Monday, December 31, 2012

Calvin Lampley, Take Two – Juilliard, Carnegie Hall and Columbia Records

Cover photo: Calvin Lampley backstage at the 1957 Newport Festival.
Courtesy of Sony Music Archives.

On December 26, 2012 AfriClassical posted: "Martin Gladu Publishes Essay 'Odd Man Out' on Calvin Douglas Lampley (1924-2006), African American Classical Pianist and Composer."  The complete title is: Odd Man Out: A biographical essay on the life and career of Calvin Lampley. The first chapter is called Take One: Family, the North Carolina Years and the 364th.  Today we take a look at the second chapter.

Take Two: Juilliard, Carnegie Hall and Columbia Records

Thanks to the newly-enacted GI Bill, Lampley moved to New York City in 1946 to pursue his education at the Juilliard School of Music1. Assigned to the classes of Irwin Freundlich (piano) and Richard Franko Goldman (composition) - whom he credited for having “freed his mind musically”2 - he was to graduate three years later with an Artist Diploma in piano. In addition to his classical studies, he also sought the instruction of Stan Kenton’s musical director/arranger, William Russo3, whom he would later assist at the Peabody Conservatory. Although he most probably had to support himself through other means besides playing music - which also implied reducing expenses and rooming with clarinetist Alfred D Kohler and actor Richard Kiley - he was nevertheless to reach the zenith of his career as a concert pianist on March 30, 1951. That day, the doors of the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York City were opened to him. Lampley had just turned twenty-seven4.

The “strenuous program,” as it was dubbed in the Musical Courier’s review5, called for Lampley to play the first NY performance of Goldman’s Aubades in addition to a hearty collection of pieces that included Fantaisies by both Telemann and Karl Phillip Emanuel Bach, Mozart’s Piano Sonata No.16 in B-flat Major K.570, Mendelssohn’s Variations Sérieuses Op.54, Schumann’s Kinderszenen Op.15, Norman Dello Joio’s Suite for Piano (1940) , as well as works by Brahms and Debussy. A strenuous program indeed. Critic Herbert Livingston described the Goldman piece:

“These four short pieces - an andante in pastorale style, a twelve measure allegretto with a running melodic line, a moody adagio with a melody in parallel thirds, and a presto in two-voice texture - are traditional in form, rhythm and melodic content. The sonorities are familiar from the works of the polytonalists. (...) The music is thoroughly accessible both to performer and listener. The thematic material, however, lacks distinction and the treatment is not particularly imaginative.”6

Conversely, the Schumann and the Mozart all but lack distinction. A multipartite piece consisting of thirteen varied themes, Schumann’s Kinderszenen jumps through a myriad of different moods and sceneries. And the lively spirit of the first and last movements of Mozart’s Sonata bear all the elements one may attribute to Lampley’s own personality7.  Finally, Debussy’s impressionist style bring a welcomed contrast to Telemann and Brahms’ classicism.

Considering both the level and breadth of interpretative skills required to perform these canons of the pianistic literature, it is all the more surprising to note that he not only mastered the repertoire in roughly seven years, but that he catered to his career as a concertist while simultaneously working full-time as a music/tape editor at Masterworks.  That said, Lampley did build his artistry on the foundation of a superior pianistic lineage. That lineage - which goes back to Leschetizsky and Gabrilowitsch, Schnabel and the Lawsons (father R.A. Lawson and son W. Lawson) and crystallized under Freundlich’s tutelage (who himself had studied with James Friskin and Edward Steuermann) -, is one steeped in rigorous technical and musical acumen. To round it up, nation-wide tours in 1952 and 1953, concert appearances in Canada, as well as recitals with contralto Ruth Kisch-Arndt in 1954 were also part of his playing regimen. Interestingly, Kisch-Arndt was known as “one of the foremost Lieder singers on the European continent (...) and one of the finest and most sensitive contemporary interpreters of the German lieder (...)”8 Unfortunately, his career as a concertist proved insufficient to sustain him financially, hence his taking the job of “classical score-reading tape editor” in Columbia Masterworks’ editing department sometime in late 19499. Journalist Adah Jenkins wrote of the rather interesting turn of event which led to Lampley’s hiring at the label:

“During his last year at Juilliard, Lampley was attending a ‘farewell’ supper when a complete stranger came over to his table and inquired if he would be interested in a position at CBS recording and upon his assent, gave him the address. Lampley was not too impressed and promptly forgot the matter. Sometime later he was seated in the square near Juilliard when the same stranger walked up and inquired as to his success in the job and asked him to try it. Feeling that Fate, in the person of this stranger, was with him, Mr. Lampley went immediately to CBS studios. After an audition, he got the position
in the studio (...)”10

Indeed, having seized what resulted in a rather fortuitous opportunity, Lampley joined the team of technicians co-led by Vin Liebler (one of the engineers responsible for the invention of the LP) and Howard Scott11. He could not have landed in better company. Scott, an esteemed classical music record producer, had just perfected a technique along with engineer Paul Gordon that allowed the transfer of short “takes” to long-playing masters12. Keen on banking on the latest invention (eg: the LP), Columbia desperately needed dexterous staffers, and Lampley was the right man for the job. He was to stay at the diskery until the fall of 1958, working on the recordings of Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Victor Borges, Robert Casadeus, Zeno Francescetti, Mahalia Jackson, the Metropolitan Opera, Liberace, Patachou, Johnny Mathis, Dave Brubeck, Judy Garland, Doris Day, Erroll Garner, Sir Thomas Beecham, Guiomar Novaes and J.J.Johnson among others. Having noticed either his career as a concert pianist, or more logically, his editing work at Masterworks, renowned Columbia producer Georges Avakian appointed him Assistant Recording Director, Pop Albums in May 195413, then A&R Music Editor in November of the same year14. He finally upped him to Recording Director, Pop Albums A&R in April 195715. A year later, Billboard magazine announced Columbia’s new executive structure that saw Lampley, Robert Prince and Ernie Altschuler now reporting to Irving Townsend (whom had just been promoted to Executive Director of Popular Albums)16. Though nothing is known of his rapport with Townsend - nor with Mitch Miller who by then reigned as the label’s head of A&R - Lampley had nevertheless found a mentor in Avakian (who was also responsible for bringing Prince and Teo Macero to Columbia.)  As a matter of fact, it is rather interesting to note the similarities shared by those three executives.

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