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Gus Arnheim is best remembered for his orchestra which enjoyed an eight-year run at the famed Cocoanut Grove in the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. He started as the pianist for Abe Lyman’s Orchestra at the Hotel in 1921, and it was during this time that he wrote “I Cried for You” (1923) with Lyman and Arthur Freed (recorded by Harry James) and “Mandalay” (1924) with Lyman and Earl Burtnett. After changes in band personnel, Arnheim formed his own orchestra to play the Grove in 1927. Their sound was sweet but very jazz oriented, and through their radio broadcasts the band became known throughout the country and even Europe which they toured in 1929.
Arnheim contributed to the careers of many musicians, foremost among them Bing Crosby, who was singing with the Rhythm Boys when they recorded their hit, “Them Their Eyes,” with the band in 1930. In 1931 Crosby struck gold again with the band, recording “I Surrender Dear” which led to his contract with CBS. Russ Columbo was another crooner who gained public favor with Arnheim’s orchestra although his career was cut short by a fatal accident in 1934.
A lot of famous players came through the Arnheim ranks: saxophonist Art Pepper, pianist Stan Kenton, clarinetist Woody Herman, and future leader of the band Jimmie Grier. A saxophonist named Fred MacMurray even crooned “All I Want Is Just One Girl” on record with the band in 1930 before becoming a Hollywood leading man.
In 1931 Arnheim penned his most famous song, “Sweet and Lovely” with Harry Tobias and Jules Lemare, and the following year he collaborated with Adolph Tandler on the realistic gangster flick Scarface.
After leaving L.A., Arnheim reformed the band in Chicago, giving it stronger jazz underpinnings and featuring the soloists in the band more prominently. He retired from the band business after WWII and returned to California where he occasionally led small combos for television.
- Sandra Burlingame
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Paul Muni, Ann Dvorak, Karen Morley, George Raft
Scarface (Universal Cinema Classics)
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