue.  Gershwin himself played the solo piano part for the world-première with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.

Inspiration came quickly, and from unusual sources:  the rhythmic, steely clatter of train wheels when traveling up to Boston inspired a vision of the overall structure of the piece, and the middle theme emerged fully-formed in the midst of playing piano at a noisy party.

                       "As I was playing, without a thought of the Rhapsody,
                       all at once I hear myself playing a theme that must have
                       been haunting me inside, seeking outlet.  No sooner had 
                       it oozed out of my fingers than I realized I had found it."

                       "I frequently hear music in the very heart of noise."

                                        -George Gershwin quotes in David Ewen,
                                         THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN, pp. 92-3

Paul Whiteman made Gershwin swear he would complete the score, which was passed sheet by sheet to the waiting copyists and the arranger, Ferde Grofé, with just days to spare.  During the first rehearsal, Whiteman simply put down his baton and listened to the work of this 26-year-old genius.  They had a hit on their hands...


Aeolian Hall was the hub of the New York musical universe on the evening of February 12, 1924.  Prominent musicians from Rachmaninoff to John Philip Sousa were in the audience to hear what they would later learn was music history in the making.  The response was electric, and the critics loved it.  An American classic was born.  Paul Whiteman wept as he conducted.

In the words of George Gershwin himself:

                   "I hear it as a sort of musical kaleidoscope of America-- 
                    of our vast melting pot, of our incomparable national pep, 
                    our blues, our metropolitan madness."

                                 -David Ewen, THE STORY OF GEORGE GERSHWIN, p. 92

      SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE (GERSHWIN) ~ Alice in Bronson Park, 1961.

Alice performed George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the Kalamazoo Symphony on two occasions:  at a concert in Bronson Park in September of 1961, with Gregory Millar as the KSO's new Music Director, and the following year (September, 1962) in a new venue-- the top deck of Gilmore Brothers Department Store Auto Park in downtown Kalamazoo-- the first Starlight Pops Concert of the Kalamazoo Symphony under Millar.

                                                  Alice and KSO Maestro Gregory Millar
                              Please read about the first Starlight Concert on the main blog:
ALICE'S ARCHIVES:  50 Years of Kalamazoo Symphony Memorabilia,
Title Tab:  1962/ MILLAR/ Starlight Concerts:  Bright Idea!