Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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FAITH, Percy

(b 7 April 1908, Toronto, Canada; d 9 February 1976, Encino CA) Arranger, conductor, composer. He played in silent cinemas at age 12 and played a piano recital at Massey Hall age 15, but his hands were injured in a fire in 1926, ending any prospect of a concert career. He began arranging for hotel orchestras, then on radio in 1927; Music By Faith '38-40 on CBC (with Robert Farnon on trumpet) was carried in USA by the Mutual network. When his budget was cut and tired of feeling like the CBC's 'token Jew' he went to Chicago in 1941. He arranged and conducted radio shows The Contented Hour, Buddy Clark and Coca-Cola programmes etc; on The Pause That Refreshes his orchestra backed guests Eleanor Steber '44, Jane Froman '48-9, Gisele MacKenzie, Kay Armen, Earl Wrightson, Evelyn Knight, Eileen Farrell and Frances Langford '50; other radio work included a lovely arrangement of 'You Better Go Now' with Billie Holiday.

He was already becoming famous on American radio when he recorded at least 19 sides for Decca in 1944-46. It is hard to describe their charm. It is a slightly younger Faith than the conductor who became world famous in the next decade, just reaching his peak with an unlimited amount of energetic innocence. This was, after all, sophisticated stuff in those days: a roomful of the best musicians in town playing Faith arrangements for the microphone without any gimmicks was about as good as pop got when the Swing Era was winding down. Songs by Frank Loesser, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern etc were either brand new or had just been used in a film, or in any case were still in everybody’s mental jukebox, not yet pushed out by jingles. Ballads were interspersed with Faith’s Latin-American specialties, and all of his arranging tricks were already well-developed: the throw-away arpeggio in the flutes, and the many ways to arrange a tune so it does not wear out its welcome on a three-minute record. 'Negra Consentida' (My Pet Brunette) is a good example of how Faith finds endless inspiration in a simple composition. Part of the intro to 'Embraceable You' intrigues the listener with the first three notes of the melody, repeated in different registers. An almost overwrought arrangement of 'Spring Will Be A Little Late This Year' breaks out towards the end with strings (violas?) playing the luscious tune full-heartedly and unadorned. 'Bim, Bam, Boom!' has a wacky rhythm section, another Faith trademark; 'Tico Tico' has a motif that later became part of Faith’s 'Brazilian Sleighbells'; 'Capullito de Aleli' at one point has a muted trumpet warbling the cute tune, while a trombone chorus plays a slyly humourous obbligato, another typical Faith touch. 'Baia' reminds one of a lick from William Walton’s First Symphony, a decade earlier (a coincidence, or was Ary Barroso a Walton fan?) 'If There Is Someone Lovelier Than You' has an unusual structure, and draws the listener in at the beginning with a viola solo.

Faith recorded only four tracks in 1946, accompaniments for cabaret singer and radio star Hildegarde (see her entry). Whether dropped by Decca or whether Jack Kapp drove too hard a bargain, Faith next made eight tracks for Majestic in 1947. That label didn’t last long, but Eli Oberstein was involved (see his entry), which is why these tracks were endlessly recycled on strange labels in the early 1950s. Six tracks came out on Majestic 78s, and the other two were only issued later on vinyl. 'The Touch Of Your Hand' has an exquisite yearning quality; 'Tia Juana' is a memorable tune that was co-written by Raymond Scott (one would like to know the genesis of that); 'Noche Caribe' (Caribbean Night) is a Faith tune that would soon be remade for Columbia.

Faith then made 12 tracks for RCA Victor in 1949, ten of which were issued on 78s; a different selection of ten was later issued on an early RCA 12-inch LP, and the other two were on a 45 EP. 'I Got Rhythm', with its pizzicatto strings, and 'La Mer' (Beyond The Sea) with its feathery, rocking strings, are wonderful Faith tracks. 'Oodles Of Noodles' was written by Jimmy Dorsey as a vehicle for his expertise on the alto sax; readers of a certain age from the Chicago area will remember it because the Faith version was used as the theme on a late-night old-movie showcase on local TV, sponsored by a car dealer ('Jim Moran, the Courtesy Man'). 'Oodles Of Noodles' and 'Perpetual Notion' portray the hustle and bustle of the city, then slow down to one of those languid, unforgettably blasé Manhattan-at-night themes: we are invited to imagine ourselves in evening dress, gazing out of our penthouse over the city, a martini in hand (Bernie Wayne's 'Life In New York' was another such tune). There are beautiful arrangements of 'Deep Purple', 'Soft Lights And Sweet Music' and 'Body And Soul'. Those were the days when song pluggers were still hanging around the record companies, so a few of the RCA numbers were contemporary pop songs: 'My Dream Concerto' was by lyricist Mack David, who later had eight Oscar nominations for film songs; the very nice tenor voice on it is Ray Charles, not the soul genius but the leader of the Ray Charles Singers, who worked on TV and albums with Perry Como for 35 years. 'Whirlwind', also with the chorus, was recorded the same day, a lovely tune also recorded by Margaret Whiting; its author, Stan Jones, seems to have specialised in country-flavored numbers: his biggest hit was '[Ghost] Riders In The Sky'. 'Cumana' was a bit of Latin-jazz excitement written by Freddy Martin's pianist.   

For a long time Faith fans despaired of ever seeing any pre-stereo tracks on CD, but that has changed; in particular, a two-CD set called Delicado on the English Living Era label has all the Faith tracks from the 1940s (lacking two of the Hildegardes), plus a sprinkling of early Columbia tracks, all in superb transfers by the late Alan Bunting. These old gems never sounded so good; the set came out in 2004 and was soon out of print.

At Columbia from 1950 Faith became a leader in the 'popular instrumental' genre (called 'light music' in the UK; see also Mood Music). His own number one hits '52-3 began with the Brazilian baião 'Delicado', written by Waldir Azevedo; Faith's arrangement had an amplified harpsichord played by Stan Freeman. Faith's second number one was 'Song From Moulin Rouge', a film song by Georges Auric and William Engvick, a brilliant arrangement with a vocal by Felicia Sanders, and the flip side also charted: 'Swedish Rhapsody' was Faith's arrangement of Hugo Alfven's 'Midsummer Vigil'. All these were in the Living Era set, in better transfers than the parent Columbia has managed. (Bunting cleverly combined an instrumental version of 'Moulin Rouge' from an album of Hollywood themes with the hit single to make a seamless track over 5.5 minutes long.) At Columbia Faith's skill as a studio arranger provided backing on hits such as Tony Bennett's 'Because Of You' and Vic Damone's 'On The Street Where You Live'; he also adapted a French folk song for Guy Mitchell's 'My Heart Cries For You'; but he is best remembered for his instrumental albums, of which he made a great many in 25 years, every one of which turned a profit. His arrangements were notable for beautiful countermelodies, unique voicing for woodwinds and that predilection for a Latin beat. His own tunes included 'Brazilian Sleigh Bells', 'Nervous Gavotte,' 'Perpetual Notion', many more.

His first four Columbia albums were 10-inch LPs, all sparkling with terrific playing from ace studio musicians and excellent sound for the period. Carnival Rhythms was the most enormous fun; it must have employed all the best rhythm section players from Spanish Harlem. American Waltzes was simply gorgeous, one highlight a swinging version of Jerome Kern's 'Waltz In Swingtime', while Carefree Rhythms included clever material such as Zez Confrey's 'Kitten On The Keys' (with two pianos, played by Freeman and Bernie Leighton, a track also on the Living Era set). Your Dance Date included a fox trot, a waltz, a rhumba and a samba on each side, for Mom and Dad to dance to in the suburban basement rec room when they weren't busy adding to the baby boom (the gimmick didn't work too well, and the album was soon reissued as Fascinating Rhythms). Another album called Delicado on Sony/ Columbia includes all eight tracks from Carnival Rhythms; the other three 10-inchers have all been squeezed onto a Collectables CD from Sony Music Custom Marketing Group. Faith also cooperated with Mitch Miller and Columbia's marketing department; he made two 10-inch LPs of college football songs.

Faith's first 12-inch album was Continental Music, a lovely masterpiece of its kind; Romantic Music recycled most of American Waltzes. Two albums with Mitch Miller on oboe and English horn were Music Until Midnight and It's So Peaceful In The Country (the last had six tunes by Alec Wilder and six by Jimmy Van Heusen). Faith pioneered LPs of 'songs from' Broadway shows, first Kismet '54, then House Of Flowers '55 (a Harold Arlen score), My Fair Lady, The Most Happy Fella, Lil' Abner, into the stereo era with South Pacific, Porgy And Bess, The Sound Of Music, Camelot, Subways Are For Sleeping and Do I Hear A Waltz?. Faith wrote several film scores, including Love Me Or Leave Me '55 (with Georgie Stoll; nominated for an Oscar), Tammy Tell Me True '61, I'd Rather Be Rich '64, The Love Goddesses '64, The Third Day '65; a beautiful score for an appalling film The Oscar '66 included the melody of 'Maybe September', recorded by Tony Bennett, also by Faith with vocalist Leslie Kendall. He also arranged and conducted albums and/or singles with Mary Martin, Bennett, Doris Day, Sarah Vaughan, Johnny Mathis, Wild Bill Davison (LP Pretty Wild) and others; of his own albums 33 charted in Billboard '53-72 including Kismet, My Fair Lady, Bouquet, etc but his third no. 1 single was the syrupy 'Theme From A Summer Place' '60, with the kling-kling-kling piano earlier satirized by Stan Freberg (musicians called it 'claw music'), it won a Record of the Year Grammy. 'Love Theme From Romeo And Juliet' '69 won a Grammy for Best Performance by a Chorus.

There were tours of Japan; there was a video of a BBC broadcast '60 of Faith conducting Farnon's orchestra; there were two-LP sets The Columbia Album Of George Gershwin, Of Victor Herbert, another compiled for the Brazilian market, but he was finally reduced during the rock era e.g. to LPs of Beatles songs. His last album Summer Place '76 gave a disco treatment to the hit and included one track ('Dream Your Dream') conducted by Alan Broadbent, who susequently conducted Faith's orchestra on Japanese tours. Viva!: The Music Of Mexico '57 and The Music Of Brazil '62 were combined on a 'two for one' CD '97, and there have been more Faith reissues, not before time. Conductor Nick Perito has recorded Faith's charts with 'The Percy Faith Orchestra' for the Japanese market (three CDs '95 on Ranwood), but the precision and sparkle that Faith could get from his orchestra is not there.

Alan Bunting's Percy Faith discography is here.

[Stan Freeman (b 3 April 1920, Waterbury CN; d 20 January 2001, Los Angeles) also played harpsichord on hits for Rosemary Clooney, also played piano on Columbia, and in a piano duo with legendary cocktail pianist Cy Walter (b 16 September 1925, Minneapolis MN; d 18 August 1968, NYC), who'd remember your favourite song even if he hadn't seen you for years. Freeman and Walter recorded 16 tracks with Lee Wiley for Columbia in 1951 (two 10-inch LPs), unusual sessions with just a great singer and two pianos, the sort of thing that major labels can't afford to do anymore because they're too major. Freeman and Walter also recorded in a duo for MGM.]