Return to Journal Index
(Normal resident organist, Empire, Leicester Square)
"Cinema Organ Herald" May 1933, Vol 2, p.p. 106-7
Quentin Maclean Steps in the Breach
After having been away for some weeks, it is good to get back once more to the old scenes. Isn't it funny that one never appreciates a good thing until one has lost it or done without it for a while ? For instance, just try doing without your wireless set for a few days—especially the days Quentin Maclean is broadcasting—and see how much you miss it. Quentin, by the way, has been doing more than his share of broadcasting lately. Reg. Foort packed up and went over to Holland to give a broadcast on the Standaart organ at Hilversum, so Mac stepped into the breach and did his hour for him on the Trocadero Wurlitzer as well as doing his own regular session on Wednesday last. But I was speaking about having been away for a few weeks.
You see, Jesse Crawford has been filling a four-weeks engagement at the Empire, and so I have been doing a bit of touring for Paramount just to keep my hand in. After a couple of weeks up North I had two weeks at Paramount Astorias, and I had some great fun with the Compton organs I found there. Very nice, too, but just a bit strange at first. A different arrangement of stops and a different " lay-out " on the console does make a surprising difference when one has been playing the same organ for some four or five years. However, once I got used to it, I enjoyed the Comptons immensely. They have some beautiful solo stops and several unique effects which one doesn't find on any other organs—such as that second-touch cancel invention which is really indispensable once one gets used to it.
" Bitter " and Whitley Bay
Up in Newcastle I met Douglas Brown, the resident organist at the Paramount there. Doug. is a very nice chap and a fine organist. Unfortunately, I didn't hear him do an interlude, but I did hear him do a bit of tricky accompanying during the stage show there, and he certainly made an excellent job of it. Perhaps you have heard him on the wireless ? He has done several broadcasts from Newcastle from the North National Station, and he is one of the most popular cinema organists in the North. Besides playing a Wurlitzer, he drives a Riley car and drinks an occasional drop of " bitter." A man after my own heart, although I prefer lager myself. He took me for a morning's outing and showed me the beauties of Whitley Bay and other Newcastle suburbs. The Riley brought us safely back, and we just had time for one or two convivial half-pints before the show. I must make a point of seeing more of Newcastle and Doug. Brown.
It was in Newcastle, too, that I listened in to Jesse Crawford's fifteen-minute broadcast from the Empire, London. If you didn't hear it, you missed one of the finest organ broadcasts that the B.B.C. have ever put out. He played, among other things, " Trees," " Lullaby of the Leaves," " Her name is Mary," and the good old favourite, " Rhapsody in Blue." I particularly liked " Trees " and the " Rhapsody." Jesse says that " Trees " is one of his favourites, and it was quite evident from the way he played it that he was enjoying his job. He confessed to me the other day that the words of this song are a inspiration to him, and I quite agree that they are very much out of the usual run of popular ballad lyrics. And coupled to Rasbach's exceptionally fine melody it is no wonder that Jesse finds inspiration in the number. I wish he could have given us more broadcasts of this nature during his stay in London, but I will let you in on a secret. Jesse tells me that there are negotiations under way which are extremely likely to lead to several weeks' further engagements in England, and that one of these will very probably be on a cinema organ which is heard on the wireless every week. Of course, the thing is not yet definite, but I think I am safe in saying that the chances are very good that you will hear him on the air again (perhaps several times) before he returns to America. So tune up your wireless sets, all you organ fans. If you missed the last one you must make sure of listening-in on the next one.
I wish you could all meet Jesse Crawford personally. For a man who has achieved so much in the cinema organ world, he is surprisingly quiet and retiring. In fact, I have had a hard job getting him to talk about himself at all, but I did pry a few facts from him about his early experiences which might interest you.
Jesse was born in Woodland, California, in 1895. Before he was two years old he was left a " half-orphan," and his remaining parent decided to put him in an orphanage not far from Woodland, where he stayed until he was thirteen. He tells me that his love of music showed itself in those first years at the orphanage, and one day a visitor presented him with a mouth-organ. You can imagine what delight and amusement he must have got out of this gift. He must have amused the other boys, too, and he must have practised pretty steadily, for he says he can remember his mouth being absolutely raw from the constant friction of the metal. He didn't say whether he used to do that famous " glissando " on the mouth-organ or not, but I shouldn't be surprised if that was where the idea first started.
A One-man Band
Well, he studied the piano when he got a bit older, and when he was fourteen he managed to get a job as pianist with a small travelling show which toured up and down the West Coast from Los Angeles to Seattle. It was one of those small and very cheap shows that played only in the smaller towns, and it was the custom to give a parade in each town in order to advertise the evening performance. About noon every day, the parade would set out from the stage-door of the hall or theatre where they were booked to play, and proceed along the main street of the town in full regalia complete with banners and all advertising material. Of course, they had to have a band for this noon-day parade, and young Jesse had to " double in brass." He couldn't have known much about band instruments, but it didn't take him long to learn, and as the show didn't possess enough band instruments for all the parade " extras," they usually had to borrow one or two at each town in which they played. Unfortunately, they couldn't always borrow the same sort of instrument at each town, so there were some weeks when Master Crawford had to play a trombone, others when he had to do the best he could on a Sousaphone or a tuba, and still others when he was handed a euphonium or an E flat alto.
Playing to the " Flicks "
One day after he had been leading this sort of life for about two years, the show happened to be playing in a little town near Spokane, Washington, and it was here that Jesse decided to take the step that was to result in his becoming the world's leading cinema organist. Quite by chance he heard of a job in a tiny picture palace in Spokane. The manager of the " flick " was looking for a piano-player. They didn't call them pianists in those days. Piano-players were cheaper than pianists, and not nearly so likely to be swelled-headed. Jesse was getting weary of touring up and down the Pacific Coast and blowing himself purple in the face on the varied assortment of wind instruments they were able to borrow. He couldn't see himself getting rich parading up and down the main streets of all the small towns in California, Oregon and Washington, and he was getting pretty sick of banging the tin-pan pianos that were generally to be found in the local halls. So he decided to try for the cinema job, got an audition, and was engaged. He didn't get much money, but he was enthusiastic about playing for the pictures, and the job was steady and allowed him to stay in one place instead of jumping all over the country from day to day. He had become fed-up with travel and the varied assortment of horns and the tinny pianos that were wished upon him day after day.
Finally the Paramount
It wasn't so long after this that Jesse had a chance at an organ. You must, remember that at this time organs in cinemas were few and far between, and organists who could play them satisfactorily were a decided novelty. Jesse says he messed up things terribly when he gave his first audition on the organ, but he must have messed them up less horribly than the chap who preceded him, because he was given the job. And that's how he started. That was his first organ—the one that was to start him off on the road to some of the biggest organ jobs in the cinema world. He stayed at Spokane quite a time—then Billings, Montana, back again to Spokane, Seattle, San Francisco, to Graumann's " Million Dollar Theatre " in Los Angeles, then to Chicago, and finally to the Paramount, New York, where he has presided at the console for the past six years.
I asked Jesse how he did it—what the secret of it was. He denied that there was any secret to it at all.
" It's simply a matter of hard work," he said. " A little luck, a few good friends and some ordinary common sense. But, most of all, work, work—and then some more work."
He rubbed his mouth reminiscently, and I guessed what was in his mind. He was thinking about that mouth-organ. So when you hear him next time on the wireless, just remember his experiences with those horns and wind instruments. He has the whole lot of them now, right at his finger ends—and, thanks to Mr. Wurlitzer, he doesn't even have to supply his own wind.
By the way, if you tune in to Hilversum one day shortly, you will hear Jesse on the Standaart organ in the studio there. He has agreed to go over and give an hour's broadcast.
Return to Journal Index