Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A Little Christmas Music - Say it with Carols (1931)

I thought I'd kick off this year's Christmas Music series with an artist many of us here in the US may think of as obscure. Billy Mayerl made his name in the UK as a pianist and composer of novelty and music hall tunes, penning over 300 pieces in his career with his best known being Marigold (1927). Though he'd been instructed in the piano from an early age, Mayerl's style formed when he encountered American ragtime music while attending Trinity College. When he tried his hand at what the religiously conservative Trinity considered a bawdy and doubtless too African-American, syncopated style he was threatened with expulsion from the college. This censure delayed the release of Billy's composition The Jazz Master, and the launch of his career, for a decade.

Free from the confines of Trinity, Mayerl joined a Southampton hotel band in 1921 and during this time recorded an estimated 37 piano rolls of popular tunes during the early 20's and eventually joined the Savoy Havana Band in London which led to his celebrity.

Billy married his childhood sweetheart and his fame skyrocketed as he became the first to perform Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue in London. Soon he was launching a correspondence course from rented offices on Oxford Street. Through the 30's his fame grew and in 1940 Billy gave a Royal Command Performance which led to his wartime radio show, Music While You Work. The program had been conceived as a way to encourage increased wartime factory production but, due to Billy's popularity and talent, it outlasted World War II by two decades. Ten months after signing off for the final time, Billy Mayerl was dead from a heart attack.

The 1931 tune Say it with Carols is characteristic of Billy's early work. A piano tour de force showing his ability to rag-up traditional material with syncopated vim and vigor. So let's gather in the soft glow of the radio, the weather's rotten, but the fire's warm and the music's good. Tis the season to take a little comfort with your fellow man, after all.

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