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John Williams: The Year 1956


Thor
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1956 was an important year for Williams. He moved back to LA (from New York) to begin his Hollywood career. Yet I'm not sure we have all the information on his work in this particular year. Could we chart it together?

Here's what I know so far:

1. CAROUSEL -- he did some uncredited arrangements on Alfred Newman's score. This is probably the very first thing he did after moving back, as the film premiered February 16th, so it must have been early January or something. It was fiancée Ruick's involvement that got him on the scoring stage to meet the great maestro.

2. THE JOHNNY EVER GREENS PLAYED BY RUSS GARCIA -- this Garcia jazz album was released in 1956, although no recording dates are given. Williams played piano.

3. THE JOHN TOWNER TOUCH -- while the album itself was released in 1957, the tracks were recorded in October-1956 at Radio Recorders in LA. It features "Hello", Williams' first-ever recorded original composition.

4. MODERN JAZZ GALLERY -- this was a 2LP compilation of various west coast jazz artists. Williams is featured as pianist on several tracks and also has an original composition, "Aunt Orsavella" -- his second to be recorded. The album was released in February-1957, but recorded in November-1956.

(5. HARRY BELAFONTE - CALYPSO -- Album was released in 1956, but recorded in New York in 1955. Williams allegedly played piano on some of the tracks while he studied there, but is not credited in the sleeve notes. I've put it in parenthesis since it's really a 1955 effort).

(* Also on a personal level: Marriage to Barbara Ruick. No date is given for this)

What else is there? He gets more busy in 1957, but it's striking that the only film work I've been able to find in 1956 is CAROUSEL. JWFAN lists SOUTH PACIFIC in their 'other works' section, but this film was released in 1958, not 1956.

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JWFAN lists SOUTH PACIFIC in their 'other works' section, but this film was released in 1958, not 1956.

Fixed. And one of these days I'll have to add all his non-film works as performer/arranger/orchestrator/conductor from the 50s amd 60s. You and Miguel will be the main sources of course ;)

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Yes, indeed. At some point, I will be a starting a separate thread on his involvement in all the jazz albums etc. That's another area (beyond the TV music jungle) that needs serious charting -- a place to get total overview. My longterm goal is to mention a given year in his professional life and then be able to list all the things he worked on in that year. That would be awesome. But there's still a long way to go.

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My longterm goal is to mention a given year in his professional life and then be able to list all the things he worked on in that year. That would be awesome. But there's still a long way to go.

Hmm, and that could be the basis for an even bigger list which would include every known Williams-related activity (concerts, recording sessions, events he attended, releases...), resulting in the most complete John Williams chronology ever created ;)

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I've been willing to do a complete list of recordings from those early years. Maybe I should add that to my "to-do-list" during my summer holidays :)

I think that at this point I already have most of those recordings anyway, so it won't be that hard.

And to add to the list on the main post: Williams played on a few tracks for Harry Belafonte's Calypso LP (note that the info on the wikipedia link is incomplete). Some other songs recorded in those same sessions were released later on, either on new albums or compilations from later on Belafonte's career. I did some research some time ago, when I first learn about Williams playing on the notes of another little known LP from that era, South Pacific (TOPS label L 1614, released in 1958). I'll check which tracks did Williams played on, when I'm back home later tonight.

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I've been willing to do a complete list of recordings from those early years. Maybe I should add that to my "to-do-list" during my summer holidays :)

I think that at this point I already have most of those recordings anyway, so it won't be that hard.

And to add to the list on the main post: Williams played on a few tracks for Harry Belafonte's Calypso LP (note that the info on the wikipedia link is incomplete). Some other songs recorded in those same sessions were released later on, either on new albums or compilations from later on Belafonte's career. I did some research some time ago, when I first learn about Williams playing on the notes of another little known LP from that era, South Pacific (TOPS label L 1614, released in 1958). I'll check which tracks did Williams played on, when I'm back home later tonight.

Williams is not listed among the personel, as you say, nor in the sleeve notes, but I'll take your word for it and add it. He was probably uncredited.

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There are three recording dates on the wiki link, all in New York, which is congruent with our Williams' time line, since he only went back west in '56.

There was a site full of information that I found a couple of years ago, but haven't been able to locate it now. I'm sure I have the link saved on another computer at home and will check it again. Also, I was able to collect all the tracks with Williams performing and saved all the info on those. Again, I'll post all that later this evening. ;)

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There are three recording dates on the wiki link, all in New York, which is congruent with our Williams' time line, since he only went back west in '56.

There was a site full of information that I found a couple of years ago, but haven't been able to locate it now. I'm sure I have the link saved on another computer at home and will check it again. Also, I was able to collect all the tracks with Williams performing and saved all the info on those. Again, I'll post all that later this evening. ;)

Ah yeah, I missed that. The album was recorded in New York in 1955, so if Williams was involved, he must have done it inbetween studies and playing at swingin' NY night clubs. It falls a bit outside the scope of this thread, though, since the 'activity' was not in 1956.

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There are three recording dates on the wiki link, all in New York, which is congruent with our Williams' time line, since he only went back west in '56.

There was a site full of information that I found a couple of years ago, but haven't been able to locate it now. I'm sure I have the link saved on another computer at home and will check it again. Also, I was able to collect all the tracks with Williams performing and saved all the info on those. Again, I'll post all that later this evening. ;)

Ah yeah, I missed that. The album was recorded in New York in 1955, so if Williams was involved, he must have done it inbetween studies and playing at swingin' NY night clubs. It falls a bit outside the scope of this thread, though, since the 'activity' was not in 1956.

Indeed. When I was writing the post I was thinking it was from 56 (probably due to the release date), and just as I checked on the internet and added the link, did I come to realize it was recorded the previous year. Anyway, I'll be back with more on this later today ;)

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Yes I am really impressed by your combined sleuthing and information gathering every time Thor and Miguel. Great stuff. :)

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I can offer no assistance in this quest for knowledge, but I applaud you guys that are digging into all this stuff and always enjoy reading it. Keep up the good work! :up:

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I think it's fascinating that Williams moved to Hollywood in 1956, did that little uncredited thing for CAROUSEL in early January and then didn't work on any other film or tv show for the rest of the year -- in ANY capacity. As far as we know, anyway. Of course, he kept busy with other things, but not the 'main industry' of the city. I wonder if Williams pondered his future this year -- whether he would really work in films or specialize further as a performer outside the film realm. I think he has alluded to that in a couple of interviews.

The next film he would work on as pianist would be FUNNY FACE with score/songs by Deutsch & the Gershwins, released in February-1957 (probably recorded in January-57).

Of course, I'm always waiting for more information to tick in, in case there were other things in the current 'gaps'.

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Well, any of the films released in 1957 or even 1958 could have easily been worked on by him in 1956, things get delayed all the time (though, it does seem like things were less delayed back then than they are now)

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There's probably also other stuff that we just don't know about. Other uncredited contributions, etc

Yes, indeed. That's what a thread like this is about -- either charting what others already know, inspiring someone else to do research and sharing our own research.

Williams is so (damn) secretive about his early years that we have to do it all on our own. :)

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I don't think he's secretive just for sake of being it so nor because he has things to hide or that embarass him. As many artists like him, Williams likely feels his formative years aren't that 'interesting' to tell about by and large, so he probably doesn't feel compelled to go into details. I take it more as another sign of his humility than anything else. Also, as a man who looks very much tied to the present time and concentrated to what he's doing at the moment, he likely doesn't have much interest into going back into his own past.

Of course this doesn't mean that fans and admirers shouldn't try to learn more about it :)

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I don't think he's secretive just for sake of being it so nor because he has things to hide or that embarass him. As many artists like him, Williams likely feels his formative years aren't that 'interesting' to tell about by and large, so he probably doesn't feel compelled to go into details. I take it more as another sign of his humility than anything else. Also, as a man who looks very much tied to the present time and concentrated to what he's doing at the moment, he likely doesn't have much interest into going back into his own past.

Of course this doesn't mean that fans and admirers shouldn't try to learn more about it :)

I agree with this. It isn't that he's being secretive but rather disinterested in talking about a non representative early development phase. It would be like you, Thor, being asked about your time in third grade, who your teachers were, what you thought of a class that ultimately probably has little impact on you today even though those were formative years. Good journalists would know how to get this detail but also put it within context that is relevant in providing insight to the individual.

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  • 2 months later...

I think Williams earliest commercial recording was in 1955 as session pianist for Harry Belafonte.

Yes, that's probably the earliest. It is also the ONLY album he worked on that year (as far as we know).

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  • 3 years later...

Something I've been wondering about lately, i.e. what FILMS JW worked on in 1956 and 1957.

 

The timeline is as follows:

 

* JW is in New York in 1955, with occasional visits to LA to hook up with girlfriend and eventual fiancee Barbara Ruick. When he's there, he also does some occasional work. He plays piano on a Belafonte album, and has his visit at the CAROUSEL scoring stage with Barbara where he does a bit of arranging.

* He moves to LA in early 1956, maybe January.

* Most of 1956 and 1957 are subsequently spent doing jazz and entertainment albums, piano and arranging (or both) and a couple of "solo albums". This is his main gig and income.

* There is a story that he was signed by musical director at Columbia Pictures, Moriss Stoloff, to work on films as pianist at some point in 1956. HOWEVER -- and this is the issue here -- I can only see THREE films in this period where he works as session pianist: SOUTH PACIFIC (1956, for a 1958 release), FUNNY FACE (1957) and THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957).

 

What other movies did Williams work on in 1956 and 1957? It doesn't make sense that he signed with Columbia in 1956, only to do 3 movies in two years!

 

(from March-1958, with the composer gig on DADDY-O, things start to get more active for JW in all arenas, so easier to get an overview).

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Jesus Christ! Rename this thread! The top post on the main forum page should NEVER read "John Williams" followed by a colon and a year!!!

 

Nearly gave me a fucking heart attack!

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4 hours ago, Thor said:

I can only see THREE films in this period where he works as session pianist: SOUTH PACIFIC (1956, for a 1958 release), FUNNY FACE (1957) and THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957).

 

What other movies did Williams work on in 1956 and 1957? It doesn't make sense that he signed with Columbia in 1956, only to do 3 movies in two years!

 

And stranger still, the three films you list were not distributed by Columbia but rather (in the order you list them) Fox, Paramount, and United Artists. If there is any credence to the story with Stoloff, could you go down the list of Columbia films during those years and check the IMDb for each? It's not an airtight method, but might be worth a shot.

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34 minutes ago, Ludwig said:

 

And stranger still, the three films you list were not distributed by Columbia but rather (in the order you list them) Fox, Paramount, and United Artists. If there is any credence to the story with Stoloff, could you go down the list of Columbia films during those years and check the IMDb for each? It's not an airtight method, but might be worth a shot.

 

Yeah, the earliest Columbia film where we know of a Williams connection -- from perusing that list -- is BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE, released December-1958. After that, I can see a few more: CITY OF FEAR (1959), PORGY & BESS (1959), BECAUSE THEY'RE YOUNG (1960, which he also scored) etc.

 

So either the Stoloff connection comes in 1958 -- along with everything else (DADDY-O, TV contract etc) -- or it's not really true.

 

I think there's a vast number of piano/arranger gigs for films that we're not aware of yet. Certainly, 1956 and 1957 seem particularly devoid of film work, from what we know now.

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  • 1 year later...
  • 2 years later...
On 22/06/2019 at 8:30 PM, Thor said:

After the divorce formalities, they quickly married on April 17th, 1956 (after having eloped to Mexico!).

I didn’t know that John Williams got married to Barbara Ruick on April 17th, 1956 in Mexico. Is there any interview where he mentioned this personnel detail of his life?

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It's actually April 15, not 17, to correct myself a bit. It is not mentioned in an interview, but rather an old newspaper blurb.

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