Melody Merchant

Stanley St. John and His Orchestra can be two or more places at once. It's a trick he does often — and profitably

TRENT FRAYNE October 1 1946

Melody Merchant

Stanley St. John and His Orchestra can be two or more places at once. It's a trick he does often — and profitably

TRENT FRAYNE October 1 1946

Melody Merchant

Stanley St. John and His Orchestra can be two or more places at once. It's a trick he does often — and profitably


STANLEY ST. JOHN is a large and polite pianist who never will be hailed as the world’s greatest musician, but nevertheless has an extremely convenient asset: In and around

Toronto for more than 10 years now people in the upper bracket have operated on the conviction that no party is complete without the St. John beat. It’s sort of like having forks on the table.

At 42, Mr. St. John is a suave, immaculate, rather conservative gentleman. He has a quiet, somewhat ingratiating voice with a tired inflection. He’s as imperturbable as a headwaiter and quite as selfpossessed.

He resembles Paul Whiteman, the American orchestra leader—both are fairly large six-footers with slender, carefully etched, black mustaches and black hair whose race is almost run. Mr. St. John wears rimless glasses over dark-brown eyes, has a full face, slightly jowly, and no amount of shaving can erase the blue-black glint of his whiskers. White tie and tails might have been originally conceived for Mr. St. John, who has a business in which such habiliments are his work clothes.

He plays what the boys in the music business call a social piano. He is something more than a pianist, however; as a matter of fact he is something more than the leader of an orchestra. He is the

leader of several orchestras, all of them known as Stanley St. John and His Orchestra.

Aside from being a “must” at Toronto social functions, Mr. St. John is in attendance at most of the convention banquets which flood Toronto’s Royal York and King Edward Hotels. The story goes that one itinerant inebriate forsook the grape for life, following what he considered one particularly harrowing experience at the Royal York.

It happened that the gentleman left one banquet hall, at which Mr. St. John was leading an orchestra, and invaded another to pass the time of day. He glanced briefly at the bandstand and was mildly astonished to see Mr. St. John leading the orchestra.

Later, in his meanderings down the hall, he happened upon another banquet in another ball-

room. He was so incredulous to see that the leader of the band also was Mr. St. John that he fled to the Roof Garden. Moments later, a babbling wreck, he had to be forcibly restrained from leaping from the roof. He pointed a shaking finger at his last hallucination: Mr. St. John leading the melody boys on the Roof Garden.

The explanation was that Stanley St. John and His Orchestra had been hired for the evening by four separate groups. Mr. St. John, employing roughly 60 of his 180 charges, had merely moved from room to room from time to time to lead his orchestra or, more properly, his orchestras.

That figure “180,” while slightly startling, is true. Mr. St. John is, actually if not nominally, a booking agent for entertainers. His annual payroll runs to tens of thousands of dollars. Although many of his musicians are free lancers, his firststring 15-piece orchestra works for him alone.

The fact that Toronto has plenty of free-lance musicians helps his business. Many phone him daily to see if he has work for them, and he keeps dozens of names in a little black notebook. He phones these people well in advance of when he needs them.

He sells the service as Stanley St. John and His Orchestra, and on nights when he has more than one band playing he tries to divide his time pretty well between them, taking short turns at the piano during these appearances.

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near the foundations of the first log cabin Adam and his wife Mary Ann (used to modest luxury in Schoharie County, N. Y.) built of black ash and pine logs. There were no sawmills to make boards. There were an open fireplace, a brick oven, a cord bedstead with a tick filled with dried grass or wild rice straw. Mary Ann, pausing in her baking, could look out of her cabin door and see a solid wilderness of trees. Standing at their doorway, her descendants can look over hundreds of acres of rich orchard land.

Helping to open up the Niagara Peninsula meant, to Adam Crysler, the building of quarters for his family, servants and slaves, the planning for barns and stables, and the opening and clearing of land. Lake Ontario, a few miles north from the homestead, and the Niagara River teemed with fish: sturgeon, whitefish, trout, bass, pickerel and herring. These were salted for winter. For change in the fare there were bear, partridge, duck and other wild fowl.

It took about four years for the settlers to clear enough land to grow food to support themselves. During this time the British Government supplied them with flour, house necessities, seeds, implements and clothing. But on Dec. 25, 1786, “Street and Butler” credited Adam Crysler with “two pounds 10 shillings for 50 cabbages,” and in January, 1788, “Hamilton and Cartwright” gave him credit for “60 pounds 10 shillings for 151 bushels of wheat at eight shillings.”

As Adam Crysler lived so did the others who came when the land was wilderness. When he died in 1793, at 61, and was buried on his own land, his grave was the third in the district.

Adam’s son John laid the foundations for the rich fruit farm Crysler’s was to become. On a sandy knoll he laid out an orchard of red cherry, quince, plum, peach, pear and apple trees.

John Crysler, in his lifetime, saw the forests of the Peninsula fall before the axes of the settlers and saw the first log houses replaced by stone buildings, and the establishment of provincial and municipal governments. He saw churches and schools rise, and corduroy, macadam and plank roads built upon the old Indian trails. The present Lake Road to Niagara, and St. Catharines’ car line, for example, follow the Mohawk trail Adam Crysler knew.

Historic Route

JOHN CRYSLER saw the men who came with his father, in allegiance to the British King, rise to protest, and even fight for what they believed were their rights. In his time Mackenzie’s speeches rang in the homes and meetinghouses of the Peninsula, and the Colonial Advocate was published in a stone house a tourist can visit today, not far from the Crysler farm.

John Crysler knew of Linus Miller and the 16 others, captured after the Short Hills raid and condemned to exile in Van Diemen’s Land, Tasmania. He watched the streams of settlers going west, portaging from Queenston to Chippawa. The Peninsular towns flourished. Queenston alone had, at one time, 13 public houses. Niagara became the centre of supplies for almost all Southern Ontario, and now somnolent St. David’s was the centre of milling industry.

Such was the beginning of the settlement of the New Purchase, known today as the Niagara Peninsula. Today, driving from Toronto your route takes you into the past—Homer, St. David’s, Chippawa, Montrose, Thorold, Welland—where the names brought from England alternate on the road signs with the names of the land itself. And amid these reminders of the past you come to a vigorous symbol of the future—che Welland Canal.

Above the locks the water spreads a placid wide surface. The great concrete structure is slowly filling with water. Upstream a smoke pillar rises above the trees, and in half an hour the nose of a grain 3hip appears around the bend. With majestic slowness the vessel moves into the narrow canal opening at Port Colborne, to cross the New Purchase with western wheat for the East—perhaps for Europe. Ten miles to the east

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For years he handled virtually all the entertainment for 23 of Toronto’s largest clubs—golf clubs, yacht clubs and social clubs—and for most of the international conventions which requested a floor show as well as the regular orchestra music. During this period he also managed to provide musical accompaniment for almost 1,000 fashion shows.

The connections and business contacts he had built up over the years in organizing entertainment for clubs, in playing at coming-out parties and society weddings were instrumental in his going into radio, Mr. St. John says, because some of these people, when they decided to sponsor radio programs, insisted that he provide the music. He had organized entertainment for years for both the Goodyear and Weston companies, so that when they entered the radio field they called on him.

For the last three years the rest of Canada—at least the radio listeners —has had an opportunity to know St. John because he has conducted Goodyear and Weston radio programs and also one for the Independent Druggists Association.

Most people who visited the Canadian National Exhibition in the seven years preceding its suspension after 1941 would know him, too—his band appeared regularly along with “name” bands from the United States.

Mostly, Stanley St. John’s music is sweet. He doesn’t like loud brass in his congregations, leans more toward reeds and strings. He dislikes any excessive brass tone. Most of his orchestral music is built around his piano, a style he first noticed and admired at the Central Park Casino in New York. That was around 1933 or 1934, when Leo Reisman’s orchestra had a young pianist named Eddie Duchin, who later became an orchestra leader of considerable renown. Anyway, St. John liked Duchin’s manner, liked the way the piano formed a background for much of the music and occasionally took the lead. Since this type of musicappealed to him personally—and also to the Casino’s rich clientele—he decided it was for him.

Other musicians, in assessing Mr. St. John’s melodies, have remarked that he gets a lot of a commodity known as “schmaltz” into them, that he has a nice left hand to play the melody, and that he has a pleasant grin. In order of their appearance, schmaltz is described variously as

^ very lush,” “kind of drippy” and rather drool-like”; a nice left hand as the foundation of a Pagliacci effect; and a pleasant grin as a requisite in a social environment.

What St. John’s possibly biased contemporaries fail to point out, howover, is that he is a tremendously accomplished musician, an expert merchandiser and an eminent businessman. He completed the practical end of two courses (A.I.C.M. and L.T.C.M.) at the I oronto Conservatory of Music, doesn t often refer to this because he thinks it might make him appear too serious a musician—or, as they say, long-hair to be dealing in ditties of the day. And if any further proof is needed of his business ability, there is one report which he doesn’t circulate himself, incidentally—that he once received $7,000 for a single evening’s performance — including orchestra, catering and entertainment. That was for a wedding.

From a Musical Family

St. John’s family was musical. Llis father was choirmaster at the little town of Sunderland, Ont., where Stanley was born Feb. 19, 1904, and his mother played the church organ. The family moved to the nearby town of Uxbridge in 1916, when the head of the house, a hydroelectric superintendent, was transferred there. There Stanley attended high school, taught piano and played a church organ in Lindsay, Ont. The organ continued to interest him, and does so to the present day.

While living at Uxbridge, Stanley went to Toronto once a week to attend the Toronto Conservatory of Music. He did this for two years, by which time he had saved several hundred dollars, enough to launch himself at University of Toronto. He majored in mathematics and physics, but, as a profitable sideline, he got into music in his first year. During his first term his orchestra played for several dances at Victoria College, and in the summer moved up to Hotel Britannia at Lake of Bays. This cleared another few hundred, and financed the second year at University, during which the orchestra branched out to take on commercial jobs.

jobs. St. John got a big break that May— it was 1927—when, with five other University musicians, he was selected by the CPR to provide the music for a party of 80 who were embarking on a three-month tour of Europe. He returned for two more years of schooling, and during one of the summers organized an orchestra in

Kingston from musicians who had been playing in theatres during the days of silent films and who became jobless with the advent of talkies. He started playing at the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, the Mississauga Golf Club and the Granite Club. Gradually his business mushroomed.

ness mushroomed. As more people heard him at social functions, more people requested that he play at others. Business was so good toward the end of his fourth year that he knew music was to be his profession. So he left school on the eve of his final exams to devote all of his time to it. He discovered early that the majority of people from whom he received his best assignments liked soft music, where strings and reeds formed a restive backdrop for conversation and leisurely dancing,

Like most musicians, Mr. St. John’s business is his chief hobby. He likes to travel, to play bridge and to play the market, but his compelling interest is music. He takes one long trip a year— or did until the war came along— travelling extensively in Canada, the United States, Bermuda and Cuba. He still visits New York several times a year—“to keep in touch”—and has missed few musical shows on Broadway in the last 15 years.

years. But he spends much of his spare time around his beautifully furnished home in Toronto’s Alexander Wood district. Being very hospitable and fond of company, he does a great deal of entertaining. He has two pianos, a concert grand Steinway (in his living room) and a semiconcert Heintzman. The Heintzman is in his beautifully appointed recreation room which, because it is below ground level, isn’t warmer than 70 degrees in the most humid, depressingly hot weather. The lounge has the décor of a good cocktail bar, with quiet lighting, thick rugs and deep, comfortable chesterfields and chairs—and a tiny smartly designed bar. He has two cars (one closed, one open).

He’s Single, “Fortunately”

Stanley is his own bookkeeper, does not possess a manager, answers an enormous number of daily telephone calls himself, and holds something like 25 auditions a week. It is readily apparent that he is something of a one-man task force.

“Fortunately,” smiles Mr. St. John, “I have no wife.”

He hastily amends this observation, however, by pointing out that he hopes to join the ranks of the benedicts when his terrific pace slows down to a comparative walk. “The way I go now, there’d be no home life,” he says. ★