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Default They Sang Along With Mitch

((Will "Uncle Willsci" Friedwald is what the Beatles called Brian
Epstein-a rich fag Jew-and an insufferable **** to boot. Bret.))

They Sang Along With Mitch


'Mitch Miller was the guy who showed everybody how to be a producer," said Tony Bennett—probably the greatest of the late musician-producer-conductor's "discoveries"—in 1989. Speaking metaphorically, Mr. Bennett elaborated: "When Mitch had a cigar and a beard, everybody else had to have a cigar and a beard."

The roles played by Miller, who died Saturday at age 99, were many: As
a woodwind player and conductor, he collaborated with George Gershwin,
Charlie Parker, Igor Stravinsky, Leopold Stokowski and Frank Sinatra.
As a pop star in his own right, he became the face of the sing-along
craze of the early '60s through a series of bestselling albums and a
long-running TV series.

But it was as a producer—quite possibly the first "modern" producer in
all of American pop—that Mitchell William Miller exerted his greatest
influence. He not only played a key role in the careers of Sinatra,
Doris Day, Lee Wiley, Frankie Laine, Rosemary Clooney, Mr. Bennett and
dozens of others, but he virtually invented the job of the pop- music

Miller was a crucial player in one of the major transitions in
American culture, between the swing era and the coming of rock 'n'
roll, during the decade following World War II. As singers replaced
the big bands as the focal point of pop, the producers—formerly known
as A&R (artists and repertoire) men—took over from the bandleaders as
the industry's decision makers and power brokers. By the start of the
rock era, Miller had set an example that every music-world mover and
shaker to come, from Phil Spector to Quincy Jones, Berry Gordy and
even Simon Cowell, has emulated.

When Miller graduated from the Eastman School of Music in 1932, he
initially played in radio orchestras like that of Andre Kostelanetz.
"There were never enough oboe players to go around," Miller once said,
in a rare fit of modesty. He played in the pit band for the original
production of "Porgy and Bess" and then toured as a member of
Gershwin's own orchestra; he also soloed in the CBS radio symphony
under Stravinsky.

But even then Miller was the rare classical musician who had a
passionate interest in jazz and pop. "Oh, I listened to everything,"
he told me in the early '90s. "Oh God, yes! Hell, I was listening to
Louis Armstrong, Jimmie Lunceford, Jan Savitt. I was interested in all
kinds of music. All these guys had something to say." Miller gradually
transitioned from classical music to pop: In addition to playing oboe
on some Sinatra sessions, he conducted for the singer in 1945. He
worked his way through two start-up labels, serving as head of
classical music for Keynote Records in 1947, and then taking over at
Mercury Records a year or so later. At Mercury, he put Laine and Patti
Page on the map. By 1950, when he was hired to run the singles
division for Columbia Records, Miller had transformed himself into the
prince of pop.

His track record was astonishing: In the early '50s, roughly one-third
of all records on the charts were his. He helped the industry mushroom
from a mom-and-pop operation into the behemoth of Walmart-like
proportions that it remained for the next 50 years.

Miller professed to love jazz and hate rock 'n' roll, yet he did more
than anyone to steer American listeners away from the big-band sound.
He helped lay a whole new foundation, one that was at once highbrow
(involving French horns and other symphonic instruments that had never
been heard in the swing bands) and lowbrow, becoming infamous for a
long series of "novelty" records, many of which were not only hits but
career-makers, such as Clooney's "Come on-a My House."

Miller also virtually invented musical special effects: He made pop
records more like a film soundtrack, and utilized extramusical noises,
such as dog barks and hoof beats, he said, "to paint a picture in the
listener's mind." Likewise, he was the first producer to make wide use
of overdubbing and echo chambers, as well as the first producer to
hire composers to write specific songs for artists, crafting pop
singles—and usually hits—the same way a movie producer brought
together directors and stars.

Miller was a complex character: He was the genius behind lowest-common-
denominator music, but he also was responsible for Wiley's most
sublime jazz album, "Night in Manhattan," and continued to record
classical music into the 1950s. He enabled country music to go
mainstream and sparked the folk boom by having mass-market artists
like Bennett and Doris Day record songs by Hank Williams and South
African songwriter Josef Marais. His sing-along albums are regarded as
the ancestor of karaoke, but he also championed the iconoclastic,
intellectually driven songs and chamber works of his fellow Eastman
alum Alec Wilder.

"Mitch loved those bouncy up-tempo numbers, although they weren't
always my favorite songs," Ms. Day said this week. "He loved the
polka. I would be in the middle of a song, and I would look in the
control room, and see Mitch with his feet up in the air, dancing all
around. So we all did that kind of music, we all sang it, although I
don't think Frank [Sinatra] liked it. He was not thrilled."

It was inevitable that Miller should earn the eternal enmity of
Sinatra. The two men prophesied different—and conflicting—futures for
American pop. Sinatra envisioned a day when artists themselves would
take control of the means of production and reap the profits, and
realized this vision by founding Reprise Records. Mitch Miller, by
contrast, did more than anyone to create a world where producers would
reign supreme."

Mr. Friedwald writes about jazz and pop music for the Journal.
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