Dance Band Encyclopaedia
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Part One: The early years and The Georgians
I have said elsewhere that Paul Specht was in some ways the most interesting bandleader to visit England during the 1920s.. for all the wrong reasons! Unfortunately the story of his activities in England does present certain difficulties, not least because most contemporary newspaper reports seem to have emanated from Specht himself. Where I have been able to cross-check these against other sources, however, it is clear that Specht’s account of events was not always accurate.
full story of his visits to England (including the bands he booked
here) would make for an over-long account in itself, so I have decided
to set it out in four or five parts.
for July 29th 1922 carried a lengthy report on his career up to that year. Paul L Specht
was born on March 24th, 1895, in the splendidly-named town of Sinking
Springs, Pennsylvania. His father was Professor Charles G. Specht, a
capable violinist and excellent organist, as well as being a
celebrated band leader. Paul Specht seems to have been something of a
child prodigy, and under the guidance of his father he was appearing
at concerts at a very young age. Although he had to earn his own way
by selling newspapers, and playing in various bands at weekends, he
continued his education in music. Having graduated from school at
fifteen, he spent a year at Perkiomen Seminary, followed by study of
piano, violin and counterpoint at Coombs Conservatory, of
then organised the “American Collegians”, which toured extensively
in the West of America to great success during the time of World War
One. This was followed by Specht and his dance orchestra appearing at
the Hotel Alamac, Atlantic City, where they were again very
Atlantic City he moved to the Hotel Addison in Detroit. The Talking
Machine World for March 15th, 1922
reported Paul Specht ‘s Society Serenaders
accompanied Vaughn De Leath in a radio broadcast from that city.
Shortly after this
event, Specht and his band moved to New York and were initially booked
for one engagement at the National Vaudeville Association Club. It
appears he and his band were something of a sensation, the members
calling for countless encores. Following this promising debut in New
York, the Specht outfit appeared at the State Theatre and on the Keith
Circuit there with equal success, and then took up a residency at the
Hotel Astor, where they played for dancing in the ballroom on the roof
of the hotel. About this time Specht also signed an exclusive contract
with the Columbia Graphophone Co. whereby his band would record for
them, “such recordings to receive the widest publicity”.
the members of his band, it was said “.
the fact that the average age of each musician is 22 years, every
member of the eleven piece orchestra is a conservatory trained
musician and a master of his particular instrument.”
sometime in 1922 Specht opened an office at 1591, Broadway, New York
for the purpose of booking and managing other orchestras. This
operation was “under
the direction of Joe Samuels, the well-known musical director and
management of other orchestras was to lead to some of these being
booked to play in England, and apparently all over Europe, with one or
two to Australia and even China.
first two bands to visit England came in 1922. Metronome
for October 1922 reported that “two
orchestras under the direction
of Paul Specht, the well known orchestra director, sailed recently
(Saturday, September 16) for England, where they will be featured in
the leading London hotels.
two musical combinations are known as The
Frisco Syncopators. Nearly
every orchestra office of any import in New York had been trying to
secure the English contract, and it had remained
for Specht to tie up with a
large English syndicate for whom he is to furnish sixty additional men
within the next few months for various orchestras which will play in
leading hostelries in the British Empire.
Specht himself will remain in New York at the present time, but
expects to leave next summer with his original orchestra for London,
where he is to be widely featured and advertised.”
has to be said this reads more like a Press Release from the Specht
office, than the efforts of a Metronome reporter. As will be seen,
Specht was never shy of publicity!
two bands mentioned duly arrived in England on 23rd September, 1922,
aboard the S. S. “Majestic”. They were shown on the Passenger List
Unfortunately, all the above musicians were shown together on the Passenger List, with no indication of who was with which orchestra! However, the magazine B. M. G. for December 1922 carried a short piece on the Syncopators which included a personnel, from which that of the Criterion Orchestra has been arrived at by process of elimination.
the two personnels, Domenico Benedetto is clearly the real name of
Robert Bennett, whilst Charles Kunz remained in this country and went
on to become a well -known and popular pianist.
Frisco Syncopators played
afternoons and evenings at the Empress Rooms, Kensington in London.
All the musicians could “double” on other instruments, and they
seem to have been very popular with the dancing customers. The band
returned to America at the end of March 1923. They also recorded for
the Columbia Co. whilst in England.
The Criterion Orchestra played in London at the Trocadero, the Popular Café, the Empress Rooms and the Grafton Galleries. According to Billboard for April 21, 1923 “the Criterions a Specht unit recently returned from the Trocadero London", which suggests they left England in early April, 1923.
were replaced at the Trocadero by another American band, Hughie Barrett’s Trocoraggers, also booked by Specht. They arrived
here on February 2nd. 1923, aboard the S. S. “Pittsburg”. The
Passenger List (BT26/747) shows them to be:
Aged 23 (Piano)
for the above musicians is taken from a report in Variety for September
17th. 1924; the personnel had not changed since the previous year. The
band returned to
America on May 30th, 1923; John Wade
appears not to have returned with them. Given
the length of time they stayed here, they may have played at other
venues as well as the Trocadero.
Times for May 17th, 1923 carried a lengthy advert for
the new Corner House, which stated that " Paul Specht himself is
coming from America with an orchestra of nine at a fee of £350 per
1923 Paul Specht and his Orchestra arrived in England, aboard the S.S.
“Aquitania”. The Passenger List (BT261749)
shows the following (I have added the instruments):
musicians brought their wives and children over with them. Of the names
shown, “Sailors” is actually “Saliers”, and Vincent Tortoriello
is the real name of Joe Tarto.
Specht band had come over here to play at the opening of the new Lyons
Corner House in Coventry St, London, and this establishment duly opened
on May 30th, 1923. Variety
for June 7th
Specht and his band opened at Lyons Cornerhouse (sic)
Restaurant May 30 and were
enthusiastically received. The restaurant has been packed continuously
from morning until closing hour since the orchestra opened.”
Variety further reported on July 19th
Specht ‘s band did 27 minutes in the vaudeville programme Monday at
the Alhambra. Its selections rangedfrom pops to classics. The band got
eight recalls and was a big success.”
to Specht himself, the band also played at the Coliseum, and Dancing
World for July 1923 reported them as being at the Empress Rooms.
(Dancing World also stated that “Specht
has bands in France, Germany, Australia, Canada and eight in America”)
Specht Orchestra included two “bands within a band”. One of these,
the Georgians, was led by Frank Guarente and concentrated on “hot”
numbers. The other group, the Romancers, specialised in waltzes.
July 11th, Russell
Morgan and his wife returned early to the States for reasons unknown. He
was replaced by Archie Jones, who presumably came over from New York
some time previously.
and the band returned to America on August 11th
1923. They sailed
from Cherbourg, which suggests the band may have worked briefly in Paris, but I have yet to
find any firm evidence of this. Arthur Schutt was listed this time as
Whilst this first visit by Specht was seemingly without incident, in later years he wrote of rumours reaching him at the time, whereby certain factions in the English dance music world were intent on preventing further visits by American bands. Be that as it may, his arrival with the Carolina Club Orchestra the following year was destined to be anything but trouble-free, as will be seen in the next instalment.
Two: The Carolina Club Orchestra, and Specht’s School for Jazz