Articles

Arrangements By Cable

Canadian radio's miracle kid only tells people how good he is week ends. Other days they tell him

JUNE CALLWOOD January 15 1949
Articles

Arrangements By Cable

Canadian radio's miracle kid only tells people how good he is week ends. Other days they tell him

JUNE CALLWOOD January 15 1949

Arrangements By Cable

Canadian radio's miracle kid only tells people how good he is week ends. Other days they tell him

JUNE CALLWOOD

RADIO’S Howard Cable, who some claim has sold his soul for a mere fortune, has been considered one of the music trade’s leading boy wonders for the past seven years. This is quite a feat, since boy wonders at best are a transient crew and Cable, conductor, composer and top-flight arranger, is now a ripe 28 years old.

“As a boy wonder,” he beams modestly, “I am no boy.”

The infant Cable is a legend in his own time because of the volume and velocity of his output. The years 1943-45 saw him work a shattering 16hour day, seven days a week, turning out faster than anyone else arrangements which ran the gamut from fancy to fantastic, and taking his wages home in panel trucks. Instead of burning himself out— as even his best friends assured him would happen —he emerged acknowledged the best arranger in the country, a successor to Percy Faith’s spotlight. He has also chased the wolf even farther from his suburban Toronto doorstep by copping the heavypaying General Electric Show Sunday evenings, a spot for which most entertainers would trade their claques.

Perhaps paradoxically, Cable’s work is most admired by musicians such as Sir Ernest MacMillan of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, who recently remarked that there are few first-class arrangers in the world, but that Howard Cable is one of them. The Symphony’s assistant conductor, Paul Scher-

man, flatly contends that Cable is the world’s best arranger.

“You give him an assignment and he not only finishes it faster than anyone else, but you get the best arrangement you could possibly get. The man is an absolute genius.”

Arranging, a comparatively recent art, is the business of taking a tune as it comes from the publisher and weaving it into a custom-built garment for the conductor or sponsor with the required fee. Using the same tune as a base, Cable has constructed a be-bop arrangement for a dance band, an arrangement with a list to the classic for an orchestra with a sit-down audience, and a pattern of sound to rise and fall in the background as some deathless drama is enacted at the mike. It’s where the notes and emphasis fall and which instruments are featured when, that weeds the

men from the boy wonders in the arrangement business.

For an absolute genius Cable is in remarkably complete possession of his buttons. He has none of the qualities which distinguish the Hollywood style of musical genius no ulcers, no drinking, no divorces. “This makes me an eccentric in the radio dodge,” he grins. “Look at me! One wife!”

Cable, in fact, is one of radio’s outstanding family men. He and his pretty, tiny wife, the former Dawn Darroch, have four children two girls and two boys — and he works at home oblivious to such domestic sounds as children screaming, dogs barking and vacuum whining.

“There’s only one t hing that gets through to me when I’m concentrating on my work,” says he, “and that’s injustice. I’ve got one kid who can swindle the rest out of the candy in their mouths. When she goes to work my sense of fair play gets aroused and 1 have to drop what I’m doing and protect my dopier children. Other than that, I never hear them.”

Cable works in a big square room over the garage that ad joins his house. It has one door which opens on the stairway between the main hall and the upstairs—a door which it has never occurred to him to close. He interrupts his work an estimated 20 times a day to answer door and phone, drive the children to school and visit with whichever one of his relatives is passing by.

His success, despite conditions which would goad many men to fury, is based on his power of concentration. He works at an intense migraine-making pace for a half hour, accomplishes about two hours work in the time, then lets up for the next half hour.

His method is to sit at his piano with several ash trays and the melody he

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must work on ranged before him. He smokes heavily, playing the melody through a few times and trying various improvisations. When he gets something he likes he writes it down, not just the piano’s part but the whole orchestration. His feeling for music is so acute he can “hear” the whole arrangement as if the entire 60-piece orchestra had climbed into his Steinway.

Then he sits down at his desk and scores the arrangement for the various instruments. This is the tough part. He scores in sections of about 16 bars, working out parts for the entire orchestra as he goes along. After that, the piece goes to his copyist, who writes out copies for each musician.

Howard has well-scrubbed, cleareyed good looks, with crinkled curly hair and a dapper mustache. He is five foot eleven, and has the build of an only recently retired athlete and an outdoors complexion to match. Conversationally he’s glib and assured: “I only tell people how good I am on week ends; during the week I let them tell me.” Sartorially he’s a suede-shod, hatless, multicolored dude.

Incompetents Annoy Him

Recently he greeted the breadman wearing a red plaid weskit with pearl buttons.

“Yipe!” gasped the vendor. “Have you got a whole suit like that?”

“Just a kilt,” replied Cable coldly. “But I never wear it any more since the new look came in.”

Though he is unfailingly polite, Cable is master of the withering insult, and has been known to send musicians home to their wives in tears. Inferior musicians annoy him to the point of contempt, mainly because only the more skilled are able to reproduce his exceedingly intricate arrangements.

Whenever a musician balks at the dancing notes put before him, Howard enquires sweetly, “Is it on the instrument?” When the musician nods an unhappy affirmative Cable says, in the tone of a reasonable man who is being pushed too far, “Well, let’s hear it then.”

Paul Scherman reports that when an orchestra he is conducting has gasped its way through the rehearsal of a Cable arrangement someone will ask in a strangled whisper who wrote that one. “When I tell them they groan, ‘We might have guessed.’ They’ll complain that he’s tough—-and he is—but no musician will ever say he’s no good.”

Cable himself admits that he’s learning all the time what certain instruments are capable of and what is musically impossible. “I used to get sore and pull one of those ‘I’ll-showyou-how-it’s-done’ acts,” he says. “But nine times out of 10 I couldn’t play it either, so I had to give in and rewrite the part.”

Cable’s knowledge of music is almost unique in a business where most of the practitioners fall into one of two categories: Dance men, like Mart Kenny, or classics men, like Sir Ernest. The two factions, which rarely speak, meet in Howard. He is as familiar with be-bop as with Beethoven, he has led a dance band through the Woody Woodpecker Songand the Toronto Symphony through one of his own compositions. He can pick out a Hoagy Carmichael tune the way Liszt would have played it or a Chopin étude in the style of Claude Thornhill.

“I like all music, except bad,” Cable explains. “I’m the little boy whose mommy never had to coax him to

practice. Music is even my hobby.”

Cable’s often-expressed affection for his trade must be genuine or it could never have withstood the workout he gave it between the fall of ’43 and the spring of ’46 when virtually every major musical show in Canadian radio featured arrangements or conducting by Howard Cable, and frequently both.

This was the result of a combination of circumstances—first that he caught on like a rocket and second that he was medically unfit for military service because ,of near-blindness in his left eye, a condition which he has had since birth. Several of Canada’s richer sponsors grabbed for him with contracts in hand. The stunner came when they compared notes and found that they all had got him.

The result was that Cable and his copyist, Dave Silverstein, embarked on a monopoly of air-borne music that came close to wrecking the health of themselves and their auditors.

“It was a crazy time,” recalls Silverstein. “We slept an average of four or five hours a night. Sometimes when I’d be working at home copying, Howard would phone and say he was going to nap a while and for me to phone him in 15 minutes. Then it would be my turn to sleep and he’d phone to wake me.”

It was not uncommon in this period for music to be delivered to the orchestra during the prebroadcast rehearsal. Cable and Silverstein would ride down to the studio together, Dave working frantically over the scores. On arrival, the copyist would settle himself in the control room and dole out the music to the jittery musicians a page at a time.

Just as he turned 25, Cable and the income-tax collectors simultaneously discovered that he had earned $22,500 that year. This represented a fair increase over his salary three years previously, which was $25 a week for leading a 12-piece dance band.

Prosperity Doesn’t Pay

Cable continues to bill himself as “conductor, composer and arranger,” which makes a sandwich that is almost totally bread. Cable the Composer is nearly nonexistent, a fact which most observers credit to the lack of financial appreciation accorded composers.

“What he is doing now is actually beneath his talent,” contends William Low of the Composers, Authors and Publishers Association, which handles Cable’s performing rights. “He’s going for the bird in the hand, doing those one-time sticks for radio. Flimsy stuff. He’s capable of magnificent music that would last 50 years.”

Bill Low went so far as to send his reluctant artist to Newfoundland a year ago as an aid to composition. Months later, under pressure, Cable delivered a Newfoundland Suite for string quartet, and after more months had flitted by, was able to report that a Newfoundland Rhapsody, a symphonic work based on Newfie folk songs, was almost ready. It will be introduced by the Toronto Symphony this winter —if Howard finishes it.

Although Howard does next to no composing, it is as a composer that he is known in the United States. This is because of his brilliant “Jingles All the Way,” which he reeled off in a moment of whimsey after being exposed to an afternoon of listening to the radio.

“Jingles” is a satire on singing commercials, and was introduced by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra about two years ago. Arthur Fiedler of the Boston Pops Orchestra heard it here and promptly presented it in Boston. Its theme was the jingles which extol the properties of this or that kitchen or washday aid to the housewife.

Fiedler was HO delighted with Cable’s opus that he scheduled it for his Saturday-night radio show. Saturday afternoon the sponsors whose jingles were incorporated learned that their earaches were going to be heard in the form of musical satire, and had the network censors bar the number just before the show went on the air.

An echelon of lawyers went into the fray, which gained in fury when Mills Publishing Inc. put in a bid to publish “Jingles.’’Three months later “Jingles” emerged completely rewritten around a handful of sponsor-approved singing slogans and the triumphant Fiedler find 90 grinning musicians put it. on the air.

The substitutions saddened Cable, however, especially loss of an entire fugue on a soap flake “earache,” and he hasn’t felt the same about “Jingles” since.

While arrangements remain the chief string to Cable’s bow, he and Johnny Wayne, the radio comedian, spend hours whittling away on a drdlam of theirs shaped like a Broadway marquee on which is lettered “Musical Comedy by Wayne & Cable.” While their wives nod sleepily over their knitting, the two sprawl on the rug listening to the latest hit show discs and improvising plots and lyrics. It’s a project they have been planning to get down to at their earliest opportunity for years.

Cable’s career is a Horatio Alger affair, full of great tribulations which our hero surmounts through sheer grit and the love of a good woman. His marriage is pure pulp-magazine stuff— he and Dawn Darroch, the girl across the street, whose roller skates he had carried to kindergarten, were married secretly in Toronto when they were 18 and have lived happily ever after.

Howard reached the piano through a mild adversity. “I broke my nose in the first hockey game I ever played and fell in a hole and broke my ankle during one of my first baseball games,” he recalls ruefully. “And so, reluctantly, I turned to music.”

His mother had a brother who was a professional organist and she herself played a fair piano, so when her brittle son was 10 she started him at piano lessons.

Music or Nothing

Dr. Leslie Bell, conductor of the Bell Singers, taught Cable at Barkdale High School in Toronto and claims there never was a youngster who was more certain of what he was going to do.

Bell was organizing Barkdale’s first school orchestra the year Howard started high school, and he remembers his first impression of the leggy youngster who appeared to try out for pianist. “In the first place he hadn’t been studying loo long anil he wasn’t so hot and in the second every other musician in the school seemed to be a pianist. I rejected him as gently as possible but he still turned up every practice.”

Cable explains, “I was the revolting kind of kid who always has his hand up to be monitor, that sort of thing.

I just hung around the orchestra until Les finally gave me the job of librarian ”

That was when Bell first, realized that the boy was something out of the ordinary. “In a matter of days he had my music library organized better than I’d ever known it. Shortly after that, with no advance warning, he showed up with a clarinet. The orchestra had been needing another clarinet so he had learned the instrument. And he was pretty good, too.”

With his seat in the orchestra assured, Howard was off. He studied piano, clarinet and saxophone, dropping t he latter for an oboe on the advice

of doctors. He studied conducting and mastership at the Conservatory, complained to a local radio station that a half hour of jazz recordings was a necessity, and wound up selecting the music and writing the commentary. To fill in his evenings he organized a dance band.

“Howard Cable and His Cavaliers, we called it,” he recalls, gritting his teeth. “We played for laughs and a few bucks and got considerably more of the former. I was 15 when I started it hut even so we wangled a summer booking. We played four consecutive seasons at Honey Harbor—at $12 a week per man.”

His skill with the oboe gained him a scholarship at the Toronto Conservatory of Music and he won his ATCM, a teacher’s degree, in conducting when he was 18. Two years later he played oboe in the Prom Symphony Orchestra.

“I gave him his examination at that time,” says Sir Ernest MacMillan. “He was a grim youngster, deadly serious about music. I never suspected he had a dance band going at the same time.”

“Dawn and I waited to be married until I was financially secure,” grins Cable. “I had just signed a contract to present myself, a 12-piece band and two vocalists at dances for a total fee of $40. The contract explained that the extra money was for bandstands. Strictly milk-of-human-kindnessstuff.”

The newlyweds scraped through the

winter on that. In the spring, with a baby on the way, they got their big chance with a hooking at Château-Gai, near Midland, at the best salary Howard had ever commanded. A week after the opening, the dance hall burned to the ground, taking with it all his arrangements and all the band’s instruments.

The Cables returned to Toronto to live with their parents while Howard tried to find a job. All the summer bookings for bands were taken, so his band split up, accepting what they could get. Howard landed a lightpaying spot as pianist with a band in Muskoka. He spent the summer rewriting his arrangements.

Into the Big Time

That winter he collected another dance band and, for added flourish, two colored vocalists. They played at frat hops and occasional out - of - town dances. At one of these Willis Tipping, a band leader on the western Ontario circuits, was present. He was amazed to hear so much arrangement coming from a band with otherwise so little talent. For the next two years Howard did all Tipping’s arrangements.

Music’s miracle kid was finding his stride. The pay-dirt programs began to come his way, and any subsequent reverses have been strictly temporary.

Today Cable has only one commercial show—he has a verbal agreement with Canadian General Electric

that he will do only sustainer shows— which consists of a Sunday evening half hour of music presented jointly by Howard and Les Bell’s all-girl choir, the Bell Singers. The two share the conducting, planning and arranging in an atmosphere of communion marred only by the occasional joust over the choice of music to be presented.

“You just can’t deny that boy’s talent,” says Bell. “One night well after midnight I was watching him working out a score for a program that was to be heard the next day. He was writing very quickly and I suddenly

noticed he was using pen and ink. I suggested it would be easier for him to make the necessary corrections later if he used a pencil.

“He looked up at me and he was genuinely surprised. ‘Les,’ he said, ‘1 don’t make mistakes.’ The incredible part of it is that he doesn’t. The score was perfect.”

“I shudder to think what would have happened if I’d really worked at music,” Cable once said of Cable. “Been a Paderewski I guess.”

There are those who think he’s right. *