bandleader, composer and conductor from Webster Groves, Missouri, a bucolic
suburb tucked away in mid-St. Louis County. Appropriately, one of his first jobs
consisted of arranging, conducting and performing on a local Saint Louis
plucked him from obscurity and employed him to score some melodious and
well-structured music for his dance band. Jones influenced what would become
Jenkins’ own, distinct sound, characterized by lush and emotive
strings. In 1935, Gordon
conducted the music for the Broadway play, The Show is On. A
year later, Jones’ ensemble split up and Jenkins spent time arranging
and songwriting for artists such as Benny Goodman, Andre Kostelanetz, and Paul Whiteman.
to L.A. in 1938, where he found work at NBC and Paramount Pictures,
enjoying a steady paycheck through 1944, when he saw chart success with a
song called “San Fernando Valley”. After these gigs ended, Jenkins
immediately found work arranging for Dick Haymes,
with whom he would work for about four years.
thereafter, he also signed on with Decca, for whom he would arrange,
conduct, serve as managing director, and release albums bearing his own
name. It was a lucrative
marriage, which produced several hits in the late ‘40s, such as
“Bewitched”, “Don’t Cry Joe”, “Maybe
You’ll Be There”, and “My Foolish Heart”. He was also working with big-time
artists, like Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.
In 1948, he
surprised everyone, perhaps even himself, with his most ambitious
project—ever—and what may be the first “concept”
album, Manhattan Tower, a two-78
musical, essentially, replete with dialogue, narration and sound
effects. The story is about a
young man trying to make it big in The Big Apple. Not to leave out the West Coast, he
followed this up with California
Suite, in 1949.
By this time,
he was the musical director for Decca Records, and one of his first
decisions was the rather unusual signing of The Weavers, a folk group
featuring a young Pete Seeger.
His musical instincts must have been spot on, because his
collaborations with them were unfathomably successful, ranging from covers
of “Goodnight Irene”, “On Top of Old Smokey”, and
“Tzena, Tzena, Tzena”.
(Now you know why “Tzena, Tzena, Tzena” is in
your piano book.)
It is hard to
believe that Gordon had time to also be the headline act at the Capitol
Theatre in New York from 1949 to 1951 and the Paramount Theater a year
later. In 1953, he made the
first of many appearances in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was also busy working on another
“concept” album, Seven
Dreams, which is noteworthy because a portion of it inspired Johnny
Cash to write “Folsom Prison Blues”.
through 1957, he worked as a producer at NBC-TV. He then recorded another landmark
album, collaborating with Nat “King” Cole on Love is the Thing, which included
Cole’s rendition of “Stardust” and one of his biggest
hits, “When I Fall in Love”. In 1957, he teamed up with Frank
Sinatra on the somber Where Are You?
and followed this up with the somberer
When No One Cares. Gordon even made time for a side
trip to London, England, to appear in concert with Judy Garland, who was
reputed to have had stage fright, and Jenkins was supposedly the only
calming influence who could coax her on stage.
In 1960, he
released 26 Years of Academy Award
Winning Songs. He tapped
into the Hollywood arsenal again on 1964’s Great Movie Themes of the 30s, 40s and 50s. In 1965, he reunited with Sinatra on
September of My Years, which
garnered him a Grammy Award two years later. The two of them would continue their
artistic partnership in the ‘70s and ‘80s, on albums such as
1973’s Ol’ Blue Eyes is Back,
1979’s Trilogy, and
1981’s She Shot Me Down.
He passed away
in 1984 of amytropic lateral sclerosis, also
known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
His musical legacy is the stuff of legends, and has been preserved
in CD form on re-packagings such as The Magic World of Gordon Jenkins/In a
Tender Mood, A Musical Prodigy,
and The Gordon Jenkins Collection.
information on this extremely prolific artist, have a look at his son
Bruce’s biography of him, named after one of his compositions, Goodbye. A link is listed below.