The Royal Canadian

People could never understand Louis Armstrong’s oft quoted statement that he loved Guy Lombardo’s music. It was his favourite band.

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It only proves that people never knew Louis very well.

The seminal jazz man’s advice to young musicians was “never forget the melody”, advice apparently ignored by current rap artists. Lombardo, the master of melody, is the most successful Canadian band in history and having said that we might also include the world, if longevity and record sales mean anything. Before the Beatles Guy was # 1 in record sales

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Gaetano “Guy”)  Lombardo (1902) and his musical brothers Lebert, Victor and Carmen were a real “family affair”, the London born sons of immigrant parents. Their band often hopped across the border to Cleveland, first in 1924 and then to Chicago in 1927 where it played at the Grenada Cafe. Like  Bing Crosby whose fame coincided with radio air checks, the Lombardo band (and the Royal Canadians) hit instant popularity with “the sweetest sounds this side of heaven” played over the powerful Midwest  station WGN. Lombardo was a sharp leader recognizing early that radio was his ticket and he actually paid for his first broadcast which made his band instantly popular.

At this time, the incandescent Louis Armstrong was knocking music patrons dead with his stunning virtuosity but Jim Crow was  still alive in Chicago and I believe it was Lebert who charged into the office of the Grenada Cafe and confronted the owner who had denied Armstong entrance. Lebert shouted at the manager that Louis was a musical genius and “how dare you treat this artist like this.” The manager backed down. The Lombardos were too powerful.

Guy Lombardo’s music was instantly recognizable, it was warm, danceable and  emotionally  driven by the wailing saxophones which were led by Carmen’s vibrato. The latter  was  a key member of the aggregation, arranging and actually writing some of their hits. Sweethearts on Parade, Boo Hoo, Coquette were just three of his many popular tunes. A  Sailboat in the Moonlight was recorded by Billie Holiday in 1938. By 1929 they were so successful that they moved to Music central, New York city and the Roosevelt Grill where they  headquartered for the next 33 years. Lombardo’s  music stuck to the popular tunes of the day and the format never changed. For 48 years  the  band rang in New Year’s Eve and this only stopped with  the leader’s death in 1977.

In retrospect, Guy was smart enough to know not to get too hip and dabble in the burgeoning jazz market. Though considered corny  by many, the band was admired by most for its professionalism and musicianship.

Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom was the home of the many great Negro bands but nobody packed them in like Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians.

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