New Princes’ Toronto Band

By Margaret Ashburner

1920s Toronto was a busy time and place for the working musician. Dance bands were performing regularly, and multi-instrumentalists would have been in high demand. One such musician was Hal Swain who started his own ensemble with a number of local musicians including Les Allen, who had equally diverse abilities. These ambitious musicians hoped to make a name for themselves; Allen described the group as “a combination of mostly youngsters, all as keen as mustard” (Litchfield, p. 513).

A black-and-white photograph of a young man smiling.

Les Allen, Roll Back the Years, p. 249.Les ù

A black-and-white photograph of a young man looking pensively to the side.

Hal Swain, Roll Back the Years, p. 249.

Spotted by a recruiter the two were singled out for their strong performing abilities and asked to form a group that would perform at the Rector’s Club in London, England. Of this time, Swain declared his intention “…to feature the fact that they were from the Dominion and discover if the dancers in the empire’s greatest city would evince the same interest in a jazz band from Toronto as they would in a New York importation” (Mark Miller, p. 112).

This group of proud Canadians sailed for England following the instructions of the London recruiter. However when they arrived, they found that the Rector’s Club had closed. The recruiter must have felt responsible for the fiasco and made alternate arrangements for the Canadians to audition at the New Princes’ restaurant. They were hired to play and remained for two years—taking the band name from the restaurant’s name.

A black-and-white photograph of men dressed in formal wear standing with their musical instruments.

Dave Caplan and his New Princes’ Toronto Band (Left to right: unknown, unknown, Lorne Cole, unknown, Laurie Day, Dave Caplan, Arthur Lousley, Arthur Calkin, Jack Collins (The British Dance Band Encyclopaedia)

The New Princes’ Toronto Band was composed of gigging musicians, and as a result, saw regular changes in personnel as opportunities arose. People came and left over the years and there were several iterations of the band’s name as band leaders changed or some of the musicians formed other groups. Musicologists generally consider these different iterations to be the same band. Some of the key Canadian musicians in this group were Hal Swain, Dave Caplan, Les Allen and Art Christmas.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) is pleased to have digitized some recordings from a set of recently acquired discs. This sampling includes songs that were mainly recorded from September to November 1926 when the band was called Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band.

“Up and At ‘Em”

A colour photograph of a record label with the Deutschen Grammophon-Aktiengesellschaft logo of a dog peering into a record player horn.

“Up and At ‘Em” by Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band, 1926 (AMICUS 45168615)

[Listen to “Up and At ‘Em”] Recorded by Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band in November 1926, this piece is a lively foxtrot, one of the most popular dance forms of the time. This performance, like most jazz recordings of the time, includes several solos, likely improvised, from each band member. The raunchy trombone and light pattering percussion solos are particularly enjoyable.

“I Never See Maggie Alone”

A colour photograph of a record label from Polydor.

”I Never See Maggie Alone” by Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band, 1926 (AMICUS 45168601)

[Listen to “I Never See Maggie Alone”] A comedic song about a young man lamenting the ever-looming presence of his girlfriend’s family. At first the family turns up on the couple’s dates, but as the song progresses they appear in increasingly improbable situations including being stowed away in the hood of the car, lurking in the lake where the couple is fishing and eerily appearing when the lights are turned off and then on. Really, it walks a fine line between horror and comedy! The vocals in this performance are likely Hal Swain or Les Allen and show some excellent comedic timing.

“While the Sahara Sleeps”

A colour photograph of a record label from Polydor.

“While the Sahara Sleeps” by Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band, 1926 (AMICUS 45168382)

[Listen to “While the Sahara Sleeps”] Fantastic brass playing with a great trumpet solo full of an idiomatic flutter tongue that is characteristic of jazz from this time.

“High Fever”

A colour photograph of a record label from Polydor.

“High Fever” by Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band, 1926 (AMICUS 45168455)

[Listen to “High Fever”] Another foxtrot from the Dave Caplan Toronto Band, this one a little more mellow than “Up and At ‘Em” but still a cheerful and upbeat foxtrot sound. Several jolly piano solos interject from the band’s pianist Laurie Day as well as some playful trombone solos towards the end.

“Say That You Love Me”

A colour photograph of a record label with the Deutschen Grammophon logo of a dog peering into a record player horn.

“Say That You Love Me” by Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band, 1926 (AMICUS 45168037)

[Listen to “Say That You Love Me” by Deutschen Grammophon or “Say That You Love Me” by Polydor] The only waltz among this set—as the title suggests, this tune is schmaltzy, romantic and like most of big band music, pleasingly over the top. Halfway through the recording, we hear Les Allen add some vocals ending with the lyrics, “Say that you love me—I love you!” The disc was distributed by Deutschen Grammophon-Aktiengesellschaft and a second recording (instrumental only) from Polydor has also been digitized.

The Polydor release of “Say That You Love Me” by Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band, 1926 (AMICUS 45168371)

The Polydor release of “Say That You Love Me” by Dave Caplan’s Toronto Band, 1926 (AMICUS 45168371)

Head on over to the Virtual Gramophone to peruse other music from the same era.

Sources


Margaret Ashburner is the Special Collections Librarian of the retrospective music collection at Library and Archives Canada.

Oscar Peterson

These photographs of Oscar Peterson and his family were taken in 1944. He was in his late teens and already an experienced professional musician. He had been playing regularly with the Johnny Holmes Orchestra since 1942, a popular swing band that played to the dance crowd in and around Montreal. Oscar left the orchestra in 1947 and began a residency at the Alberta Lounge, a club near Windsor Station, leading a trio there for two years.

A black-and-white photograph showing Oscar Peterson playing the piano in a lounge.

Oscar Peterson, photographed by D.C. Langford [1944] (MIKAN 4167283)

Given the vibrant jazz scene in the city, Oscar had lots of opportunities to play: he performed professionally, played live for CBC Radio broadcasts, attended jam sessions, and met and jammed with visiting musicians performing in town. He earned praise from Count Basie, Woody Herman, Ella Fitzgerald, Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie and others. Oscar was based in Canada until 1949 when Norman Granz convinced him to join the “Jazz at the Philharmonic” concert series in Los Angeles. This marked the beginning of his international career.

Oscar’s parents were immigrants to Canada. Daniel Peterson, Oscar’s father, was from the British Virgin Islands and worked as a boatswain on a merchant ship. His mother, Kathleen Olivia John, was from St. Kitts, British West Indies, and worked as a cook and housekeeper. They met and married in Montreal, settling in Little Burgundy/St-Henri, a predominately black neighbourhood. Like many men living there, Daniel got a job at Windsor Station as a porter on passenger trains for the Canadian Pacific Railway.

A black-and-white photograph showing Oscar Peterson with his father, Daniel. Both men are sitting at a piano, with their hands on the keyboard, smiling and looking up at the camera.

Oscar Peterson and his father, Daniel, at the piano [1944] (MIKAN 4542845)

With instruction and encouragement from their parents, the Peterson children became accomplished musicians.

Fred, the eldest child, introduced Oscar to ragtime and jazz when he played it on the family piano. Fred died in the 1930s while still a teenager. Oscar said Fred was the most talented musician of the family.

A black-and-white photograph showing Oscar Peterson seated, playing piano. His brother Charles, dressed in the uniform of the Canadian Army, stands next to him playing the trumpet.

Oscar Peterson on piano, with his brother, Chuck, accompanying him on trumpet [1944] (MIKAN 4542843)


Another brother, Charles, who served with an artillery battery in the Canadian Army during the Second World War, played in the regimental band. After the war, he continued as a professional trumpet player, doing studio work and performing at various Montreal nightclubs through the 1950s and 1960s. Like his siblings, he also played the piano, but was forced to give it up after suffering an industrial accident while working in a factory in Montreal after the war.

A black-and-white photograph of Oscar Peterson and his sister Daisy seated at the piano with their hands on the keyboard. They are looking at the camera and smiling.

Oscar Peterson with his sister, Daisy, at the piano [1944] (MIKAN 4542840)

Daisy, Oscar’s oldest sister, was also a virtuoso pianist. She earned a degree in music from McGill University and had a lengthy and influential career as a music teacher in Montreal. She was her siblings’ first piano teacher and introduced Oscar to her own piano teacher, Paul de Marky, a concert pianist who played in the Franz Liszt tradition. Daisy taught for many years in Montreal; her students included future jazz musicians Milton Sealey, Oliver Jones, Reg Wilson and Joe Sealy.

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