Friday, January 24, 2014

Louise Brooks Encyclopedia: Emil Coleman

Welcome to a new feature of the Louise Brooks Society blog - the Louise Brooks Encyclopedia. The first entry is devoted to bandleader Emil Coleman. In 1935, Coleman and his Orchestra shared the bill with Brooks & Dario in the Persian Room of the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

Who was Emil Coleman?

As early as 1917, the Russian-born pianist was performing in New York City on the third floor of Reisenweber's restaurant, upstairs from the Original Dixieland Jazz Band on the second floor and Gus Edwards on the first floor in a coming together of musicians regarded as the musical beginning of the Jazz Age in the Big Apple.

Starting in 1918, Coleman would lead one of the most popular dance bands in New York, first at the Montmartre Hotel (where Gloria Vanderbilt saw him) and then over the years at the Riviera, Central Park Casino (where he would be replaced by Eddie Duchin), Club Lido, St. Regis (in the King Cole Room, featuring Kay Thompson), Trocadero, Mocambo, and the famed Waldorf-Astoria, where he was a fixture.

Adapting to changing musical styles, the portly, balding Coleman developed the "medley" form of dance band repertoire emulated by other society orchestras. He played the Charleston, Tango, and Rumba, along with big band swing. He also performed on the radio, and at hundreds of debutante balls and social galas. Between 1923 and 1934, Coleman's various hotel orchestras registered 12 hits on the national charts on the Vocalion, Brunswick and Colombia labels. Among them were "Little Man, You've had a Busy Day," which peaked at #2 in 1934, and "What Is There to Say?" from the Ziegfeld Follies of 1934. Though his sound was sweet, Coleman's recordings were appreciated and collected by many, including even Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner.

Coleman's filmed appearances include musical shorts in the 1930's and 1940s, and a television appearance on the Arthur Murray Party show in the early 1950s. In later years, Coleman continued to record and perform, issuing the "Walter Winchell Rumba" in 1952, and backing up Eddie Fisher's comeback at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1959. Coleman's last vinyl LP was Emil Coleman Lights Up ... The Plaza on Phillips.

Not much is known about the other orchestra noted on the ad, the George Sterney Orchestra, except that they too played on the radio in the 1930s and 1940s. I haven't found any recordings by them.

Know anything else about Emil Coleman? Please post in the comments!

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