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    Jenkins, Gordon (12 May 1910 – 1 May 1984)

    Arranger, 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 radio station. 


    Isham Jones 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. 


    He emigrated 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. 


    Not long 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”. 


    From 1955 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. 


    For more 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. 



    1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordon_Jenkins
    2. http://www.amazon.com/Goodbye-Search-Gordon-Jenkins-Bruce/dp/1583941266
    3. http://www.artistdirect.com/nad/music/artist/bio/0,,449110,00.html
    4. http://www.artistdirect.com/nad/store/artist/album/0,,163516,00.html
    5. http://www.google.com/musica?aid=nM1VeuOMmJN&sa=X&oi=music&ct=result
    6. http://www.artistdirect.com/nad/music/artist/card/0,,449110,00.html
    7. http://www.spaceagepop.com/jenkins.htm
    8. http://www.google.com/musica?aid=nM1VeuOMmJN&sa=X&oi=music&ct=result
    9. http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=41:66369~T1












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