Dance Band Encyclopaedia

Visiting Americans

Paul Specht

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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.

The 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.

The Billboard 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 Philadelphia. 

He 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 successful.

 From 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”. 

Of the members of his band, it was said “. . .despite 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.”
(I have been unable to check the careers of all his musicians, but believe this last
statement to be somewhat inaccurate.) 

Again, 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 phonograph recorder.” 

This 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. 

The 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. The two musical combinations are known as The Criterions and 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. Paul 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.”

It 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! 

The two bands mentioned duly arrived in England on 23rd September, 1922, aboard the S. S. “Majestic”. They were shown on the Passenger List (BT26/729) as:- 

Frisco Syncopators
David Herman            
    Age 18            (Violin)
Russell D. Carver           
Age 23            (Sax.)
George W. Painter         Age 19            (Trumpet)
Earl Jackson            
       Age 32            (Trombone)
Charles Smith            
     Age 20            (Banjo)
Charles L. Reber  
           Age 25            (Piano)
Antonio Grenese            
Age 20            (Drums)
Domenico Benedetto      Age 24            (Leade
r/ Piano/ Piano Accordian)

 Criterion Orchestra
Norman Roneus            
  Age 22
Robert McClister            
Age 20
Phillip Pilcer            
       Age 35            (Conductor)
Jacob W. Sheetz 
           Age 21
Edward Krick            
      Age 19
William E. Biery   
           Age 19
harles Kunz                   Age 26            (Piano)

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.

Of 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.  

The 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.

They 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:­

Hugh Barrett            Aged 23  (Piano)
Albert W. Payne  
    Aged 22  (Sax.)
Frank N. Smith   
     Aged 30  (Banjo)
Theodore Stenzel   Aged 25  (Bass)
Edward P. Ward   
   Aged 22  (Drums)
John Wade            
Aged 28  (Sax/Trumpet)

Instrumentation 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.  

The 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 week." On May 28th, 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):­  

Paul Specht                 Aged 28    (Musical Director/ violin)
rancis Smith             
    Aged 22     (clarinet & tenor sax)
John O’Donnell            Aged 22    (clarinet & alto sax)

Harold Sailors (sic)     
Aged 26    (clarinet & alto sax)
Russell Morgan            Aged 20    (trombone)

ussell T. Deppe          Aged 21    (banjo)
Frank Guarente            Aged 29
Chauncey Morehouse 
Aged 21    (drums)
Vincent Tortoriello       Aged 21
Frank Scott            
      Aged 41
Arthur R. Schutt  
         Aged 20    (piano)

Photo of the band from this period, 
click to enlarge

Some 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. 

The 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 reported Paul 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 “Paul 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.” According 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”) . 

The 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.

Although some recordings were made in London by the full orchestra, the title “All Muddled Up” was actually cut in America the previous year. Messrs. Lyons had a quantity of single-sided records made of this title. Bearing a special “Lyons Corner House” label, these were presumably on sale at the Corner House as souvenirs.   

Label scan kindly provided by Greg Butler from a record in the late Dave Carey's collection; click to enlarge..

Paul Specht - All Muddled Up.jpg (88211 bytes)

On 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.

Specht 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 Vithus Schutt. 

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.   

Part Two: The Carolina Club Orchestra, and Specht’s School for Jazz Musicians

JOE MOORE    © 2006